AUGUSTA — Duncan Hayes, 13, grimaced as he strained to deflate an inflatable pillow as quickly as possible, while his teammate, Casey Gallant, 12, fought a fight any frequent camper knows well, the fight to stuff an uncooperative sleeping bag back into the seemingly too-small sack it came in.

The two Augusta boys were the first of the roughly 50 participants in an unusual five-kilometer race in Capitol Park and on the Kennebec River Rail Trail Sunday to complete the aforementioned mystery backpack challenge which, in their case, was to unpack and prepare a sleeping bag and small inflatable pillow for use, then put them back away again, only to go a few steps away and find an even greater challenge — making smoke with nothing more than a few of pieces of wood and some twine.

“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” the boys were advised by Colby Smith, an Augusta resident running the smoke-creating challenge with Nate Bears, also of Augusta, both representing the Maine Primitive Skills School. The barefoot and wild-haired Smith demonstrated, for all the participants as they approached, how to use the primitive fire-starting tool of a bow-drill made of three pieces of wood and some twine. He and Bears made it look easy — almost instantly creating smoke with a few rapid turns of the hand-made device. For most racers, it didn’t go nearly as smoothly, as many took several minutes to produce smoke so they could move on to the remaining challenges of the “Not Your Ordinary 5K” race, a fundraiser of the Natural Resources Council of Maine in its second year.

Duncan and Casey managed to produce enough smoke to be sent on their way to the next challenge. After stepping through a “spider web” made of string criss-crossing the trail and stopping to answer nature-related trivia questions posed by Stacie Haines, membership manager for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the team crossed the finish line before anyone else.

Trivia questions included “Can a flying squirrel really fly?” which it can’t, and “Why can whitetail deer digest tough woody plants others can’t?” which it can, Haines said, because a deer has a stomach with four chambers.

Haines said the Not Your Ordinary 5K was meant to be just what its name implies. The five kilometers of running and walking was interspersed with 12 nature-themed challenges. The event was meant to be an adventurous, quirky way for participants to compete, have fun and raise money. She said funding from the event’s several Maine-based sponsors allowed all the approximately $3,000 the event was expected to generate in registration fees and donations to “go directly to protecting the nature of Maine.”

Other challenges along the race course included a crossword puzzle featuring Maine nature-related clues such as the state bird and the largest mountain in Maine, the “hoot, howl or growl” challenge in which racers had to mimic a randomly-selected animal among a loon, coyote, bear and owl to the satisfaction of volunteer judge Susan Adams, and a weaving challenge in which they had to weave pieces of vegetation into a series of hanging strings.

Cairns, stacks of stones used as trail markers, guided racers along the course. Volunteers and staff from the Natural Resources Council of Maine guided racers across road crossings between Capitol Park and the Rail Trail.

Racers competed as individuals or teams.

Running together and clad in matching bright-green shirts with TKT emblazoned on the back and their team name “The Kinetic Tumbleweeds” on the front were Donovan and Barbara Maxfield, of Durham, and Chris Guerrette and his 5-year-old daughter, Delainey. Three other team members — one adult and two kids — were also going to race but come Sunday were home sick with the flu.

Team members said they also do other races together, and Sunday’s quirky race seemed like a good way to get warmed up for more serious upcoming events. And, they said, it was for a good cause.

“Delainey is going to be our pace-setter. We’ll follow her,” Donovan Maxfield said of the strategy of the team, all of whom, he said, enjoy outside activities. “Hiking, biking, camping, you can’t live in Maine and not hang outdoors.”

All four of the team members made fairly quick work of the smoke-making challenge. Delainey assisted her dad, pulling on one end of the bow drill as he pulled on the other, together producing smoke in less than a minute.

“We did it!” Delainey Guerrette exclaimed after the team crossed the finish line together, just under an hour after they’d started.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.