The Human Race
BEND — Dan Weiland is hoping to beat two-time winner Marshall Greene to the finish.
To do it he needs to be in top shape, make his transitions from skis to bike to trail to kayak cleanly, and not get a flat tire or flip his boat.
Meanwhile, Eric Smith is trying to convince one of his McLovin teammates to be drunk and wearing a loincloth for the final sprint.
It must be Pole, Pedal, Paddle time again.
On May 17, nearly 3,000 people — a mix of elite racers, aging athletes and party animals dressed in clown wigs and tutus — will make their way down Mt. Bachelor via snow-covered slopes, paved roads, trails and the Deschutes River to be crowned the big dogs of outdoor sport in Central Oregon.
"There are former Olympians in Bend less well-known than the people who win the Pole, Pedal, Paddle," said Greene, a 26-year-old who cross country skied for Middlebury College in Vermont and joined the XC Oregon team here with hopes of one day making the Olympics. He works in a local bike shop.
On the other end of the spectrum are folks like Smith, an anesthesiologist and former Army Ranger who assembled a team inspired by the goofy kid with the fake ID in the movie "Superbad."
"Our team is looking at it as, 'Hey, we heard there's free beer at the finish line,' " Smith said. "I don't think we're training real hard. We're just looking to have a good time."
In between are folks like Portland real estate broker Bill Norris and The Oldest Living Teenagers, made up of guys in their 50s and 60s who competed in various endurance sports in college.
"It gives us that little incentive to stay fit," Norris said.
At 32 years and counting, the 2008 U.S. Bank Pole, Pedal, Paddle is not the oldest competition of its kind in the country. Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club started theirs one year earlier.
But the fundraiser put on by Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation has become the biggest.
"It started in 1977," said Chuck Kenlan, the foundation's executive director. "One of our coaches with the foundation wanted to do a fundraiser to buy ski caps for the kids. The first year I think 40 or 50 people were in the event. Right now we are about at 2,800 participants."
Sarah Max, a mother of twin 5-year-old girls, finished second in the women's elite category last year.
The race captures "what Bend is really all about," said the 33-year-old freelance writer and editor. "This idea that you can mountain bike and ski in the same day. That's one of the reasons my husband and I moved here. He went rock climbing and it got too hot. His friend said, 'Let's go skiing.' Pole, Pedal, Paddle shows you how many sports you can do in one day."
A town of 75,000 on the eastern slope of the Cascades, Bend was once a little timber town, but the combination of the Mt. Bachelor ski resort, the scenic Cascade Range, good restaurants, and lots of trails for running and biking turned it into a prime destination for folks who drive Jeeps and Subarus and like to get sweaty before they party.
People start thinking about the race in November, and by spring, you know its getting close by the number of sea kayaks being hauled down to the Deschutes River on top of cars, said Dan Derlacki, a fire inspector for the Bend Fire Department who will race with a team of fellow members of the firefighters union.
"The actual race has this very big mystique about it," said Weiland, a 33-year-old youth cross country ski coach and adventure racer from Vail, Colo. "It's like life there. Whoever wins Pole, Pedal, Paddle is the god of the year. He's looked on as The Man in Bend.
"If you look back at the old results, it's been guys who have either grown up in Bend or trained in Bend as professional cross country skiers."
The cross country leg is key because it demands fitness, gear and technique. A good time trial bike with a high gear for downhill is better than a road bike. A slow boat can cost minutes, or even the whole race if you dump.
Race maneuvering starts the afternoon before the race, when a gunshot turns loose a mad dash of contestants carrying kayaks, canoes and surf skis, all vying for the best spots for their boats on the banks of the Deschutes.
The race proper starts high on Mt. Bachelor with a short uphill sprint in the snow in ski boots and helmet to the top of Pine Marten chair, where contestants snap into alpine skis and head downhill through a giant slalom course to West Village Lodge.
There they switch to cross country skis for an 8-kilometer groomed course at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center.
Then it is onto a bike for the 22 miles to Bend. Jump off the bike and into running shoes for 10 kilometers on a trail along the Deschutes. Then into a boat — surf skis, sea kayaks and downriver whitewater kayaks are fastest, but also tippiest — for a half mile upstream, three-quarters of a mile downstream, and a quarter mile upstream to the takeout and a mad sprint of about a third of a mile to the finish.
Greene won last year in 1 hour, 43 minutes. The goofy teams can take four hours.
There are cash prizes for elite racers, but the most coveted awards are clay mugs that go to top finishers in each division.
"It's a thinking event rather than putting the pedal to the metal the whole time," Weiland said. "It's not like the fittest guy will win, necessarily. It's the guy who is fittest, smartest and cleanest through the transitions in that race."
And don't fall down running to the start of the giant slalom.
"You fall down there you get run over by 49 other people with ski boots on," said Weiland. "Which is never a good thing."