Posted on Sun, Nov. 14, 2004

Racing smart, racing steady

[A]lmost anyone who participates in sports can learn a lesson from the members of the Twin Cities adventure racing team known as We Eat Dust And Like It. These folks race hard but make sure the prime memory they come away with is fun.

Team captain Ellen Farseth of Woodbury explained it this way: "You use a map and find your way. You're kind of like a kid again, running around in the forest."

The WEDALI team spent 20 hours and 15 minutes last weekend "running around in the forest" along with plenty of biking and paddling to finish sixth in the U.S. Adventure Racing National Championship event in French Lick, Ind. The first-place team from Georgia took 17:05, and 40 teams finished in an event with a time limit of 30 hours.

Molly Moilanen of Minneapolis, a friend and occasional support crew member for the WEDALIs, went along on the trip and volunteered at the race. Moilanen seems to have gotten the message, reporting that "it was tons of fun."

Adventure racing involves such disciplines as canoeing, orienteering, trekking, trail running, biking on roads and/or trails, climbing and whatever else race organizers choose. Teams must stay together, thus they can go no faster than the slowest person. They navigate between checkpoints on a map, and the best directions aren't always obvious, according to Scott "Scooter" Lund of Savage, WEDALI navigator.

"All you've got is a map and compass," he said. "The route you take between checkpoints is all up to you."

Most teams find the same routes, but that doesn't eliminate wrong turns, especially as participants grow tired and the day runs out of sunlight.

A wrong turn, team member Justin Bakken of Lakeville said, is "a real bummer," because the team must retrace its route to where it went off course and go a different direction. The WEDALIs stayed on course in Indiana, which allowed them to pass a few groups that went awry.

Unlike some daylong events, however, it never got lonely.

"It was really competitive; we saw other teams the whole time," said Bakken, the youngster on the team at 24.

"Our key is we try to race smart, race steady," Lund said, who added the WEDALIs do "whatever it takes to grind through."

The WEDALI crew, usually four but limited to three in the nationals, never argues or encounters a dispute, Lund said. "We have good team dynamics." Lund, a 37-year-old patent attorney, also races with a different team in Arizona during the winter.

When they're cycling, they have bungee-cord devices hooked up to their bike frames so they can help pull anyone struggling.

"That was me," said Farseth, 30. "I was tired going up the hills. On the mountain biking, there were some challenging parts to it. It was half on roads and half on trails, and it had rained the week before, so the trails were really muddy. I crashed and fell a couple of times."

Probably the toughest experience at the nationals was at the beginning, when teams jumped into three-person canoes and paddled down a bitter-cold river with early morning temperatures in the high 30s and half a dozen log jams to scramble over or portage around.

"I think overall, for our team, paddling is our weakest section," Lund said.

The WEDALIs got a little cold and wet when the kayak paddles splashed frigid water into the canoe, but at least they didn't capsize, Lund said.

"We saw several teams that tipped their canoes when they reached log jams," he said. "It's not like running or biking where you generate heat; it would be a long race if you got wet."

The team, which includes Scott Erlandson of Albert Lea, Minn., in four-person races, eats and drinks during transition phases but has to carry its own supplies along the course. Sport drinks and energy bars are staples, "but a team favorite is cold pizza," Lund said.

Despite their good finish, the race is all about the adventure and the camaraderie, Farseth said.

"We were just honored to be at this race; we had to qualify," she said. "At the starting line, we had a big group hug and said, 'Let's have a positive experience.' "

About 18 hours after starting, Farseth was dragging as they raced through the woods in search of an orienteering checkpoint, and she reached out to her teammates for support.

"We had a group hug right there in the forest," she said. "I needed a little bit of encouragement."

Then she paused and said it was never an option to stop.

"It was a great race," she added. "A lot of fun."

Bruce Brothers can be reached at