Race to Adventure

Venturers and Varsity Scouts tackle canoeing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and backpacking to clock the fastest time in a race to adventure.

On a rocky, wheat-colored Oregon hillside dotted with lodgepole pines, Sean McCormick was weighing his options. His team of six Venturers from Crew 597, Portland, Ore., had reached the first challenge point in their mountain-bike race.

Before continuing on the rest of the 24.2-mile course, each team member had to pass through an opening in a spiderweb of ropes stretched between two trees, without touching either the ropes or the trees.

Varsity Team 548 Scout Joel Farb of Beaverton, Ore., takes a spill during the 24.2-mile mountain bike race as Venturing Crew 548 member Darren Stanger quickly turns to avoid a collision.

Sean decided to try diving through the ropes. The muscular 16-year-old with flaming red hair took two steps back and tensed his body. “I can do it,” he said to his teammates. “Just watch out.”

Leaping headfirst through an opening in the ropes, Sean landed hard on his shoulder on the rock-studded, hardpan ground and rolled to a stop. When he looked back, the ropes were still shaking from where he had grazed them.

Nice effort, bad result.

His teammates quickly pitched in and enlisted the aid of another team so they could lift Sean to shoulder level and gently pass him feetfirst through the web. After everyone had cleared the obstacle in a similar manner and taken a moment to drink some water or Gatorade, the teams jumped back onto their bicycles and pedaled off to continue the race.

Sean McCormick’s epic leap took place last summer on Day Two of Adventure Trek, the Cascade Pacific Council‘s biennial competition that includes mountain biking, whitewater rafting, canoeing, and backpacking. Teams of older Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturers can sign up to race against the clock in a five-day test of teamwork, athleticism, outdoor skills, and stamina.

Prior to the first day’s canoeing competition, a dozen teams, comprising 57 youth from the Portland metropolitan area, set up base camp at the Wasco County Fairgrounds in the tiny town of Tygh Valley on the eastern edge of Mount Hood National Forest.

The dry climate and summertime temperatures approaching 90 degrees aptly justified the race’s subtitle: High Desert Challenge.


For Chelsea Johnson, 17, and Jessica Horine, 16, Venturers from Crew 505, Canby, Ore., the canoe race represented the culmination of six months of training. The only female participants in the race, they were excited to test their paddling skills on the two-mile course around the oval Pine Hollow Reservoir.

Teams race against the clock on the Deschutes River rapids.

“We went on the Willamette River and practiced guiding and steering,” Chelsea said in describing their preparation. “Then we picked other people for our team who we thought would do well.”

Waiting for the race to begin, teams talked quietly about strategy or rested. However, Team 9’s members—Venturers from Crew 548, Beaverton, Ore.—had a different method of stoking themselves. They stood outside their tent and sang songs at the top of their lungs, including a version of “Singin’ in the Rain” that began, “I’m sinking in the canoe….”

The sun shone brightly, but high winds made for rough paddling. After one of its two canoes turned in a time of 36 minutes, Team 2, from Crew 355, Hillsboro, Ore., had taken the early lead in the quest to win the Adventure Trek.

“A lot of the credit goes to our Advisor, who took us out on the lake to practice,” said Steven Chambers, 17, who led the canoeing efforts of the team of six Venturers.

Team 1’s Sean McCormick (who would later have the dramatic bike-race encounter with the spiderweb) and his partner got off to a fast start—until their canoe capsized in the rough waters. As a result, they encountered slow-going the rest of the way.

“Actually, we ‘dumped’ twice,” Sean said afterward. Capsizing made him and his partner realize they needed to stay close to shore so they could touch bottom with their feet in order to easily bail out their canoe.

Sean’s wasn’t the only canoe to tip over in the rough water. “I feel like I was just on the Titanic,” said another smiling competitor, who seemed to have spent more time in the water than in a canoe.

Despite being tired from paddling (and bailing), the teams returned to camp in a happy mood and were greeted by cast-iron pots of chicken teriyaki and rice prepared by Scouter and volunteer head cook Randy Daniels. Dinner was followed by a pickup soccer match, a game of catch with lacrosse sticks, a motivational film about teamwork (see sidebar “Teamwork: A Lifetime Lesson,” ), and a feature movie, projected on an outdoor screen.

As a clear, starry night descended on the fairgrounds, some of the youth still had enough energy to play Capture the Flag by the glow of light sticks before turning in.


Varsity Scouts Victor Tran, Shain Wiederholt, Fletcher Miller, and T. J. Melanson use teamwork to successfully complete the “Spider Web Challenge” during the mountain bike race.

At 7 the next morning, Dennis Mc- Gary, the council vice president of Venturing who sponsored the Adventure Trek, made a wake-up call on a bullhorn. Yawning, the teams emerged from their tents and began to prepare for Day Two’s event, the mountain-bike race.

The course began at the fairgrounds, climbed a wicked 1.7-mile trail into the forest, then traversed more than 20 miles of dusty, unpaved fire roads and trails before reaching the finish line back near camp.

“I love to compete,” said Team 1’s Sean McCormick, looking forward to the race. He acknowledged, however, that although good at swimming and canoeing, “I’m not a very good biker.”

Crew 355 Venturer Steven Chambers of Team 2 gathered his teammates for some pre-race strategy. Wearing dark sunglasses and covering his hair with a bandanna, he looked serious and ready for the long ride.

The team is only as fast as its slowest rider, he said, “so keep a steady pace, keep in low gear so your legs don’t wear out,” and drink plenty fluids along the way to stay hydrated.

At 10:15, the teams took off, heads bowed and legs pumping as they made their way toward the mountain. As riders from other teams dismounted to walk their bikes up the tough initial incline, Steven Chambers rallied Team 2 to keep pedaling.

Their determination paid off. At 5.7 miles into the race, the Team 2 riders were the first to reach the initial checkpoint, where they stopped for a mandatory 30-minute rest and water break and the imposing spiderweb challenge.

Sean McCormick’s Team 1 was close behind the leaders. They were followed a few minutes later by the singing members of Team 9, who dismounted their bikes and collapsed on the ground amid their water bottles and sack lunches.

“Hey, my cramps are gone,” said Team 9 leader James Orme, 16, after a few minutes of rest, spurring his teammates into a round of singing “We Are the Champions.”

After everyone had rested, re-hydrated, and successfully passed through the spiderweb challenge, the cyclists were off and riding again.

The day grew longer, and the sun blazed down as the teams pedaled fast and faster along the mountain trail. Sean McCormick’s frantic pedaling stripped his derailleur, which shifts the bike’s gears. He had to walk for some distance before a volunteer lent him a substitute bicycle.

Sean wasn’t the only rider to experience mishaps. “That was amazing,” remarked James Orme after Team 9 had finished. “You should have seen how many wipeouts we had!”

Just completing the course was satisfaction enough for most riders. Even though Chelsea Johnson’s team came in last, more than four hours after starting, she celebrated the thrill of having handled the terrain and finished the race.

She especially loved bicycling through the water to cross the creek,” she said. “That was really fun.”


Going into Day Three’s whitewater rafting event, Team 2—this time with Steven Chambers’s older brother, Michael, 19, at the helm—was ahead by a slender 23 seconds. Two other teams were close behind.

On the bank of the rapid-filled Deschutes River, rubber rafts were ready for each of the 12 teams. At the starter’s signal, the competitors jumped aboard and, paddling hard, set out to navigate a nine-mile course studded with splashing Class 1 rapids.

“We did pretty good, even though we hit the biggest rapid sideways, and I almost fell out,” said James Orme, after Team 9 crossed the finish line. To celebrate, the members sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Barbara Ann” on the way back to the campsite.

The stage was set for the exciting final event—a two-day 25-mile mountain backpacking trek. It began on Day Four with an 11-mile hike and a camp-out under the stars; Day Five’s 14-mile trek concluded the competition.

Team 2 had been in first place through Day Three, but the rugged mountain trail proved to be their undoing.

“We got through seven miles, and then one guy got blisters” and had to be left behind, explained team member Anthony Stokes, 16. Then on the last day, only four of the team’s six members were able to start, “and at the halfway point we lost two more.” (Unfortunately for Team 2, all members had to complete each race for a team to qualify for an award.)

So who won the 2006 Adventure Trek High Desert Challenge? It was Sean McCormick and his fellow Team 1 Venturers, who finished first, according to the official results.

Despite members developing painful blisters and taking a wrong turn during the two-day hike, “we had our whole team together the entire time,” Sean reported. It was tough, “but I would do it again,” he said.

First-, second-, and third-place teams earned plaques. But in reality, everyone who participated was a winner.

Their true trophies are their memories and, for many, a renewed determination to keep trying and never give up.

Writer Jim Gullo lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash. His writing has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Islands, and Aqua magazines.

Teamwork: A Lifetime Lesson

Having the Adventure Trek teams campng on-site for five days allowed leaders time to impart some lifetime lessons along with the physical thrills of competition.

On the participants’ first night in camp, they watched a motivational film based on the popular management book Fish. It focused on a group of Seattle fish vendors who love their work and pride themselves on having fun, maintaining upbeat attitudes, and providing great customer service on the job.

The next morning, in a meeting with all team members before the mountain-bike race, Cascade Pacific Council district executive John Lubbers used the vendors’ example as a reference point in a question-and-answer session on leadership. He related the Venturers’ teamwork and positive attitudes to the qualities of successful businesses.

“Just remember,” he said, “that even when the going gets tough out there, you choose your own attitude.”

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