NEWRY – Ever feel like walking 50 miles without knowing where you are going next?

How about hopping in a canoe and paddling through rapids while carrying a five-day pack of supplies?

Or maybe your idea of fun is biking across hilly terrain in the dark and navigating through the dense Western Maine forest, over mountains and through gorges.

Sound about right?

The sport known as adventure racing appeals to hundreds of people across the United States. This week, dozens of them will be in Maine, where a Bethel company is hosting one of the country’s premier races.

This will be the third consecutive year that Racing Ahead Inc. has hosted the Appalachian Extreme Adventure Race out of Sunday River Ski Resort.

“Sunday River, and Bethel in general, is well situated in the middle of everything,” said Norm Greenberg, president and founder of Racing Ahead. “There are a lot of ways to get in and out of Bethel, and that is a solid characteristic of the area.”

Starting at 7:30 a.m. today, 27 teams in three categories will put their canoes in Mountain View Pond on the Western shore of Moosehead Lake and race – by boat, on bike and on foot – 250 miles to Newry.

“Every year, the course is new,” Greenberg said. “That takes any home edge out of it, and if anyone has run here before, there is no advantage.”

For the first time, the winner of this race will automatically qualify for the World Championship Adventure Race, being held in Newfoundland, Canada.

Racing Ahead

Greenberg and Tracyn Thayer started Racing Ahead Inc. in March 2001, three years after forming a partnership beyond any they had formed on the trails as teammates: They got married.

“My wife is originally from Cumberland and we wanted to come back to Maine,” Greenberg said. “We’re familiar with the area and knew it would be a good spot for a company like this.”

The race itself is a mystery to those in the field until the night before it begins. That allows the course to be a surprise to everyone.

“It certainly levels the playing field,” said Chris Rice of Team Raceday, made up of people from the mid-Atlantic states. “If they gave you the course in advance, the teams with more time on their hands could come up and chart the course.”

The course

For the first time this year, the race will not include rappelling, but that doesn’t mean it will be short on adventure.

“Maine has a lot of white water, so we focused a lot on that this year,” Greenberg said. “We try to set out a course that makes sense depending on the area. If we were in a desert, for example, we might have something to do with camels, or in the Alps we would have done skiing.”

The racers got their first glimpse of the course and the required disciplines Friday night at the pre-race briefing.

“There’s a lot of paddling here,” said Scott Berk of Team Nomad, whose members span the country. “We’ve raced with Norm and Tracyn before, and in races that they’ve put on, you always know with them that the navigation part of it will be very difficult.”

Who and how

Most of the 27 teams are in the four-person, co-ed division. It’s an advanced race, Greenberg said. And it’s not a relay event. “Everyone crosses the finish line together.”

Racers have come from all over the continent, even from Alaska and the Yukon in northwestern Canada, he said. One of the teams, Nomad, features two racers, Berk and Grant Sisler of Otisfield. Their team will wear bib No. 2 during the race.

The territory the teams must traverse is largely unknown. An extensive list of supplies, some to be carried by all four members of the group, includes a map and a compass, a whistle, a knife, a survival mirror, a waterproof lighter and a headlamp.

“The biggest thing, really, is to have enough food and to stay warm, to have the right clothes,” said Jody Lapare of Team Raceday. “You also have to be prepared to get lost at least once.”

On Saturday morning, there will be no more clues. At the end of an access road just west of Greenville, the competitors will be left alone with their piles of supplies. They will be told, “Go,” and they will head into the wilderness. If all goes as planned, most will resurface on either Monday or Tuesday at the Grand Summit Hotel in Newry.

Will they be tired? Probably.

But satisfied? Only if they finish.

“You don’t even think about not finishing,” said Lapare.

“It’s certainly better to finish,” agreed Rice. “It’s more than good enough just to finish. Not to finish is just sucky.”

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