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Home » Endurance » Adventure Racing » Lightning Strikes 2010

High Profile Adventure Camp & Lightning Strikes


High Profile Adventure Camp Logo

I had been fascinated with adventure racing for a while, but due to other commitments and difficulty in finding teammates, I had been unable to explore this passion. These problems evaporated after discovering the High Profile Adventure Camp. It provided an entire weekend of building various adventure racing skills through expert presentations and practical experience, and capped off with a sprint race on the last day. With many other interested parties attending, campers would have no problem finding teammates that weekend. Plus I need to go to adult summer camp more than once a year.

The camp was located at YMCA Camp Benson in Mt. Carroll, IL, just a couple hours from my house. They provided cabins in which to stay, group facilities, and an amazing setting to hold a race. Everyone I met there was incredibly awesome. Staff and volunteers were friendly and enthusiastic. Participants’ abilities ranged from beginners to experts. We had a great time sharing our trials and experiencing the weekend.

Classroom Education

Campers eating breakfast in the lodge

The weekend started with a presentation on paddling technique by Jeremy Rodgers, an elite adventure racer and member of U.S. Canoe and Kayak. He shared his years of expertise detailing how to paddle efficiently, maneuver a boat, draft, read the water, train, and execute on race day. The excellent information presented was almost too much, requiring concentration to try to absorb the continuous stream spewing from Jeremy’s lips. With so much though, gleaning just 10% of what he said made it worthwhile.

The next section focused on orienteering, a vital skill to adventure racing. Given my infamous navigation history, I keenly paid attention to all they had to offer. Using a compass, properly reading a map, determining location, and finding a new point were all covered in detail. The skills are not quite rocket science, but having everything unambiguously spelled out helped to cement how those activities meld together.

Practical Experience

The next morning we put our classroom education into action with a practical exam at Mississippi Palisades State Park. The morning was spent on the water, trying to maneuver large plastic yellow canoes. We paddled these barges around the Mississippi backwater, trying turning, drafting, different strokes, and working in tandem. It went well, and most importantly I stayed mostly dry.

After playing on the water, we headed into the woods to locate some checkpoints. Since I had never previously truly orienteered, I held back with the newbie group that concentrated on methodically finding a couple checkpoints — unhurriedly spelling out each step explicitly, rather than trying to clear the course. Although I probably could have gone a little faster, the demanding step-by-step nature of the experience was beneficial, forcing me to stop and think through every part, rather than rushing through things, as I normally tend to do.


Traversing across a river

That afternoon we returned to the YMCA camp to practice our skills with ropes — specifically repelling, ascending, climbing, zip lines and traverses. Some classroom instructions emphasizing safety proceeded us heading into the field. Unfortunately with so many people at the camp, slow moving lines formed to actually get on the ropes. These queues limited how much I could actually do, but I still managed to gain experience and confidence in a harness. The camp setup tons of rope and coerced expert volunteers into staffing them, so complaining about the waits is hard. Repelling a few more times would have been nice though, but such is life. I still did all that stations at least once, except for ascending. My descents were not very smooth, but I made it down safely and always kept my feet pointing down.


Both a four and eight hour race are offered Sunday, and of course I wanted to do the longer one. Most people forming teams that weekend try the shorter version. I kept my eyes open though, ideally seeking teammates with some experience to offset my lack there of. My wishes were answered as I hit the jackpot when I met Frank. He was a Primal Quest veteran, but due to injuries could not race with his normal team. He graciously agreed to partner with me, and team “Strangers in Danger” was born. His years of experience would teach me a lot during the race, and hopefully prevent me from getting too lost.

Lightning Strikes Logo

After some last minute prepping by my experienced teammate, the race started punctually at seven. An initial little canoe portage slightly broke up the pack before we ventured into a short orienteering section around the camp. Teams were still crowed together though, so it was more an exercise of follow the leader.

After a few checkpoints we jumped in giant yellow canoes for a paddle downstream. The narrow, windy river turned this section into a technical float, rather than any test of endurance. Thankfully with an experienced guy in the back and having honed my own paddling skills hauling trash from rivers, we managed the obstacles well. I stayed dry, except for the few times shallow spots forced us to drag the boat. We even passed a few other teams on the river, a couple of which were in the drink.

We emerged from the creek a couple miles later to grab our mountain bikes. A twist the race director added was each team had to haul their bikes out to this bridge that morning before the race even started. As he said, expect the unexpected. We dropped the boat, grabbed our mountain bikes and headed off. All the riding was on gravel roads, with no single track or anything technical. This terrain suited me well, as I am happy to mindlessly hammer, rather than negotiating ruts and bumps. This section also went smooth because my teammate know the area roads very well, and could lead journey without even consulting a map. The stroll on the bikes led us over a couple hills and through the country side before arriving at Mississippi Palisades State Park.

Starting our paddle down the river

We left our bikes to head into the woods for the largest orienteering section. The park is ideally suited for such an activity. Large reentrants, striking bluffs, wooded hills, and streams provided many features to reference against our detailed maps. The first checkpoint gave us a little difficulty, but we found the rest without problems. Frank even let me do the majority of the navigation (while keeping a close watch) so I could practice my orienteering. The experience was great, and I somehow did relatively well.

After emerging from the woods, we hit a few checkpoints with our mountain bikes on the way back to the YMCA camp. Here I also learned how to ride a bike while wearing a PFD and carrying a paddle. Back at camp though, it was time for some ropes. After racing hard from checkpoint to checkpoint though, slowing down to traverse ropes threw off my rhythm. We had to wait for a couple teams, and rappelling is not something to hurry through anyway. Everything must be double checked, and I had to be deliberate in my descents. This abrupt slowdown tripped me up, and made it hard to move quickly again after the ropes.

Running in to the end of the middle orienteering section

A wicked zip line, a couple rappels (only upside down once), an ascent (which luckily my partner did), and some other random orienteering (including a trip through a cave) brought us through the back half of the course. We had to cross the river which we had paddled earlier that day a couple of times, and the cold water stung my pumping legs. The uninvited ice bath caused my muscles to seize, and was another detriment to moving fast.

After half a day of racing all over the camp and sounding area, doing everything from paddling to zip lines, we finally circled back and crossed the finish line in 6:38. That would have been good enough to win the two person open division, but unfortunately we used a wrong punch at a spot with two checkpoint markers, inflicting a two hour penalty. As a slight consolation, the same fate happened to quite a few teams.

The race (and entire weekend) were great. I learned a ton, met some great people, and had fun. Hopefully I will be able to keep up this adventure racing stuff and enter some other races.

Frank, myself, and Gary (the race directory)

Frank, myself, and Gary (the race directory)