By Richard Rhinehart
Grand Junction, Colorado, September 14, 2013 – Heavy rainfall this week in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Grand Junction left off-road trails and tracks wet and muddy this morning, encouraging Adventure TEAM Challenge race director Billy Mattison to alter plans for today’s Stage One of the inclusive event.
With recent showers and thunderstorms making a section of the planned route impassable for mountain bikes, Mattison altered the stage. Rather then sending teams on mountain bikes and hand cycles up and over the ridge from Mack to the Colorado River Canyon, Mattison sent the adaptive athletes unable to hike with the rafting guides down the river, while other team members set off on foot. Team members were to meet at the Colorado River and continue down canyon by raft for more than 20 miles, into far eastern Utah.
Team members woke up tired and chilled this morning, as heavy thunderstorms passed through the Rabbit Valley campsite during the early morning hours. Brilliant lightning displays, loud thunder, and heavy rain no doubt woke many of the campers, who stayed up late Friday evening studying maps to identify routes and way points for today’s stage.
The inclusive event from non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports began on Thursday evening at Grand Junction’s DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. A banquet from the organization featured as keynote speaker World T.E.A.M. Sports adaptive athlete Arthur “Artie” Guerrero, a Colorado native who served as an Army Ranger during the Vietnam War. Guerrero rode his hand cycle in the non-profit’s memorable January 1998 Vietnam Challenge from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City and in the inaugural Face of America ride in May 2000 from San Francisco to Saint Louis.
Encouraging injured veterans to take up athletics, the energetic 69-year-old Silver Star recipient noted the support and healing that can come from strenuous physical pursuits such as cycling. Noting he had participated in the first Adventure TEAM Challenge in 2007, Guerrero encouraged the athletes in the audience to enjoy their weekend and to work as teams to tackle the many challenges presented by the environment.
Although much of Colorado has been experiencing record rainfall and destructive flash flooding, Grand Junction mostly has been spared of the extreme precipitation. On Friday morning, teams enjoyed sunny skies and light breezes as they traveled from the city to the rural Rabbit Valley campsite, only two miles from the Utah state line.
After setting up camp, teams received a briefing from Mattison as to the stages of the next few days, and an opportunity to practice together with their equipment. By late afternoon, as threatening clouds built to the west, Mattison called each team to the Prologue, a short stage that helped determine seeding for Saturday’s Stage One start.
Starting on mountain bikes and hand cycles from the campsite, the teams set off on a loop course in the high desert terrain south of Interstate Highway 70. After completing the short loop, teams walked to the top of a massive sandstone outcropping north of the campsite. Here, ropes had been rigged for a short, 20-foot rappel down a vertical, desert-varnished cliff. All participants successfully descended, even those who use wheelchairs.
At the end of the day, the third-year Team Berserkers led the pack. Sponsored by Boston-based Benson Botsford LLC, the team of five Colorado athletes came in third in the 2012 Adventure TEAM Challenge and is considered one of the favorites to win their first championship this year.
Nothing is certain in the Challenge, however, and changing weather conditions may play a role in determining the champion this year. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for the region on Saturday morning, anticipating potential heavy rains in the afternoon and evening hours throughout the Colorado River valley and canyon lands of Utah.
The 2013 Adventure TEAM Challenge is sponsored by Fidelity & Guaranty Life, Penske Truck Rental and Timberline Tours. One of many inclusive events for disabled and able-bodied athletes from the national World T.E.A.M. Sports, the challenge has been successfully completed by each of the participating teams since the inaugural event in 2007.
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.