Dec 11, 2020 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Tia Vierling | Illustration by Xixi Qin

My bike was old, rusty, and had brakes of questionable quality. It was, however, both a trusty mode of transportation and a requirement for the day’s activity. I found myself pumping up the tires early in the morning, just before my teammate and I headed over to the Ahlberg Gear House for check-in.

Check in for what, you might ask? My partner and I had signed up to go adventure racing on the first day of block break. I knew nothing about adventure racing; I had never done it before. But I was raring to go.

Adventure racing, or expedition racing, has been gaining traction in recent years as a “wilderness” sport. Usually, participants engage in multiple activities over the course of an adventure race, the length of which can extend from a few hours to a few days. These activities may include biking, hiking/trekking, and paddling; some winter adventure races even integrate snowshoeing or cross-country ski opportunities.

The point of an adventure race is simple: reach as many checkpoints as possible in the allotted time, using paper maps and common sense rather than phone GPS. Teams arriving late to the final checkpoint receive deductions of checkpoints in correspondence with individual race rules; the team with the most checkpoints wins.

Adventure racing at Colorado College obviously had to undergo a few alterations. Given the location of campus, the typical “wilderness” aspect of our race had shifted; instead of mountain biking on trails and through trees, we took to the streets of Colorado Springs. The unique, CC-personalized course my partner and I tackled on that cold Thursday morning took us first to the north, where we sought out the natural geological wall along the Tiger Trail, before sending us off to work our way towards Memorial Park.

Originally, we were supposed to drop our bikes with a checkpoint leader at the edge of the lake and paddleboard for one leg of it, seeking out checkpoints on the water. Due to weather complications, that aspect of the race was cancelled; instead, we hiked around the park, marking off how many animals we could find at a playground, writing the names of sculptures we saw, and taking pictures of memorials to prove we’d reached certain locations.

Then we were off again, biking through downtown to reach Bear Creek Park. We spent around an hour hiking through the park – which features a surprisingly large acreage for an area cradled by the city – before making our way back to CC. We cruised into the final checkpoint just 12 minutes late, cinching second place for the “competition.”

I was surprised by three things on that day. First, by how much I enjoyed the race. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to push myself hard for four hours, much less have fun doing it. But despite the chill in the air, the long uphill slogs, and the stress of the final countdown as my partner and I pedaled back to campus, I felt fantastic as soon as I tossed my bike into the grass at the end. In terms of active life opportunities on campus, adventure racing was, for me, an unexpected but incredible way to spend the day.

Second, I was surprised by how much better I got to know the city. I’ve been a student at CC for a little over two years, but I had never before looked carefully at the spray-painted art featured on the undersides of Colorado Springs’ bridges or the sculptures featured alongside the city’s trails. Adventure racing helped me to get to know the area from a new perspective, letting me discover the lifeblood of Colorado Springs in a way I never had before. Adventure races, wherever they occur, provide an opportunity to immerse oneself in one’s surroundings, wherever that may be.

Finally, I was surprised by exactly how loud my bike could be. Passersby might have thought I was murdering it based on how loud my brakes were screaming on long downhills. Thus, my final advice: if you go adventure racing – which you should – make sure your bike is trusty, dusty, and not rusty.

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