ConciergeQ spoke with 'family-centric' Team Able Ables about competing in the 'World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji,' Idaho, family, and quarantining vs. adventure racing.
Mark Burnett's World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji is about perseverance. Premiering on Prime Video on August 14th 2020 in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, the 10-episode adventure series, hosted by Bear Grylls, tells the story of the ultimate expedition race. 66 teams from 30 countries, including USA's Team Able Ables from Idaho, race non-stop for 11 days, 24 hours a day, across hundreds of miles of rugged Fijian terrain complete with mountains, jungles and oceans. Idaho's "family-centric" Team Able Abels is Dan Abel, an Eco-Challenge Fiji 2002 veteran who is returning 18 years later with his two daughters, Ashley Abel, and Lauren Abel, Fletcher Hammel, an experienced navigator, and his Dan's wife, Allison Abel, as the Team Assistant Crew.
ConciergeQ spoke with Team Able Ables about competing in the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, Idaho, family, and quarantining vs. adventure racing.
ConciergeQ: Why were you inspired to join the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji as a family?
Dan Abel: I raced and finished two of the prior Eco-Challenges in early 2000. Over the years, my wife and children have watched, supported and even raced with me in several smaller events. Adventure Racing has been a huge part of our family fun for over two decades. It's creates such a unique way to experience mother nature in some of the most remote places on the planet. Of course there is a dash of competition thrown in for good measure. However, we are not world class athletes and racing for the podium was never our intent. We just wanted to finish. The real race lies within ourselves to push past boundaries we did not know existed. The race is about teamwork and navigation. And enduring some brutal jungle elements, while constantly moving forward together.
Ashley Abel: Growing up I understood the rules of racing before I understood the rules of real life. Reason being, adventure racing is so much simpler. All you really need to know is: eat, drink, move forward. My parents raised us with that same simplicity in mind. Watching my dad compete in the Eco Challenge inspired me not only in my career as an athlete but also in my ambitions as a person. The characteristics you learn in adventure racing transfer to life so easily: to take care of each other, to persevere through any adversity, and to never give up. My family reinforced those philosophies through the brutality and triumph of adventure racing. In many ways it was trial by fire and I would never want it another way. There was not a doubt in my mind that I wanted to race in the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji because with everything that watching and cheering on my dad gave me, imagine what actually competing in this race would do.
Lauren Abel: As a family we have been inspired by adventure racing, specifically World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, since our dad and team captain finished two of the original Eco-Challenge's in 2001 and 2002. We got to be there, on the sidelines, as he crossed the finish line and from then on racing was a part of our blood. Adventure racing truly is a family sport--whether it is making sandwiches before a race, driving to remote transition areas to cheer on our dad, or participating alongside him--we have grown up loving this sport. It has been our dream to race in an Eco-Challenge since we watched our dad finish. So when they brought it back there was no question that we wanted to race as a family.
Fletcher Hammel: I was honored to join the Abel family as part of Team Able Abels for the World's Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. I grew up watching the original Eco-Challenge series and like many of the adventure racing athletes around the world, it is what set us down the path of finding ourselves within these daunting environments with only our wits and teammates to guide us through. I was inspired to join Dan and his girls, because of their story of following their father/husband on his own athletic journey - now convincing him to lead and guide them as they enter into the expedition racing world almost two decades later. I have kiddos of my own that are about the age that Ashley and Lauren were when the last addition of Eco-Challenge Fiji was held, so there are definitely parallels of wanting to share similar experiences and passions for the outdoors with them and recognizing the Abel family provides a model for sharing family adventures!
CQ: What are some of your favorite outdoor activities in Idaho?
Lauren Abel: Idaho is a hidden gem in America--there is always a new place to explore. We live right at the bottom of Bogus Basin which is home to over 400 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. This is where we spent most of our time training because it is close and once you get to the tree line it is substantially cooler which is great in the hot summers. We did our white water rafting training in the main fork of the Payette River which is a short 45 minute drive from our front door (or a bike ride if we wanted a big training day). The Payette has some of the most amazing white water in the country and people from all over the world go there to kayak class five rapids for miles. The Sawtooth's might be one of the most beautiful places we have been and this is where we were able to do all our rope training. A day trip to Stanley or Sun Valley gave us all the options we could ever need for rocks to climb and repel on meanwhile getting views of alpine lakes and glacier cut peaks.
Ashley Abel: We love the Bogus Basin trail system. There’s so much to explore and it’s right in our backyard. We’ve also worked with Sawtooth Mountain Guides to get our climbing and repelling certification for World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. They were amazing and incredibly informative. We took our class near Red Fish Lake, which is an awesome camping/hiking location. Bear Valley River Co. helped us with our swift water certification. Our guide, Tango, is an awesome human being that made me much less afraid of white water before embarking on the challenges of Fiji.
Dan Abel: Our family is fortunate to live on the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. Boise has hundreds of miles of single track trails that are maintained by Ridge to River. We also trained on the Payette River with Cascade Raft & Kayak.
Fletcher Hammel: I did enjoy the team training sessions around the Boise/Eagle, Idaho area. There were vast expanses of backcountry dirt/gravel roads for LSR (long stupid rides), a unique network of single track for some absolutely beautiful trail running, and I can't forget the whitewater sessions along the Payette River--classic! In addition to those training activities, I've spent ample time competing and exploring the Teton Valley area around Driggs, Idaho and find the state a blend of vast wilderness areas.
CQ: What did you learn about your family or yourself that surprised you on the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji?
Dan Abel: I participated in Eco-Challenge Fiji 2002, and learned that the jungle doesn’t get any easier 17 years later. But more importantly, I got to see how amazingly strong my two daughters were during an expedition length race. We were tested by the elements of rain, mud and dense humid jungle. We were tested by hunger, sleep deprivation and exhaustion. My girls definitely suffered. We all did. But watching them suffer was really hard to watch as a their father. I toggled often between “dad mode” vs “team captain mode." But as the race wore on, to watch them power through both mental and physical barriers was very inspiring. They are young powerful woman and I am so proud of them. Plus with my wife (their mother) as our team's support, our family really jelled well together. Most of the time... ha!
Fletcher Hammel: I learned (or was reminded) about the power of communication--verbal and nonverbal. I've raced with other unique competitor blends (husband/wife, siblings), but this team dynamic was probably the most challenging I've experienced in my career of competitive adventure racing. I was welcomed with open arms into the team and family (honorary brother/son or at least crazy Uncle!), but even so the team decision-making process was weighted differently due to the relationships with the family and difficulty of the parent/child dynamic as it related to seeing someone you care deeply for suffer. It was amazing to be a part of this challenge.
Lauren Abel: This is a tough question because my family really is so close. I think that the main thing I learned about myself is that if I really don’t want to do something--I should do it anyway. I have not regretted doing something that I have been scared or anxious for but I push myself and do it anyway. Eco-Challenge was one of those experiences that, although I am comfortable adventure racing and being in the wilderness, it pushed me past anything I have ever done before and there were times that I did not want to do it. The fear of the unknown was a big concern for me but I think Eco-Challenge helped me understand that our bodies and minds are capable of so much more than we know. My love for the sport grew substantially because of World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji and even though racing has always been a part of my life I learned that it is a passion that I want to improve and be better at. I also got to see my dad in his element and I learned so much from him about the sport. And my sister is a badass who was stronger on the course than any of us thought she would be!
Ashley Abel: Eco-challenge taught me a lot about myself. But most importantly it taught me how much stronger I am than I thought. As a tall, relatively muscular woman, I don’t fit the standards of cookie cutter feminism. But then I went to Fiji and I met these amazing female athletes that inspired me to get over my insecurities. The entire eco-challenge family is so supportive and encouraging. The experience changed the way I look at beauty and strength and most certainly affected the way I view myself. All for the better.
As far was what I learned about my family— it’s not so much what surprised me, but instead what was reinforced. When you’re adventure racing, you’re only as strong as the person next to you. We had each other’s back every step of the way. You need to trust your teammates; that element is more important than navigation, endurance, and even skill. Luckily for me, I had my sister and dad on my side. We ensured each other countless times that one, we’d be okay and two, no matter what happened we’d be there for each other. And that is truly invaluable.
CQ: What was more challenging to do with your family the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji or your quarantine?
Lauren Abel: Quarantine was definitely more difficult to do with my family! Sitting around and not being able to go out into the world and explore and go on adventures has been very difficult for us. World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji was far more tiring obviously, but we were doing what we love and for the most part we are a very good team. It's funny because going from a parent child relationship to a teammate relationship can be a pretty unique situation. As a child I should respect what my parents say but as a teammate we are all equals and we take care of each other. For example in normal life and even quarantine my dad is a classic protective father and is always the strong man in our family--not so much in racing! In racing everyone has their ups and downs and I try to help take care of him just as much as he takes care of me. For the most part, being a family that races together makes us closer in all areas of our life but I think it mostly benefits our ability to communicate in a race and know the ways that we all work. It feels like when we are racing we are like a machine working towards a common goal whereas quarantine has made us a little bit more grumpy--also no races on the calendar has been even more of a challenge
Ashley Abel: Quarantinewas a million times harder than Eco-Challenge! See, the wild is a wicked adversary but it’s fair. Disease isn’t. It’s invisible and often unpredictable. There was nothing to do during quarantine but wait. And that’s the last thing you do in adventure racing. You’re always moving, so much so that sleep becomes a luxury. There’s a lot of living to do when you’re awake for 22 hours of the day! And the challenges that follow that have solutions: dehydration, hallucination, exhaustion. There wasn’t a solution for Covid and that was hard for my family, a family that loves to MOVE! But, another lesson of Adventure Racing helped us get through it. That is: absolutely everything ends and nothing lasts forever. A thought that can be both unnerving and wildly comforting.
Dan Abel: We live on the door step of the Rocky Mountains. Social distancing starts 5 steps out our front door.
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Prime members can stream World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji exclusively via the Prime Video app for TVs, connected devices including Fire TV, mobile devices and online. Members can also download it to mobile devices for offline viewing at no additional cost to their membership. The series is a global release and available at amazon.com/primevideo for Prime Video members in more than 200 countries and territories.