Tim Wakefield is accustomed to being in the dark before an adventure race, not during one.
That will change Saturday, when Wakefield joins approximately 900 other hearty souls in the first nighttime event of the Hi-Tec Adventure Race Series.
A sellout of 300 three-person teams is expected for the national championship at Castaic Lake State Recreation Area, making it the largest adventure race in the world, organizers said.
With that many participants wearing head lamps while competing in trail running, mountain biking and kayak racing, the scene promises to be memorable. Picture an out-of-control coal miners' convention.
"It's a little different twist," said Wakefield, 39, a Los Angeles fireman who lives in Woodland Hills. "I bought a head lamp about two months ago when I saw the race was going to be at night. I've been riding with it.
"The only apprehension is that you don't want to get hurt. You don't want to twist an ankle or a knee. Other than that, I'm looking forward to it."
Organizers, who do not reveal the order or distance of events until race time, say every precaution will be made to ensure the safety of competitors. That includes securing about 150 volunteers, triple the normal amount, to man checkpoints along the course and prevent any wayward racers from wandering off into the night.
Darkness is guaranteed for the race, scheduled to be begin at 4:30 p.m., because of a new moon. The only lighted areas of the course will be where the impromptu "mystery tests" take place, in order to accommodate spectator viewing.
The mystery tests are usually worth seeing.
During the last adventure race of the Hi-Tec series in Pittsburgh on Oct. 4, competitors had to climb a ramp slick with an inch of lard and cooking oil.
A few weeks earlier in Hartford, Conn., each team had to carry a 175-pound railroad tie across a quicksand-like mudhole.
The race Saturday will have between eight and 10 mystery tests.
Returning competitors to Castaic Lake remember having to find their way with a compass and map for part of the race last year.
"They test your patience," Wakefield said of the mystery tests. "They're kind of aggravating, but it's fun. It's nice to be outdoors and get the adrenaline going. You never know who's going to win and it doesn't matter."
Diann Fried, 44, of Woodland Hills feels the same way. The critical-care nurse doesn't expect to win, but her confidence has improved since competing in her first adventure race last year at Castaic Lake.
Fried's coed masters division team--there are also men's, women's and corporate divisions--will try to lower its time of 5 hours 20 minutes from last year. Top teams complete the course in close to three hours.
"Our anxiety is a little less this year," Fried said. "We did it [last year] on a lark. We thought we'd like to try it again. Our guys are gung-ho."
In its third year, the Hi-Tec Adventure Race Series has proved a popular alternative to road running and triathlons for many weekend athletes. All nine of the series' races this year have been sellouts, and the series plans to expand to 11 races in 1999.
Competitors credit the event's success to its unpredictability and emphasis on teamwork. Teams must finish each stage together.
"It's a unique kind of race," said Wakefield, who has competed in the last two events at Castaic Lake. "The team concept is fun to do, but afterward you think, 'Geez, that was a kick in the [butt].' "
The event Saturday--as with all Hi-Tec series races--will consist of a trail run between eight and 10 miles, a mountain bike race between 10 and 15 miles, a kayak race between one and three miles and the mystery tests, which have increasingly become a more integral part of the competition.
This form of adventure racing was the brainchild of Michael Epstein Sports Productions in Agoura. Intrigued by longer multiple-sport endurance events such as the Raid Gauloises, Epstein worked with a team of associates to develop an event that incorporates the schematics of longer adventure races but can be completed in hours rather than days.
The competitors at Castaic Lake should expect to "struggle" for a longer period than in most other Hi-Tec series races. Organizers say times will be slower because of nighttime conditions.
The race will be televised Nov. 28 at 8:30 a.m. by ESPN2.