Wilderness Wenches take on Nationals
By Karina Krosbakken
As you read this, you may be wondering to yourself “what on earth is a Wilderness Wench?”
Well, according to one definition by Urban Dictionary, a “wench” is defined as An admired woman in your crew, a talented warrior seductress, that can inspire adventure or take a bland situation and make it rife with excitement.
*Yes, I do realize there are other definitions but, we (the Wilderness Wenches team) have opted to strictly follow this definition and ignore all others.
The full title “Wilderness Wenches” originated in the early 1990’s. At the time, there was a cohort of kick-butt ladies from White Bear Lake, MN who upon some rowdy backpacking, canoeing, and winter camping trips led by my father were dubbed “wilderness wenches”. According to my father “The Wilderness Wench became a status symbol of prestige and honor for those women who did my weird trips.” This legacy became vernacular for my wilderness developmental milestones. Each time I made remarkable progress in my outdoorsiness ( e.g. ability to flip a canoe or start a fire), my father would proudly proclaim “you are a true wilderness wench!”
Part of the Wilderness Wench team. From left to right: Karina Krosbakken, Mireille Kidd, Lisa Leedham and Bria Schurke.
This prestigious title has now been made official as Team Wilderness Wenches have qualified and are registered to compete at the Adventure Racing National Championship. Registered team members and persons who have competed for the team include Bria Schurke, Lisa Leedham, Mireille Kidd, Erin Maloney, Mikayla Haynes, Megan Hogfeld, and myself (Karina Krosbakken). Each team member has made unique contributions to the team with their own set of strengths making a hardy lineup of true wilderness wenches!
So what is Adventure Racing?
Adventure racing “AR” is a multidisciplinary sport comprised of orienteering(navigating by foot), biking, and paddling. Occasionally special challenges and additional sports are also included. Each race varies in difficulty based upon time of year, course, and conditions. Less formally, AR can include carrying your bike across rivers, crawling through thick brush and poison ivy, or navigating waist-deep through a swamp! These races are not for the fair-weathered or faint of heart, but with a variety of lengths can be accessible to anyone who is interested.
How does it work?
Around 1 hour before the start of each race, teams are given a number of maps with pre-plotted (or sometimes the need to plot) designated check-in points. It is up to each team to determine the most effective route to get to as many check-in points as possible within the allotted race time. Additionally, all team members must start and complete the course together while maintaining close proximity to one another (length pre-established and set as a rule). Race lengths can vary from a few hours to two weeks for “expedition” length races such as The Eco-Challenge. The distance covered in each race varies based on the length of the race and each team’s chosen route and strategy.
Mapping out the route.
The goal of each team is to get all of the course points in the fastest amount of time; however, some races intend to make it so that no team can “clear the course” and therefore, the racing strategy relies on the team’s chosen route, ability to solve problems (such as a flat-tire) and efficiency in navigating to get the most points possible within the preset amount of time.
The rules and regulations can be strict. Most races include mandatory gear lists and point deductions for arriving late, missing segments of points or using improper gear.
Learning more from the WenchesTo share a bit more, I thought I would check in with Lisa and Bria, two of the original team members who have competed in the most races and are excited about heading to Nationals!
Sometimes training involves crossing a beaver dam.
Q: What intrigued you about AR?Bria: I really like the idea of adding strategy to my favorite summer activities, trail running, mountain biking, and canoeing. AR forces you to problem solve as a team, push yourself to get through situations that you normally wouldn't experience on a normal personal adventure, and extend your own personal limits. Constantly having to focus on navigation and efficiency makes time fly by, even during long races.
Lisa: It’s an opportunity to push my body by means of my favorite sports + navigating with maps! What's there not to love?
Q: So pushing yourself seems to be a theme. What has been the most challenging?Bria: You would think long hours, racing overnight, and long miles would be the most challenging, but I think the hardest part for me is just keeping everything organized before a race and making sure you have the right gear.
Lisa: For me, there was a steep learning curve for how to fuel my body for so many hours. Salt tabs have been heaven-sent.
Q: Moving your body for 6, 18, or 30 hours is a long time! What do you eat?Lisa: Pretty much anything that is labeled as food.
Bria: Salt tablets have been a game-changer for me. I'm a big fan of classic bagels, cream cheese, and summer sausage. This is also why I typically paddle in the stern.
Paddling in sync.
Q: It also sounds as though the sport itself can also have its challenges…Lisa: CP 20(Check Point) will forever be ingrained in my brain as misery! We spent almost 2 hours hiking bikes on the shoulder through a bog that just got muckier and muckier to find CP20 that was always "just over there"!! We ended up giving up and hiking back the way we came with absolutely no feeling of success.
Bria: Lisa and I have had epic paddling sections as canoe partners, constantly trying to figure out creative ways to more efficiently schlep our canoe over beaver swamps and dams. We prefer the ninja technique, paddling full speed through objects in the water. There have been a few classic belly flops trying to run through bogs to get to "creatively placed" checkpoints. At one point, Lisa, Erin, and I had to literally swim with our mountain bikes through a beaver swamp to get to a checkpoint.
Q: What keeps you wanting more? What do you find enjoyable and rewarding about AR?Bria: Finding a really tricky checkpoint is very satisfying. Finding out that we did much better than we expected is always rewarding. So far, we have won every race in the all-women’s category. During the 18 hour race, we started the canoe section on a river around 1 a.m. Because it was so cold, the river was creating a lot of fog so we had to turn our headlamps off and navigate using the flow of the river and the horizon of the trees illuminated by moonlight. It was a stunning experience. Although it dropped below 40 and we had a brief moment of hypothermia, it was really fun and empowering to know that we could actually navigate fairly easily and do really well on that section. I would never have gone paddling on a river in the middle of the night on a personal trip. We hopped on our bikes at 5 a.m. after paddling and rode past beautiful rural Wisconsin farms. It was fun to watch the world slowly wake up around us.
Lisa: Golly it sounds crazy, but paddling from 1 am to 4 am on a beautiful river with dense fog and full moon at 32 degrees during an 18-hour race was freezing, yes - but also spectacular! The silence of the water and tricks the eyes would play was a joy I have not experienced.
Fixing the dreaded flat tire.
Q: So what advice would you have for others who are interested in Adventure Racing?Lisa: Find yourself good teammates - it makes it fun even in the failure moments.
Bria: ARs are incredibly fun! It's an awesome experience with teammates. Don't focus on getting all the checkpoints, focus on solid navigation, taking care of yourself, and having fun. If it's your first race, I would definitely find a team willing to be your mentor, even if it's one phone conference before your first race (Thank you Kendra Stritch-Wilderness Wenches mentor and AR racer extraordinaire!). You don't have to be an ultrarunner to do a long AR. The beauty of ARs is that it's multidisciplinary. Teams that are really good at paddling can make up a lot of time if they aren't strong runners, for example. It really helps to have EVERYTHING organized the morning of the race, so you can spend all of your time focused on reviewing maps and setting up your strategy. Make sure everyone on the team has a bike tube that fits their bike. Although you don't need a fancy race bike, it's helpful to have a well-tuned bike so it's one less thing to deal with when racing.
So what’s next?
With 4 races under the Wilderness Wenches team belt, a 5th overall national ranking in the national women’s team division, and 1st ranking in the all women’s division in the Wisconsin Adventure Racing Series, Bria, Lisa, and I will go on to compete in a 30-hour adventure race in Cable, WI this September. We credit much of our success to our years of collective experience paddling and navigating in the BWCA. Our time there has prepared us and allowed us to do well, especially in the paddling segments, often passing all-male and co-ed teams. We are excited to continue to test our abilities and are looking forward to sore butts, belly laughs, more salt tablets, and “taking a bland situation and making it rife with excitement”!
Want to dress like the Wilderness Wenches? Karina prefers the Merino Wool Anja Hoodie for temperature control while Bria uses the Boundary Waters Hooded Windshirt for lightweight wind & water protection.
Based out of Duluth, MN, Karina works as a psychotherapist and is an avid outdoorswoman in her free time. As a jack of all trades and master of none, she is often found outside climbing, running, biking, or dabbling in something new along the North Shore. When not at home, her passion for exploration and adventure takes her to the mountains out west, far off corners of the world, or visiting her family in Mexico. Drawing from a lifetime of travel, outdoor experiences, and a knack for some suffering, Karina writes content informed by the wisdom she has collected and her passion for adventure.