Finishing Cowboy Tough


Race morning was full of excitement and nerves. We woke up at 4:45am and drove from Casper to Curt Gowdy State Park where the race began. We fueled up with bagels and coffee and slept for a few more hours along the way. We were the first of the competitors to arrive, thanks to our personal chauffeur. 

Adam and I had the opportunity to chat with the Governor of WY and his family before the race began. Right before the race started the teams all gathered around the Governor sitting on his horse. He dismounted the horse before firing the starting gun; they didn’t want the competitors getting trampled by a spooked horse, that’d put a pretty big damper on the start of the race.

At around 9am Team WYO ventured off on the toughest adventure race in the US this year.  Orienteering was the first leg of our journey. We would be on our bikes for over 12 hours after this. We biked on fire roads and single tracks to Vedauwoo, where we scrambled up to do a free hanging rappel. We continued on our bikes after the rappel and came across a small creek with a narrow board used for a bridge on it. Adam went over it with grace and ease, stopping on the other side to check back on his teammate. I thought that his approach was way too easy and decided it would be fun to sail over my handlebars and land face first on the other side of the creek. I still haven’t mastered the concept of balance on a bike, maybe one day. For now at least I could provide us with some laughs throughout the race.

As we climbed an exposed, grassy bald on our bikes we watched ominous, black clouds come rolling in. Adam and I accessed the situation and decided it would be better to spread out that way we wouldn’t both be in the line of a lightning bolt. As NOLS grads we are used to assessing situations and minimizing risks. Adam was a few hundred feet behind me at this point. I looked back and saw him stopped on the side of the trail. Naturally, I thought that he had stopped on the side of the trail to go into lightning safe position. I decided to do the same. A few minutes later, he pulls up to find me in the fetal position on my pack. He was very confused. Apparently he had simply stopped to fix a flat tire. I got out of the fetal position and we carried on.

I’m pretty sure we lost about 5lbs each in water weight on the 15-20 mile trek through the desert. Team WYO was not phased by the heat or sun exposure though. We just busted out our matching zebra striped umbrellas and trekked on in style. 

Fuel along the way was immensely important. Dehydration and heat exhaustion played a huge role in a few of the competitors dropping out. Some of our favorite food runs were subs at Quiznos, microwavable gas station burritos, ice cream sandwiches, and lots of Gatorade.

Adam’s brute strength was the talk of the competitors after our epic day on the canoe. Wyoming weather is quite spontaneous and neither of us expected the calm, peaceful water to turn into three-foot waves with white caps everywhere. The wind made it nearly impossible to paddle where we needed to go so Adam hoisted the canoe over his head and we trekked on foot up and over the sand dunes. We hadn’t seen any other competitors for a long time and would later learn that the pair in front of us had bailed on the side of the reservoir and hitch hiked to the transition point. Other teams behind us had called in for help as well. We didn’t blame them one bit, but Adam and I were proud of our perseverance during our 8 hours on the canoe.

Our strengths and weaknesses were highlighted during the race. One of the coolest things about pushing yourself to your limits is seeing how you react and are able to handle challenging situations. We both relied heavily on past experiences that had given us a high tolerance for adversity and uncertainty. As semester graduates of NOLS, this past experience was high on the list.

Adam was the strong one at night, whereas I was strong early in the morning. This turned out to be beneficial for both of us, when one of us was struggling the other remained strong and helped push the team through. We kept our sense of humor throughout the race. Adam was nicknamed Tugboat, because of his brute strength. I was dubbed as Hummingbird, because I ate all the time. 

It was truly an adventure of a lifetime and one that each of us will never forget. We passed by animal eyes on the nighttime treks, floated down class three rapids on our boogie boards with our packs on in 50 degree water, got awesome tan lines, swam in muddy water, saw more of the beautiful state we live in, worked through communicating well when both of us were running on little sleep, and were still smiling as we crossed the finish line of the toughest adventure race in the US.  

Adam and I would like to extend a special thank you to the people at Kind Bar, Deuter, and Brooks for sponsoring us with their amazing products. And a huge thank you goes out to everyone at NOLS and to our friends and family who cheered us on and supported us along the way. We wouldn’t have been so cheerful along the way if it wasn’t for your support!


Early morning training sessions

Early morning training sessions

Beautiful sunrises like these are just one of the many perks of being up at 5am!

Special thanks to our sponsors: Brooks, Kind Bars, and Deuter

Special thanks to our sponsors: Brooks, Kind Bars, and Deuter

Thanks to Brooks, Kind Bars, and Deuter for helping us gear up for the Cowboy Tough

The FART and Island Lake – By Katie Everson

About a month ago I joined a great group of people in Lander and participated in the FART. Also known as the Freemont Area Road Tour, which is way too long to say, so the FART it is.

I did three of the loops that were a part of the Tour and also ventured off the course to switch it up a little doing a total of 55 miles. It was a great way to start a beautiful Saturday morning.

Afterwards I ventured on a backpacking trip with Zach into the Winds. We hiked into Island Lake doing some off trail navigation, creek hopping, a lake crossing, and of course yelling “hey bear” the whole way. Well I was anyways. It was a perfect weekend of training and fun. It felt like more fun than actual training. I’m hoping the Cowboy Tough feels the same!





Cross-training Climb in the Cirque – By Adam Swisher

A couple of weekends ago a friend and I hiked into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River mountains with the objective of climbing the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head peak (5.6 IV)–one of North America’s fifty Classic climbs. Normally I wouldn’t consider this a training weekend, just a fun foray into the mountains, but trying to make it happen on a time crunch turned a leisurely backpacking and climbing trip into a 36 hour peak bagging assault. On a lovely June Saturday afternoon we left the parking lot at Big Sandy and cruised up to the cirque weighed down by packs of climbing and camping gear. At around 5pm we arrived at our camp. I set up the shelter and moved our gear in while my climbing partner Preacher assembled some delicious cheese and summer sausage sandwiches for dinner. We dined in the glory of the surrounding peaks and glassed our objective with binoculars. When we had our fill of food and route beta, we retired to the shelter where, much to Preachers dismay, I immediately fell asleep (I later found out that he barely closed his eyes that night).

The next morning we woke at 430am, and after a delectable backcountry bagel and lox, set out across the valley for Wolf’s Head. There was a lot of snow in the Cirque, but at such an early hour it proved to be firm enough to support our weight. At the base of the climb I racked up and led out onto the grassy ledges. It was cold and wet. Ice had formed in many places and made upward progress difficult. I backed down and second guessed myself a number of times, but finally made it up to the saddle. From there I cruised up some really cool exposed terrain. Looking down past my feet I could see the valley floor roughly six hundred feet down on either side of the knife edge ridge-line. Amazing! When I got to the infamous piton pitch I could feel myself getting tired. I was slightly psyched-out from leading every pitch and the climb’s immense exposure. To make matters worse, there was a huge block of snow covering up the first couple of pitons and forcing me to climb way out on the edge of the starting ledge. Somehow I mustered the courage to move past it, but by the end I was mentally drained. We reached the summit sometime around 5pm and after a brief celebration began our decent (which proved to be almost as tricky as the climb itself).

Once off the climb, we walked a sporty mile or so across very punchy snow to camp, arriving at around 830pm. This is normally the pointwhere climbing parties eat, sleep, and relish in their achievement. Not us. Preach whipped up some more sandwiches and I packed up the shelter. Next thing we knew, we were hiking the 12 miles to Big Sandy in the dark. By the time we made it to the truck at 130am I was totally worked. And, for that reason I didn’t really have much of a reaction when I discovered that the battery was dead. I simply told Preach of the situation, wished him a good night, and fell fast asleep in the bed of the truck. If this trip wasn’t good training, then I don’t know what is. – Adam

The baseThe saddle

Before a 32 mile Mountain Road Ride

Before a 32 mile Mountain Road Ride

Just being Cowboy/girl Tough

The Bighorn 50k – By Katie Everson

A few weekends ago I completed my first 50k. Running an ultra marathon has been on my to do list for years. I signed up with the goal of using it to train for my next big race, the cowboy tough adventure race.

The Bighorn 50k took place in the Bighorn Mountains of Northeast Wyoming. We started at an elevation of 7,650 feet and traveled up and down over mountains. The highest elevation we reached during the 31-mile race was 8,100 feet. The race ended at just above 4,000 feet.

All that downhill sounds appealing and I thought I would just float down the mountain to the end. But, the floating became more of a hobble as my quads gave out and would barely stop me as I ran down. I walked down some of the final hills even though the option of tumbling down seemed more appealing than my awkward downhill shuffle.

The last five miles of the race followed a dirt road. It’s relatively flat so you’d think it’d be an easy coast in. This was not the case.  If someone not familiar with the running world were to be watching- it would look more like a death march instead of a race. The fact that I paid to do this and drove for 9 hours round trip crossed my mind a few times, perhaps my next visit should be to a spa.

But as I crossed the finish line- after downing countless kind bars, drinking as much heed as my body could handle, and eating my newest favorite race fuel, Mike and Ikes- I was reminded of why I do this. First off because I love to run and I love to push my limits in athletics. Secondly, the accomplishment of finishing something so challenging will always outweigh the pain felt along the way.

Team WYO’s next big event for training is a night run of 18 miles. Equipped with our Deuter packs, brooks apparel, and kind bars it is sure to be a fantastic time. 🙂 Katie

18-miler – by Adam Swisher

Ready To Run

Ready To Run

Yesterday we kicked our training up a notch. Katie and I met up with two friends at Bruce’s Bridge for a long mountain run. Early on, as we climbed the switchbacks, the weather was variable. Despite the occasional spit of rain I felt great. I was actually surprised at the ease with which I was able to scale the couple thousand feet of elevation in the first nine miles. The downhill was a different story. My right leg tightened up and no matter of stretching would solve the problem. With two miles to go I was reduced to a walking pace. Katie pressed on and completed the run in style. Back at the car, we decided the day was a success. Eighteen miles with a little walking here and there, and we are on track to be cowboy tough. -Adam

Getting Serious

The snows are melting and spring is in the air in Wyoming. After being confined to biking and running on the road for most of 2013 it’s really nice to get out on the trails. Katie’s been training hard and has already competed in one endurance race this year, the Boston marathon. I spent the month of April hiking through the canyons of Utah building up a good base. Now, it’s time to get serious about Cowboy tough and start to really push ourselves. Tomorrow we will travel into the Winds to see how far we can go before being turned around by snow. – Adam