When Mom Joins the Kids’ Adventure Race

Last summer, I got off the bench and got in the game for a thrilling adventure race with my daughter. The good news is that I survived it.

The challenge was called the “Darwin Dash,” a name that suggested impending doom. Imagine a blue rubber mat the size of a dining room table and about as thick. Imagine a half dozen of them loosely connected by two-foot long ropes, the whole daisy chain of disaster floating in a lake of glacial runoff.

This is the part where things were going well. Look at that teamwork. Photo: Linda Guerrette

Your goal is to run across them, jumping over the water from mat to mat. The mats are not stable, but they are slippery. You are exhausted because you’ve just sprinted, mountain biked, climbed up cargo nets, balanced on slack lines and crawled through tunnels over 3½ miles in the last hour.

Now imagine that your foot slips on the last mat and you plunge into the frigid water up to your neck. I don’t need to imagine, because that was me in the Family Adventure Quest at Copper Mountain over the July 4 weekend last summer. I’m telling you about it now, because registration is now open for the Kids’ Adventure Games series, and if you’re like most parents, you’re starting to plan the summer now.

The plunge knocked the wind out of me. I’m pretty sure my heart stopped. Miraculously, I was able to hoist myself out of the water and back onto the mat. My teammate—my 11-year-old daughter—yelled at me with little empathy to … Hurry Up!! On hands and knees, I told her, “I. Just. Need. A. Minute.”

This is the moment just before I went for a dunk up to my eyeballs. The water was beyond frigid. Photo: Linda Guerrette

My kids have done the Kids’ Adventure Games in the past at Vail Mountain (see the Vail stories here and here), and my husband and I would run alongside taking pictures and cheering like ninnies. But this time the format was different: In the competitive wave, teams were comprised of one adult and one child. There was also a family fun wave where teams could be made up of families of up to four. Adult was defined as 16 and up, which meant my oldest son could compete with his 13-year-old brother (They were Team Bob Dingle. Don’t ask.) Families and friends with more than four can form two teams but still compete together as one big group.

Note the crazies in the background with the “Go Bob Dingle” sign. Photo: Linda Guerrette

Adventure racing has been around for a while, but it’s gaining steam. The Kids Adventure Games, which attracted 50 teams in its inaugural competition in 2009 in Vail, now boasts 450 teams in Vail alone. But the competition has also since expanded to 9 resorts in 7 states coast to coast, including the Family Adventure Quest at Copper Mountain.

Here’s how the races work. Once you sign up, organizers send a list of the required gear. Mountain bike, biking gloves, bike helmet, small backpack with water, first aid kit and rain jacket, and a one-gallon Ziploc bag for the map. Thirty minutes before the race kicks off, teams are given a map with a route and checkpoints with challenges. You don’t quite know what you’re up against until you arrive at each obstacle. Obstacles range from rock climbing and rappelling down cliffs to giant inclined slip and slides.

Before the race, competitors get a course map. It helps to study up. Note the stuffed llamas. Photo: Linda Guerrette

The first challenge at our race at Copper was a cargo net. We had to climb up it (easy), traverse a small platform then climb down another cargo net (not so easy). My foot slipped through one of the holes in the net and I fell, unceremoniously, body slamming into the net. It was not nearly as soft as it looked.

I heard a crunch and was sure I’d broken my arm. Then I realized no, the crunch had been my neck. “Jeez, mom,” my daughter said, as I lay tangled upside down like a mackerel in a fishing net. At 51 years old, I found the bigger challenge was to not embarrass my kids too much.

Anya made it down the cargo net no problem. I ended up stuck upside down in the net.

There was no time to dwell on my epic flail; our next challenge was to find pie plates in the shrubs and shoot blow darts at them. At the catapult obstacle, we were tasked with using giant sling shots to launch water balloons at each other. Then we had to run up and over a giant slippery triangular obstacle.

This was the one place I helped Anya more than she helped me. Photo: Linda Guerrette

Next was a big uphill mountain bike. Our team name was “Wonder Llamas,” so naturally my daughter insisted we strap stuffed llamas onto our handlebars. She also made me learn a song about llamas, complete with hand gestures (happy llama, sad, llama, total drama llama….).

We biked to a checkpoint with a slack line and a raccoon crawl through a big black plastic tube. With my pack, I couldn’t get onto my knees, so I had to pull my body weight through with arm strength alone. I have no upper body strength. Between the army crawl and the uphill mountain biking, I began to wonder if just maybe I should have trained a little.

When you’re 60 pounds the Tyrolean cross is no biggie. Photo: Linda Guerrette

Next, we jumped from a tall platform onto airbags and hung prone on a wire above a river where we had to use a hand-over-hand motion to pull ourselves across. I’d seen the kids do this Tyrolean Traverse in previous adventure races, and it didn’t look that hard. It’s fair to say, I was pulling a bit more weight than a 60-pound kid.

When you’re more than 60 pounds, pulling yourself hand over hand across a river isn’t that easy. Photo: Linda Guerrette

Lastly, there was the Darwin Dash, where I nearly eliminated myself from the gene pool (see above). Once we crossed the lake, the volunteers told us to find our own way to the finish, fastest way we could. We ran together—me soaking wet—across the finish line holding hands. It was a triumphant moment.

We met up with the boys—Team Bob Dingle—who had stories of their own. My older son had also fallen into the lake, but he was much less of a whiner about it than me. “It wasn’t that cold, mom.” My younger son thought he would die on the uphill mountain bike. I’m not saying how many teams there were, but we all placed in the top three, which meant we took home cool plaques, Darn Tough socks and Hydroflask water bottles. We also scored lots of free Clif bars, Horizon coconut milk, and some cool hydration packs from Toyota, the event’s main sponsor.

At the finish: We were so happy to be done! It was a fabulous moment. Photo: Linda Guerrette

I’d love to do the race again, but maybe next year we’ll do the Family Fun Wave. I’ve been known to have a competitive bone in my body, but whenever I heard another parent pushing their kid in a slightly unkind way (which I did), I found myself backing off on my own kid. “We’ll go at your pace.”

The best part for me wasn’t the competition, but doing something really challenging and empowering with my kids. We all had mystery bruises the next day from going full-bore for 45 minutes, running, biking, crawling, jumping. Afterwards, they all proclaimed the experience “so much fun.” It was a great esteem builder and gave them a huge sense of accomplishment. They’re already strategizing for next year.

Maybe I’ll train.

The Wonder Llamas and Team Bob Dingle at the finish line. Photo: Linda Guerrette

Nuts and Bolts

Kids Adventure Games


Ages: 6-14

Summer 2018 Schedule of Events

June 15-17: Park City, Utah

June 22-25, Squaw Valley, California

June 29-July 1, Big Sky Montana

July 27-29, Stowe, Vermont

Aug. 3-5, Wilmot, Wisconsin

Aug. 8-12 Vail, Colorado

Aug. 24-26, Steven’s Pass, Wash.

Sept. 1-3, Big Bear Lake, California



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