Note: I’m going to start with the long and winding story of my experience on the Expedition Everest Challenge and then finish with some tips for folks planning to do this race in the future. So, feel free to jump to the bottom if you’re mainly interested in tips and less interested in my rambling. Also, here’s some abbreviations I’ll use freely in this post:
EEC = Expedition Everest Challenge
CM = Cast Member (WDW employee)
AK = Animal Kingdom
5K = 3.1 miles
Today is the last day of this trip to WDW. I’m sitting in the Animal Kingdom Lodge lounge area, which overlooks one of the savannas. Zebras are grazing, ducks are swimming, and giraffes are being evil.
This trip was for the Expedition Everest Challenge. It’s half race, half puzzle hunt. (They call it a scavenger hunt, but it’s really a puzzle hunt. They also call it a 5K, but it’s actually a bit more than that.) Here’s a photo of the course map from the “base camp” (the meet-up to pick up your bib, t-shirt, etc.):
The EEC is a night race. It starts at 9:30pm in the Animal Kingdom parking lot. As I was staying right nearby in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it was a very short bus ride. While on the bus, I met up with another racer who told me about a Facebook page for the event that was coordinating a meet-up. I ended up hanging out with that group before the race.
As you can imagine, it’s pretty hot in Florida. When I got off the bus, the temperature was reading at 87 degrees (with a “feels like” of 89). I dropped off my bag at bag check (which had sandals, a warm sweatshirt, and a few other odds and ends in it) and headed straight away to the water station. They smartly had a big table with cold water set up in the parking lot. I drank 4-5 cups of water down while waiting at the start. Sitting on the parking lot pavement was like sitting on a hot pizza stone, but it also felt kind of good to my legs. I snapped some photos, sent some tweets, and generally prepped myself for the race. My plan was to time myself on the Garmin, but stop it just before (and restart just after) the obstacles on the race, so that I’d end up with my “real” 5K time at the end, without the impact of obstacles.
I was in the first wave to start, which is an experience I was not used to. This race puts you in waves based on when you register, not how fast you are. That was a wonderful thing, because I got to experience being in that first group at the start line and seeing the fireworks go off and all of that. Then, of course, most of wave 1 ran past me as I did my toddling pace over to the first obstacle, just before the end of mile 1. The first obstacle was a set of haybales that made little hurdles for long-legged runners. For the kids and short folks like me, it was step up, step down, step up, step down. There were only around 6-8 of them so it wasn’t too bad.
Then, we headed into the park. Animal Kingdom is a bit more hilly and bumpy than the typical course for me, and that combined with the heat took an expected toll. Fortunately, they had tons of fans set up along the course to help keep us all cool. I have no idea if any animals were out; I don’t remember at all. I remember that the moon was pretty and bright.
The second obstacle, just past the halfway point at the far end of the park, was tires. That was super-slow for me, as I didn’t want to trip, and again, short legs don’t help you out here. There was a water table just before and just after the tires, which I happily took advantage of, both to douse myself and to drink. Then, I was on the final mile, so I kicked up my speed a bit. (I’d slowed down in the park.) I remembered where we were running from doing my half back in January, and that was kind of fun. We were running by the electric fence on the service road toward the parking lot. I saw the 3 mile timer, and I realized I was definitely going to beat an hour for my 5K time, even with the obstacles, which was very exciting. I was afraid the heat would slow me down too much to hit my goal. I started a sprint so I could really get a good time, at which point I saw the third obstacle. I had forgotten about that!
The third obstacle was a net that you had to crawl under, in a sandy area with that super-soft dirt sand. Some people call it sugar sand, but it’s even softer than sugar…more like flour. Anyways, I got sand all over me and all in my shoes. When I stood up, it felt like there wasn’t room for my toes in my shoes anymore, but I knew I was so close to beating my goal time by the official clock, so I dashed to the mat and across. I started looking around, because I’d heard there would be water bottles and bananas, but there weren’t. They had more cups of water, but no food or powerade. That was a bit worrisome for me. I hadn’t brought a goo or anything (because I’d read that they would have things after the 5K part), and I also hadn’t eaten since noon. So, I determined to not rush myself through the hunt and to carefully monitor myself for dizziness, headache, etc.
Instead of foodstuff handouts, they handed us a mini-sharpie, an LED light, and a clue card. The clue was very simple to solve. I had it before I even got past the clue-givers. Unfortunately, I managed to Britta it in a different way. Here’s a picture of the clue, and I’ve blurred the answer so you can have fun solving it:
Now, keep in mind that I’m reading this in the dark while sweaty, tired, and covered in sand. Thus, I blew past most of the text at the top (which was tiny and hard to read while in motion, at dark, using a tiny red LED light). There had been a sign along the 5K course indicating “Scavenger Hunt”, which was inside the park near Camp Minnie-Mickey. But, before I even got into the park, there were all these CMs holding signs with words on them. So, I figured I needed to look for a CM with the answer word on it…yet I couldn’t find one in the group outside the park.
I went up to a CM holding a sign marked “Desert” and asked for help as to where to turn in my clue. He said, “You have the right answer, but the place to turn it in is over that way, farther down.” I re-read the clue and realized that my clue said “Oasis – Springs”…so, in my head, I was like, “Oh, okay! I need to go to the Oasis (which AK fans know is actually inside the park, just before the big tree) and look for the Springs (which I figured was probably the fountains and waterfalls near the flamingoes). These signs must be for a later part of the course.” So, I happily trotted off into the park and into the Oasis area of Animal Kingdom. At that point, I realized there were no signs anywhere. There were some 5K people still on the course, too, so I was dodging some of them while trying to criss-cross the Oasis.
So, I asked another CM where to go, showing him my clue. He said, “Oh, keep going. It’s up farther, in Camp Minnie Mickey.” I thought to myself, “Oh, yeah…duh! I remember seeing that while I was on the 5K. Of course the hunt starts at Camp Minnie Mickey!” So, off I ran! I dashed into Camp Minnie Mickey, and sure enough, there were more CMs with signs. Except…their signs also did not match my clue answer. Now, I’m getting worried, because I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I ask another CM for help, and they’re like, “Oh, you’re on Clue 1. That’s back outside the park. You need to go back to the beginning.” DESPAIR! I was so sweaty and tired, and now I realized I had wasted time because I missed a sign somewhere. Augh!
What could I do? I dashed back to the beginning and hunted for my sign, but again, I had no luck finding it. At this point, there was a CM standing in that area shouting, “DO NOT LEAVE THIS AREA UNTIL YOU HAVE CLUE 2!” So, clearly, I was not the only confused person dashing about mindlessly. Since I couldn’t find a sign with the answer on it, I went to a CM again and asked more specifically, “Which sign am I looking for? I know I have the right answer, but I can’t find a sign with this written on it.”
This time, the CM said, “Oh, sweetie! You’re looking for this word [points at the word SPRINGS], not the answer.” D’oh! That was my problem the whole time. Took me no time at all to locate the SPRINGS sign once I was looking for it. By my Garmin’s reckoning, I lost around 22 minutes in my confusion.
After showing my correct clue at SPRINGS, I got my next clue:
This one only puzzled me for a few seconds, as I was thinking I might need to skip letters or something. But, I finished it while speed walking before being back in the park again. Now, I knew exactly where to go and ran/walked to Camp Minnie Mickey, to the PLUTO sign. At this point, things moved pretty fast, so here are the rest of the clues:
At the end, they had two chutes. There was the “you got all the clues right” chute and the chute of sadness (for people who had missed a clue or otherwise hadn’t really done the hunt correctly). I was in the good chute (yay) and trotted in to the end. Finally, there was Powerade and bananas and bottled water. But, the lines to grab these things were huge and disorganized. I’m not sure why that was the case here when it never has been on any race I’ve done before at Disney or anywhere else. I mean, keep in mind that I’m a pretty late finisher. Was there more demand or less availability? Did they not have it out in time and so people were coming back for it? I don’t know. The line to get a medal was actually more of a mob scene, too. They didn’t have people standing around handing them out like normal, so this mob had formed by the rack of medals. I could have easily grabbed more medals, but, of course, I didn’t. I hope other people didn’t either.
Advice for people planning to do Expedition Everest Challenge in the future:
- Train for more than a 5K. Ideally, train for 5 miles, or even an 8K or 10K distance. Those of us who had trained for long distances had no trouble, but the folks who trained for just a 5K were clearly hurting during the extra 1-2 miles of the hunt portion.
- If your running gear pack allows and if you have one, bring a headlamp. While they supply a little light during the hunt, a headlamp would have been a godsend. I have several at home and totally kicked myself for not bringing one.
- There’s far fewer character greetings on this course than most races, so having a camera with you is less necessary.
- Bring a goo or other snack for post-5K recovery. If you have a way of carrying water with you, save your water for post-5K, as there are no water stops or aid stations during the hunt.
- If you can leave your bag in a car or locker, or even get by without needing to check a bag, that’s the best bet to avoid a long line. (Knowing RunDisney, though, they’ll have solved that issue for next year.)
- Bring glowy stuff (glow sticks, necklaces, blinky lights) to decorate yourself, since it’s a night race. (Note: This will also apply to the Wine & Dine Half and Tower of Terror Ten Miler.)
- My racer friend from the bus noted: If you need reading glasses, make sure to bring them with you during the 5K so you’ll have them for reading the clues afterward!
You can view all my photos from this trip in the Photo Gallery, or by clicking this link: Expedition Everest Challenge WDW Trip, May 2012