Checkpoint Challenge called ‘one of the highlights of the year’ for adventure athletes

The 12th annual Checkpoint Challenge race was held Saturday morning at Santa Margarita Lake. Six-hour race winner Joe Harter comes out of the water and carriess his boat toward the finish line.
The 12th annual Checkpoint Challenge race was held Saturday morning at Santa Margarita Lake. Six-hour race winner Joe Harter comes out of the water and carriess his boat toward the finish line. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Jon and Cat Bell have been making the trip north to compete in the annual Checkpoint Challenge at Santa Margarita Lake for the better part of the last decade.

Jon, who works in operations at a software company in Santa Barbara, and Cat, who makes motocross gear in Long Beach, both look forward to this particular race every year.

The brother and sister have turned their passion for adventure racing into a full-on family event.

“It’s just super fun,” Jon Bell said. “This is one of the highlights of the year. We’ve got 35 people camping.”

Saturday provided picturesque conditions for about 250 participants to take on the 12th annual triathlon-style race.

The competition was split into two divisions — a 3-5 hour partner sprint and a 6-hour half-day race — with participants covering 2-3 miles of kayaking, 8-10 miles of mountain biking and 4 miles of technical trail running.

Each year, the Bell siblings invite friends and family members to challenge themselves physically and enjoy the remarkably lush setting Santa Margarita Lake has to offer.

Last spring they introduced Steve and Valerie Voboril to the event, and the foursome found themselves in a tight race Saturday afternoon.

Laura Dickinson - ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

“It was fun to have somebody to chase,” Cat Bell said. “But we’re terrible runners.”

Steve and Valerie Voboril overtook the Bells during the 4-mile run to cross the finish line first. Jon and Cat came rumbling up the final hill in second place minutes later, and the four exchanged a few congratulatory words before rinsing off and putting their gear away.

“It was a good balance,” said Valarie Voboril, a 38-year-old fourth-grade teacher from Los Angeles. “They have different skills than we have, so it was nice to leapfrog and push each other.”

Valarie Voboril was almost certainly the most accomplished athlete in a field that featured competitors of all ages and skill levels. She finished in the top-five at the well-known CrossFit Games three consecutive years, including a third-place finish in 2013.

Portions of the course at Santa Margarita Lake still proved challenging for the Voborils.

Uphill mountain biking isn’t necessarily a strength, Valarie Voborils said, but the familiarity with the course, albeit slightly different from 2016, made for a smooth day overall.

The race conditions were “so different from last year,” said Steve Voboril, a 45-year-old physical therapist.

“I mean, last year there was like 50 feet less water,” he said.

The heavy rains throughout San Luis Obispo County during the winter — which painted the lake’s surrounding hills dark green — made for a more interesting kayaking competition.

The majority of the mountain biking path also stayed along the water, providing racers a scenic view throughout.

Race director Yishai Horowitz said the overall turnout was down some from the previous year, and he would have liked to have a few more volunteers out on the course.

His company, All Out Events, is made up of a few part-time employees and mostly volunteers, but they strive to put on a professional level event.

The feedback has been positive.

“You can’t really get better than this,” said Horowitz, with his Australian shepherd, Fury, in tow.

For the Bells, the Checkpoint Challenge is always circled on their calendar, and they don’t mind spreading the word to see continued growth.

“We love it,” Jon Bell said. “Each time we try to get a couple more people to do it.”

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