Adventure Races for the Everyman
Adam McCulloch wrangled his way into a rodeo and discovered that even a city slicker can wrassle up some serious Wild West adventure. Read on for the places where amateurs can get in on the world’s ultimate rallies and races
The muscly hulk catapulted skywards, arcing over the flared nostrils of the frenzied bronco before hitting the ground with a nauseating thud. This was my first time at the rodeo. And I’d made the ultimate city slicker mistake: Volunteering to ride.
It all started with bravado around the bonfire and maybe a little wine. While trying to unglue marshmallow-y fingers from a s’more, I raised my hand to enter Beaver Creek, Colorado’s burro-racing competition. My friends and I dubbed ourselves The Outer Burros in honor of our Big Apple hometown.
Come rodeo day, we fortified ourselves with oysters and an appropriately named Wild Horse Viognier at the Park Hyatt’s 8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill. The resort’s executive chef then delivered a secret weapon: a dozen large carrots. I could taste victory as I stuffed them in my windbreaker.
At the rodeo, thousands howled as each swaggering, weathered cowboy tempted certain death. My nerves, frayed, I fled to the practice area to see Ann thrown almost immediately from a mechanical bull set to a speed no faster than a KitchenAid on “Stir.” The toddler next in line hollered encouragement, “You got this!” No, kid: we don’t.
The announcer called us to the arena, and the crowd fell national-anthem silent. Our competitors were a bridal party with the groomsmen on one team and the bridesmaids on the other.
“Go!” called the announcer. Our competitors sprang into action, but we hung back. We didn’t have brawn or skill, but we had our secret weapon. I held two carrots aloft for the crowd to see. “He’s got carrots!” called the announcer to cheers and and jeers from the crowd. The donkey was not impressed.
Ann mounted our curmudgeonly steed while I rubbed the carrot over the donkey’s lips. He licked them suspiciously and took a step forwards before putting his foot down. One by one I brought out more carrots until I was wielding a ridiculous orange bouquet. Still nothing.
Exasperated, Tom gave our donkey a slap and the message got through. He bolted. With carrots held aloft, we ricocheted around the arena at a flat gallop. “Looks like they need a map,” laughed the commentator. Purely by accident we rounded the barrel and made it to the finish line in second place.
As we basked in the crowd’s appreciation (or amusement), I fed our trusty donkey his well-deserved prize. He took the carrot in his rubbery lips then dropped it in the dirt and resumed doing what he did best–nothing.
Saddling up for a rodeo turned out to be the ultimate Wild West experience, so we rounded up places where the everyman can get a taste of the world’s biggest adventure adventure races.
Tour de France
Established in 1993, the L'Etape du Tour allows amateur cyclists to vie for the yellow jersey on real hundred-mile Tour de France mountain passes. The event attracts roughly 13,000 entrants who battle to climb such iconic routes as the ten mile ascent of Hautacam with its lung-busting 7.8% grade.
The Great Bull Run
Anyone can join the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, but once the bulls have bolted, the adrenaline rush is gone. The Great Bull Run (currently held in Chicago, the Twin Cities, Dallas, and two locations in California) offers opportunities for bovine bravado stateside. Three waves of bulls run a stadium course with adventurous participants, who finish off the day with another Spanish celebration, La Tomatina, in which guests hurl tomatoes at each other.
Indy Race Car Experience
Take a spin around the Brickyard, Indianapolis’s iconic race track, in a real life Indy race car. Budding speed-freaks practice with a professional race driver then get behind the wheel themselves for a few hot laps. This isn’t for the young, tall or big-boned: all drivers must be 18 years of age or older, under 6’5” in height, and weigh less than 250 lbs.
Watch the bucolic Australian countryside pass by in a blur while taking part in the Targa Tasmania. The multi-stage tarmac rally is inspired by such historic rallies as the Mille Miglia and (for the most part) is for professional drivers only. Fortunately, there is one race category open to amateurs. Entrants in the Targa Team Tour category follow the same course as competition vehicles, traveling over 2000 kms. All you need is a navigator CAMS speed license and a classic vehicle you’d risk crashing.
Why run just any marathon when you can retrace the actual steps taken by the soldier Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians? The Athens Marathon is sure to make even the slowest runner feel like an Olympic champion. Legend has it that Pheidippides completed the 25-mile run in a pathetic 36 hours, after which he dropped dead.
For the most part the iconic Alaskan sled-dog race, the Iditarod, passes through a thousand-odd miles of impenetrable wilderness. Canny fans book into Winterlake Lodge, one of the checkpoints for the race. More masochistic racers might want to enroll in the Iditarod Trail Invitational Ultrasport Race. The odyssey follows the same route but with one importance difference: competitors ski it without dogs. This makes it the longest human powered winter ultra-marathon on the planet.
King’s Cup Elephant Polo
Before steering a five-ton pachyderm into a game of polo, it pays to know how to encourage one to turn left, right and stop. At Anantara Elephant Camp in Thailand’s Golden Triangle, guests can learn some of the more than 70 voice commands and gentle touches used to communicate with elephants. At the end of the day, both elephant and guest bathe in the nearby river. The King’s Cup itself is played by everyone from the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team to Thailand's transgender cabaret team Miss Tiffany's.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race
You don’t have to be a billionaire to race a yacht around the globe. In fact you don’t even have to be a sailor. Organizers of the Clipper Clipper Round the World Yacht Race provide 12 sleek 70-foot racing yachts and a fully qualified skipper. The crew must complete 26 days of ocean training and then select which legs of the 11 month-long race they wish to compete in. The circumnavigation is divided into 16 individual races with points awarded for each leg.
You don’t have to be an Olympic skier to train like one. Canyons Resort Ski and Snowboarding School in Park City, Utah, has teamed up with two time Olympians Holly Flanders and Graham Watanabe, and Phil McNichol, the U.S. ski coach from 1997-2008 who led American skiers to 42 World Cup victories. So whether your chosen sport is moguls or park & pipe, you’ll be sure to come out a winner.