AMERICA’S TOUGHEST RACE
SO YOU LIKE SUFFERFESTS…
Words by Marissa Krawczak
Photos by Jerry Galmez, Jason Cornell, and Iona
“Hey, I heard you liked sufferfests…” was the phrase that came out of my neighbors’ mouth when I picked up the phone last summer. I laughed, it was Austin Smith, pro snowboarder, and multi-sport dabbler. He continued, explaining he needed a teammate, specifically a female teammate, to be the fourth person on an Adventure Race team alongside his brother Lebn Schuyler and long-time friend Alex Pashley. It was explained to me as an adult scavenger hunt, where you would get to see parts of Oregon you do not normally get to see…and it was 500 plus kilometers (310miles). I am not sure if I do like sufferfests, but I am a yes-girl, so I bought some new Gore-Tex shoes and joined the team.
The race we entered was called “America’s Toughest Race – Expedition Oregon” and took place in May 2021 around and through the Ochoco National Forest. The race was split up into Stages and the route was set with Checkpoints that we had to navigate using a paper map and compass. Cell phones and GPS watches were left at home bringing a new, but old, level of navigation to the forefront.
The first stage was packrafting the John Day River…for 100 kilometers. After this day-long paddle, we arrived at the first Transition Area (TA) where our bike boxes were waiting. Each of us had a bike box that Austin thoughtfully decorated with our team logo, Blue Jays, that were transported for us to the next TA when we were not riding them.
We assembled our bikes, loaded calories, and took off on the pavement at sunset before turning uphill onto gravel roads into the night. After navigating these roads, we had a choice to make, go the long way on a sustained pitch; or the shorter route that followed topographic lines that were much closer together. Of course, we took the shorter way. All night we pushed our bikes uphill, through juniper cow grazing hills and into high ponderosa forests. The four-by-four road we followed was dusty and loose. My nose started bleeding in the dry dark night, the blood droplets disappearing into the dust at my feet. The hill steepened and the narrow road turned to slippery pinecone littered single cow-path.