By Amanda Mims Seventy-eight adventure racers set out in the dark Thursday morning on a journey across Florida that would take them from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. The 10th Coast to Coast Adventure Race will have participants traveling 109 miles by bicycle, both on and off road, 50 miles on foot, a few miles tubing in the Rainbow River, and the remainder of the total of 210 miles by canoe or kayak. They also have to rappel and traverse a rock quarry using ropes.
The race started at 4 a.m. in Crystal River, where participants took off on foot. The 22 two- and four-person teams spent the morning trekking and paddling, and the first team made it to K.P. Hole in Dunnellon by 10:30 a.m., where they completed the tubing portion of the event. Many of the racers will choose to go on little or no sleep for the duration of the race, which, depending on a team’s speed and accuracy in navigation, could last 72 hours. Teams are given coordinates and use map-and-compass navigation to find checkpoints throughout the race, the longest event of its kind in Florida. The course runs through the Ocala National Forest and ends in Ormond Beach. The official end of the race is Sunday, but the fastest team may finish in as little as 38 to 40 hours, said race director Elias Jiminez, co-owner of the Miami-based adventure racing company Adventurous Concepts. How long each team will take is anyone’s guess. There are too many uncertainties to know how the two- or three-day event might go, but that’s part of the sport’s appeal, said Mark Bedenbender, a 43-year-old engineer...
Bedenbender is a member of Gnome Hunters, a four-person team from Twin Cities, Minn. Some adventure races are more triathlon-like, he said, but “this tends to be more of an adventure. This race gets into the swamps and it’s hard to navigate there.” Bedenbender said the reward for completing the race is a sense of personal achievement. “After you spend three days in the Florida swamps, you feel like you can do anything. Other things in life don’t seem so hard.” One of Bedenbender’s teammates, William “Buck” Eddie, a 30-year-old graduate student, said sleep deprivation is one of the biggest challenges during long adventure races. “You get kind of crabby and you bite each other’s heads off.” Like other teams, Gnome Hunters began the race in a sleep-deprived state. The team, which also includes 35-year-old Pete Curtis, a software developer, and 42-year-old video producer Suzanne Pfeiffer, drove 36 hours straight to arrive in Crystal River on time. Their truck’s axle broke in Tennessee and when they finally got to Citrus County, it was in a 27-foot U-Haul truck filled with their kayaks, bikes and other equipment they needed for their journey across Florida. Unaware of the race starting time until 8 p.m. Wednesday, teams were ready to begin on foot, by bike or by kayak as early as midnight.
Adventure racing is as much a mental challenge as it is physical, Jiminez said.
“I think it’s almost like a therapy session with yourself. It’s about self-discovery,” he said.
Some teams are made up of Ironman triathletes and utlramarathon runners and competition can be serious.
Others, like Hottie & Naughty — Colleen Coleman of San Fransisco and friend Greg Vogel of St. Petersburg — just want to enjoy the experience.
“Our goal is to finish,” Vogel said. “We’re just here to have fun.”
This year’s race was dedicated to John Walker, one of the founders the Florida Coast to Coast Adventure Race, who died of colon cancer. Gnome Hunters also dedicated their participation in the race their late friend, Black Diamond resident Larry Sarto. For live updates, visit www.twitter.com/AdvConcepts. For more about the race, visit www.floridac2c.com.