It wasn't the sort of instruction you'd hear at your ordinary climb-the-mountain, run-the-river, cross-the-desert, hack-the-jungle adventure race. Then again, these 52 teams were about to step off into an entirely different sort of jungle. "If you are faced with a life-threatening emergency," said race director Will Burkhart, "break the seal on your cell phone and dial 911." Burkhart, a 34-year-old seasoned adventure racer from Denver, was warming up the crowd for Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who would soon mount the lakeshore stage huddled in a trench coat against the only wind anywhere that's named after a meat-eating birdthey call it "the hawk." By the next morning, Saturday, October 7, 2000, the temperature would hit a record low of 30°F [-1°C]. The racers, in teams of three, were looking out from North Avenue Beach over a roiling Lake Michigan, getting ready to bolt toward the lit skyline of Chicago and embark on an odyssey in which they would run, climb, paddle, mud walk, bike, stumble, scramble, rappel, and skate for nearly a hundred miles [161 kilometers], or for 24 hours, or until they reached hypothermic collapse, whichever came first.
It was being billed as the "original urban adventure race," and the three organizersBurkhart; John Hamill, a 41-year-old firefighter from Evanston, Illinois; and John O'Connor, 39, a Chicago health-club managerhad named it "The Wild Onion," a rough translation of the Illiniwek Indian word "Checaugou." Their promise: "It'll make you cry."
O'Connor and Hamill had come up with the idea of an urban challenge while using city venues to train for adventure races in Wisconsin and Michigan. "The city had so many resources," O'Connor says, "we just thought, Hey, why not string them together and make a race of it?" They spent most of a year designing a course that covered the city to its limits north and south, east and west, up and down. Burkhart ran the course six weeks before the race, in balmy weather, and managed not to get lost, mugged, or otherwise Chicagoedthough he still returned with a review worthy of the city's gritty reputation. "It was hell," said the former marine, winner of 4 of the 23 adventure races he's entered.
Run wild with the rest of the Onion bunchread the full story in the March/April 2001 issue of ADVENTURE. (Subscribe today.)