The day before Missoula’s 2012 GrizzlyMan Adventure Race, Team First Descents athletes Jordan Stoner and Josh Vandermeer were set to scram with $1,800 in pledges for First Descents, a non-profit that takes young adults with cancer on outdoor adventures. They had kayaks, bikes, and orienteering gear packed and ready. Except for one thing—the race organizers couldn’t find either athlete in their records. Stoner and Vandermeer begged, but it was too late to fix the administrative glitch. The duo’s bid on GrizzlyMan was out less than 24 hours before it was slated to begin. And with $1,800 of pledges on the line, Bobkitten was born.
A Race to Race
Stoner, a 24-year-old MSU student, scrambled to throw together an alternative adventure race for the very next day in hopes of keeping his pledges for First Descents. Fortunately, the original GrizzlyMan sponsors agreed to transfer their support to the new race. Stoner fast-talked seven friends into the competition, asked them to help him cook up a course, and at midnight, his “12am Bandits” were out stashing a hastily assembled cadre of bikes for the next day’s race. Here’s how the first annual Bobkitten would play out: racers would start at the M trail, slogging up with ski gear, and winding ten miles over Baldy and the Ridge to Bridger Bowl. They would then ski 2,600 vertical feet down Bridger, and bike 16 miles from the Eagle Mount Hut to downtown Bozeman.
By sunrise, the racers were assembled—a ragtag mix of 20- to 30-year-olds. There were two ladies and seven dudes; seasoned athletes like Vandermeer, 28, who drove more than four hours from Plains, MT, to race Bobkitten, and newbie racers like Eric Harlow, 28, who lugged around his own 24-ounce jar of peanut butter for fuel. “The race quickly became more about helping the furthest-behind person than winning,” Stoner says. It took 12 hours, but everyone finished Bobkitten together, riding into town at sunset on mountain and road bikes, sunburned beyond belief, their pledges to First Descents honored. By popular vote, Harlow was declared the winner.
Bozeman’s Newest Adventure Race
This year, Bobkitten is an official adventure race, open to all and slated for April 20. In the slapdash spirit of the original race, it’s a team competition with no individuals allowed, and registration is open until one minute before the race starts at 9am. The $26.52 registration fee goes to First Descents in support of their programs. This year, the race is grassroots but official, with unmanned self-support stations, t-shirts, and prizes. The three-part course is the same as last year, but participants are welcome to skin the hiking portion.
A Dash for Cash
Stoner’s in it for the money—specifically raising cash for First Descents, where he is both a program director and a member of the fundraising group Team First Descents. Spearheaded by 31-year-old Brad Ludden and loosely headquartered in Salt Lake City, First Descents takes young adults with cancer (ages 18-39) on recreational adventures—kayaking, rock climbing, and surfing around the U.S., and sometimes around the globe. “While there are many resources for kids and geriatric cancer patients,” Stoner says, “our sector is chronically underserved, at a time in their lives when they are trying to negotiate college, relationships, or a first job; on top of a diagnosis, chemo, health insurance difficulties, and usually overwhelming medical bills.”
The program brings medical doctors on expeditions, but no counselors—Stoner says for most patients and survivors, the wilderness experience and rapport with teammates in all stages of disease and remission is naturally therapeutic. He says throughout trips, patients swap stories, becoming their own support network and gaining confidence while facing challenges. “They’re comparing the terror of flipping a kayak to the terror of facing chemo,” Stoner says, “and First Descents is helping them prove to themselves that they can overcome.”
In line with First Descents, the major benefactor of the race, Bobkitten combines camaraderie, adventure, and cancer support. Stoner sees Bobkitten as a new community mainstay and a standard annual scramble for the next 50 years. “If Bozeman’s the kind of town where you can find nine people overnight to crawl around in the mountains for 12 hours,” Stoner says, “then with a little extra planning, we can definitely pull together a full-fledged annual community event.”
First Descents Fundraising Team Adventure Race
April 20, 2013, from 9am-midnight
10-mile hike, 2,600-foot vertical ski, 16-mile bike
Registration: $26.52 per person (must be part of a team)
Deadline: one minute before race
Contact: Jordan Stoner, [email protected]
Photos by Chris Maus