CHEYENNE - Organizers are making final course preparations for what they say is this year's toughest U.S. adventure race: An intense, sleep-deprived scramble by bike, foot, climbing gear and canoe across more than 300 miles of roads, trails, mountainsides and open water.
The first-ever Cowboy Tough race is set to begin Thursday at Curt Gowdy State Park west of Cheyenne - Gov. Matt Mead will see the racers off - and end Sunday in Casper. Eighty racers in 30 teams are signed up.
The goal of the two- and four-person teams is to reach all mandatory checkpoints and visit as many optional checkpoints as possible over three and a half days. Teams can focus just on finishing but winning will require covering as much ground as possible and getting very little sleep.
"I set enough points on the course so that nobody will be able get all the points. So strategy really comes into play on what you're going to skip," race director Michael Spiller said.
Spiller spent part of last week going over the back-country course. More employees of race organizer Rev3 Adventure will be double-checking the electronic checkpoints in the days ahead.
Global positioning is prohibited and the racers will need to rely on compasses to locate many of them. The exact route remains a secret until the day before the race to heighten the navigational challenge.
The race begins with orienteering to checkpoints in Curt Gowdy, followed by rock climbing in Vedauwoo and a bike ride through Laramie to Medicine Bow, where the racers have their first overnight check-in.
Next, they hike to Seminoe Reservoir, canoe its 18-mile length, then hike to an orienteering course at the Miracle Mile, the stretch of the North Platte River between Seminoe and Pathfinder reservoirs.
On day three, the racers bike to Martin's Cove, where dozens of Mormon handcart pioneers perished in an 1856 blizzard. Racers will have the option of pulling handcarts for 5 miles and collecting checkpoints before biking into Alcova for the night.
The last day brings a bike and hike followed by a canoe trip down the North Platte. Racers finish with a brief slosh down the North Platte River on river-boards and jog through Casper.
"This is the toughest race in the United States this year," Spiller said. "We've got more elevation gain. We have more miles than anybody else this year in three and a half days."
Race rules prohibit crossing private land and traveling more than 100 feet apart from other team members.
Each team packs a supply bin that race officials take to each overnight staging area. Otherwise, outside help isn't allowed except for the rare water spigot or convenience store.
Mead entered office seeking a new event to highlight Wyoming's attractions. Several adventure race organizers applied and Rev3's proposal to hold the race in different parts of Wyoming over the next four years helped land the deal, Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said.
"The potential here is great to showcase the entire state," he said.