GMAR Black Bear Challenge

I am not sure how to intro this so let me just say that I have found a fourth jewel in Montana’s crown of endurance adventure competitions. The Grizzly Man Adventure Race in Greenough Montana has to be included although I have not done the full grizman. Thanks to Bob and Triple Ring Productions (Butte 100) I was able to line up last Saturday. I did do the Black Bear Challenge which is the short course without white water. But I can say with certainty that next year I will be in the full monty.

To me the endurance races are spread out evenly across Montana as well as the calendar. It is perfect and we should feel very lucky. The season is would go as follows: 1) Grizzley Man Adventure Race in April, 2) 24 Hours of Rapelje in June, 3) Butte 100 in July, and 4) 8 Hours of Labor in September.

We were required to have a 64 ounce of hydration carrying capacity so I opted to line up with 70 ounces of Carbo Rocket. I felt that would be light because I didn’t need to carry any additional nutritional products. Looking back though I should of left the powder in the containers and filled them up as needed at checkpoints. The gun went off and I was sloshing through the Paws Up ranch with a fanny pack that weighed a ton.  Click on the photos to visit and purchase prints.


Slish-slosh I went under Route 200 through a tunnel to begin the run orienteering section. I felt this heavy fanny pack would be my downfall as I ran with Walter Hailes up the first pitch and into the woods. He was carrying one of the lightest looking hydration packs I have ever seen. Looked like a 30 ouncer. Next year I will go hydration pack for sure.

We quickly dropped all the competition and went stride for stride to the top of the ridge. We started working together and it was as if we were training partners for years. We nailed the first checkpoint with just a slight bit of difficulty. It was clear that if we worked together we could nail all the checkpoints in the bushwhack half of the race. Thankfully I found out that I am pretty good with a compass and used bearings to chop of easier sections to gain time advantages. Walter was better at judging distances because one time I figured we had around a half mile to go and he suggested we were close to our next cp.

I learned that even though we were working together it seemed that if one of us slowed the other would keep going so I kept stride with Walter as much as I could with a fanny pack that resembled a bulk fuel truck. He lofted along effortlessly and I sloshed and thumped along with a swaggering gate which could not last long. I am not a runner so thankfully the first half was only 10k or so.

Once Walter nearly ran into a bob wire fence and I nearly  had a face plant tripping over my own feet. At times running down ridges and hills strewn with downfall and rocks was very tricky and I envisioned breaking a leg or something.

Nearing the end of the run as we headed downhill and towards the river we split up. It seemed the partnership was over. I wanted to take the trails down to learn my mountain bike route back up and he wanted to take the direct bushwhack that could get him to River Camp about 10 minutes faster. As soon as we split I felt sad and worried that I had to now navigate alone hoping I could make up the gap on the bike.

Half way down to River Camp Walter emerged from the forest. It seemed that his bearing had drifted East and he ended up coming out on the trail I was on. We were back together and it was a good thing. The most important section just before the river required a route that would have a small bushwhack to a gate which would thread the needle to the river road back to the transition area. We did it perfectly.

Finally we emerged out of the woods at the Blackfoot River and headed on over to River Camp were we transitioned into mountain bike mode. We were greeted with tons of volunteers and cheers. We were in the lead in a big way. It was here that there was a chance to hit the restrooms (I felt I needed a “potty” break). There was this kind of a truce to stop and take a break. Walter headed over and I announced that I was just too into race mode to stop. I headed over to the bike transition area and he stopped his heading to the bathrooms. It was clear he wanted to not let me get out of sight.

I calmly transitioned, taking off my leg warmers that were strewn with burrs. I left a large water bottle there to relieve my fanny pack load and put another into the bike cage (still had 64 oz capacity). The shoes went on and I hoped on the Leader Turner. It felt sooo good and I speed off while Walter was still scrambling to put on his helmet.


I went out strong and started the climb back to a previous checkpoint that doubled up for the bike portion as well. I was so much in full charge mode that I missed a turn and ended up at a farm …. “DAM”, I announced out loud. I turned to ride through the woods to where I “guessed” the trail would be. I didn’t want to go back on the road and loose ground or have Walter see me lost. Suddenly Josh’s (race director) voice boomed out in my head.

“Do not ride your bike off trail or you will be DQed”, I slammed on the breaks and jumped off immediately. Just about ended it right there. IF someone would of seen me riding off trail I would be disqualified or at the least penalized with an added hour. I ran my bike through the woods and bramble. My legs got all scratched up now that they were bare but I finally found the trail. I jumped back on and cramped so hard it felt like my calves were tree trunks.

All the running had taken its toll on my leg muscles that haven seen a run for quite some time. The cramps were not sever enough to warrant walking and I was able to peddle through them until they disappointed throughout the next hour. I have Carbo Rocket to thank for that! I actually recovered from a cramp, first time for me.

My cycling fitness took me way into the lead and I enjoyed the luxury of slowing down to enjoy the adventure. I stopped to chat at check point B and suggest that maybe they shouldn’t stand in front of the orange check point thing a ma-bob. In adventure racing you are looking hard for these orange square things that resembled small kites. On each was a special punch with a particular pattern that identified the cp. When you are done you hand in your “passport” with the punches to be verified and assessed time bonuses/penalties.

I only had a couple small hurdles to over come en route to the farthest and sec
ond to last checkpoint. Once I went up the wrong road but knowing my distance skills were a little off I made the decision to make sure by going back. Thankfully I found that I had took a turn too soon. Back on track I ran into snow drifts up high. BUT, I had my screw shoes on and the drift hopping went well. I employed some cyclocross experience for sure. On the way back down I hot some ice and was diverted into a tree. I hooked my bar end and was thrown ten feet in front of my bike.

My big strategy of the race was to cut off 6 miles of biking by running down a draw to a lower road. I love adventure racing for this aspect. Your racing with your mind as well as your body. I took a bearing and bombed down. Once I jumped back on my bike I was well on my way home. I hit River Camp at 2:50 and really wanted to be sub 3 hours. I turned up the speed a notch and headed out on the final leg into the prairie looking for my last check point. Paws Up Ranch has tons of trails and I found myself getting confused at each junction. I think I was getting nervous of taking a wrong turn which could jeopardize my lead. So I made the decision to slow down and confirm with my map at every opportunity. This would slow me down but I wanted to protect my lead.

I found my last checkpoint and after punching my passport I threw my arms in the air. It was over and all I needed to do was mountain bike back to the start finish line on a great little trail. I was home free but when I entered the Elk Creek tunnel under Route 200 the race became interesting again.

Tunnels are cool in many ways but it is impossible to come from a sunny day  into one and see well. Halfway into the black hole I glanced up to the opening at the other end and suddenly with horror I realized I was on sheer ice. My bike began to drift and I just bailed and dug my screw shoes in and miraculously kept from grating my head on the side of the corrugated tunnel (culvert). I was still sliding sideways as I exited out into a beautiful prairie beautifully lined with a winding creek.


I cant say how lucky I was making it through the tunnel alive because if I were forced to run possibly with broken body parts to the finish I would of been second. Just 11 minutes after I hoisted my bike to take the win Walter came through in second (and a bloody arm). I took the win at 3:15. Walter and I had a hour and a half over the rest of the field.

That is how the race went down but for me the best part was before and after hanging with quality friends. This kind of race format is awesome and now I have a burning desire to do more of them.


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