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Will's Worldwide Adventure Part 3
Will Kelsay stands in front of the host hotel for Saturday’s XTERRA Czech Championship holding the oversized 3rd place finisher check he earned at XTERRA Mexico last weekend. “I’ll never part with this check,” he told XTERRA managing director Dave Nicholas. If he managed to transport it more than 10,000 miles from Guadalajara to Prague, one has to think he’s serious.
The wildly charismatic former “Mr. XTERRA” is in the Czech this week for the third of his six consecutive XTERRA races that has so far taken him from a small town in South Dakota to a small village in Mexico and now to a charming chateau in the Czech Republic. His next three stops are in Germany, Japan, and Canada. For some more insight on his global adventure we checked in with Will to see just why he’s doing it and how it’s going…
What inspired you to start this six-week journey? I wanted to do something extreme again. It has been 4 years since I did my trip around the US (12 races, 12 weeks, 12,000 miles) and I was jonesing for another epic adventure. I was browsing the XTERRA schedule in January of this year (like I'm sure all athletes were doing) and I noticed that these 6 races lined up. I had a mischievous smile on my face as the plan brewed in my brain.
What was the packing like? A lot harder than I thought it was going to be! With my girlfriend Shelby coming to the Czech race and Canada race, I devised a plan to pack multiple bags. The first race in South Dakota was easy. Just throw everything in the car and call it good. When I packed for the international portion of the trip, these were a bit more complex. I set things up so I would have one back for a couple weeks, another for the next two, and one final bag at the end. Trying to pack as light as possible and in 3 stages turned out to be a real puzzle.
How's your health? Right now... FANTASTIC! I've been injured most of the season this year (only raced Vegas & Waco), so it’s been a rough start to 2011. But now I'm recharged and ready to rock & roll for the 2nd half of the season. I've been making sure to take extra steps to stay healthy while on the road (vitamins, extra stretching, massage, etc). Travel this much is so taxing on the body, but traveling this much and racing at your best is even harder!
Do you have a goal on this trip? The same goal that I have had year round for as long as I can remember - HAVE FUN! I want to experience each location for what it truly is and have as much fun along the way. Getting to see true Mexico (not a resort) and experiencing small town America have been exactly what I was hoping for so far. I'll let you know how the next 4 go!
Can you give us an update on the first two stops and experience? With over 15,000 miles of travel in less than twelve days, the memorable experiences are already piling up. So with notebook in hand, I’ve kept tabs on the days around XTERRA Forest Drive in South Dakota and XTERRA Mexico.
When I visit a new locale I am always looking for the off the beaten path experience. Lines of tourists, guided tours, and pre fabricated experiences are the exact opposite of what I hope to see in each place. The local feel and pizzazz is what I’m looking for. The first two stops on this whirlwind tour provided exactly that flare.
XTERRA USA – South Dakota
After a quick hour and a half swim on Thursday morning and having to turn around to get a few forgotten items, the open roads of Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota were ours. This was it! The adventure had started and I felt like a typical boy with a new toy. It was play time and the dirt roads of the Black Hills were mine to wreak havoc. I thoroughly enjoyed terrifying my co driver (roommate Courtenay Brown), as I practiced my rally skills en route to our campground in the Badlands of southern South Dakota.
Aberdeen, South Dakota was host to the 2nd annual XTERRA Forest Drive and it offered up the fantastic small town American experience that I was looking for. It started as soon as we arrived mid afternoon on Friday to temps in the mid 90’s, and we postponed our pre ride. Red Rooster Coffee Shop was our escape from the heat in old town Aberdeen. Talk about a wacky place! Random couches everywhere, artwork from all over the world, weird paintings on the walls, and my bet is the whole place only cost a few hundred bucks to decorate because most of it was found at a garage sale. Along with rows and rows of 25 cent books, they had stacks of newspapers as well. We were pleasantly surprised to find our pictures in the local paper and a story about the “pro’s coming to visit.”
On Saturday, Courtenay and I put on a PowerBar clinic, shared nutrition tips, and handed out some PowerBar product to the local athletes before heading out for another pre ride. I love putting on these clinics because it’s a great way to really connect with local athletes and I feel that I’m giving back to the sport that’s given me so much. We shared technical riding tips and slowly lowered the frog population of the trails around Richmond Lake as we lead the racers around the 14 mile bike course. In a state of obvious madness, one of the local athletes invited us to come to a BBQ at his house for dinner that night, adding to our Aberdeen experience. I think he was a little surprised at just how much we could eat!
This race was the perfect example of why I love XTERRA. Even though the field was small, the energy was big on race morning. The 5k and 10k runs started early with the triathlon to follow, so the number of people grew larger as the day went on. Family and friends smiled, cheered, and shouted as we leaped into the warm water of Richmond Lake to start the race at 9:30. In typical XTERRA fashion, there was a short run out of the water, around the flags, and back into the water at half way. After throwing down a solid swim, and coming out of the water in the lead (minus one relay swimmer), I was ready to rock it on the tight twisty turns of the bike.. The bike course was a great mix of fast nordic skiing trails and super tight and twisty single track. It was perfect for both beginners and seasoned athletes, in that it was fun and challenging, but totally rideable by all. I was hoping for a bit more rain to make things sloppy muddy and somewhat epic, but I had to settle for perfect race conditions instead. Spectators loved it as well, with athletes passing by transition 6 times on the bike alone. What a great ride! Some freshly cut trails on the run, kept me thinking of the words of Patches O’Houlihan from the movie Dodgeball – You had to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge branches in the dense forests. The nordic ski trails used for the bike also provided some of the run trails, so flat and fast was the name of the game for the running portion of the race. It was amazing how much fun, beautiful, technical, and fast racing was packed into such a small area!
For me, this was the first race of the year that I have felt healthy and trained for. For Courtenay, this was her first off road triathlon. So needless to say we were both stoked with how everything went. I went 4 minutes faster than my winning time from the previous year, and Courtenay couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as we picked up our medals and checks for winning the race. Not a bad way to start out a six race stint!
Wishing we had a bit more time to explore the quaintness Aberdeen had to offer, we started our drive back to Colorado that afternoon. Right away, in typical Will Kelsay style, I got us into “a spot of bother” as my British Timex teammate Toby would say. Recent heavy rains had flooded some of the highways and GPS rerouted us just a few miles south on a farm road. One small puddle turned out to be one deep culvert as the front wheels of our car dropped into a hidden washed out culvert. But again in typical Will Kelsay style, a positive attitude paid off when the farmer whose land we were on came by in his tractor. After being stuck for nearly 3 hours, in just 10 minutes, he had his truck out there, pulled us out, and we were back on our way. No worries mate!
I returned home grateful to be spending one full day in Boulder, and two nights in my own bed before the international portion of my journey began. On Wednesday morning at 6am, I was Guadalajara bound as I set sail to continue this crazy adventure south of the border.
I had been to Mexico one other time prior to this trip, and though I bought beer and rode a mechanical bull for the first time, at the young age of 18, the 10 hours of vomiting out a car window due to food poisoning on the return drive home, left me with a bad taste in my mouth (literally and figuratively). This time around, the experience couldn’t have gone any better! I arrived at the race owner Juan Carlos’s golf resort with Dave “Big Kahuna” Nicholas and fellow pro Karsten Madsen for my first meal and was floored. This was not the Mexico I had seen 12 years ago in college, and little did I know, it would only get better!
Our driver took us to the town of Tapalpa, a quick 2 hour drive outside Guadalajara, after lunch and I repeated the word “Wow!” for the 10,000th time. It was a picturesque Mexican town. A giant church in the center with white washed buildings lining crowded market streets, was exactly what I was hoping to experience and there I was right in the middle of it.
The first of my two pre rides of the bike course didn’t disappoint either. Seth Wealing (fellow pro racer and previous winner of the race) and I discovered Mexican Stan’s while rolling along the eerily quiet trails and mountain roads that made up the 18 mile bike course. The people of Tapalpa have carved off the bark of the local trees, which would “bleed” their sap into small cans nailed to the tree. It is used to make glue, but I think Mexican Stans is a better idea. As we rode on we realized how pleasant and quiet the forest was. No sound whatsoever. On the second of my two pre rides, we definitely didn’t have the same peacefulness. Branden Rakita, Karsten Madsen and I played on a narrow, wooden suspension bridge at the beginning of the bike course and were caught in a brief but heavy down pour in the forest which both lead to more laughing than pedaling that afternoon.
It was at times like these that I try to take mental note of all that I’m doing and all that is going on around me. I realize that I am very lucky to be traveling the world, experiencing amazing sights, sounds, smells and tastes, meeting many new friends, and sharing memorable experiences with old ones as well and I don’t want to forget any of it.
One thing that really made our trip memorable were the people we met. Our hosts for this race kept making our stay better and better by showing us a great time in town and providing us with the most amazing home stay possible with fresh fruits, vegetables as well as an assortment of goodies to keep us going every day. As the hours and days past, our Mexican experience kept growing from the people we met to the things going on in the town of Tapalpa. Our dinner table grew from 4 the first night to 11 the final night adding new friends every night with the people we met. We were treated to traditional Tapalpa dinners several evenings. Even more special for me personally, I turned 30 while in Mexico, so they bought me a cake for my birthday. One day, while in the market, we bought freshly made ice cream from a guy selling it out a wheel barrel. Another day we were chased by a dog and dodged horses and cows on our pre ride. The list fun experiences keeps going on and on.
The race itself was exactly what I expected – AWESOME! The turnout was amazing, with people lining the hillside above the swim and crowds swarming the streets along the run and T2 (there were remote transition areas). I was stoked to feel as confident and comfortable as I did and coming out of the water near the front with Olympian Fabiola Corona on my feet. XTERRA World Champ and Luna Chix athlete Shonny Vanlandingham, my partner in crime for most of this trip, didn’t quite have that same wonderful swim as I did. She was over heating and got a bit claustrophobic after the first buoy and had to unzip her wetsuit. She was able to keep swimming with it open and cruised in the rest of the 1.5k swim ready for the bike.
With dry windy conditions the day before, the bike turned out to be rather dry and quite tacky on race day. The forest was shady, so Shonny and I went with the Rudy Project Racing Red lenses and Clear lenses as opposed to a standard dark shaded lens. I laughed out loud as I passed the first aid station and the water handed to me came in a plastic bag! Seth and Branden had said they had seen this before, but to Shonny and me it was completely new. Because of bike travel issues leading up to the race, Shonny didn’t get to pre ride a large section of it, but with what she described as “perfect traction conditions,” she was able to fly through the mix of power sections, climbing, and techy stuff to come into T2 with the fastest bike of the day for the women (one of the fastest overall actually!).
The run was a 2 loop course with super steep (I’m talking walk city) hills, beautiful forests, and lots of stairs that lead you through town and had me smiling the whole way. If you ever want to feel like a rock star, go race in Mexico! Starting the second lap of the run and coming into the finish line, there were people 4 deep lining the streets. Andale! Arriba! The crowds shouted as we sprinted past. It’s a great way to finish any race!
At the awards ceremony, what felt like thousands of people filled the square, as athletes were given medals and pros were handed checks. All of the pros were asked for interviews and photos, to sign autographs, give high 5’s and were treated to “amazing enthusiasm for triathlon” as Shonny put it. It was so cool to see the excitement the Mexican people shared for racing, a very different experience than what we see in the States.
The post awards fireworks and fiesta was nothing like we had ever seen before at a triathlon. It felt like the whole city was there for the party and the energy was through the roof! We had a huge group for dinner and after tons of cervesas and plates and plates of food, the bill was only $75. I could totally get used to this life style! After another night of minimal sleep, I was back at the airport to start what ended up being a 2 day trip to make it to Prague for the next race. The travel can be rough, but it’s totally worth it.
With all that has happened in the past twelve days, I can only hope that I have as much fun as I did in South Dakota and Mexico in the next twelve days in the Czech Republic and Germany. I’m just gonna keep one thing in mind as I explore these European countries – Live More!
I hope that some of what I share with you will inspire you to head out on your own adventure to experience all the cool things that the world has to offer. I'll make sure to keep sharing mine with you!
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