Wyoming - “I started to get a little grumpy at hour 33-34,” explains 2015 Cameco Cowboy Tough racer of Team Wind River Country. Chuck Schuster is relatively “new” to adventure racing (though with a decade+ of 100-mile Leadville bike races under his belt) and he was impressed by the challenges and moving parts to this 3.5 day (world series qualifying) adventure race.
“This year’s Cowboy Tough was even harder because it became a qualifying race for the world series,” the team captain conjectures. “Let me put it this way: winners of the 2014 Cowboy Tough [that started in Fremont County] made it to Day One checkpoint and were in bed by 10pm. This year, I heard Team Tecnu had two hours of sleep logged for the entire four days.”
Team Wind River Country finished Day One (the longest day of the race) 37 minutes after the cut-off time. “At first we were really disappointed… then we realized even if we had made the 8am cut-off, we would never have made the cut-off for Day Two.”
Of the 31 teams competing in the 2015 Cowboy Tough Adventure Race, 6 teams went home mid-race, 18 elected for a shortened course, and only 7 finished the full, original race course.
To win: Race teams compete for points, accumulated through mandatory and optional checkpoints. Over 3.5 days, the course requires various disciplines of skills (road biking, mountain biking, rappelling, paddling, trekking) and perhaps most importantly, group decision-making. Each team constantly reviews their plan, factoring in environmental and subjective hazards, route finding, and race strategies.
For example, in Day One’s 32-mile hike section, there was a “relatively easy” elective checkpoint where teams could grab an extra point, just a mile away from the main course and first day finish line. Schuster said, “But, when this particular optional checkpoint happens at 2am, in the pitch dark, and the main trail disappears: you revise.” The teams have to travel as a unit for the optional points. Quickly priorities shift for longevity.
Team Wind River Country’s Chuck Schuster, Karla Wagner, Shad Hamilton, and Brad Young began the race in Buffalo, Wyoming, on Thursday, July 21st, at 9am. The end of first day checkpoint was completed at 8:37am on Friday. With just enough time to change clothes, pack Day Two gear, and eat—Day Two began just after 9am, 23 minutes later.
“It was around 7pm on Friday night and we were on our bikes, at an intersection, trying determine the right course, and I remember my meltdown. Somewhere around the 36th hour I had my low-point,” recalls Schuster. With 25 kilometers left to Day-One-rolled-into-Day-Two, Team Wind River Country pulled up their boot straps and victoriously rolled into camp at 10:30pm.
Finally after a night’s rest, Schuster refers to Saturday with joy. “Day Three was absolutely glorious. Outlaw Canyon was beautiful. We grabbed bonus points from optional checkpoints. It was gorgeous country and our team made really great time on the bikes.”
Sunday July 24th: Day Four began early at 4:30am, ending in Casper. Close to mid-morning, Team Wind River Country ran the final leg with individual 7-pound rafts to float the white water park to the race finish. Team Wind River Country was one of 18 teams to choose the Adventure Class category, a “shortened” version of the race course made on the fly by coordinators wanting to produce a successful race (and actually have teams finish.)
Of the seven coed 4-person teams, Team Wind River Country took 5th place, just four points shy of tying for 3rd place. Chuck explained, “We were glad to finish. It was the team dynamics that got us through. We all had naturally had our low points, but worked together and mesh really well through a long, challenging and wild ride.”
“We are so grateful for the sponsorship from Wind River Visitors Council. The race entry fee, team jerseys, gear, and months of training would not have been possible without their support,” Schuster was happy to report. “Competing with professional adventure racers was an amazing experience. We are comparably new to the sport and very proud to have made it to the finish line, honored to represent the community we are from and love.”