The amazing North Dakota race
American Pharoah proved to be the fastest horse Saturday at the Belmont Stakes, but speed and stamina don't always decide the winner.
More than three hours before the horse became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, families at O'Leary Park in East Grand Forks anxiously awaited the return of participants in the Extreme North Dakota Bicycle, Orienteering and Boat Race to cross the finish line.
The 12 two-people teams had been on the road since 9 a.m., biking and canoeing for almost 25 miles. But this event not only requires speed, but also a sharp wit.
The END-BOB differs from most races because it is set up like a "treasure hunt," Grand Forks resident and race volunteer Carmen Peck said. Every few miles or so, participants must temporarily halt their scenic tour the Grand Forks area to retrieve "clues," usually in the form of words. There were 22 checkpoints to coincide with the number of clues.
Resilience was embodied in a variety of ages—the youngest END-BOB racer, Emmett Sum of Grand Forks, was 11. The oldest was East Grand Forks resident Sue Burton-Kelly, 63. At any minute, they would bike across the "finish line"—the same place where they started, at the picnic benches in O'Leary Park.
It was just a matter of waiting for these "professional sufferers," said Wes Peck, a race volunteer and Carmen Peck's husband.
The Pecks had been trying to meet their two teenage daughters, Erin and Megan, along the various checkpoints since 10 a.m. It's difficult when the race trail is hidden most of the time.
"We volunteered because our kids are in (the race)," Wes Peck said as he walked along the East Grand Forks dike to give Erin,15, and her partner, Jackson Carr, 15, of Grand Forks, life jackets for the canoe portion. "Right now, we're trying to go see them as they overcome this rain that's about to come in too."
Erin and Jackson were canoeing by 11 a.m. because they skipped most of the clues.
"We only got two," Erin said after she crossed the finish line at about 1:30 p.m. "And we definitely weren't going back for the rest after it started to rain."
Erin and Megan have previously done family races, but this was their first time trying out the notoriously challenging END-BOB.
For Ben and Auralee Strege, it was their second time.
"We first did it two years ago," said Ben Strege, a 32 year old from Ardoch, N.D. "And this time, it was a tougher course. The clues were harder to find and further apart."
Still, the Streges had retrieved the most clues—18—out of half of the finished teams by the time they crossed the finish line at 3 p.m.
The key to doing well in the END-BOB race isn't always speed, Carmen Peck said.
"The super fit people come and try to do the END-BOB," Carmen, who has volunteered for multiple END races, said. "Being in good shape is not a guaranteed way to win, because then these people can't read a map. They get lost, and being a good team player can get you out of that."