There has been a recent interest in a short movie / video that was made about our twenty-four hours of adventure racing in downtown New York City, almost twenty years ago. It’s perhaps a little silly, but the music’s good.
Though the vast majority of adventure races are run through the wilderness, urban ones often make for better stories. The “Wild Onion” was the Granddaddy of these.
We were team, “The Orienteers”, an unsponsored set of ruffians consisting of Yvonne Deyo, Ken Debeer and myself.
Most of these races took place in downtown Chicago, but then were successful enough to take on the road to Indianapolis and New York City. At that same time, they sweetened the pot. $24,000 was offered at the one and only iteration of the Indianapolis race, most of that going to the winner. Money changes a sport. Though the all-consuming time commitment of professionals require it, perhaps observers prefer it, but as a good amateur athlete, racing for fun, big money wrecks it. ‘What must I do to get that money?’ becomes the focus of the Participant. Race directors’ main focus morphs into, ‘how do I sell this to my sponsors?’ ‘or the TV audience?’ The actual race itself becomes a slave to these other concerns. Luckily, with the exception of a few made for TV events, everyone quickly realized that few people outside of our sport, and our mothers, really care much about what we do in these races.
New York Onion Movie
Road construction had consumed the whole road in downtown Chicago, except for one very tight lane. All three of us were on roller blades and traffic was heavy. With nothing to do but take the entire lane, we were blading our little old hearts out in order to keep up with traffic. Riding the draft from the car in front of us was an added benefit, until, everyone slammed on the brakes! Now, roller blades are not good for this. A flashing life in front of one’s eyes has a way of bringing out new skills. I did my best skidding hockey stop. Though ugly, it was enough. Yvonne dove off the lane and into the gravel, where pavement used to be. I don’t know how she stayed up right, but she did. As the two of us were immersed in our immediate tasks, there came a rather peculiar noise. An awful, peculiar, noise. Ken had wrapped himself around an orange construction barrel in a bear hug, took it down and rode it to a stop. All three methods worked! There was not a scratch on any of us… Except, for the barrel. It probably warranted a yellow flag for unnecessary roughness.
Unfortunately, Yvonne had to recover from an injury when the Indianapolis Onion came around. If it was going to happen, we needed a substitute. We picked up Kathy Bullard, from Chicago, and became team, “Race Logics”. I did not know a thing about Race Logics, other than they gave us clothes to wear and footed some of the costs. Oh how quickly we, ‘The Three Musketeers of Adventure Racing’, being formerly known as “The Orienteers”, came out of the woods and caved to corporate pressure.
We were met at the starting line by one of the best and most respected teams in the country / world, team Sobe, headed by Mike Closer. They shot ahead, as expected, but we were going fast. There was a long and navigationally challenging orienteering section in the middle of the night, on real orienteering maps, no less. What a treat. The race directors gave me the new map and I put my backpack on the ground while I studied it. OK, we have a plan, and off into the woods we ran. I remember the race director yelling something or other to us about “don’t forget something or other”, but couldn’t quite hear, and I didn’t need any instructions anyways, this was my element. After some time, we crossed paths with the team we would normally bow to, chanting, “we’re not worthy.” I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. I whispered to my teammates, “they’re going the wrong way”. We were now in first place. Then, another revelation, “dudes, where’s my backpack?” I had forgotten to put it on. We were surely missing some required gear, and in violation now. Sometimes, in adventure racing, you can get your stuff back without anyone noticing, but not when you leave it at the feet of the director, and brush off his unimportant reminders. That is definitely not the way to get away with something. Upon returning to the start finish of that section, in first place, the race director told us that we were going to have to pay our debt to society, but he hasn’t yet decided on sentencing. So off we went, having posted bail.
At the next transition, the gavel fell. We were to sit there on a time out for exactly one-half hour, with no contact with our support crew. That was actually a rather lenient and fair punishment, I knew, yet letting a hard fought possible first place slip away on the account of my forgetfulness, threw me into a rare temper tantrum. I started to take it out on my bike helmet, batting it back and forth with much frustration, until after a very short time, I realized that my head was still inside said helmet. I also realized how stupid I must look to the small crowd watching in silence and gaping mouths. In just a handful of seconds, my tantrum ended as quickly as it had begun and I started apologizing. “Sorry about that, it’s not you, it’s me!” It felt like the damage had already been done, however. The gaping mouths of astonishment closed very slowly. How often does ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ work anyway? Who invented such a useless thing? At least we didn’t have to stand with our noses touching the blackboard, and I was not going to give them any ideas.
Upon our release, we quickly resupplied with our support crew and skedaddled before anyone got any new ideas for punishment.
We were in second place and lot of money and “ prestige” was on the line. We were all out of water and it was a hot, long run to the finish line. This predicament was especially taking a toll on the hairy beast that ascended the Empire Sate Building (Ken, in the New York Wild Onion).
Overheated and out of water can turn bad very quickly, but the finish line was not terribly far. We kept slogging on… Diners, on sidewalk cafès, with glasses of water… Ice cubes inside… Glistening condensation running down the side of the glasses… In front of people who didn’t love them the way that we do, ignoring these little gems as if they were nothing, nothing at all. The idea that snatching one of these little gems from the likely undeserving people seemed to make more logical sense with each passing block. But, that might be “one toe over the line”.
‘I have cash in my backpack,’ I thought, ‘if I threw a twenty dollar bill down on the table as their water glass full… ICE~~~WATER… went floating away, ‘surely, that would be normal and acceptable’, I thought. It would’ve taken too much time to dig the cash out my pack, and, might have been some gray area in the legality of such thinking, so the cafès were left unscathed… Yah, definitely that second thing.
We were proud and happy with our second place finish. We even got W-9’nd with our five grand winnings and a kid asked us for our autographs (found out later that the kid was the main race director’s son, but I’m sure that was inconsequential, and the kid would’ve asked anyway).
Below is the more complete story of the Indianapolis race, as told by Ken, for diehard racers… And their mothers.
For those who can’t get enough, I forgot about this little ditty. Appearing after my philosophizing about this and that, is perhaps one of the most comprehensive explanations of how a particular adventure race unfolds, you’ll ever see. This detailed account was written by Eric Buckley.