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Original Issue

An Extremely Trying Year

Jeez, you head out onto the field to soak up a little atmosphere
after the Ohio State--Michigan game, the next thing you know
you're in a British soccer riot. It occurred to me yet again, as
I choked on pepper spray in the south end zone of Ohio Stadium
three weeks ago, that adventure is where you find it.

I emerged from the Horseshoe unbloodied, which was not the case
with all my 2002 adventures. I ate some serious loam at the Muddy
Buddy Ride & Run outside Chicago in September, during which I hit
a root on the bike course and went, as my father might say, "ass
over bandbox." At least that spill elicited sympathy from my
fellow racers. After a day covering the Calgary Stampede last
July, I slaked my thirst at Ranchman's saloon, where some of the
real cowboys convinced me that a ride on the mechanical bull was
a good idea. I was promptly thrown, then roundly booed.

I stayed on my two-wheeled steed at the XTerra off-road triathlon
in Half Moon Bay, Calif., in August, no thanks to eventual race
winner Conrad Stolz, who came so close to me on the single-track
that the handlebars of our mountain bikes clicked together. (He
was on his second loop of the bike course, I was on my first.) To
me that's the beauty of these XTerra events: You can rack your
bike within a few feet of Conrad and Ned Overend and a bunch of
other world-class athletes, and no one really knows or cares that
you're a fraud, an over-the-hill 41-year-old with the VO2 max of
a potted palm.

Other ordeals leave one no place to hide. I am thinking, in this
particular case, of last May's 256-mile Appalachian Extreme
Adventure Race (the AEAR) in western Maine, during which one
squad in particular was exposed as a pretender. This was Team
Marin, a trio of seemingly fit competitors who could not, alas,
navigate their way from the elevator to the lobby of the Sunday
River Inn, to which they retreated after withdrawing from the
race in ignominy. Forty-one hours after embarking on the hiking
leg that took the lead teams 12 hours to finish, the captain of
Team Moron, as it had come to be known, used his emergency radio
to make contact with race headquarters.

"We quit," I said. "Come get us."

Our fitness, my chief concern going into the race (MURPHY'S LAW,
May 27), turned out to be the least of our problems. My
teammates--Gordon Wright and Teri Snyder--and I would have had
difficulty navigating our way out of a gunnysack that weekend. We
were lost early and often. We stunk, and we stunk.

For the first 24 hours of the race we were a middle-of-the-pack
squad. That was as good as it got for Team Moron. Having
misplotted Checkpoint 14, we spent our second night trudging
vainly through Caribou Valley, a boggy, godforsaken concavity
strewn with moose pies and at least five miles, it turned out,
from where we belonged. In the morning we decided to proceed to
Checkpoint 15. But we'd misplotted that one, too, and spent our
last, miserable hours in the race scouring the west side of
Saddleback Lake for another phantom checkpoint. (It was on the
lake's east side.) By then none of us had eaten in about 20
hours. We were bickering, we were hallucinating, we were done.

When we finally radioed in, race director Tracyn Thayer alerted
the state police, which had been informed that a
search-and-rescue operation might soon be necessary. We were
chastened, tired, hungry and, as I later overheard my brother
Mark tell his wife, Sabrina, "oh-so-smelly--even the chick."
Other than that, we were fine.

Mark was one third of our support crew, along with my sister
Gibby and her husband, John Ries. Mark was sensitive to our
embarrassment, waiting at least five minutes after our reunion
before sharing his recently created nicknames for us: In addition
to Team Moron, he'd coined Team Moses and the Israelites. Poor
Dave McCallum, the volunteer who had spent a lonely night
shivering and waiting for us in vain at Checkpoint 14, dubbed us
Team S.S. Minnow, my personal favorite.

While five other teams failed to finish, none demonstrated such
spectacular incompetence in doing so. Resolution for '03: Take a
nav course or two, and return to Maine next May. Team Marin vows
to finish the AEAR or, failing that, to get through the weekend
with fewer nicknames.

The next SI ADVENTURE will appear in the Jan. 20 issue.

COLOR PHOTO: RON VESELY MUD AND GUTS The author slogged through many a misadventure in 2002.

For the first 24 hours of the race we were a middle-of-the-pack
squad. THAT WAS AS GOOD AS IT GOT for Team Moron.