Primal Quest: Team D Rocks!|
Saturday, October 09, 2004
Seattle, WA (October 6th, 2004) Ė In a show of resilience and determination, the Dirtworld Adventure Racing Team (D.A.R.T.) fought its way to an impressive 11th place at Subaru Primal Quest and the highest finish by a Northwest team. The race - considered by many as the toughest in Adventure Racing - attracted the best teams in the world with a purse of $250,000. This year, the race was held in D.A.R.T.ís backyard Ė the Pacific Northwest Ė a region known for its harsh weather, rough ocean conditions, glaciated routes, and rugged alpine terrain. Teams had been preparing for months to kayak, mountain bike, adventure run (on and off trail running and bushwhacking), scooter (or inline skate), mountaineer, and ascent/descent ropes for up to 10 days over 400 miles. The Primal Quest course, which was only revealed to competitors the night before the race, did not disappoint. The navigation proved challenging and the course utilized the ruggedness of the terrain to challenge the best trained teams.
The teamís excellent result hides the fact that it wasnít put together until three weeks before the race. After some unfortunate injuries following the World Championship race in August, two members of D.A.R.T. were replaced by Glenn Rogers, an accomplished regional adventure racer who competed in Primal Quest 2003, and Emily Dirksen, a world champion rower turned adventure racer. "After losing our two original team members within days of one another, it was a bit stressful to find suitable replacements with less than one month before the biggest race of our lives." says Cyril Jay-Rayon, team captain. "In the end, it worked out extremely well. Both Glenn and Emily had similar goals, physical abilities, and an abundance of determination which is a key ingredient to a successful expedition race. We were extremely fortunate to find such strong and motivated athletes on such short notice"
It was as challenging for D.A.R.T. to find Glenn and Emily, as it was for them to commit to racing with the team. "The stakes are high when it comes to committing to a team for Primal Quest." says Emily. "With all the time and financial commitments involved, you have to make sure the fit is right. I spent most of the year looking for a team that matched my physical abilities and had the team spirit I was looking for. After talking with Cyril over the phone, I felt that D.A.R.T. was a good fit. But still, it was a gamble and Iím pleased I took it." Whereas Emily was looking for a Primal Quest team for some time, Glenn, on the other hand, was looking forward to winding down his season with a few triathlons. "When I got the call from Cyril, I canít say that I was in the right mindset to consider joining him for such an expedition length race. I had raced against D.A.R.T. all season in the regional 24 hour series and knew they were expecting a fast teammate. Cyril seemed to have more faith in my abilities than I had at the time. I wished I had more time to train and prepare but, after considering it for a day, I realized that it was a superb opportunity to finish with the top teams. Besides, you can never be well enough prepared for an expedition length adventure race. Thatís what I love about the sport." says Glenn excitedly.
Ryan Fleming, a member of the World Championship D.A.R.T. team was the fourth member to round out the Primal Quest team. The World Championship race was his first expedition race in which one inevitably learns some tough lessons like dealing with the sleep monster (induced from racing on only 1-2 hours of sleep per night) and keeping oneself well nourished while constantly on the go. "To my teammatesí bewilderment, I showed up at Primal Quest with a bin full of candy bars of all sorts. My theory for my fluctuating energy levels at the World Championships was that I didnít eat enough candies. My plan was to eat candy every hour before eating any other more balanced sources of food. My team thought I was crazy but, in the end, it worked out." says Ryan. "Itís amazing how different people need different combinations and amounts of food to get them through an expedition race. I was quite skeptical of Ryanís approach with all his simple sugar ideas but it actually worked for him. He was solid the entire race. I know it wouldnít work for me, but it definitely works for him. The drawback is that he needs to carry at least twice as much food as anyone else so we were all hiding when heíd ask whoíd want to carry his second food bag." adds Cyril with a smile.
The race started on Sunday morning with a 51 mile ocean kayak around the San Juan Islands. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and what was potentially going to be a difficult paddle turned out quite enjoyable for most teams despite the shear length of the course. D.A.R.T. came out of the water in 16th place but only a few minutes behind a group of 6 teams. "We came to the race with some apprehension for the kayak legs of this event which, in the end, totaled some 130 miles. We donít consider ourselves a strong paddle team but with Emilyís natural abilities on the water, we quickly realized that we could compete with some of the more experienced kayaking teams." says Glenn.
The next section was an adventure running section that was only supposed to be eight miles long. However, as often happens in Adventure Racing, looks can be deceiving. Along with numerous other teams including some of the eventual top 10 finishers, D.A.R.T. spent hours looking for a trail to a Check Point. "Out of frustration, we decided that the only thing we could do is bushwhack our way to another trail that would eventually take us to the Check Point. All the while bushwhacking, we were aware that other teams would find the trail and easily run to the Check Point." says Ryan. "It was one of my most frustrating navigational nights." adds Cyril. "I know that the trail existed but it obviously wasnít where it was on the poor quality maps we were working with. Part of the challenge of Adventure Racing is learning how to put mistakes behind you and focus on the rest of the race. Thatís tough when youíre the navigator. When we came out of the section, we had dropped to 28th place but we knew that the race was still very young."
After a quick 17 mile kick bike section (AKA scooter), the team transferred to their mountain bikes for a short nine miles "ride and tie" where teams have to cover the distance with only two bikes and four team members. Two team members ride the bikes part way then transfer to running. When the first two runners get to the bikes they ride past the original two riders and leap frog one another until the section is over. The idea is to plan the riding distances in such a way that all four arrive at the same time at the end.
The ensuing 70 mile mountain bike section involved a massive hike-a-bike up to a Check Point on top of a mountain near Mount Baker (The Mount Baker mountaineering section was cancelled due to bad weather). What the teams didnít expect is that the trails on the maps would not be Ďrideableí. As a result, teams spent hours reaching the Check Point. Once on top, they were greeted by a steep 1600í decent with no trails. Many teams spent endless hours in this very steep and heavily foliaged area. "We thought we were in the thick vegetation forever." says Emily. "So, we were pleasantly surprised to find out we were in 17th position when we came out. I guess other teams had it worse than we did."
After a fast 14 mile trail run along Baker Lake, teams transitioned once more to their mountain bikes for another 30 mile epic section that would take them up a steep mountain side with an elevation gain of some 4000í followed by another climb to Sauk Mountain at 4503í. "This section was quite difficult because we had to cross a rushing river because of a fallen bridge and then hike-a-bike to the top of the first mountain through a clear-cut area. Many teams opted for a longer route because of the challenges the river posed. However, by using a 2 person crossing technique I learned when I was younger, we were able to cross the river with little trouble." says Glenn. Fifteen hours later, the team came out of the section in 14th place, three places better than when they started and with a comfortable lead on the teams behind.
When the team arrived at Check Point 20 (where their support crew awaited them), they were informed of the tragic death of one of the sport's most accomplished athletes, Nigel Aylott. Nigel was struck by a 300 lbs boulder while orienteering with his team AROC near Mount Illabot. "Although we didnít know Nigel personally, we were all shaken up by the news. There is a tight bond amongst adventure racers and you could tell walking around the Check Point, where all the teams had regrouped, that his death had profoundly affected everyone." says Cyril. "He left us doing what he loved and at the top of his game while leading Primal Quest. That thought brought some comfort to all of us."
After a day of celebrating his life, the race resumed at midnight with the support of his team and his family. All teams would now race in honor of Nigel and what he loved most.
Because of the break, the overall course was shortened but still involved more than 80 miles of mountain biking, 30 miles of adventure running, 76 miles of kayaking, 11 miles of portaging, and an ascent/descent section on Exfoliation Dome, a popular rock climbing mountain south of Darrington, WA. The top teams, including D.A.R.T., took less than 2 days to complete the remainder of the course. "Because of the rest all the teams had, we knew that the pace would be fast and that weíd get no sleep until the finish." comments Ryan.
"When we reviewed the remainder of the course, we knew there was only one section where we could make a move up the rankings with a smart navigational decision." says Cyril. "In the last adventure running section before the ropes, we decided to take a longer route that was approximately three times as long but minimized the bushwhacking or high alpine scrambling by 75%. This meant that we had to run a lot of dirt roads instead of exploring the high alpine region but, in the end, it paid off as we arrived at the ropes tied for 10th place with two other teams. "
After the ropes section on Exfoliation Dome, teams had to run nine miles to a transition area where they picked up their mountain bikes for a final 22 miles of riding back to their kayaks and the transition area at Rockport. Because of a dark zone rule (teams were not allowed to paddle the Skagit River at night) imposed on the river section, none of the top teams were able to reach the river before dark. As a result, the top 15 teams had to finish Primal Quest with an all out paddle to the finish the following morning (Teams were put on to the river in two to five minute intervals beginning at 6:30am on Friday). The paddle involved 54 miles on the Skagit River, an 11 mile portage to the ocean, and a final 22 miles back to Orcas Island where the race started six days earlier. "We were able to maintain our position throughout the day despite fighting the sleep monster in the early hours of the morning. However, we didnít have enough river paddling experience to catch some of the most experienced teams," concludes Emily after a very long day of paddling.
"Iím extremely pleased with the teamís performance in our first expedition race together. There is an enormous amount of talent within the team and I feel privileged to have raced with such amazing athletes," reflects Cyril after his toughest race. "Expedition races are far more mental than they are physical and this team had a great synergy when the going got tough. Itís a good omen for the 2005 season."
D.A.R.T. finished in 11th place at 11:05pm on Friday after 5 days, 15 hours and 15 minutes of racing.
For a complete coverage of the Subaru Primal Quest race, including GPS tracking, visit www.subaruprimalquest.com
Next stop for D.A.R.T. is the final race of the Trioba 24-hour Adventure Racing Series on October 9th, 2004 that will determine the NW championship title. For more information, visit www.trioba.com.