5 of the craziest adventure races on the planet
With more than 100 endurance, ultra and adventure races under his belt including some 27 over the past three years alone as part of reality adventure series Boundless, Simon Donato has competed in more exotic locations than most of us can point to on a globe. He’s a geologist by trade and an explorer at heart whose combined both passions to become one of the world’s leading authorities on all things adventure racing - be it by foot, bike, raft or snow skis.
So we asked him which of the many forms of races in some of the world’s most remote locations he considered to be the most exotic and far-flung. “This is all in the eye of the beholder, but to me, exotic means quite a lot of cultural interaction. It denotes foreign culture where you’re out of your element,” Donato says.
This is probably the most wild and exotic race I’ve done. It’s a bizarre competition in Iquitos, which is the largest city in the world that cannot be accessed by road. It’s a three-day, 118-mile paddle race on the Amazon River on homemade rafts. And it’s up to you how you build and fashion them. You show up and they take you in a giant river boat to a sand spit in the middle of the Amazon where there’s a tonne of logs. You grab your logs and you start building. The water is like paddling chocolate milk, there are blind river dolphins that occasionally surface and it is truly exotic - you’re out in the middle of nowhere. You pull off at the end of each day in indigenous villages and small towns that can only be accessed by river. Then every night they just blast latino techno music to get everybody dancing and partying. It’s wild.
This is a 100 mile cross-country ski race in the Sisimiut region that has a really authentic cultural component. You’re living with the indigenous people of Inuit descent and you get a little taste of Greenlandic culture. And it’s a wild ski race. It’s track set cross-country, the classical ski technique where you go in a straight line and your legs move back and forth. So each day, they have 50km of track set through Arctic tundra. It was ridiculous. There are no trees - just snow, ice and rock. It’s wild. You sleep in tents, you’re racing against the local natives who dog-sled most days. In their tents they don’t have sleeping bags, they’ve got a bunch of reindeer skins and such. There’s nothing like it.
Also known at the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, I’ve done this race twice and it’s always kicked my butt. Copper Canyon is in a very remote region of Mexico and is an analogous to the Grand Canyon - it’s actually deeper. You’re thrown into the culture and billeted with the locals in town. The first time I did this race, you couldn’t find places to stay online. There’s no internet down there. So we just showed up and somebody was like, “I think my mother has a guest room still open”. And we stayed in a place that had scorpions and giant spiders whipping around. We’d wake up in the morning and the grandma would be outside grinding corn to make her tortillas for the day. It’s changing as it grows in popularity but it’s one for the books.
This one’s on the top of my list to do next. It’s on the doorstep of the Himalayas, a tiny little kingdom that is very mountainous and beautiful. There’s a happiness quotient there, and only recently in the past decade has it been open to foreigners. There’s a company called Global Limits and they run week-long ultra endurance events. It’s about 200km of running broken up into six stages in locations not accessible by vehicles. It’s supposed to be incredible and as far as exotic races in far-flung locations go, this one would have to be up there and one I’d love to do.
I raced this one in the Atacama Desert last year. San Pedro de Atacama is small town at about 8000 feet, and the Xtreme is a 100-mile race where you run across the salt flats. When we raced it, it wasn’t that well marked so it’s a wild race in that sense. I got lost and dropped an hour of the race trying to find the route. It’s an interesting race and San Pedro de Atacama is a cool place off the beaten path. You’re at altitude and it’s a very lunar scenery, kind of like you’re on another planet. There’s a lot of running through salt flats and it gets pretty warm, too.