Crashing through oak scrub tall enough to cover the tops of heads and thick and dry enough to hungrily rip at bare skin, the adventure racers could sometimes only keep track of each other by listening to voices -- and those words weren't commenting about the brilliant blue sky, mind you, but rather were the likes of "Ouch," "I'm bleeding," "Watch that branch … oops, sorry," "Go, go go ... owwww," or even a few that gentile SNEWS® would never print.
Not the latest X-Adventure Raid Series elite race, oh no, this was an race organized by Golite for a couple dozen retailers and a handful of select media at the Little Dell Lake the day before the start of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market at the Demo Day on Aug. 7. The goal? To educate the group about adventure racing, not by listening to lectures, or watching a slide show, but rather by actually doing it -- bloody skin, water-filled shoes, altitude-hindered lungs, and all the teamwork and loads of laughs that go with that.
"There are a lot of people who don't know what adventure racing is," said Demetri Coupounas, GoLite cofounder. "What better way to learn than to do one, even a short one."
The staging area was next to the Demo Day booths at the lake, which meant the four teams of six often hotfooted it or pedaled through the expo area, attracting a lot of attention for the small event (Exhibitors got the promotional hint immediately, handing cups of sports drink, and energy bars and gels to participants as they dashed through.)
After a morning of basic education from the members of the GoLite-sponsored elite team, including three-time Eco Challenge champ Ian Adamson, and teammates Danelle Ballengee, Michael Tobin, and Michael Koser. The mini-sessions covered fundamentals of paddling, mountain biking, and map and compass navigation. Then, the starting gun went off for the four teams of randomly matched retailers and media, whose endeavor took about four hours in (literally, for some) and around Little Dell Lake.
"I know now adventure racing is not just for hard core people, because I'm not hard-core," said Kevin Lewis, of Whole Earth Provision, of Austin, Texas. Lewis said that his store could consider getting involved with local events now that they knew anybody could do a short adventure race.
Another retail buyer, Mark Stephenson of Blue Ridge Mountain Sports in Virginia, said participating in the event for him reinforced the viability of adventure racing as a way to grow the store's business -- "since backpacking isn't," he said. He said the store is now considering becoming a sponsor of a race series in Virginia and promoting itself as a source for gear. In addition, he said, the store's two participants quickly learned that Blue Ridge actually carries much of the gear that adventure racers need -- it's just a matter of knowing how to merchandise, market and sell it. To catch potential buyers, they will look at different ways to merchandise what the store already has in inventory, he said.
Jonathan Scott, of Rock/Creek Outfitters in Chattanooga, Tenn., wouldn’t be shy to say he wasn't at the head of the pack of his team, which placed second, but he learned how valid teamwork is to success. When his team realized the heat and altitude were sucking his wind and energy, the members not only pushed his bike when possible, but also made sure to remind him to drink water and eat snacks.
"It gave me a perspective of what people in adventure races are going to need during an event," Scott said the next day. "From a selling standpoint, we now have more knowledge of how to cross-sell. It's huge."
He said the store, which will look at sponsoring some regional athletes, now will be better able to buy the needed gear, show the broader range of uses of a piece of equipment, and sell its benefits to customers.
Coupounas said GoLite, which is a company whose gear many adventure racers of all levels prefer, couldn't be happier about the outcome: "It turned out better than we expected. Everybody had fun, and everybody learned a lot."
For the next four days of the show, battle-scared participants proudly compared scratches and scabs from their adventure, while others who had just seen the goings-on wanted to know how they could participate next year.
SNEWS® View: What a "coup"(no pun intended really) for GoLite to do this event and give retailers a hands-on experience that will stay with them for a long time. Not only that, with its location at the show's off-site Demo day, the company managed to get a buzz going among hundreds of other who weren't participating in the race but attending the Demo. What a great bang for the company's buck! Participants, which included one SNEWS® editor, made friends, shared laughs, learned teamwork, practiced hard skills, got down and dirty, and learned the real deal behind adventure racing. We bet that GoLite will gain new business, expand current ones, gain media exposure, and -- perhaps unintended -- give the general category of adventure racing at retail a bit of a boost too. As one retailer pointed out, with tents, sleeping bags and backpacks not exactly jumping of the shelves, a category like this that attracts many levels and types of people can bring in new customers, spark new business, and expose the specialty dealer to people who perhaps will come back when they are indeed ready for that new tent.