Navigating through the woods for days at a time, through darkness, light and weather of all kinds, and by kayaking, mountain biking, and hiking could sound like out of a military survival skills course. But to adventure racers, it’s just another race through beautiful countryside and a challenging course.An adventure race can be anywhere from six hours to ten days long, through forests and other outdoor terrain, lakes, rivers, and mountains, and sometimes even cities in urban areas. The racers have a list of survival tools they must bring, checkpoints they have to reach, and they have to navigate through the “course” with a map and compass.
Ronny Angell, longtime Salem resident, always loved the outdoors – hunting, hiking, and fishing. He never imagined that an overnight hiking and rock climbing would turn into his passion and later on, his dream job. His friend, Mike Meadows, convinced him to hike up to Dragon’s Tooth, starting out close to midnight.
“I thought he was crazy, wanting to hike at night,” Angell said. When Angell said he was enjoying the hike, “He said to me, ‘this is just like adventure racing, and I said ‘well, sign me up.”
The two started training together, paddling, biking, and hiking at night, as well as conditioning, and Angell volunteered to help out at a five-day-adventure race, “the Beast of the East” at Claytor Lake. After witnessing the race up close, he still wanted to race.
His first race was about five months after his first night hike with Meadows. They competed in the “Two Day Endorphin Fix” in New River Gorge, West Virginia.
“I got bit by the bug bad – it was totally life changing” said Angell. Soon after, he entered his first solo race, a 24 hour race out in Big Island near Lynchburg, and he was hooked.
“If I wasn’t racing Odyssey (Adventure Racing), I was volunteering,” said Angell. Volunteering had two upsides: five days of volunteering with OAR earns one free day of racing, plus he got to see the strategies and gear that the elite teams were using. He soon worked his way up to being on the staff. Then he became an adventure racing academy instructor, and after that, paid staff.
When the owner, Don Mann, approached Angell in 2004 to see if he was interested in buying the business, OAR, he took him up on it, and OAR’s headquarters moved from Virginia Beach to Salem.
Now in its twelfth year, Odyssey Adventure Racing’s presence is mostly online. Its racers are usually professionals with some disposable income, and come from all over - from Massachusetts to Florida on the East Coast and from all over and even outside the U.S.
With rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, and the Appalachian trail all within 20 minutes of the Roanoke Valley, there are surprisingly few people from Southwest Virginia doing any adventure racing, maybe ten at best and include OAR’s employees and Mike and Madeline Meadows, said Angell.
He’s now trying to provide introductory events for folks in the Roanoke Valley, including a March 7 Adventure Racing-Ogaine on Mill Mountain. The course is like an orienteering challenge, and there will be a four- and an eight-hour race, open to teams of one to four people. The Discovery Center will be the starting point and the base camp. Depending on how many are on a team and whether it’s the four- or the eight-hour course, the price ranges from $30 to $60 per person.
Visit www.oarevents.com for more information about Odyssey Adventure Racing.
To learn more about or to register for the March 7 event, click here.
Photo 1: Ronny Angell teaches an adventure racing navigation clinic in a conference room at National College, mostly to folks from Greensboro and Raleigh, N.C.
Photo 2: Angell takes the students in the navigation clinic out at night in the forest.