Like a challenge? Like an adventure? Registration is still open, and just finishing the course is an acceptable goal.


Racers try to make up time on the competition as they paddle. Photo courtesy Dan Singer


The first step into the woods was a doozy. After crossing a street, I planted my left foot near the bottom of a small ravine, and instead of digging into the soft surface below, my shoe slipped across the top of leaves and jammed into the flat ground six inches ahead. Pain shot up my left side and I nearly tumbled to the ground in Greensfelder County Park.

The Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure Race had just started and already I was stumbling through the woods. By the time I regained my balance, my three teammates had scooted far ahead of me as we hustled to find the first checkpoint hidden somewhere up the steep hill we were climbing.

We spent the next six-and-a-half hours indulging in three of Missouri’s best outdoor activities—hiking, biking, and canoeing. For the Show-Me State’s outdoor enthusiasts, that’s a triple crown of fun. For those who love the outdoors and are also competitive, it’s all the better.

Held the first Saturday in December, the Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure Race includes canoeing, road biking, mountain biking, and orienteering, which in this case meant hiking in the woods and finding checkpoints on a map.

Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure Race is now the third largest adventure race in the country. This year’s race takes place Saturday, December 3. If you’re ready for the challenge, register at Registration closes when the participant maximum of 300 is reached.

My four-man team quickly arrived at that first checkpoint, which, like all 27 of them in the race, was bright orange and roughly the size of a grocery bag. This one was hanging from a tree, as were many others. One was in a cave. Another was in a stump. Dangling from each was a unique hole punch, which we used to mark our scorecard and thus prove to race officials we had indeed found it.

In pursuit of the next checkpoint, we turned east and briefly followed a trail before again plunging into previously untrampled wilderness. As I concentrated on carefully placing my feet in safe spots—rocks, logs, roots—my mind wandered. As often happens when I’m in an endurance event, I wondered what I was doing. Why would I spend a perfectly good Saturday torturing my body? An answer popped into my head, almost fully formed. I massaged it, tweaked it, edited it, until it became this: The old saying is, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” An adventure race is a rigorous hike, a challenging canoe ride, and a leg-busting bike ride made unforgettable.

I kept that line in my head because I didn’t want to slow us down by stopping to write it. We finished the hike, climbed onto our bikes and pedaled to and through Eureka. Still I thought about it, in part to make sure I believed it and in part to occupy my mind as miles rolled by under my wheels and my body burned calories like a car burns gasoline.

To replenish my fuel, I drank water from a Camelbak hydration pack, sucked on an electrolyte tablet, and scarfed peanut butter M&Ms. As we entered Route 66 State Park alongside the Meramec River and transitioned to canoes, I stole 30 seconds to fish my notebook out of my backpack and jot down my line.

We tied our bikes together, set them across the canoe’s gunwales and carried the whole heavy, awkward contraption down a hill to the banks of the river. As I shuffle-walked, the canoe banging painfully against my hip and shins, I pondered how to explain that line. I felt its truth in my lungs, my joints, my muscles. But how could I show it? I needed something, some moment, good or bad, to happen to help me illustrate it. That moment arrived as we put our boats in the water.


From an 8 AM start until we crossed the finish line at 2:27 PM, we covered roughly 25 miles, and two parts in particular were grueling: carrying our canoes laden with our bikes and riding
those bikes up a seemingly endless hill near Eureka.

Emily Korsch is a two-time winner of the event and was the race director, a tenure that ended with the 2021 race. She seems like a perfectly lovely person, but as I pedaled up, up, up, endlessly up, I cursed her name. “Yeah,” she said when I asked her about that section of the race later, “that’s a mean one.”

Did she feel bad about what she put us through? Not even a little. Challenges like that hill drew her to the sport in the first place. They drew me, my teammates, and probably everybody who entered the race. “I just love the unknown aspect. The sport rewards people with a very wide range of skills,” she said.

When I signed up for the Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure Race, I knew it would include hiking, road biking, mountain biking, and canoeing. But the order, length, and location were kept secret until just before the event. It’s not like a marathon with a well-known course. We didn’t even know where the race would be held until the night before, and we didn’t know anything about the final seven-checkpoint hike until we arrived at its starting point.

The mystery is part of the fun. “You have to be a really adaptive athlete,” Emily says, “ready for anything.” Including the ability to ride uphill when you’re already exhausted.

Course signs are simple. Photo courtesy Dan Singer

I kept pedaling because I knew stopping to walk would be worse. The view of a valley to my right was probably pretty, but I kept my head down and my eyes planted on the pavement in front of me.

I drew even with a man to my right and, through heaving breaths, made a smart aleck remark about how much fun we were having. He mumbled something about his teammate constantly pushing himself too hard, getting cramps, and slowing down. He said his team yo-yoed like that all day, and he wanted his teammate to adopt a more measured approach.

The man realized he was venting his frustration to a total stranger and apologized for dumping his burdens onto me. I smiled back at him. “Forget it,” I said. “We just had a moment, you and I, right here on this hill.”

With that, I stopped talking so I could climb, climb, and climb some more. A half-dozen times I thought I had reached the top only to realize it was a false summit. Finally, my four-man team crested the top and coasted down, giving our weary legs a break.

On the way down, my new friend and his teammate zipped past us, and I’m pretty sure they ended up beating us to the finish line. Apparently, that limit-pushing, cramp-prone teammate had finally figured out how to pace himself.

As we walked to the put-in spot, I was still thinking about that line in my notebook—An adventure race is a rigorous hike, a challenging canoe ride, and a leg-busting bike ride made unforgettable.


For many, the most arduous part of the race is carrying canoes, weighted down with bicycles, to the river entry point. Photo courtesy Dan Singer


My arms, shoulders, and back burned as Scott and I carried our canoe, piled high with two bikes, to just short of the water. I had hoped not to have to walk into it, but now I saw no choice. I set the nose of the canoe in, pushed it out a little, then took two steps into the water and climbed into the front seat as Scott clambered into the back. Sparkling cold exploded in my feet.

I paddled once or twice when I saw a flash—white, brown, white—up and to my left. I knew what that meant. I narrowed in on the bald eagle that flew along the river, looking for breakfast or just getting some exercise or wondering what all the crackpots down there were doing. I stopped and watched. I pointed it out to Scott.

Five, 10, 15 seconds went by. “Wow,” he said. We were the sole audience with front-row seats for a priceless show. With each flap of that majestic bird’s wings, the burning in my lungs cooled off, the aching in my joints dissipated, and the fatigue in my muscles drifted away.

All of that returned soon enough.

But the joy of that moment, sharing the amazement with Scott, enjoying a reprieve from what ailed me, was all the incentive I needed to sign up for next year’s race.