THE FORKS, Maine — Ladies and gentlemen, grab your paddles, lace up your trail runners and point your bike down the single track — adventure racing has come to Maine.
Beginning June 17, more than 40 teams from around the globe will run, bike, canoe, raft and rappel their way over a 200-mile Untamed New England Adventure Race through the rugged central Maine highlands.
All team members race together through each leg except for the orienteering relay in which each team member completes an individual map and compass challenge.
And while race organizers keep the exact route tightly under wraps until the start of the race, they are promising an epic event.
“The forests can be impenetrable. The rivers can be rushing whitewater or meandering streams between moose bogs,” organizers say on the event website. “The mountains can be staggeringly tall with wind-swept summits. The lakes are crystal clear. This is adventure racing country, and Untamed New England 2014 will really deliver on it’s tagline — more an adventure than a race.”
Race director Grant Killian, 39 of Dover, New Hampshire, said Maine is near-perfect for adventure racing.
“We started racing in New England five years ago and New Hampshire was our first choice,” Killian said recently. “But eventually you run out of land there for a four- or five-day race.”
With racing options depleted in the granite state, Killian cast his eyes northward and, after talking to some land management officials in Maine, he knew he had found his next race setting.
“We found the permitting requirements pretty friendly here,” he said. “And the amount of large tracts of land you have here with private landowners makes it easy to negotiate land use, making coming here very attractive.”
On top of that, Maine has Acadia Mountain Guides, an internationally recognized climbing and adventure company out of Bar Harbor that will supply ground support during the race along with whitewater rafting company Northern Outdoors.
Killian also is working with the Appalachian Mountain Club, which oversees much of the race area.
“These are assets not every state can boast,” Killian said. “There is an infrastructure here we are happy to tap into.”
Over the four days of the race, teams will travel by foot, mountain bicycle, canoe, and white water rafts. They also will have to negotiate ropes courses.
They will use map and compass skills to make their way from checkpoint to checkpoint.
“Unlike a triathlon race with a fixed course, the adventure race has no set routes,” Renee Smith, 51, of Killingworth, Conn., race media liaison, said. “Teams will use compasses and maps to find their way around.”
That, she said, is where strategy comes in and teams must determine if it is better to take straight line routes that may require bushwhacking through wilderness or an easier, more circuitous route.
“There are so many ways to connect the dots,” Killian said.
Smith has plenty of experience observing the sport — her husband is an adventure racer who spends as much time working on race logistics as he does training.
“Racers bring their own food,” Smith said. “So my husband will lay out all the food he is bringing on our dining room table, calculate the calories of everything and pack it in individual baggies so he knows right off how many calories are in each baggie of food.”
That kind of forethought is crucial in adventure racing, Killian said.
Teams can prepare a set number of “gear bins,” limited to 40-pounds each, to be sent ahead to the checkpoints, and what goes into those bins often separates the rookies from the pros, Killian said.
Racers range in age from mid 20s into their 50s, Killian said, with age and experience often trumping youth and exuberance.
“The smart teams will include things like extra bike parts in their bins,” Killian said. “And some will put iodine tablets for purifying water instead of a gallon jug of water to save on weight.”
First place pays out $10,000, but Killian said only a handful of participants are in it for the serious competition to win.
“You have the hardcore athletes that are really charging for the finish line,” he said. “But the rest are racing against the course just to finish. These are the ones with wanderlust who were born in the wrong century and can’t explore the old west so they tap into adventure races for their journey.”
Untamed New England has teamed up with DeLorme to provide racers with special GPS beacons that will broadcast each team member’s location, which will be uploaded to the event’s website.
“We invest a lot into our online coverage,” Killian said. “This is for safety and for people’s entertainment that want to follow the racers.”
Safety, Killian and Smith stressed, is a number one priority.
“We make sure everyone has a safe way out of the race if they need it,” he said. “And there are medical staff along the way.”
In addition, all teams have the option of requesting assistance from race officials in completing a leg.
Teams that do so are disqualified from placing in the event, Killian said, but can still complete the remainder of the course and thus savor the experience of crossing the finish line.
Teams from around the United States, Canada, South America and Europe have signed up for the event.
“People plan for years to compete in an adventure race,” Killian said. “It’s not the kind of race you can just decide to do at the last minute.”
Nor is it inexpensive — registration runs $2,640 for two-person teams, $3,080 for three-person teams and $3,520 for four-person teams.
There is no formal physical to pass to enter the race, Killian said.
“We do suggest competitors have prior adventure racing experience as well as some wilderness first aid, basic bike skills [and] consult with their physician,” he said. “In practice we find our race roster to be self-selecting [and] the hefty race entry fee ensures only those serious about the experience come out.”
Each team must also get to the start with an impressive array of required gear, including mountain bikes, paddles, shelters, appropriate clothing and safety gear.
“Once the race starts, we provide logistic support,” Killian said. “We have trailers moving bikes and canoes from the checkpoints, but it’s up to the racers to find the best routes to get there themselves.”
Information on Untamed New England Adventure Race is availabe on its website at untamedne.com/.