By Nicole Cohen
It’s 1:30 in the morning, deep in the wilderness of the Adirondack mountains, and Jennifer Sunnerton is lost.
She’s travelling with three other campers and they have lost sight of the markers on trees that tell them which way to go.
Getting back on track will be tough. Sunnerton is tired and hasn’t slept for 40 hours, not counting the occasional 15-minute nap.
To make matters worse, she has to cross a river and climb a rock face. All she has to guide her is a headlamp.
This may sound like a scary scene from The Blair Witch Project, but it’s the kind of thing Sunnerton, a third-year journalism student, lives for.
The 20-year-old is one of four members of the Adrenaline Junkies, a team of hard-core outdoor enthusiasts training for the Southern Traverse adventure race that begins in New Zealand Nov. 10.
Contestants in Southern Traverse must hike, bike, kayak, raft and rappel across 427 kilometres of mountains, glaciers and uncharted terrain. The goal is to navigate through the wilderness and find the fastest route to the finish line.
Teams carry all their equipment and food with them, stopping briefly at check points to pick up food, switch equipment and, at the risk of being passed by another team, catch some sleep. About 60 teams worldwide are competing in the race, which will take four to six days to finish.
Sunnerton and her teammates spent the Labour Day weekend training in the Adirondack mountains in New York, building endurance to prepare them for the sleep deprivation that awaits them in New Zealand.
“You know you can’t stop until the end of the race,” Sunnerton says. “So if you can’t allow yourself to be tired. It’s a mental battle.”
The energy radiating from Sunnerton’s toned body is enough to inspire anyone to get off the couch and into the wilderness. A seasoned horse racer, sky diver, basketball and rugby player, she exercises constantly.
When experienced adventure racers Frank Mattheus and Jocelyn Cabilete met Sunnerton last summer, they were so impressed by her athleticism they asked her to join their team. Then they recruited recent Ryerson graduate and former Rams badminton star Syd Trefiak to join as well. The team is one of three Canadian groups competing in the event.
The race is not only challenging but expensive. The Adrenaline Junkies predict they’ll have to raise $30,000 to cover their entry fee, equipment and air fare for the team and its two-person support staff.
The team has secured a sponsorship with an Ottawa sports equipment store, and a $5,000 sponsorship with Siemans Canada, a high-tech electronics company, is in the works.
By raising money for themselves, they’re also raising money for charity. To encourage sponsors for the team is donating half of what it raises to Street Kids International a charity that helps poor children in Asia, Africa and Latin America. So far $1,000 has been collected for the organization.
The Adrenaline Junkies could split a prize of $40,000 if they win the race, but Sunnerton isn’t expecting to come hoem rich.
“It’s our first large-scale race,” she says. “To go there and say we want to win would be ridiculous.”
The team, however, is hoping to win the award that’s reserved for a group that doesn’t finish among the top eight but shows the most charisma and spirit. More important to the Adrenaline Junkies is simply finishing the race.
“We’ve got a lot of stubborn people on our team,” Sunnerton says. “I don’t think our egos could handle not finishing the race.”