Sharing a life of adventure

In the last four years, Greg and Denise McHale have travelled the world in search of adventure racing glory.

In the last four years, Greg and Denise McHale have travelled the world in search of adventure racing glory.

By bike and kayak, on foot and by rappelling down some remote rock face, the McHales are making a name for themselves in adventure racing circles.

Competing with teammates from Ontario under the Team Supplier Pipeline banner, they posted an impressive seventh place finish at the Adventure Race World Championships last year in Newfoundland.

Now they want to share their passion with fellow Yukoners.

“We’re hoping to introduce people to the sport, because it’s kind of hard to get into,” said Denise McHale at her home on Monday.

The first annual Yukon Adventure Challenge is set to start on May 20 in Whitehorse, and the McHales are hoping local athletes will scare up some teammates and brave the wilderness trails.

“We’ve got a lot of great athletes here in Whitehorse, and they would be great adventure racers,” said Greg McHale.

Adventure racing is a multi-discipline sport, and generally combines mountain biking, trekking (running), paddling, and some sort of rope section, ascending or rappelling.

The other big element of the race is orienteering, which can make or break a team as it moves from checkpoint to checkpoint over an unmarked course.

The idea for the race came out of the territory’s vast wilderness.

“We’ve travelled the world with this sport over the last four years, and the Yukon is one of the most ideal venues,” said Greg.

“This is the best place for training and for holding an adventure race, so why not put one together ourselves, something for the local people who aren’t going to travel for a race, but if it’s on home turf, they’ll give it a try.”

The McHales are hoping 10-12 teams of four will sign-up for the race, which they say fast teams could complete in about 24 hours.

“It will be challenging, but it wouldn’t be worth doing if it wasn’t,” said Greg.

If all goes well, they would like to see the race attract international attention. For now, though, a grassroots event, along the lines of the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay or the Klondike Road Relay, is what they are hoping for.

There has been some marketing in Alaska, and word has spread to Ontario, but their efforts are focused primarily on the Yukon.

“It’s a phenomenal amount of work, but it’s something we love to do, so it doesn’t feel like work,” said Greg, “Scouting courses is just like training anyway.”

“I just hope the people who participate enjoy it, and come out with an idea of what adventure racing really is.”

The couple’s first encounter with the sport was in Whitehorse in 2002, when Frontier Adventure Racing held a race here.

Greg was already an accomplished mountaineer and avid mountain biker, and Denise was a successful marathon runner and triathlete.

The five-day expedition-style race was tough, and by the end they were questioning their sanity, but something about the experience appealed to them.

“After the first race, I was like, ‘don’t let me sign up for this again,’” said Denise. “To go that long without sleeping, you hallucinate, your feet hurt, you wonder why you’re doing this to yourself.”

“When it’s done though, it’s the most rewarding experience we’ve had,” added Greg. “I’ve climbed Mount Logan and McKinley, and I really enjoyed that, but it doesn’t compare to adventure racing for me.”

The competitive aspect, the racing, is a key factor for Greg. “I’ve always played team sports, so that’s a big part of it for me as well — working with a team.”

It’s an intense experience for the pair. “It’s almost like you live a whole lifetime during the four or five days you’re out there,” said Denise.

Pushing themselves to their physical limits has broadened their perspective as well.

“The trivial things in life, financial or work stuff, those things don’t matter; it’s more about the big picture — we don’t sweat the small stuff anymore,” said Greg.

That doesn’t mean they live on adrenaline alone. Both work full-time jobs in Whitehorse to support their racing; Greg is a RCMP officer and Denise works for the territorial government at sports and recreation.

Sponsorship helps with race entry fees and equipment costs, but the McHales are competing at the top level, and the big purses draw professional teams from around the globe.

“It’s a small world, you see the same people at all the events,” said Denise.

“It’s a very sponsor oriented sport, the best teams are always there, Nike, Nokia; professional teams that train and race full time.”

Because of their jobs, the McHales to get to participate in only about half the races that the top teams attend in a season.

So far this year, they’ve missed one big race, the first stage of the X-Adventure Raid series, in western Australia.

They hope to make up those missed points with strong finishes at the next Raid stages, in Idaho in June, and France in July.

If all goes according to the plan, they will garner enough points to qualify for the Raid world championships in Saguenay, Quebec, in September.

If not, they have a longer view of things.

“We’re both very young as far as adventure racing goes, most top racers are in their late 30s and early 40s,” said Greg.

“I think we’ve got another four years before we hit our peak potential, after years of training and four years of adventure racing; I think we have the mental attitude that it’s going to take to start winning big races.”

In the meantime, they are focused on last-minute preparations for the Yukon Adventure Challenge.

The race is less than two months away, but early birds can save on entry fees by registering before April 7th. A team of four is $800, and a team of two is $500. Prices go up to $900 and $550 after the deadline.

Interested participants should head to Up North Adventures or Icycle Sports to register.

Greg sums it up: “If our experience is indicative of what adventure racing has to offer, then it will be an experience of a lifetime.”

“It is a wilderness race, you need to be self-supported, so be prepared,” said Denise.

“Oh, and somebody on the team needs to know how to read a map,” she said with a  laugh.

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