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Update: Atmosphere puts Raid the North challengers to the test

SLOCAN VALLEY — A portion of the tagline for Atmosphere Raid the North Extreme (RTNX) reads "Real Wilderness."

After more than three days of racing the RTNX unmarked course in BC's West Kootenay, participating teams have no doubt that they are being tested in some of the most 'real wilderness' imaginable. And they have to be prepared for it physically and mentally. 

Challenging weather earlier in the week took its toll on some racers, leaving teams to deal with ill and injured teammates.

In these cases, teams have to decide whether to rest and hope time heals; call for help, take care of the injured teammate and continue on as a smaller team; or, return to the last major transition area and withdraw from the race.

By Wednesday morning, four teams had faced setbacks that left them at TA3 at the end of the first paddle on standby to complete a shortened version of the course: Adrenaline Rush, Blue, HTFU/Sunovion, Nord Vrai, Suburban Rush. Cranksports Team Currahee, the last on the paddle, arrived at TA3 mid-morning, greeted by staff and Shaw TV and were able to proceed onto the shortened course in the afternoon.

Though HFTU/Sunovion set off on the short course, they returned later that night to TA3 due to one team member being ill.

Custom Cellular had made it into the high alpine of Valhalla Park and were in second place when cold, wet weather, including ice pellets, exacerbated a previously existing medical condition in one team member, so they elected to return to TA3.

The team arrived early morning visibly disappointed but safe. Pentahlondesneiges.com elected to move forward as a team of three from TA3 after some irreconcilable differences with a teammate.

SOG was at CP8 Ice Creek Lodge when one of their members elected to withdraw from the race. The team moved forward as a team of three. Dancing Pandas, after over 20 hours in Valhalla Park, elected to return to TA3 and take on a shortened course so that they would be able to experiemce as much of the course as possible rather than risk missing a cutoff while in the Park.

The Pandas rested at TA3 for a few hours and set off again at midnight. Climb4SMA (Torti) was at the base of the trail up into Valhalla when one of their team members fell ill and they elected to return to TA3.

The remainder of the field is working their way through Valhalla Park and into the rest of the course. There are incremental cutoffs in place at various CPs to expedite the flow through the course as the finish line cutoff creeps closer. This allows teams to continue to move through the course, experience its challenges, and make their way to the finish line unassisted.

A few lead teams have created a significant gap from the rest of the field. WildernessAdventures.com, the lead team since day one, remains at the front of the race by a very healthy gap and is keeping race organizers on their toes as they launch from checkpoint to checkpoint to stay ahead of the team of powerful adventure racers.

Current race estimates suggest that if this team continues at the same pace they could cross the finish line in Trail's Gyro Park as early as 6-7 pm, Thursday.

It is difficult for race organizers to provide a specific estimated finish time in an event like this as there are countless variables beyond their control that can affect a team's progress: weather and course conditions, physical and mental fatigue, and equipment failure.

These same variables make putting on an extreme event like RTNX an incredible challenge. With each 24-hour period that goes by fatigue sets in and the gap between the lead teams and slower teams stretches larger and larger.

This spreads event resources in all directions across the course and often results in "the race within the race" — where event staff push themselves to the limits of human endurance to keep pace with the racers on course.

Adventure Racing is a challenging spectator sport for the same reasons listed above. However, with the finish line of the epic event located in the heart of Trail, spectators are welcome and encouraged to come and show support for these amazing athletes.

As mentioned, current estimates show the first team across the finish line as early as 6-7 pm tonight with the next few teams approximately eight hours behind.

The bulk of racers should start to come through at around 6-7 pm on Friday evening, although there may be teams trickling in throughout the day. Event organizers welcome and encourage spectators to cheer on teams as the complete their adventures.