Corridor racers put Mind Over Mountain

Kia Kaha team quick in back-to-back adventure races

No matter what kind of adventure you throw at the members of team Kia Kaha, it seems the group of four corridor residents is bound to persevere.

Coming off an outstanding performance in the Raid The North Extreme race from earlier this summer, the crew of Whistlerites Dave Viitakangas and Mike Conway and Squamish residents Cathy Jensen and Meghan Thompson have spent the last couple of weeks recording more impressive adventure race results.

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The squad, while racing as Team Merrell/Valhalla Pure Outfitters, blew away the co-ed fours field in the Sept. 24 Mind Over Mountain Adventure Racing (MOMAR) event in Cumberland, finishing first by more than 1 hours in their division and ninth overall when compared to all individuals and teams.

Viitakangas said the result was particularly exciting because it was their first event with Thompson in the mix, as she replaced Kamloops resident Wade Tokarek from the Raid the North lineup.

"The MOMAR was great," he said. "To come ninth there overall was pretty good, especially racing as a team of four. It's a lot harder to do than as a team of two or solo - there's lots to worry and think about."

The team finished the approximately 50-kilometre course, comprised of running, biking and kayaking, in five hours, 49 minutes and five seconds, which also put them second overall among all teams of four.

The team's performance at Raid the North Extreme back in July qualified it for last weekend's 24-hour Best Around Bend Adventure Race, held over Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 1 and 2) in Bend, Ore. The race featured more than 100 km of mountain biking, 40 km of hiking and 10 km of paddling, and Kia Kaha placed second overall and first among four-person crews.

"That was awesome - we were pretty stoked. We had a lot of people congratulating us," said Viitakangas.

While the team has done well on British Columbia terrain this summer, Viitakangas said the setting in Oregon was quite a bit different.

"It was pretty incredible because we'd never seen that kind of stuff before - massive lava fields and biking in sand that you can hardly ride in," he said. "The first part of the race was a hike, then paddling down Class 3 rapids in whitewater."

The course hardly got easier the rest of the way.

"There was a big bike after the rafting and then a big hike that took us into the night," said Viitakangas. "Around 10 p.m., we got to a river where we could either take a shortcut by swimming 100 metres to the next checkpoint (rather than) hiking another probably six or seven miles - another hour at least. We decided to strip down and swam across but from there, me personally, I was probably close to hypothermic at that stage and just could not warm up after that."

Still, the team continued on despite the terribly cold conditions, kayaking across a lake at 3 a.m. for several hours and continuing on to reach the finish before the mid-afternoon cutoff.

"We got to the next bike stage and our hands were shaking. A lot of teams pulled out at that point," said Viitakangas. "It was brutally cold. At that bike stage, our water bottles had froze, it was that cold.

"You're going to get your highs and lows as a team, but for the most part, we figured it out and pushed through. Everyone was pretty strong, but at the end, everyone was pretty beat."

Viitakangas said team chemistry didn't suffer at all in the two events having added Thompson.

"The three of us had raced together before and Meghan hadn't done a lot of training before," he said. "She did way better in the (Bend) race than she did in MOMAR. She improved massively and it was good to see. The team dynamics were great."

The members of Kia Kaha appear to be finished with adventure racing for the season but plan to get back into it next summer.

"This time of year it's starting to wind down," said Viitakangas. "We've got a few plans for next year - some big races that we're penciling in."

Among the events Kia Kaha is considering for next season is the Primal Quest, an expedition race of up to 10 days in length hosted in Idaho next year.

Viitakangas himself plans to take on the Speights Coast to Coast race in his native New Zealand in February, a 243-km multi-sport event that is widely considered to be the world's original adventure race.

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