The Original Wild Onion Urban Adventure Race, held in Downtown Chicago, had professional film crews covering it. The film footage they took makes for quite a little gem of a documentary showing what participating in one of these was actually like, minus all the tiki torches and made up tribal-looking crap that TV audiences supposedly want. Unfortunately, it didn’t really get far beyond the filming stage and wasn’t even edited together properly. That is until my earlier story prompted one veteran of the race to do a little IT work, which consisted of, “hey son, you know how to do this crap, remember all the pain and expense I had to go through in raising you?” Thank you, Chris DeBeer!
This original race, held in the year 2000, was the only one that I missed. Upon being regaled by stories from my friends, Ken DeBeer, Rich Ruid and Cami Ronchetto, I was very excited to be doing this same race the following year. The team for 2001, and for some years beyond, consisted of Yvonne Deyo, Ken DeBeer and myself- “The Orienteers”.
I was pumped! In my daydreams leading up to 2001, I imagined “The Orienteers” careening into the subway train just as the doors were closing, in first place, of course, and then watching the disgruntled faces of our chasers, as the train pulls away from the station, leaving them on the platform. Perhaps I’ve been following the wrong race god because as it happened, we rolled up to the train, just as the doors were closing. I probably could have jammed my front wheel into the closing door but wasn’t too sure how that would have turned out. There we sat on the platform, watching a train full of racers and their bicycles, pull out of the station. Expectations are a bitch!
Below is the ‘documentary’ of the original race. Ken, Rich and Cami are team number twelve. Enjoy.
Previous stories on Adventure Racing: Wild Onion: (yes, there’s a movie) (a different movie, a different race, New York)
A Surprisingly Enjoyable Endeavor- 2016 Castlewood Race Report
Below is the ‘race report’ of the original Wild Onion, Written by Ken DeBeer.
Wild Onion Urban Adventure Race; 2000
I was holding off on my report hoping to get the final results so that my times and distances would be more exact. I haven’t been able to find them on the web so I’ll wing it.
I teamed up with Rich Ruid and Cammy Ronchetto, two adventure racers with impressive resumes of racing the world over to do an adventure race in Chicago. The race started downtown by the Loop at the North Beach at 8:00 Friday night. 56 teams were entered in the race. For the first leg we were required to bring our bike helmet, PFD, rubber boots, 50 ounces of water and lights.
From the start we ran 2-3 miles any route we wanted to the Sears Tower and climbed 103 floors to the top. We signed in and ran back down the steps. I believe Cammy said it took us 23 minutes to climb up. Coming out of the Sears Tower we were in 7th place. We then ran about a mile to a government office building on LaSalle where we put on our boots and helmets and were led underground to the tunnels that were once used to transport coal used to heat the office buildings. The tunnels were about 8 feet wide and 8 feet high with old rails for the coal carts in standing water on the floor. There were ribbons hanging from the ceiling marking where the holes were underwater. The helmets were required to protect your head when you rammed it into the occasional object that was hanging down. We went 2-3 miles thought the maze of tunnels where we surfaced, dumped the boots and put on our running shoes. From here we made our way though town to the Navy Pier. We picked up a heavy tub aluminum beater boat and carried it ½ mile to the Chicago River where we dumped it in and paddled upstream for 10 incredibly cold miles. We passed 4 teams on the water. After the canoe leg we were to follow the North Branch of the Chicago River on foot for 10-12 miles. I was a stumbling idiot for the first 15 minutes until I warmed up. The rules here were that we could not walk on concrete or mowed grass. This way teams had to stay in the wooded section next to the river or in the river. After this section and a short road section we met our support team, ate, changed and got on our mountain bikes. We entered a park/wooded section and went about 10 miles on a dirt/mud trail where somehow we got past the second place team, then about 5 miles on road to catch the EL at Harlem and the Eisenhower Express. We rode the EL as the sun came up to the Jackson stop in the Loop and then rode down to the beach at 77th street where the first place team was just leaving.
Next was the coasteering section. Here we were to follow the coast for about 8 miles staying on the rocks or beach along the lake until 2 miles from the Planetarium where we roller bladed in. While on the rocks I kept thinking that the sight of us on the rocks it where every mother yells at you to get off the rocks or you’ll bust your head. I did fall down a couple of times and did the splits on some slippery rocks, but I didn’t bust my head.
Things had been going great for us until now. We had been slower than the projected time to each transition point except for this one where we were an hour ahead of schedule. Our support team stopped to get us some food and they were not here for us to get our kayaking and rappelling equipment. We waited while the 1st, then 2nd, and then the 3rd place teams put in until our crew showed up. We put in after about a half-hour wait and headed 2-3 miles into the wind around the Navy Pier to a little beach. We jumped out and ran to the end of the pier where we rappelled about 50 feet off the building at the end of the pier. We hustled back to the kayaks and headed back into the wind for about 6 more miles along the coast of Lake Michigan. We passed two of the teams on this leg. At the end of the kayak leg with the first place team in sight, we rounded a pier where we were greeted with 6-8 foot chop. It was like being in a huge washing machine. I was most anxious to get out of the kayak, as I was quite cold. My left hand was down to one functioning finger that was still useful for greeting passing motorist if I had another bike leg. I was doing my best to stay upright, but the checkpoint was on the far end of the beach. So I bailed to the security of the beach, as did the rest of the team. Bad decision. We had to drag these 60-70 pound kayaks to the check point ¾ of a mile away. We lost another ½ hour doing this and dropped back to third place. We then roller bladed to the finish line about 6 miles away. After 21 hours and about 100 miles we ended up 25 minutes behind the leaders in 3rd place, but still in the money ($1500). Second place was $3000 and first was $6000. Ouch. Or as Homer Simpson would say “Dough”.
Below is the 2001 Wild Onion race report, also written by Ken
I look forward to looking at the documentary when I have a little more time. The opening sequences makes Chicago look really rough for the participants!