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Kia Kaha first, sort of, at adventure race

Team settles for second in 30-hour event

The Best around Ben Adventure Race (BaBAR for short) was by all accounts a well-managed event, except for one details - organizers completely underestimated how much time it would take racers to complete the course, and as a result only three teams made it to the finish before the 30-hour cutoff and only one team reached all the checkpoints.

Sea to Sky-based Kia Kaha was the first team to the finish line, reaching 20 of 24 checkpoints. While that technically put them in first, they were a few hours behind another team that missed the cutoff but made all 24 checkpoints, and yielded the win to them.

"Officially we won, but with us and them we made a sporting gesture with Suburban Rush, who made it the farthest," said Kia Kaha's "Kiwi" Dave Vitikangas on Tuesday. "They were a couple of hours ahead of us at the 20th checkpoint and made a deal with organizers that they would clear out checkpoint 23 and 24, and they made it back after the cutoff."

As well, Kia Kaha - Vitikangas, Mike Conway, Cathy Jensen and Meghan Thompson - was the only co-ed team in the race and the only team of four. All other teams were pairs of males.

Vitikangas said the event was well run and well supported, but would have made a better 36-hour race. Nobody came close to finishing in the expected 24 hours and only three teams - out of an experienced group - made it under the 30-hour cutoff.

"It was so hard, and it was such a long event - they really didn't think it would take that long," he said. "There was something like 100 kilometres of mountain biking, 40km of hiking and 30km of flat water river paddling with about 10km of whitewater paddling. Cathy actually got flipped over in the rapids, so we had to do a rescue in the river."

The low point was in the early hours of Sunday morning when the group made a decision to strip down and swim 100 metres across a river in the dark in order to get to the next kayak stage. They hoped to warm up, but the water level was low in the lake and the group had to continually get out of their boats to walk through the shallow water.

"Between that and the next checkpoint a few of us were near hypothermic," said Vitikangas. "It was so cold that the water froze in our water bottles and hydration packs. It absolutely froze the tips of our fingers."

At one point he tried to drink soup to warm up, but his hands were shaking so badly he couldn't get the cup up to his lips.

The group warmed up on the next bike section, however, and were able to finish strong.

Overall, Vitikangas said it was a good experience. There were a few navigation errors that cost as much as two hours, as well as a few clashes between team members that are par for the course on a long, difficult race.

"The crew was absolutely amazing, especially with what we went through with being in the kayaks in the middle of the night and trying to get down river in the cold," he said. "We made a few navigation errors, but always managed to get back on course. Now everybody is keen to race again and get back into it."

Kia Kaha won their entry into the BaBAR after a strong placing in the seven-day Raid The North Extreme where they were on pace to finish until a logistical error by organizers left them without a canoe.

The team doesn't have any major events planned for this season, just a handful of small events that members will race solo and in pairs. In February, Vitikangas will kick off his season with the Coast-to-Coast race in New Zealand, a two-day world calibre event he'll race as a solo.