Frontier survival race challenges you to endure like it’s 1899
Many American kids at some time or another has imagined themselves as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone or perhaps Calamity Jane, plunging into the woods with nothing but a Bowie knife at his side and the challenge of frontier survival in his heart. It’s a romantic notion, born of the stories of endurance lived by pioneers who cut a path across America in search of their American Dream. Now, thanks to two Chicagoland physical education teachers, anyone has a chance to live out the fantasy of surviving the west in an intense annual competition taking place in Crystal Lake known as the Rundezvous Race.
PE teachers Fred Kaiser and Brian Schweitzer developed the five-plus mile course, which is packed with 14 fun and challenging events modeled after basic skills essential to the survival of a frontiersman. Racers choose the order in which they wish to complete the course, which plays into the strategy of the race, and makes it different than other endurance courses with some event stations experiencing wait lines while others are wide open.
On each race bib is a map of the course. Race officials oversee stations at event sites, giving instructions and guidelines as needed. When the task is complete the bibs are punched, contestants move on to the next skill which can be anywhere from a third to half a mile away.
In addition to skill events like archery, lassoing, orienteering and knot tying that test the nerves, there are several physically demanding challenges essential to frontier survival:
Bear Bag Hoist: To avoid bear attacks, pioneers hoist their food at the proper height in a tree. Up to 100 pounds of logs (instead of food) are to be bagged and hoisted in this event.
Elk Drag: The organizers say, “no elk, but it’s still going to be a drag.” Assemble the sled, secure the load with your rope, and then drag it for a determined distance.
Logging: Split ‘em and stack ‘em.
Water Carry: Kaiser says, “the more you spill, the more you travel. Store some water from the watering hole, but how you get it there is the trick.”
Hatchet Throwing: Not physically demanding, but it’s the event that started it all, and arguably the most popular. Stick one of five throws with the pressure of the finish line in sight.
All of this is designed to mentally and physically wear you down. “Although you may be a great runner,” Kaiser emphasizes, “you may get passed by people because your manual dexterity, problem solving skills or life experiences are preventing you from being at the front of the pack.” Divisional winners are awarded a specially engraved hatchet, and all finishers fire-brand their own leather patch “medal,” certainly a one-of-a-kind award.
Rundezvous manages to be grueling with a different approach. “Tough Mudder wears you out differently,” Kaiser says. “There’s a mental exhaustion [with the Rundezvous Race] that you don’t get from other races. It’s stressful when you have to go back if you miss something.” In addition, you can’t simply follow the herd. While other races follow a plotted course, this course must be navigated on your own.
HOW IT STARTED
The creators of Rundezvous met in 1989 when they were hired to teach Physical Education at McHenry Middle School. Schweitzer developed a very successful triathlon for his students at the school. Kaiser, a recipient of the 2008 NASPE District Middle School Teacher of the Year award, went on to teach at Lundahl Middle School in Crystal Lake, where he established two endurance races: the 24 Hour Run, in which students pitch tents overnight to run relay for an entire 24 hour period, and the Fitness Challenge Marathon, a 26.2 mile course that combines cycling, in-line skating, canoeing, running and orienteering.
The idea for the Rundezvous Race came in 2009 when Kaiser offered engraved throwing hatchets as gifts to a group of PE teachers that inspired him. The activity caught on and inspired Kaiser to create a biathlon event with fellow endurance enthusiast Schweitzer, but they quickly expanded it into an entire 14-event race.
“Neither one of us were [boy] scouts,” Kaiser says. “None of us were in the military, we’re not outdoor survivalists. These are things that we just thought would be cool to do, and some we feel people should know how to do—to tie certain knots or pitch a tent if they’re stranded and need to protect themselves from the weather.”
THE SKILLS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
What about city dwellers or anyone concerned about training for events like bear bag hoist, archery or hatchet throwing? Kaiser says not to worry. “I only know of one person that actually threw hatchets before the race, so it’s not necessary, anyone can do it.”
Hatchet throwing isn’t as dangerous as it sounds. “It’s only 12 feet away, you can do in your back yard, like horseshoes,” Kaiser says. “You can pick up a set at Cabela’s.” The race’s website contains training videos that are continually added as race day approaches. Racers also can take advantage of an optional “training day” that takes place a week before the race, and Rundezvous promises to include a practice area for those who want to hone their skills on race day before the event.
THE GEAR: WHAT YOU NEED TO BRING
You can leave the throwing hatchets at home as event organizers provide those and most other supplies, but no contestant can start the race without having a gear bag containing rope, gloves, a source of drinking water, compass, a plastic bag and, believe it or not, 15 dollars in pennies (rolls are not accepted). Why the pennies?
“You may need them on the course if you can’t do the skills,” it says on the website. Perhaps it’s a nineteenth century barter system, or a chance to buy your way out? “No, you can’t buy your way out,” Kaiser says with a sly smile.
Ultimately, what is needed to endure the Rundezvous Race? Kaiser insists experience in frontier survival isn’t necessary to have a great time. “Just come open-minded and ready to play!” he says.
The second annual Rundezvous Race takes place at Lippold Park in Crystal Lake, Illinois July 13, 2013. To sign up or for more information visit www.rundezvousrace.com .