Last updateTue, 24 Nov 2015 12am



Third Annual Pangea Missing River Adventure Race returns to North Florida

O'Leno State Park Ranger Rick Redding on a walking bridge which spans the "missing" Santa Fe River.

HIGH SPRINGS – North Florida explorers, nature lovers and adrenaline junkies are in luck: The third annual Pangea Missing River Adventure Race, a self-navigated race through the 4,500-acre River Rise Preserve State Park, returns to High Springs on May 5.

The race, which is produced by Pangea Adventure Racing, a Central Florida-based organization, puts a unique spin on the traditional footrace, allowing participants to use maps and compasses to create their own routes. Racers face mental, physical and natural challenges as they make their way by boat, bike and foot to a series of checkpoints.

The Missing River Adventure Race is named for the “disappearing” Santa Fe River that flows underground in O’Leno State Park and reemerges miles later in River Rise Preserve State Park.  The Santa Fe River feeds into the Suwannee River near Branford, Fla.

In 2011, the race attracted about 250 participants, more than doubling the turnout of its first event in 2010.

Jeanette Ciesla, a 32-year-old Gainesville resident, competed in the Missing River race in 2011 as well as in 12 other adventure races over the past two years. Ciesla said her favorite part about the races is the self-navigation.

“You’re thinking the whole time,” Ciesla said.

She competed in Pangea’s most recent race, Myakka Mud Slide, in Sarasota, Fla., on March 31. She came face to face with nature when canoeing down a gator-filled river.

“We had to get out of the boat and push the canoe in parts of the water that were too shallow,” Ciesla said.

Ciesla said she also enjoys the team atmosphere of adventure racing. During races in which she did not have a partner, she said she completed the race with strangers, making new friends along the way.

The registration deadline for the Missing River Adventure Race is April 10, and the late registration deadline is April 30. There are two divisions within the competition: a sport division and an elite division. The sport division is for beginners and lasts three hours. The elite division is for experienced adventure-racers and lasts eight hours.

The participation price differs based on division, team size and time of registration. Within the port division, the price ranges from $120 for a single person to $320 for a four-person team if registered by April 10. Within the elite division, the price ranges from $220 for a two-person team to $400 for a four-person team if registered by April 10. The price increases $10 per participant if registered between April 11 and April 30.

Ted Spiker, a journalism professor at the University of Florida, has completed similar adventure races in the past, such as the obstacle-based Tough Mudder challenge. Spiker said he has seen adventure racing explode in popularity in the past 10 years.

“I was sore, tired, with bruises all over my body, but the first thing we said was, ‘Which are we going to do next year?’”

Morgan Tyrone, park manager at River Rise Preserve, said the event is low-impact on the environment, causing no damage to animals or to vegetation. It also increases awareness of the state-park system, he said.

While the course does not have any set obstacles, Tyrone notes that there are always natural obstacles participants will have to face.

Tyrone said the Missing River race is more rustic than other adventure races.

“It takes into account things out of your control and makes you deal with them,” Tyrone said.

He recalled the first event in 2010, when a big storm the night before the race put branches and unexpected amounts of water on the paths.

At the end of the race, two young women were covered in dried, cracked mud. When someone pointed out how dirty they’d become, the women replied, “But that’s what we love about this.”

A portion of the profits from the Missing River Adventure Race go toward the River Rise Preserve State Park.