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Hanko, Teammate Win Wild Woodchucks Claim First Place In Summer Challenge
Shown, Matt Hanko leads as he and teammate Jeff Vasek start the race by getting their kayak down the long slope to New Melones Reservoir. On the day of the race, the reservoir was down, 168 feet below normal due to the drought conditions. - photo by Photo Contributed

Oakdale resident Matt Hanko and his teammate Jeff Vasek earned top honors at the Gold Rush Adventure Race Summer Challenge ( on June 21. The grueling race took place at New Melones Reservoir near Sonora. This event offers both a 12-hour and 6-hour race.

Hanko and Vasek form the team known as the Wild Woodchucks. The two have been friends since their college days at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

“Jeff and I were friends in college. We were on the crew (rowing) team together. Thirteen of us still hang out and do things like this together from time to time, since we graduated in 1990,” reminisced Hanko on his college days. “Jeff and I became teammates again about three years ago and have been successful.”

The Wild Woodchucks competed in the 6-hour race that consisted of running seven miles, kayaking for two miles, bicycling for 10 miles, and then jumping back into the kayak for an additional two miles of paddling and a short sprint up the hill to the finish. Hanko and Vasek competed against 13 other teams. The tasks also included numerous checkpoints hidden on land as well at the water’s edge. The Wild Woodchucks finished the race with a time of five hours and 41 minutes, six minutes ahead of the second place team, known as the Altitude Junkies, a two person co-ed team.

“All we have to navigate with is a compass and a map to find the checkpoints throughout the hills surrounding New Melones Reservoir. If a team misses a checkpoint, time is added to your finish as a penalty. We found all of ours,” Hanko explained. “Another rule is that team members cannot be more than 100 feet apart from each other. So, I think we were at an advantage because we have been working together for so long, and the fact that we were a team of two people makes it easier to stick together. Jeff is an amazing navigator so that contributed to our success.”

The Wild Woodchucks also participated in a 12-hour adventure race in May in Santa Barbara. The race was named “Dawn to Dusk” where the race began at 7 a.m. and concluded at 7 p.m. This was a challenging event for the Wild Woodchucks, as it was an eight-mile ocean kayak, 25 miles of mountain biking in the Los Padres National Forest with a 3,000 foot elevation gain, and wrapped up with a 10-mile run to the finish. Hanko and Vasek finished third in the 2-man division and 13th overall out of 72 teams.

“If you want to compete, you have to take your training very seriously. This isn’t a fun run or a mud run, not that those are not competitive or grueling, but this takes constant commitment, dedication, discipline and teamwork,” Hanko noted. “You have to adjust to each element and stay focused. This sport requires strategy and part of the challenge is to be able to keep intelligent thoughts when you are exhausted.

“Hydration and nutrition throughout the race are also very significant. You are burning 900 plus calories in an hour and losing lots of fluids and electrolytes. Part of the strategy is planning appropriately for water and nutrients.”

Hanko went on to explain that, in some races, carrying a water filter so that you can drink river, spring or lake water is a necessity.

“If you show up and you’re not prepared, you will not be competitive, and what’s the point of that?” he asked rhetorically.

Hanko, 50, has a strict training routine. He wakes up at 3:30 a.m. during the week, and runs the streets of Oakdale for four to eight miles. He eats healthy foods and gets plenty of rest, despite having to commute to work during the week. One day out of his weekend, he will run 10 to 14 miles in the hills and alternate and/or combine that with a 20- to 100-mile road bike ride or a 15-mile mountain bike ride.

“You have to stay in shape if you want to compete. It takes 100 percent dedication to succeed, not just in this but in anything you do in life. I would advise everyone who wants to be competitive, to train hard, diet the right way and make the time to train with no excuses.  Do not cheat yourself.”

In March of 2015, All Out Adventures ( holds an Adventure Race for beginners, a race that Hanko recommends for anyone who is thinking about entering this specific field of competition.

“This is the perfect race for beginners. It’s not a very large course and it’s a lot of fun.”