(PA) Wild(s) for AdventureJun 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Gayle Morrow
It sounds grueling. Biking, hiking, paddling, running, maybe some rock climbing—it’s five days of extreme physical exercise in mountainous terrain. Hardly any sleep. Serious orienteering (some call it playing chess while running) and/or navigating in out-there places you’ve never been. Not much more food and water (and required water treatment devices) than what you can carry, and not much time to eat, anyway. And, oh, yeah, it’s a competition.
It sounds like a blast.
Brent Freedland thinks so. He and his wife, Abby Perkiss, started out as participants in adventure racing in the early 2000s. Adventure racing is like a days-long triathlon with a few more sports thrown in, and a course that is classified information until things get underway. It is traditionally a co-ed team event, but some races now allow solo participants and single-gender teams. Brent, who is, by day, a high school history teacher in the Philadelphia area, says after they captained and designed races for another group, he and Abby in 2015 formed their own adventure race organization—Rootstock Racing.
It’s Rootstock that is bringing the Endless Mountains Adventure Race to the Pennsylvania Wilds June 26 through July 1.
Brent explains that his introduction to the region began around 2017 when he and Abby directed some shorter events in the Loyalsock State Forest area. They spent some time in Wellsboro in 2021 while directing a thirty-six-hour adventure race that year, and it was then that “we discovered the PA Wilds moniker.”
“That was really one of the key moments in developing this five-day event—we saw an opportunity to come to the region and showcase different quadrants (of the Wilds),” Brent says. Last year they did an event in the southwest corner of the Wilds, an area he characterized as having “a little more subtle landscape.” For 2023, Rootstock opted for the eastern portion of the Wilds, which is, he says, “just spectacular.”
The actual course is a secret, but Brent does divulge that “we’re working with five state forests, four state parks, and thirty-five different townships and boroughs.” This year’s race is based out of Williamsport; teams are bussed to a remote start location, and then it’s 325 miles of a wilderness-based course that will bring them, eventually, back to Williamsport. Teams get their maps on the morning the race starts.
The full course is designed with mandatory checkpoints and optional checkpoints. The race is scored by the number of mandatory checkpoints the team visits, with optional points added for visiting the optional checkpoints.
“It’s an amazing sport,” Brent says. “These guys don’t get lost. Maybe they can’t find the checkpoint, or they are on the wrong hilltop, but they can get themselves out. The only time I have ever seen a team get lost was in Brazil.” That team was in a flooded marshland area and had to call the race director for directional assistance. The event obviously requires a mix of physical skills from participants, but Brent says navigation is a definite focus. A “navigational mistake” in a five-day race can cost a team several hours.
“One of the great things about our sport is that we have online satellite tracking,” Brent explains. “It’s been a game-changer." Each team has one member who carries the tracker; team members have to be within communication distance of each other at all times.
Gear transport is a big logistical hurdle, and, during last year’s event, the “people in the community of Clarion were really helpful.” Team members need their bikes for the pedaling sections, boats for the water portions, climbing gear if rappelling and/or ascending is part of the race—whatever big stuff they can’t carry—and someone has to get that stuff to them. Teams will strategize and plan and pack their boxes and bins accordingly, hoping that they figure correctly what they’ll need and when they’ll need it.
“Getting stuff to people is really important. Racers are expected to be self-sufficient in terms of food and water, but we like to treat our racers with a little more care than that,” Brent says. They do require that teams carry a water filtration system, but they provide seven transition areas throughout the course, and hope to have hot food at three of those. And while you can eat and still walk, ride, or paddle, you really need to stop in order to sleep.
“Sleep strategy is a big part of it,” Brent agrees. People sometimes pitch tents out in the woods, or might just stretch out on the ground using a rock for a pillow. With a winning time of about ninety-five hours, the math tells you that the 120-hour five-day event doesn’t have much space in it for snoozing.
As for spectating, Brent says there is not a lot of demand for it. A number of checkpoints and transition areas are accessible to spectators, but most people interested in how the teams are progressing watch online. The tracking map goes on line the morning of the twenty-sixth, around 6 or 7 a.m. There are nearly forty teams signed up for the main event. Most are four-person, but three-person and pairs are eligible.
As part of this year’s event, Rootstock is offering the thirty-hour Endless Mountains Lite for those not quite ready for the five-day version. Brent says there are about fifty to sixty individuals signed up for that—“a good, manageable number.” Crooked Creek Campground in Gaines will serve as headquarters for Endless Mountains Lite.
It’s not unusual for five to ten teams to either not finish or to finish unofficially.
Visit rootstockracing.com for the most up-to-date information on the Endless Mountains Adventure Race, pictures of previous events, and links to the live tracking. Find them on Facebook and Instagram as well. Visit arworldseries.com to get a taste of the international adventure racing world.