As Gov. Matt Mead drove across Wyoming campaigning for his post in 2010, he was surprised at the places he’d never seen and marveled at the ones he hadn’t visited for years. He’d never been to Hartville, a “magnificent little town” rich in history, he said. There were the natural wonders: Devils Tower and Shell Canyon. Outdoor playgrounds: Curt Gowdy State Park and Casper Mountain. Sometimes these places are forgotten by outsiders in the shadow of the state’s national parks.
After taking office in 2011 Mead said he didn’t forget those places, and he felt there had to be a way to celebrate the diversity and adventure of the state. That idea eventually grew into an adventure race. Last year Wyoming hosted the first Cameco Cowboy Tough Expedition Race starting in Curt Gowdy State Park and ending four days later in Casper.
When Mead decided the state would have its own race, he gave only a few guidelines. It needed to be entirely within Wyoming, it needed to showcase the entire state, and it had to be tough.
“This is Wyoming,” he said. “We should have the tough race.”
Wyoming’s race is tough, covering up to 500 miles in 3.5 days. This year’s race begins on July 17 at South Pass City State Historical Site, where racers will have to find historical locations and a gold nugget before taking a shot of Wyoming Whiskey. (Serious competitors will have an iced tea option). From there they will bike to Sinks Canyon near Lander where they’ll mountain bike and rappel, among other tasks, before biking to Riverton.
At the 1838 Rendezvous site, mountain men will oversee a tomahawk throw, then racers will bike to Boysen Reservoir for 18 miles of paddling — likely in the Wyoming wind. Day three involves whitewater rafting (with guides) through Wind River Canyon and a bike to Hell’s Half Acre. On the final day, competitors will bike to Casper and finish by canoeing through the whitewater park on the North Platte river.
Wyoming’s Cowboy Tough race will change locations each year. Next year the race is centered around the Bighorn mountains.
The 80-person race is sold out. Among the teams this year is the second- and third-ranked teams in the world. There are also six of the top 10 teams in the country racing, according to organizers. The caliber of the athletes is especially impressive because the race isn’t a world qualifier.
Of course, there are also teams from Wyoming.
Casey Adams is on a team with Shad Hamilton, Chuck Schuster and Karla Wagner — all from Fremont County.
“Its our home territory,” Adams said. “And it’s a great way to see Wind River country.”
Adams is a triathlete, but has never done an expedition race. The team started training in the winter, but it’s tough to really prepare because so much of the race is unknown. While racers know the general course and about how many miles they’ll be biking or paddling, they don’t know where the checkpoints will be, or what additional challenges will be thrown their way. They also don’t know how they’ll respond to such a physically grueling endeavor performed on minimal sleep.
“It’s tough to mentally prepare when you don’t know what you are mentally preparing for,” Adams said.
“This is a world class race,” said Joe McGinley of Casper, an adventure race veteran who competed in Wyoming’s inaugural Cowboy Tough race last year. This year McGinley is teamed up with Ryan Larsen, also of Casper. This will be Larsen’s first adventure race.
Based on what he knows of the course, McGinley is most excited for the whitewater rafting and rappelling. He’s not looking forward to the long miles of trekking through mid-summer heat. He knows getting to and from Hell’s Half Acre is going to be tough. Part of what makes Wyoming’s race special is the landscape, along with the heat and wind.
“This is on the extreme end of racing,” he said.
Mead says he’d like for Cowboy Tough to become one of the country’s premier adventure races. He said news coverage of the race will help garner national attention to all the state offers.
For a full schedule check out the Cowboy Tough Expedition Race website.
Watch the race: You can check out racers at the start of each day, as well as view them in Sinks Canyon, at the 1838 Rendezvous Site for the tomahawk challenge, paddling Boysen Reservoir and riding the whitewater through Casper. For a race schedule visit this website.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton