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Raiding Valley County

Adventure racers invade Idaho's hinterlands


For anyone who hasn't subjected him or herself to an adventure race (and for the record, hell no I haven't), a simple description of a course will say more than any sweaty anecdote or extreme video clip. So before talking about anything else related to Idaho's recent visit from the Raid World Cup, let's get the course out of the way.

At 6 a.m. last Saturday morning, members of 36 four-person teams from 11 countries left the north shore of Payette Lake in inflatable canoes. They paddled the length of the lake, approximately 6 1/4 miles, getting out of the water at McCall Rotary Park. From there, they put on in-line skates and skittered along Warren Wagon road back to the north side of the Payette Lake again and back—in traffic—a distance of almost 12 1/2 miles. Once back in McCall, the teams got on mountain bikes and pedaled 31 miles up over Brundage Mountain and down, back through McCall and to Ponderosa State Park. They got off their bikes and ran just over 11 miles to a stretch of the North Fork of the Payette River--a run that included 1,330 feet of elevation gain followed by an almost 1,000-foot rappel down the face of Slick Rock, a popular rock climbing area east of McCall. This run/fall was followed by another run, this one just over 13 1/2 miles long, through the mountains to a campground approximately halfway between McCall and Donnelly. At the campground, the racers once again got on their bikes, which their support team had shuttled for them, and rode 38 1/2 miles to a campsite in the town of Cascade.

On Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m., the teams began day two of the race with a brisk 8 1/2-mile mountain bike ride down to the popular Cabarton run of the Payette River. At Cabarton, they got back into their inflatable canoes (some were quickly thrown out of those canoes) and attempted to navigate just over 9 miles of class-three rapids, ending at the small town of Smiths Ferry. Once out of the river, they climbed back onto their mountain bikes and pushed 955 feet of elevation up to snow-covered Granite Peak near the Gem County border, an 18 1/2-mile ride. Then, they ran from Granite Peak—through snow most of the way—almost 10 miles downhill to where French Creek enters Cascade lake, gaining 636 feet of elevation along the way and then losing another 1,494. Finally, the teams got back in their canoes and paddled another 10 miles back across Cascade Lake, finishing the race at Tamarack Resort.

What do organizers call this whirlwind 170-mile tour of dominant geographical and geological landmarks of south-central Idaho?

"It's a sprint. A super-fast sprint," said Rebecca Rusch, a Sun Valley resident and longtime adventure racer who worked with race director Sylvain Thuault to design the course and get all necessary state, federal and local permissions. "People are going at the top end the whole time." It sounds like an exaggeration, but do the math: The winning squad, Nike's Elite Adventure Team, finished the entire course in just under 18 1/2 hours. The top 10 teams all finished in less than 24. With a bad map on bad roads, it might take most Idahoans longer than that to drive through the race's checkpoints.

Since launching in 1989, the France-based Raid (no acronym; just "Raid") quickly became one of the most popular of the handful of global adventure races, among others like Eco-Challenge, Primal Quest and numerous single-location annual events like Mild Seven Outdoor Quest in Borneo and Appalachian Extreme in the Eastern United States. Each year, Raid's organizers hold qualifying races in three continents, followed by an even larger, more difficult World Championship race, which will be held this September in Quebec, Canada. Last weekend was the second time in four years that the requisite annual United States qualifying race has been held in Idaho. Thuault and Rush also designed a course three years ago that ran from Stanley to Ketchum, and while that course was far more alpine than the one around McCall, Thuault said that the new course shared a European feel that appealed to the French native when he first started scouting it last October.

"This is the kind of design we could design in France, or maybe Scandinavia, because we have so many mountain lakes and things like that," Thuault said. "But there is much highway over in France. Here, there is not a lot of road compared to Europe."

That Idaho was prime adventure territory came as a surprise to Sheldon Keafer, the Idaho Department of Lands' Payette Lake Area Supervisor. He worked with the race organizers to get permission for several sections of the course, but added, "Most of where they're going to be, I've just hunted."

Now that Raid has visited Idaho, our state is returning the favor by sending at least one representative to the championship. Forty-two-year-old Michael Tobin of Boise, a member of the victorious Nike team—which also won the Sun Valley race three years ago—said he plans to attend the race in September. An adventure racer since 2000 and a competitive athlete "since ever," Tobin said that Idaho is an ideal base for an adventure racer. "You can run and ride year-round," he said. "That's why I ended up here."

Matthew Weatherly-White, 42, a financial advisor in Boise and member of the 10th place Team Gregory, also qualified for the race in Quebec after finishing in just over 21 hours. While he has participated in races around the world, after last week's race Weatherly-White attributed at least part of his team's success to knowing the intricacies of a course right in his back yard.

"A lot of people were setting sails up [on their canoes before the final row], which was an odd call," Weatherly-White said. "But the wind almost always comes in the opposite direction on that lake, and sails get in the way with even the slightest crosswind." Sure enough, when the racers hit the water on Sunday afternoon, "There were a bunch of teams madly taking their sails apart."

Weatherly-White said he will probably not compete in the world championship but will instead hold his own "contained little event" in Idaho this fall. His version of "little" and "contained" includes going on a solo bike ride between each of Idaho's nine 12,000-foot peaks, climbing each along the way.

"I just thought it'd be nice to go out in the woods alone for a few days," he said.

To see the full map of the Raid Idaho course, plus race results and a bunch of pictures of the first day of racing, visit Rec at