Welcome to our series of interviews with American adventure racing teams who participated in the World's Toughest Race Eco-Challenge: Fiji! This 11-day adventure race took place in September 2019 and will premiere on Amazon Prime on August 14th, 2020. Check out USARA's dedicated Eco-Challenge: Fiji page for interviews from other teams and additional material concerning the race!
Please introduce yourself!
MW: I’m Mikayla Wingle representing Team Peak Traverse (#57). I currently live in Tampa, FL and I am a bartender/trainer.
DB: Team Peak Traverse (#57) is:
● Daniel Bussius (me): CEO at Built by Love Agency. San Diego, CA
● Steve Morrow: Chief Financial Officer. Los Gatos, CA
● Tim Cannard: Advertising at Reach Local. Los Gatos, CA
● Ryan Opray: Construction. Los Gatos, CA
● Mikayla Wingle: Bartender at Hard Rock Hotel. Tampa, Florida
What was your adventure racing experience prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Have you participated in previous Eco-Challenges or other adventure races?
MW: I was a rookie to adventure racing! I have done some other wild marathon challenges as well as competed on survivor but nothing compared to the World's Toughest Race!
DB: Each of our team members has had past experiences at a competitive level. Tim is an amateur mountain bike racer on the racing team ZZ Uber. Ryan raced motocross and was on the television show Survivor. Mikayla is a competitive body builder and also was a contestant on Survivor. Daniel is an all around rock climber, cyclist and extreme sports junkie that was always creating his own outdoor adventures. Steve, our Team Assistant Crew (TAC), has a deep background in camping, hiking and operations and logistics for a myriad of things including Burning Man.
How did your team come together, and how did you train for Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
MW: Ryan called me and said he had something I would be interested in, he started explaining it and I said, “Holy smokes! What is that!?! I’m in!!!” So Ryan and I were previously on Survivor so we understand how you have to be mentally tough to make it through. The other 3 teammates Ryan has known over time and picked them to join us.
DB: Our team truly was a ragtag bunch of people that came together from all walks of life. Ryan knew Mikayla from Survivor and Tim from his hometown of Los Gatos. Ryan knew Daniel from living in Los Angeles doing hiking and rock climbing excursions. Ryan truly was the glue that brought the team together originally, From there, we forged our friendships by training in the high desert of Joshua Tree, through the mountains of Santa Cruz, rivers of Columa and, along the coastline of San Diego.
What were you most looking forward to at Eco-Challenge: Fiji, and what scared you the most?
MW: I was most looking forward to the adventure and accomplishment. There is no better feeling than crossing a finish line and being able to say I DID IT!!! What scared me the most was the thought of trench foot and infections. In past Eco-Challenges, you saw how quickly a little cut turned into a huge infection and could knock a competitor out if not taken care of. So the team has to be on top of everyone’s scrapes etc. I know a lot of our teammates were scared of heights but for me, heights were exhilarating, they get the blood pumping and give you that sense of adventure and made you step out of your comfort zone and that’s exactly what we came there for.
DB: We were looking forward to the rafting section. We knew that the rafting section would give us time to let the river move us and for each team member to get some rest. As for what scared us the most, it was the jungle. The thickness of the canopy, the humidity inside the jungle and the limited line of sight was terrifying.
What was your favorite piece of gear and/or clothing and/or food?
MW: My favorite piece of gear was my dry bag. I never knew how much a dry pair of socks could change your life!!! By far my favorite food was the PB&Js Steve would send us off with. It was like heaven in the middle of the ocean when you opened your bag and instead of a GU packet, you had one of those bad boys!
DB: Your feet are the most important part of your body when you are adventure racing. If you don’t take care of your feet, you’re doomed. Each of us tested numerous shoes training in different environments and selected the ones that worked for each team member’s feet. Shoes are what we wore nearly every minute of the race and so, shoes would be our most favorite clothing.
Describe a favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji, or one where you suffered the most.
MW: One of the toughest moments for me on Eco-Challenge is when we were caught in the middle of a storm and had to set a flare off in case we capsized. Part of our boat had taken on water so we were beginning to capsize the opposite way, so I had to hold on to the mast to get my weight to the other side of camakau. Then once help came, two of our teammates quit because they felt it was too unsafe. That was heart-breaking. We trained for this. We knew it was going to push us to our limits and they were ready to bow out instead of waiting out the storm however long it took.
DB: One word: camakau. I think we all still have nightmares of that floating wooden fortress of pain. We trained rigorously for every discipline in the race except for sailing. Little did we know that sailing this traditional Fijian boat would be our ultimate demise. The race began navigating this boat by manpower through the river and then into the open ocean. From that point, we were to raise the sail to maneuver to different island checkpoints. However, there was no wind and we had to paddle for over 18 hours fighting the sun, heat and ocean currents all by muscle. In the end, this kammaku got the better of us. Strange enough, during the toughest times spent in this boat is where we experienced the most breathtaking scenery, peace and awe of the Fijian islands.
After Eco-Challenge: Fiji, would you do another adventure race? Would you do the Eco-Challenge again?
MW: Yes! I would absolutely take part in another Eco-Challenge!! This time I will have a say in the team! I want redemption so bad after how our team ended. I need redemption.
DB: The thrill of adventure and shared experiences with others from around the world while enduring the elements of nature make this an experience of a lifetime! Steve Morrow, Tim Cannard and myself (Daniel Bussius) are submitting to race in the next Eco Challenge to show the world no matter who you are or where you come from, you can do the impossible with the right team and mindset.
What internal struggles did you experience during Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you experience any moments of self-reflection and/or growth?
MW: An internal struggle I had was having to slow down during the race when we should have been full speed ahead. A couple of our teammates were tiring out quickly and wanted to relax/regroup and all I could think about was the next checkpoint. It was hard to know that the clock was ticking and we had to get a move on it. It felt like the finish line was slipping through my fingers. I hated that. I wanted to see the course, see all of the disciplines that were ahead of us and be part of the competition . This is a team event though so “you are only as strong as your weakest link” has never been so fitting.
DB: Who needs counseling or self improvement books when you can just sign up for The World’s Toughest Race and find yourself looking deep into your soul fighting your mind and body as it tires while pushing your limits without sleep. The little voices that creep into your head as the sun bakes you from above and the wet jungle drenches you from below... You have plenty of time to think. To think about the world, what’s important, who’s important and to detach from the daily grind we find ourselves in. You are out there surviving in nature. Things slow down, peace comes over you and through the pain, the challenges and the beauty of the paths less traveled, you find what matters most to you - you find your true self. That will stay with you and change your perspective forever. We are forever grateful for those lessons.
What was re-entry into civilization like, both after the finish line in Fiji and back in your home country?
MW: Re entry back into the real world was honestly a bummer.. I wanted to come back scraped up, beaten down and had the aches and pains of so much more then we were able to go through. Those pains let me know that yes. I did it . Unfortunately I didn’t have anything on me , that’s how I know how bad I want to go back and feel that sense of accomplishment and those pains from
DB: Once you are done racing the first thing you want to do is shower. After that, you begin to feel a bit more human again. Everything seems a bit off, like you don’t fit into the world anymore. Life seems to move at a slow pace. You start to think about things like “time” whereas when you are racing, you don’t stop. Everything is fast paced, there is no such thing as time. Your reentry into the real world has this sense of mundane-ness to it. It takes about a month for that to wear off. It’s addictive. You crave that adrenaline rush and that’s why we are submitting to race again!
How would you like fans to interpret your participation in Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you set out to inspire another group of people and do you think you accomplished that?
MW: I would like fans to interpret my participation on Eco challenge as a girl who continually achieves crazy goals. I’ve played in a women’s full tackle football league, I’ve competed on Survivor, as of 2018 I was 1 of 26 women in the world to complete 7 full marathons in 7 consecutive days, on all 7 continents. I’ve done all these crazy things to inspire people. Listen, I never ran a day in my life aside for punishment from sports coaches, but I’m going to put my mind to it and do it. I may not be the best. But you better believe the fact that I’m going to finish! Eco-Challenge: Fiji for me was something out of my comfort zone. So I loved it already. I love the outdoors but unfortunately in Florida it’s hard to do a lot outdoors with the Everglades nearby flooded with reptiles so training with my teammates in California gave me a new obsession with the outdoors. I want to keep competing and learning and pushing my body to the max in the world of adventure racing! There are so many things to learn for this competition and I done ever want to stop learning!
DB: So many people doubt themselves. They watch other people take risks and achieve their dreams but they say to themselves, “I could never do that. I am too [fill in the bank].” That’s not true. Every person out there no matter your age, your skill level or where you reside, you can do the impossible. You are just as amazing and capable as anyone who entered this race. Never tell yourself otherwise. Our team are not professional racers, we all come from different backgrounds. If we can enter The World’s Toughest Race and come out alive you can do it too. Whatever your toughest challenge is, go after it. Life is too short to doubt yourself. That’s the message we would love to share with all the viewers.
Stay tuned for more from USARA! Visit www.usara.com for more information on adventure racing in the United States.
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