Team WYO's Katie Everson reflects on Cowboy Tough Race

Posted by: NOLS on Jul 30, 2013

Race morning was full of excitement and nerves. We woke up
at 4:45 a.m. and drove from Casper to Curt Gowdy State Park where the race
began. We fueled up with bagels and coffee and slept for a few more hours along
the way. We were the first of the competitors to arrive, thanks to our
“personal chauffeur.”

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Team WYO. Photo by Jared Steinman

Adam and I had the opportunity to chat with the Governor of Wyoming and his family before the race began and right before the race started, the teams all gathered around him, sitting on his horse. The race directors decided he should dismount the horse before firing the starting gun. Having one of the competitors getting trampled by a spooked horse would put a pretty big damper on the start of the race.

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Governor Mead and his horse. Photo by Jared Steinman

At around 9 a.m., Team WYO, made up of Adam Swisher and me,
ventured off on the toughest adventure race in the US this year. Orienteering was the first leg of our journey.
We would be on our bikes for over 12 hours after this. We biked on fire roads
and single tracks to Vedauwoo, where we scrambled up to do a free hanging
rappel. We continued on our bikes after the rappel and came across a small
creek with a narrow board used for a bridge on it. Adam went over it with grace
and ease, stopping on the other side to check back on his teammate. I thought
that his approach was way too easy and decided it would be fun to sail over my
handlebars and land face first on the other side of the creek. I still haven’t
mastered the concept of balance on a bike, maybe one day. For now at least I
could provide us with some laughs throughout the race.

Photo by Katie Everson

As we climbed an exposed, grassy bald on our bikes we
watched ominous, black clouds come rolling in. Adam and I accessed the
situation and decided it would be better to spread out. That way, we wouldn’t
both be in the line of a lightning bolt. As NOLS grads, we are used to
assessing situations and minimizing risks. Adam was a few hundred feet behind
me at this point. I looked back and saw him stopped on the side of the trail.
Naturally, I thought that he had stopped on the side of the trail to go into
lightning safe position. I decided to do the same. A few minutes later, he
pulls up to find me in the fetal position of my pack. He was very confused.
Apparently he had simply stopped to fix a flat tire. I got out of the fetal
position and we carried on.

Photo by Katie Everson

I’m pretty sure we lost about 5 lbs each in water weight on
the 15-20 mile trek through the desert the following morning. Team WYO was not
phased by the heat or sun exposure though. We just busted out our matching
zebra striped umbrellas and trekked on in style.

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Trekking through the desert. Photo by Jared Steinman

Fuel along the way was immensely important. Dehydration and
heat exhaustion played a huge role in a few of the competitors dropping out of
the race. Some of our favorite food runs were subs at Quiznos, microwavable gas
station burritos, ice cream sandwiches, and lots of Gatorade.

Photo by Katie Everson

Adam’s brute strength was the talk of the competitors after our
epic outing on the canoe on the afternoon of day two. Wyoming weather is quite
spontaneous and neither of us expected the calm, peaceful water to turn into
three-foot waves with white caps everywhere. The wind made it nearly impossible
to paddle where we needed to go so Adam hoisted the canoe over his head and we
trekked on foot up and over the sand dunes. We hadn’t seen any other competitors
for a long time and would later learn that the pair in front of us had bailed
on the side of the reservoir and hitch hiked to the transition point. Other
teams behind us had called in for help as well. We couldn’t blame them, but
Adam and I were proud of our perseverance during our 8 hours on the canoe.

Photo by Katie Everson

Our strengths and weaknesses were highlighted during the
race. One of the coolest things about pushing yourself to your limits is seeing
how you react and are able to handle challenging situations. We both relied
heavily on past experiences that had given us a high tolerance for adversity
and uncertainty. As semester graduates of NOLS, this past experience was high
on the list.

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Photo by Jared Steinman

Adam was the strong one at night, whereas I was strong early
in the morning. This turned out to be beneficial for both of us, when one of us
was struggling the other remained strong and helped push the team through. We
kept our sense of humor throughout the race. Adam was nicknamed Tugboat because
of his brute strength. I was dubbed as Hummingbird, because I ate all the

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Crossing the finish line. Photo by Jared Steinman

It was truly an adventure of a lifetime and one that each of us will never forget. We passed by animal eyes on the nighttime treks, floated down class three rapids on our boogie boards with our packs on in 50 degree water, got awesome tan lines, swam in muddy water, saw more of the beautiful state we live in, worked through communicating well when both of us were running on little sleep, and were still smiling as we crossed the finish line of the toughest adventure race in the US.

Photo by Madelyn Wigle

Adam and I would like to extend a special thank you to the people at Kind Bar, Deuter, and Brooks for sponsoring us with their amazing products. And a huge thanks goes out to everyone at NOLS and to our friends and family who cheered us on and supported us along the way. We wouldn’t have been so cheerful along the way if it wasn’t for your support!


NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.