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Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

This renowned desert race attracts 50 of the world's elite adventure-racing teams for six days of intense competition. Jonathan Dorn offers an inside look.

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abu dhabi adventure race

Team Yankee Scribes readies for the triathlon prologue at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge (left to right: Sheila Taormina, Jonathan Dorn, Brian Metzler, Adam Chase)

abu dhabi adventure race

We swam and ran past the palace of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi.

abu dhabi adventure race

Brian, Adam, and Sheila looking fresh at the start line of the first mountain biking section. Five minutes into the leg, Jon’s derallieur broke.

abu dhabi adventure race

Sheila trots across the pocked limestone of Jabel Hafeet, a small mountain range that rises 5,000 feet above the desert in the eastern part of Abu Dhabi.

The team waits at the top of the via ferrata, a technical section of exposed rock where racers clip into fixed rope to protect against falls while…

The team waits at the top of the via ferrata, a technical section of exposed rock where racers clip into fixed rope to protect against falls while scrambling.

abu dhabi adventure race

In some places, including the first downclimb on the roughly two-mile section of via ferrata, the dropoffs were hundreds of feet long.

abu dhabi adventure race

Brian negotiates a ladder the ropes crew had built on a vertical section. You don’t want to slip and fall on this cheese-grater rock.

abu dhabi adventure race

This section was the longest vertical cliff we had to scramble down, carefully clipping our Petzl Scorpio lanyards around each anchor.

abu dhabi adventure race

Jon was hoping to ride camels in the race. Alas, all we got was a photo op at an oasis along the way to the start of the trek.

abu dhabi adventure race

Adam and Brian trek across one of the salt flats between dunes in the first hours of the desert section. The hard-packed ground provided the fastest, easiest walking.

abu dhabi adventure race

It’s called the Empty Quarter for good reason: as far as the eye can see, nothing but sand. In some places, we had to climb on our hands and knees due to sand avalanches–literally one step up, two steps back.

abu dhabi adventure race

In the dunes section, we traveled for almost two days through scenery exactly like this, which is surprisingly difficult to navigate, especially after dark and especially with satellite photos as our only maps.

abu dhabi adventure race

Brian and Jon resting in the shade of their tent during a mandatory rest at the hottest checkpoint of the race. Jon has duct-taped his toes to prevent blisters.

abu dhabi adventure race

Sheila breaks through international language barriers by sharing a cold one with a racer from the Russian military team.

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