Bill Plessinger knows the best way to experience Lake County up close: close enough to feel its water in your shoes, its mud on your legs, and its brambles in your hair. It's called the Grand River Eco-Adventure Race, a 25-mile trek through rugged terrain, in and around the Grand River, that involves biking, paddling, running, navigating, and lots of shoe-sucking mud.
"Just don't wear white," advises Plessinger, a recreation supervisor for Lake Metroparks. The four-hour event is divided into five divisions: solo, two-person team, four-person team, coed, and corporate relay. It's also BYOB -- bring your own boat, as well as paddles, life jackets, and bikes.
"The first leg [consists of] of running and hiking through some pretty rugged places," Plessinger says. "Along creek beds, through thick brush." Then it's eight miles of biking along wooded paths, up and down hills, and across streams that, depending on recent rainfall, could force you to carry your bike.
The next part, called coasteering, is traversed on foot. "[It] tests your ability to navigate near the edge of a swamp," Plessinger says. "You can decide to go directly across the swamp and deal with ankle-deep mud or worse, or choose to cut a wider path and deal with some thick brambles."
Navigational skills come into play throughout the race. During each leg, route markers keep participants on course, and checkpoints are used to record times. "We've added some special challenges," Plessinger says. "As a team, you might have to carry a log past an obstacle, [with] everyone always having [to keep] at least one hand on the log."
Water level has a significant impact on the final leg: five miles of kayaking or canoeing down the Grand River. "If it's been dry, you'll likely spend more time out of the boat than in it, portaging it over the riverbed," Plessinger says.
"Be ready to get dirty."