in the Kulshan Quest
By Ian Ferguson
This summer, a new race is coming to Bellingham with a course that will be a carefully guarded secret until race day. Half an hour before the starting gun, the course will be revealed. Then, in teams and individually, racers will navigate their way through a number of checkpoints on foot, bike and kayak, but the path they choose will be completely up to them. It’s an adventure race, and it’s called the Kulshan Quest.
Adventure races are popular in the east and the southwest, but although our region has a surplus of kayakers, trail runners, mountain bikers and amazing locales for outdoor sports, there are surprisingly few adventure races in Cascadia.
An adventure race combines two or more endurance sports with navigation. Individuals and teams race from point A to point B by any route they choose, usually with a map and compass. Instead of relaying each section, teams must complete the race as a unit.
The most extreme adventure races test the limits of human endurance and can last a week or more. Kulshan Quest is more accessible, with a six-hour division and a 12-hour division.
Although the course is kept secret, what is known is that the race will begin in the Fairhaven area. There will be kayaking, trail running and mountain biking sections, though not necessarily in that order. Teams will get lost. Fun will be had.
Kulshan Quest race director Brent Molsberry got into adventure racing in 2004 when he joined a team for Primal Quest, which was held in the Northwest that year. Racers kayaked from the San Juan Islands to Larrabee State Park, trekked and mountain biked their way into the North Cascades, then kayaked down the Skagit River before paddling back to the San Juans.
“It was a pretty amazing experience,” Molsberry said. “We went well beyond where I thought my limits were, and we just kept going. We were all up six days to finish the race and most days we were getting an hour or two of sleep, but we had fun through the entire race.”
He was hooked, but when he looked for more adventure races in the area, he couldn’t find any. When a friend named Paul Hopkins approached him about starting an adventure race on San Juan Island, Molsberry signed on without hesitation. He has been directing the San Juan Island Quest for six years now, and he’s bringing the race to the mainland this year in the form of the Kulshan Quest.
Molsberry plans the course for each race so that the best route from checkpoint to checkpoint isn’t obvious. Knowledge of local trails can be a big advantage. Local knowledge or no, most teams get lost at some point, and some might decide to skip a checkpoint that is too challenging.
Molsberrry said that’s ok; adventure racing is less about winning and more about enjoying the adventure.
“It’s not really cutthroat. You’re out there to have fun, and so is everybody else,” Molsberry said.
The race ends with a barbeque-style after party and awards ceremony, with the cost of food and beer included in the registration fee.
For hardcore racers, the Kulshan Quest will serve as the northwest qualifier for the US Adventure Racing Association’s National Championships, which will be held in Maryland October 2-4.
Recreation Northwest, the team that brings the Bellingham Traverse to town every September, has partnered with Molsberry to organize the Kulshan Quest and San Juan Island Quest in addition to their Nortwest Traverse Series this summer.
The Kulshan Quest will be held June 21 in Fairhaven, and registration is open. To learn more and register for all the races Recreation Northwest offers, go to recreationnorthwest.org. x