By: B.J. Fleming
An ocean, a volcano, and a car bomb in Time Square were all that stood between me and an adventure race through the highlands of Scotland. And it was only Monday.
Last week I attended the Drambuie Pursuit – an action sports-based adventure race through the exactly-what-you’d-expect, rolling green hills of the Scottish highlands. It’s like if Nitro Circus went to the Shire. The idea is to follow in the footsteps of “Bonnie” Prince Charlie, an icon on a par with William Wallace in the history of the area. Mixing history, sports, and booze, the Drambuie Pursuit may be the perfect cocktail of adventure travel for me.
In fact, the history of Drambuie is nearly as important and complex as the classic flavor of the liquor itself. James Edward Stuart was the king of England and Ireland in 1685, but he converted to Catholicism, and three years later, his wife Mary gave birth to a Catholic son. For this, he was overthrown and run out of the country by William of Orange, a Protestant (and, bitterly, for James, married to his sister). James fled the country in the face of William’s superior forces.
But, many remained faithful to James, who they regarded as their one, true king. James lived in relative peace outside the country until Parliament decided, upon William’s death, to elect William’s second son, George, as king. This was a slap in the face to the the deposed James Edward Scott, as he was the directly-line descendent who should have been on the throne. At this, a revolution began, and it was James’s son, “Bonnie” Prince Charlie, so-named for his good looks, who spearheaded the revolution. He got a contingent of minute-men together – legit Scottish clan members with the kilts and broadswords, and essentially made a run at a better-armed, larger army under King William.
He lost handily due to superior firepower and numbers, and subsequently fled the battle at Culloden. In the following 5 months, loyal Jacobites hid Charlie from William’s troops despite the £30,000 pound reward on his head (the modern-day equivalent of £15 million). He was never betrayed, and, in fact, one of his followers who resembled him volunteered to be executed when he was mistaken for Prince Charlie in order to buy the bonnie boy some time. Before he left the country completely, though, Charlie did leave a legacy – the secret family recipe for Drambuie which was used as a medicinal elixir and as fortification for his troops.
The Drambuie Pursuit is a modern-day reflection of Charlie’s flight for his own life, a high-speed run across the Scottish Highlands. It encompasses nine separate stages and requires teams of 4 athletes to work with their driver and each other to cover as much ground (and water) in as little time as possible all the while transporting a crate of Drambuie with them. Race standing is determined by points, kind of like G.U.T.S or American Gladiators, and this is how it went down.
Stage 1: Archery
The first competition is in archery. While neither side in the battle actually used longbows to fight, it’s definitely illustrative of the visceral nature of combat at the time. The contestants – chosen precisely because they were everymen (like the men called upon to fight for Charlie) certainly had not formal training. They were given two practice rounds and then scored on their 50 meter shots. Dramatically, celebrity contestant and Fergie paramour, Josh Duhamel, led his team to win this event. This event took place on the evening of the first day, and the real action actually started the next day.
Stage 2: Castle run and Zapcats
In the castle run and Zapcat stage, teams alternate on a trail run to a Scottish castle to collect a crate of Drambuie (which they’ll be required to carry with the remainder of the race) and race motorized, inflatable boats. The times for the runs and the boat races are combined, and then the teams are awarded points based on their position. While the boats were captained by professional drivers, it was up to the riders to keep their weight centered and forward to prevent the boat from porpoising and increasing their speed significantly. Also, these guys were professional in the very loosest sense of the word, and definitely subscribed to my favorite NASCAR-ism, “If you’re not rubbin’, you’re not racin’.” In fact, one team was pushed into a buoy nearly capsizing their boat. The best story of this stage, though, comes from the Royal British Air Force team, The Riff Raff. One of their members was afflicted with a stomach flu (one wonders if it was curable by Drambuie, since it’s a medieval elixir), and during the run was the wet victim of a shart. This is not a race for the faint of heart or loose of bowel.
Stage 3 & 4: Hill climb
This was the only stage the journalists got to participate in, and thank god. One member of each team is tasked with riding a mountain bike up a road to a pass overlooking the Zapcat race. The remaining three members have to then hike from there to the top of a roadside mountain, climb a rocky cliff at the top, and repel down. The terrain is wet and loamy – you lose a solid two inches of elevation each step, and it’s no easy feat to walk up it like I did. These guys ran it. Pictured above is the unlucky member of the Riff Raff mentioned above receiving a little support.
Stage 5: Whitewater rafting
This stage is pretty self explanatory. In a time between 8 and 10 minutes, teams had to paddle together in a whitewater raft over rapids up to classes IV and V. At the finish, they have to steer themselves backwards, paddle back upriver, and surf the final rapid before disembarking and hassling their boat to the finish. The Buie Hunters team capsized, and every team definitely got wet.
Stage 6: Mountain biking
The mountain biking stage was fairly gnarly, as we say here in California. But it was most difficult because every U.S. team had to deal with the fact that in the UK, the front and rear brake levers are reversed. In addition to that, they had sections of elevated trials track. Somehow, nobody wrecked off the raised track unlike years previous. Celebrity Decepticon destroyer Josh Duhamel had this to say, “It was really fucking scary. I kept looking down going ‘What the hell am I doing!?’…If the producers for Transformers 3 could see this track in person, they’d probably not be very happy with me.”
Stage 7: Dune buggies and Highland games
The dune buggies are another stage driven by professional drivers that somehow retain quite a bit of recklessness. At least one driver went through the barriers on the side, and most drivers were shaken up by the experience. More interestingly, as a surprise, competitors were invited to give some traditional highland games – caber tossing and hammer tossing. None were scored, but all were fun. Also: fun hats!
Stage 8 & 9: Canoeing and finish run
The canoeing stage was where things really got interesting. They did it like they did the Eliminator on American Gladiators. The teams’ points were totaled and a 1 point advantage equated to a 5 second head start on the canoes. This was the stage where the American team, the darlings of the press, The Team that Satisfies came together and jumped several places in the rankings eventually placing third after Team Solomon (a clear ringer team) and the Air Force guys.
Perhaps the most moving part of this stage, though, for the fans was seeing the Drambluie Rinse team – comprised of women with an average age of approximately 50 years – come in at 7th place, solidly in the middle of the field. Not only did they finish together, but they soundly defeated nearly half of the teams comprised of much younger men. One team member said after the race, “I’m just a huge proponent of doing what you’re scared to do. And we did it.” Indeed, they did. There was only one other woman racer in the entire race, and the Rinse’s tearful hugs after the finish line spoke both to their competitive nature, and the community that this event engendered. If you’ve any sense at all, you’ll apply to race next year.