Get Your Feet Dirty!

On Saturday, June 11, nearly 200 people descended on Valley Court Park in East Lansing behind the best beer bar in town, Crunchy’s. Their goal – to find some 40-odd orange flags placed throughout Lansing and East Lansing and return in the shortest amount of time possible. Their weapons – mountain bikes, hardy shoes, a thirst for adventure and a list of survival gear capable of keeping someone alive on Mt. Everest.

(Okay, so the first aid gear wasn’t quite that ridiculous.)

The event I’m speaking of was the 2nd annual running of Dirty Feat, Lansing’s own adventure race. Armed with a map marked with checkpoints and a list of clues, teams of two set out to locate each point and stamp a piece of paper at each to prove they were there.

So it was with great gusto that I sped off with my fearless partner, Cheryl, in my Vibram FiveFingers on my borrowed mountain bike from the starting gates at 8:00 AM, while most of the city was still warm in bed.

I should add that the Sisu Swampers (our team name) was lucky enough to have scored a sponsorship for the race. The notorious Yooper Steez was kind enough to design a brand new shirt for us, and provide us with a couple at no cost, in addition to some 906 stickers.

Starting line photo courtesy Tim Potter's Facebook page. Thanks Tim!

Early checkpoints included the top of the funky parking garage in downtown East Lansing, Bailey School (the first school built in the city), and The Rock on MSU’s campus. After quickly brushing myself off after a failed attempt to jump a curb – which I obviously can’t do – all three of the first checkpoints in East Lansing were quickly completed. The map next featured a series of checkpoints along the River Trail, beginning just south of I-496 and continuing down to Hawk Island Park.

It was at this point that Cheryl and I, being so familiar with Lansing and thinking ourselves clever, decided to take a short cut, stick to the roads, and come at the checkpoints from the south. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fences, trees and weeds in the way, and the idea failed miserably. We convinced ourselves – and several other teams – that one of the clues intended us to hit up a compost heap filled with logs, woodchips and sawdust at the north end of Fidelity Road. As you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge), we were painfully close to the River Trail, but could never quite get to where we were going.

Demonstration of how close - yet of how far away - we were.

After wasting way too much time, we plowed ahead by circling back around to the River Trail and found the two checkpoints we spent so much time searching for in the wrong spot. They turned out to be on small dirt trails running south of the River Trail. It was fascinating, though, because I’ve run that section a countless number of times and never realized the trails were there.

To pick up our spirits, we quickly knocked out a series of check points in Potter Park Zoo. The clues included the Latin names of the animals where the flags were located. I had never run through the zoo before, but it was a great experience and a ton of fun.

Nearing the halfway point in the race, we motored south on the River Trail to Hawk Island park, picking up several check points hidden off in the forest along the way. Once at the park, we hopped in a row boat and headed to Hawk Island to pick up two more check points. Actually being on the island is somewhere I never thought I’d be!

Cheryl and I at the Hawk Island checkpoints.Check out those awesome uni's!

All that remained was a series of “urban” points in downtown Lansing, a few outliers in REO Town and Old Town, a canned food drop-off at the Greater Lansing Food Bank, and a couple on the way back to East Lansing.

However, that was when tragedy struck.

Something got caught in Cheryl’s wheel, causing her to stop suddenly and fly over the front of her handlebars. I had a similar experience earlier with the curb, but I was lucky enough to escape with scraped and bruised palms. Cheryl, on the other hand, ended up with a fractured radial head in her elbow, a slightly dislocated shoulder and a torn ligament, and our race took a detour to the Lansing Urgent Care.

Though we didn’t hit all the checkpoints, Cheryl toughed it out and we still managed to eat some fresh fruit and drink some Founders and Shorts beer at the finish line before everyone went home for the day.

Despite the unexpected detour, Dirty Feat 2011 was an amazing event. Some teams were competitive and out to win it all, others were on a leisurely stroll to explore the city, and some even stopped for lunch (or so their team name claimed!) The course took me places I’d never been before and the clues taught me things I never knew, like Stevie Wonder went to the Michigan School for the Blind formerly located in Old Town.

Smiling during the race, and still smiling after despite the difficulties!

What also struck me was how helpful and positive everyone was. After the accident, everyone passing by stopped to offer help, despite the fact they were on the clock. And during the race, other teams offered helpful hints and clues in order to help find the check points, even though we were their competition. The finish line was full of happy, smiling faces who had just completed a 4-6 hour event and loved every second of it.

I love that I live in a town that has an event like this and is full of people who want to participate. I’m fully looking forward to next year, so look out for the return of the Sisu Swampers!