Monday, June 30, 2008

The beginning of the end

As much as it would have been nice to be stationed at the Storm Castle TA very close to Howie, there are definitely some advantages to hanging out at Ennis Lake (CP30/TA14). We have phone and internet access, we get to send people toward the finish line, it’s a beautiful location, and we have met some really interesting locals. John says it reminds him of East Texas. Well, without that finish line thing.

We’re at a campground with other tent and RV campers, and it’s first-come, first-served. PQ's plan for setting up the TA was apparently to show up and hope there was a campsite open. There wasn’t (it was Friday night) so our easy-ups are set up next to the camp bathroom. It’s not as bad as that sounds, we actually have plenty of room and it doesn’t smell. Parking of crew RV’s will be challenging when we get more than 3 or 4 of them here, but we’re taking over camp sites as people leave. So far we MIGHT be OK as we get busier.

We’re here with Franklin again plus a nice gal named Marianne who had been at TA6 previously. She helped answer some of my questions about what kind of signs were posted there – and she wasn’t the TA captain, but now I know who to blame for some of the miscommunication between there and TA7.

The locals are mostly very nice people who camp and fish here, a few riding 4x4s with no shirts on, drinking beer, putting gasoline on their campfire – they might be rednecks.

We are seeing white pelicans flying around. They were on the lake right in front of us the first morning, but haven’t come back that close since. Maybe we smell.

We can see Lone Mountain from here and it’s very pretty from this angle too. The finish line is close!

Team Nike was obviously the first team to arrive, complete with the pre-arrival media frenzy. We tracked their Spot all day and started providing updates to the media and crew. It seemed to go on longer as we checked more frequently. We got a call from HQ asking if Nike was there, because their Spot had stalled for maybe an hour. Although the last Spot update was still 9 miles away, so I can’t imagine what HQ was thinking. They are superhuman, but they don’t fly. Spot restarted, Nike is still coming, still coming, moving just a bit every 20-30 minutes. The camera crew set up on the road about 3 miles down, then finally they saw them, and a while later the team came walking into our TA.

The team was moving OK, not fast but with no obvious problems. Mike Kloser jumped into the lake to cool off and almost started an incident with a local camper when he stepped on the man’s homemade boat while getting in/out of the water. John was awesome in dealing with the irate boatman and our race/local relations are still intact. I wrote it up in the incident log, I expect that’s the end of that.

And then Nike was on their way, riding up to the finish line. Congrats!

More waiting, which is awesome at this point. It has been really, really nice to be able to relax, sleep!, eat, work on the laptop, and recover from TA7 madness. I heard there were supposed to be 100 volunteers but there are only 70 here. There are 24 CP people, which sounds like a lot until you start adding up 3-4 people per TA and 2 people per CP. When there were teams spread out from CP16 through 30, that comes out to about 34 people needed at the same time. Maybe we are doing better now, since teams are starting to finish and I expect they are closing CP’s at the back of the course. I hope so. Life is good here, in any case. We got pizza a couple nights ago : ) and there is an RV place with showers down in the town of Ennis.

Mark Macy is here to support his son Travis who is racing with team Merrell. He came over to chat with us (our laptop is a big draw) and it turns out that he is awesomely funny. We swapped stories from Borneo, including the time our teams had 2 people traveling together over the first set of islands to meet our teammates with the Perahu boats. A bunch of teams got stuck trying to go over one island in the middle of the night. We kept getting cliffed out, slipping and sliding around in the muddy jungle. We saw Mark and Marshall Ulrich but did our own thing – later we discussed how stupid it was not to follow them. Mark apparently had his own discussion later with Adrian Crane about how all these teams were following HIM (he claims not to be a good navigator). We explained how we went around the island saddle and how it did work (he had looked at that as a route option). A brush with greatness – too cool!

Merrell came in limping on Sunday morning. John tracked them overnight and they were almost always moving, just slowly, slowly. We heard they slept an hour and a half on the trail and struggled to get through the trek. They went into their TA and collapsed on the ground for a while. They all looked OK as they departed on bike, although Robyn didn’t want to unclip her feet for gear check, so she just hung onto the med van instead. They made it to the finish with the fastest bike split so far.

There was a cameraman following Merrell all the way across the final trek last night. It turned out to be Rick Baraff from team Silly Rabbits, so I couldn’t help taking his picture. Cool!

While we waited for the next couple teams, we had a friendly discussion with Marianne about who we are rooting for. She has friends on team DART-nuun, while obviously we want MOAT to do well. It looks like she won that battle, oh well!

We have a bunny rabbit living near us. He runs across the road, even with a dog playing obliviously nearby.

You can see how much more laid back this TA is when I’m talking about bunnies and not snowshoe debacles.

We have heard that the orienteering course is set up with bonus time per checkpoint instead of penalty time if you miss any (not sure if there is a required minimum or not). Crews ask if we know how much bonus time each team has, but I don’t have that info on the PQ website and I’m certainly not about to call with that question!

We watched the Spots as DART-nuun caught up to team Bones on the trail coming toward us. Their crews wondered if it was going to be a race. A couple TV guys came down, including Rick again who went out on the trail to find them. It started to look as though the teams were traveling together. Someone theorized that Bones had gotten an extra orienteering point (and the racers apparently also said so when they arrived). I guess the teams figured that a 2 hour bonus was too difficult for DART-nuun to overcome, and neither team was in any shape to race each other. So they came in and left together, although for some reason they didn’t finish together. They did have a faster transition than Nike and Merrell.

Team MOAT just came in this morning (Monday). They had been hiking at a good rate until the last third of the last leg. Then it seemed to fall apart on them. Leslie reported tendonitis issues as she moved gingerly toward the MOAT Mover RV, Shaun was limping (although his thigh bruise is healing), and Wink wasn’t saying much. Dave just looked tired. We talked with Shaun for a couple minutes and he wasn’t exactly coherent. The team slept for 30 minutes and they just rode out, looking glad to be on bike. Go MOAT!

Gear check update: We are telling crews what we will be checking. We settled on a minimal and (we think) reasonable gear check. However, teams are still digging through their packs for whistles and a cell phone. So far MOAT was the most efficient with the gear check. My impression of Nike and Merrell is that they are fairly disgusted with all the gear checking; they are not in any way taking it out on us, but they aren’t helping much to make it happen easily – like pulling teeth. The bear spray is still easy!

OK, I’m going to try to post this while I can… more TA30 stuff later!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Aye Aye, TA Captain - notes from TA7

First a note – if anyone is interested in some awesome blogging from a support crew, Chad and Alan from Team Werewolves have been following their team with gusto, enthusiasm, and all kinds of reporting at

Somehow Susanna (volunteer lady) figured out that John and I could be useful running a TA. I’m not sure how well we’re doing at it as first-timers, but we’re doing our best. We had a couple stressful days at TA7. For a while I tried to do some blogging since we had web access, but the interruptions were so frequent (and I couldn’t see straight at 2 am when it was finally quiet), so I gave up. On the bright side, I may have lost a couple pounds after plateauing for a few months on my weight loss plan.

I don’t have a good set of notes from our time next to the Yellowstone River, so I’ll just throw topics out until I run out of things to say. None of this is in chronological order. Lack of continuity is becoming a common theme of this blog lately.

Our first night I was still trying to type a few things as we watched weather moving in. The weather report called for “thunderstorm squalls.” Hmm, I guess I better start thinking about maybe closing up the computer. Suddenly a huge gust of wind blew through the TA, necessitating an emergency laptop shutdown and a gear-toss into the truck (which was luckily parked right next to the easy-up). John and several med guys started pulling tarps off the sides of the easy-ups to try to reduce the kite-like nature of our setup. The coolest thing was watching John's feet go off the ground as he hung onto an easy-up that was attempting to get airborne (and almost succeeding). Now I think we can say that we have a pretty good idea what a “squall” might be!

I was falling asleep on my keyboard one night so I napped in my chair. A team came up to check in and I open my eyes and told them "you will need your river gear for the next section" and they gave me the blankest looks I had yet seen. Then I realized they were going to be biking out of there. So we got them squared away and I went to bed.

Noel on MOAT’s support crew brought marshmellows to cook around the fire that the med guys had built. When he handed me a s’more, it totally made my night. And then he came up with coffee the next morning. Thanks Noel! We also got some granola from one support crew (possibly team Big Sky), and Chad and Alan from Werewolves were kind enough to donate a big piece of pizza after their team had departed.

A bit of info about our setup at the TA. John and I were joined by Franklin Moreno, a volunteer from Puerto Rico. They nominated me to be the “TA Captain,” so I was officially in charge and in my comfort zone. John managed the crews and the parking, while I did a lot of the team check in/out, and all of us were involved in gear checks. We didn’t have a whole lot of detailed instructions from HQ, but we did have quite a few excellent forms to guide us and help decide how things should go in case of issues. Communication back to HQ started out as a problem (our radio didn’t work), but once I started using my cell phone instead, I was able to easily talk to the big cheeses.

Thank goodness for that, because our first day on the TA job was a bit rough. This gets a bit long and tedious (as if it hasn’t been already!), feel free to skim/skip parts of this post.

It started out OK, with Team Nike coming in, staying 20 minutes to prep for overnight trekking in the Crazy Mountains, and then checking out. We called for a gear check as we had been instructed, and the racers seemed surprised that we wanted to see ALL of the required gear. Granted, looking at every single piece of required gear at every TA does seem excessive (in a big way) to me. But I had assumed that all TA captains were doing this. And we were at TA SEVEN, so this shouldn’t be new news to the team. They flew through as much of the required gear as they could get their hands on as we called out “lighter, whistle, knife, wag bag, bear spray…” After a whirlwind of repacking, they were gone in a flash. Wow.

I went through the gear list and highlighted all the items I was certain we had asked for and seen in Nike’s packs, including all the important stuff for spending a night in the mountains (a pile of clothing, sleeping bag and tent, etc). We used that list the rest of the time, and while it wasn’t every exact item (I really could care less whether you have sunglasses and safety pins with you), it was still a lot. We worked pretty hard checking gear on each team, but we got pretty good at it by the second night. My favorite item to check was bear spray – since everyone was taking the bear warnings seriously and wearing the spray on the outside of their packs. Thanks racers!

Come to find out, TA6 checked the bike lights and that was it.

So when we set up TA14 the first night we discussed gear checking with Franklin and Marianne who is joining us here. Since the teams will be riding bikes up through relative civilization to the finish line on a relatively short leg, we won’t be doing a full gear check this time. Just a few things. But we will continue to check for bear spray : )

Back to day 1 at TA7…

As we reviewed and refined our check in/out procedures, I happened to overhear a support guy from team Merrell say something about snowshoes. I looked up over at the Crazy Mountains and realized that yes, there is snow up there. And no, we had not checked that Nike was carrying snowshoes (didn’t think so though). As I worked my way through the passport to try to understand whether snowshoes were mandatory, I started getting concerned. I had seen teams on other legs without snowshoes, even though the passport didn’t specifically say they were optional. And “snowshoes” was part of the mandatory gear list.

So I got on the phone to HQ and they told me that snowshoes were mandatory for the Crazy trek. Uh oh. In fact, as long as the teams had not received a piece of paper with a change to the race instructions, nothing was officially changed (verbal or posted signs supposedly didn’t matter, although that was not enforced as an across-the-board rule). I told them that Nike probably wasn’t carrying them (and verified that with their support). They said they would deal with it. No other teams were there yet, end of story. Or maybe not.

Teams Merrell and showed up close together, and when told that snowshoes were mandatory, wanted to know if Nike had taken them. My response of “we’re working on that” wasn’t good enough for either team, especially since one of them claimed that one of the race officials had told him directly that they would NOT need snowshoes. Back on the phone with HQ, more discussion. Merrell left with snowshoes. waited for another confirmation that “Don Mann says that snowshoes are mandatory” and then they also departed. I had my “racer protest form” handy but didn’t need to distribute any.

After sitting down heavily in order to recover from being involved in a potential race penalty situation, we moved on to other incoming teams. No one else questioned it (beyond wanting to know if they were REALLY needed, plus a really good question of whether crampons might be helpful). I heard later from Nike support that helmets would have been a really good piece of gear to have instead of any required footwear, due to possible falling rocks. Flashbacks to PQ Telluride…

End of story now? No. The next morning I got a call from HQ saying that snowshoes are no longer mandatory as of that moment. Oh. My. Gawd. John gave me a “what the hell are they doing up in decision-making land?” look. Based on my previous conversation with HQ about needing changes made on paper, I proceeding to compile 40+ little handouts that stated that snowshoes are not mandatory for this leg. That was fun.

How about now? No. When Chad and Alan from team Werewolves arrived (yay!), they said they saw a sign at TA6 that said gaiters are now optional. WTF? I called HQ; yes that is correct – so why the heck didn’t you call me to let me know? As you can see, the behind-the-scenes stuff is not pretty. I added “& gaiters” to my little notes and FINALLY the story ends, at least my involvement in it (at least I hope so!). Team Nike ended up carrying their snowshoes for the next long trek and bike leg as an equalizing factor, and perhaps everyone will be happy.

So if you’re still reading after all that nonsense… let’s see, what can I report that is more interesting?

A medical guy at our TA told us about a team he met where the woman asked if they could just leave one of their teammates who was sleeping and continue on without him – apparently he had not been eating, was bonking and needed constant towing – and she was pissed. When they came through our TA they looked a lot better and seemed to be doing OK in the team dynamics department.

I could not believe the amount of moaning from racers about how heavy their packs were. I picked one up and it felt like the weight of a normal expedition-length pack. Especially remembering Borneo where we had to carry all our food for half the race at a time. I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy.

Team “Number Twenty Nine” came through in the middle of the night and I was sitting in a chair nearby while John and Franklin checked them out. They started explaining how they LOVED their wag bags (human waste bags). One guy tried it and raved about it, so the other two guys also tried it and agreed. Apparently they had even used them indoors? At one point all 3 guys were in the woods using their wag bags and they started giggling about it, while the woman racer was like “I can’t believe this.”

They told us how they might come up with a better design and call their product “S..tbag”, with a big red product name stamped across the bags. Then they could be sponsored with an actual team name, Team S..tbag. And the woman would be Captain S..tbag. They mentioned that a friend of theirs would be a number one salesperson, when I piped up and suggested he might be number two instead. We were all laughing so hard I was having trouble breathing. I cannot WAIT until I get to do a gear check on these guys again, starting with “Alright S..tbags!”

Well, I can’t think of anything else even remotely funny as that (and I’m sure with a little sleep I’ll fail to see the humor in that whole paragraph as well). So I’ll dwell on another topic for a bit. Race management told us to hold the support crews for 3 hours (and later 4 hours) after their team had departed, because the crews were sharing the road with the racers. I guess they didn’t want to give anyone even the slightest incentive to provide assistance to a team outside a TA. Fair enough.

But they told us that the crews had to stay at the TA the whole time. We started bending this a little to let people take a second vehicle and leave their TA set up while they went to town for food or whatever. Then when a mass of 20+ sets of crews descending on us during our last 24 hours at the site, unrest threatened to break out. One woman had allergies and really needed to go. Another group had already checked into a hotel they wanted to go back to. John and I wracked our brains, argued, discussed, and tried to figure out how to manage this without too severely going against our instructions while allowing some people to leave. Finally I called HQ and was told that we didn’t actually need the crews to stay there – they just couldn’t go pick up the bikes for 4 hours after their team had departed. We sure could have used that directive a LOT sooner. Oh well, problem solved!

We cheered for team MOAT when they came through our TA, learning that Shaun was moving OK but still feeling the deep bruise from hitting a rock on the riverboard section. Wink (Nathan Winkelmann) was having a problem with one knee, ending up in the med tent next to us. The doctor made a diagnosis and injected something into it – I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a pleasant experience. When they left, they appeared to still be moving well.

Several teams actually beat their crews to the TA, which is not a happy experience for the racers. We weren’t allow to help them (unless it turned into a health issue like dehydration or hypothermia), but we suggested they ask other crews that were still waiting for their 3-hour hold period to expire. Before we knew it, crew folks were bringing things from all directions – food, water, chairs, offers to stay in the shade under their easy-up. Awesome. Then when another team had the same problem later, one of the crews who had been late got to help them out. They called it “pay it forward.”

One of the teams that had to wait, Dirty Avocados II, had some foot issues. In fact, Susan Bower on that team had really bad foot sores and had a long discussion with the doctor. He cleared her to leave, but she could tell that it was with reservations. Finally she decided she had to stop, which was pretty upsetting for her. John had just brought back some cold Dr. Pepper from town, so when I confirmed that Susan was stopping, I offered her one. She nodded with tears in her eyes and said it was her favorite – she had been eyeing them next to her med cot (we’re idiots for putting them there in the first place). So at least I got to help a little.

Now that this is 10 pages long, I can’t think of anything else to add. Thank goodness! If I think of anything important I’ll write an addendum!

Random shots

Team Merrell checking in at TA14/CP30:

Rick (of team Silly Rabbits fame) after doing the final trek as a cameraman for team Merrell:
My favorite food:
View from TA14/CP30 toward Lone Mountain/the finish line:
Hugs :)
Pelicans on the lake at TA14/CP30:
Team Merrell crashed out after the final trek:
An osprey flying near its nest:
A white board at TA7/CP15:
"Required" gear at TA7/CP14:

(several of these photos were taken by fellow volunteer Franklin Moreno)

Items from Kip

A few things Kip has sent me over the past couple weeks:

First, in celebration of my new blog:

A photo of us that Kip captured on the Big Sky plaza webcam:

The race start as viewed from the Big Sky webcam (teams heading away from the camera):
A low-res shot of me as seen by the headcam of the woman from team Xtreme Couture (from the video I previously posted a link to):

Fun! Thanks Kip!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Photos - finally!

I've got a few pics to post and finally some time to download/post them. Nike just passed through CP30 on their way to the finish line! Yay! They took longer to get here than people thought. I misunderestimated by only an hour; last night some people thought the team would be at the finish line by early Saturday morning. Yeah, right. This last trek is really, really long - no big climbs, just a bunch of distance. When I was plotting the points right after the race start, it stunned me that they would finish the race with a trek to the Madison River and a bike back to Big Sky. The teams will have seen 3 rivers by the time they finish, and those rivers aren't exactly right next to each other. But I guess when the starting line is bordered by a wilderness area on two sides and there's no way you can put teams on highway 191 (huge trucks blow by and there is no shoulder), your course design options are limited.

Anyway, Nike walked into the TA and spent half an hour getting ready. I'm sure they realize they have the race in the bag, no pressure. Mona was walking a tad gingerly. They didn't seem to have any problems once they got on the bike, and their Spot shows them partway up the valley toward Big Sky. Probably stopped right now for their "10 question/5 minute media chat" which is required of each team on the bike ride home.

Oh, so I have some photos... here we go...

The water crew right before the start of the race:
Lone Mountain looming:
MOAT with a front-row seat:
Go go go!
MOAT go go going!
And the train begins:
House Rock (site of the riverboard portage):
Three teams waiting for pickup after the Gallatin River was closed for business:
One of many trees taking a trip down the Yellowstone River:
TA14/CP30 is now open:
John posing with a Go Pro camera on a wrist strap (can also be placed on your head or set up somehow on a vehicle; I wasn't impressed with the suction cup mount though):
Team Nike setting up maps for the final leg:
Team Nike getting a last bite to eat before their last bike ride:
Mark Macy of Team Stray Dogs (father of Travis Macy on Team Merrell), about to go out on a run:
PS - huge thanks to Emily Kloser for the ice cream sandwiches!

River tales

It’s Saturday and we have been moved to TA14/CP30 – the last checkpoint on the course! We might be here for a while or we might get moved to Storm Castle. But while we’re here (currently waiting for Nike), the front of the course is quiet, we have web access again, and I’ll try to get some blogging done for previous days. Let’s start with Tuesday on the river:

John and I were stationed on the river board section, just above House Rock (a huge boulder with very fast water/big waves and a hydraulic behind it). I was responsible for flagging teams down to talk with them about their options, while John and another river crew person named Caroline were just downstream with throwbags in case anyone missed my eddy and needed help getting to shore.

About 4 river minutes above us, Dawn was stationed at the medical checkpoint. She relayed team numbers and let us know when to be watching for racers in the water. That was really helpful.

When the teams eddied out next to me, the initial conversation was whether they were going to run House Rock or walk around. Josh the River Dude recommended that everyone portage, but did not require it at first.

Team Merrell floated up first, with right behind them. Robyn from Merrell said she was freaking out and very unhappy. Based on that, Merrell jumped out to portage around and get back in below House Rock. The Canadians looked at each other and said, "well, let's do the same thing." Nike showed up a few minutes later, asked what the other teams had done, and then said "sounds good to us too." That was apparently enough impetus for Josh to call on the radio and proclaim that ALL teams were now going to portage. Works for me! One less big potential problem to worry about. This also freed up Gary (who was anchored to a guardrail with a throw bag at the Rock in case he needed to toss some help into the hydraulic). Gary was moved to the duckie take-out and is later seen running along the bank in a Werewolves video (see below).

A couple more teams got out at my location to walk around, then MOAT showed up - yay! Dave looked at me with wide eyes and said "B...I...G..." He was referring to the section between me and Dawn - big waves, some rocks, pretty scary stuff. Leslie was really excited about the whole thing (that is just sick). Bad news was that Shaun banged his thigh up pretty good on a rock and was limping. We really hope he will be OK. I heard he was able to walk from the takeout across the bridge to TA4, at least.

Now some teams were deciding to walk the entire 4 miles down to the take-out. This turned into a cluster-schmuck, because the trail they were told to use had a wash-out in the middle. John and I can't figure out how a team with wet/dry suits, PFD's, and BOARDS couldn't manage to across a short section of quiet water, but that's what happened. One team returned to the medical check, getting another team to turn around with them. A couple teams apparently caught a ride to the take-out, while one team returned to us and we didn't know what to do with them. Josh the River Dude was more focused on several other safety-related issues, so this team waited quite a while for a ruling on what to do.

In fact, this team would have been happy to get back on the water, except they had become separated from one of their boards. We watched it float tantalizingly close to us, and John even tossed a throw bag at it, but it seemed to accept its House Rock fate. We radioed downstream to let our buddies know not to look for any swimmers that were supposed to be with that board.

Caroline had a busy day with her throwbag, helping several racers who couldn't get to river left in time to eddy out next to me. One throw helped a racer with his teammate hanging on to him after she lost her board. John didn't have to deploy and no one got swept down House Rock, so that system seemed to work well.

Meanwhile, Dawn had to help a few people out of the water herself, including one guy who missed the eddies along her shore and sailed around the corner. A woman on shore came toward Dawn yelling, "That's my husband!" as Dawn ran after him and tried to give directions to another take-out spot. Eventually he did make it out of the water not too far down.

Besides that, Dawn said that most people showed up at the medical check happy and delighted. The upper portion of the boarding was mostly about bopping through waves, and even the big wave series had easier water along the side. Most problems happened in the 4 minutes from her to me - teams ran into rocks and at least one hydraulic that Josh hadn't found in his scouting runs. Many teams had 1 or 2 people who were really not liking life, especially if they had gotten some mouthfuls of water.

Below House Rock was another mile of big waves, then the river got relatively calmer. However, our group at the take-out had their own problems. The eddies at the take-out were apparently pretty difficult to hit. The first two teams tried, Ian threw a throw bag and caught two of them, while the rest scrambled for shore downstream, and Robyn found an eddy below the bridge. After the first 3 teams were fished out, the takeout crew set up a better system and found a calmer eddy further upstream. It was initially rather full of shrubbery, but by the time John and I returned at the end of the day it looked like someone had come through with a weed-wacker, it was so beat down from fin-footed racers running as fast as they could from the river.

Stories from the take-out crew: Folks either loved the riverboarding (the minority) or hated it. Several people had ashen faces and glazed looks. A couple said it was the hardest thing they have ever done. One thanked a teammate for saving his life. One volunteer asked a racer if he was OK, then had to stand back to avoid getting puked on.

Just upstream from my position, Suzan Falvey from team 44 Xtreme Couture got stuck in a hydraulic for several moments. When she finally made it out, she was very scared and upset (understandably so!). She was crying when she arrived at my portage location, and I just about cried with her. Then out of nowhere she said, “Did my helmet cam get that on video?” – oh my gosh, I can’t believe she had a Go Pro camera running during all that! You can see the end portion of the video in the PQ news site (they must be saving the best part for TV).

Right as that team pulled up, we got a call on the radio that “The River is CLOSED” – I was so happy to be able to tell Suzan that she didn’t have to get back in the water.

We had been hearing calls for river rescues and assistance, and the frequency was building. When I heard something about a pinned boat and urgent calls to get a local guide company involved, I knew something was up. On one hand, it was a relief to get everyone off the water and prevent anything worse from happening. On the other hand, a pinned boat could be a life-threatening problem. When our radios went silent, we knew the rescue folks had switched channels. When we heard nothing for over an hour, we all got pretty worried about what might be going on.

Finally we found out that the team was OK, Josh had used his riverboard to bring a couple guys back across the river, and the duckie-on-a-strainer was the only casualty. Phew. It was only the next day that we found out it was team WEREWOLVES who almost got into deep trouble and managed to save themselves by crawling up onto the strainer and onto an island. If you haven’t yet seen their crew’s video of the “Josh rescue” on the PQ site, you really should check it out.

We spent the rest of the afternoon figuring out what to do with teams that were hanging out on the side of the road and finally reuniting them with their crews at TA4 so they could start another trekking section. What a day! Our reward was being able to eat and sleep at home. As a volunteer, dark zones rock. We were pretty sure we were getting spoiled for the first couple days and the rest of the race wouldn’t be so comfortable.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Quick update

Howdy cyber folks,

We closed up shop at TA7 (CP15) today after all the teams came and went. To clarify what this TA was for, originally it was the take-out for the Yellowstone River kayak section. After at least 3 course changes and finally the cancellation of the kayaking (we watched whole trees glide past us on the fast-moving water), it turned into a non-transition transition area. However, teams did pick up trekking shoes if needed, poles if they wanted, and some teams took snowshoes (that's a rather long story in itself, will need to expound at a later time). It was a wonderful, pretty, spacious TA and perfect for staging multitudes of crew vehicles. The bike-to-trek TA (CP16) was apparently pretty small, and in fact the race folks tried to limit the number of crews going up to pick up bikes at any one time.

I was wondering whether the tail end of the pack would be spread out, allowing some time to breathe, and more importantly, sleep. However, we were hit with a mass of teams coming from TA6 overnight, and all throughout the night and morning (as some teams slept and others turned around and left) we were checking people in/out and doing gear checks. I'm a bit cranky right now from lack of much sleep and uncertainty over where we are going next. But John is making dinner, so that makes me happy :)

We're at Big Sky (race HQ) while Susanna the Wonderful Volunteer Lady is working on getting us plugged in at TA13/CP28 (end of the climbing/orienteering section and at the bottom of a rappel). I'd love to hang out there and watch all the action, and having Howie only half a mile down the road would be such a cool thing. However, Nike is flying through the course so they may need us to staff CP30 (the last one before the finish) temporarily or longer. I was really hoping to be able to see the race for third up close from Storm Castle, since MOAT appears to be in the running, but I may just have to settle for doing the final gear check on the race winners. Should be interesting, wherever we end up!

I've put in a request to see whether John and I can run the orienteering course for fun eventually :)

Oh, and we got a shower this afternoon, yay!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Beard update

I keep trying to put too much into one post and I haven't finished it yet. So here's a short one with a bit of news.

We are stationed as TA captains at TA7 within a couple miles of the interstate, so our Sprint broadband card is providing internet into the TA. Along with the Spot tracking (which seems to be working most of the time), we're providing some good beta to the teams and support crews. It's awesome that they can see the map and team locations real-time (although I'm sticking to low-res shots so they can't see exact routes of teams ahead of them...not that it would really matter since this race appears to be a Don Mann special-follow-the-trail race.)

We spent Monday setting up the duckie/riverboarding section, then Tuesday patrolling the river and fishing teams out of the water. In the middle of the afternoon the river section was closed (too many possible problems going on at the same time and too much potential for more issues). It all ended fine, only a few bumps and bruises but no injuries. Sigh of relief!

We have been at TA7 ever since, and I'm sure I'll get a collection of stories from both locations posted eventually.

All is well, having fun!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monday stories

Start of the race!

We were at the resort for the start, played around with the resort webcam with Kip on the phone (cool!), and chatted with teams we know. It was foggy until 10 minutes before the start, then the sky cleared and we could see imposing Lone Mountain. Awesome.

And... go!

Oh, now I remember why I don't like trekking up ski slopes. Very steep. Teams made good time, and we were able to watch through binoculars until they got way up high on the snow ridge. This while I was pulling CP locations off the map on the web - yay, I have most of the course now. We did bug MOAT the night before about seeing their maps, but when we found out they were plotting all the points and having to deal with a Don Mann special rules-of-travel "passport", we decided we better get out of their hair.

Soon after the start it was time to head out and put up signs along the river to help teams avoid some of the bigger obstacles. No escaping the big water (for them), however.

Josh the water director wrote notes about a few teams that would be required to portage the biggest obstacle, called House Rock. Here's what he wrote about Team Werewolves: "Terrible fins, boogie boards; stubborn team, though, so may do OK if gear doesn't fail."

OK, I have a lot more to write about from today's (Tuesday's) water experiences, but I may not have time. We're about to get reassigned as TA captains. More when I get a chance!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Notes from the pre-race meeting

* Teams are carrying a Spot tracking device (also an emergency call system). That company is providing the leaderboard and all the CP update info directly from the Spots. The paper system at the CP's is only a backup... so if the leaderboard stops working, blame Spot and not the volunteers :)

Side note - as much as I'd love to believe that there is finally a GPS system that works the way we'd like in an adventure race, I haven't seen it yet - maybe this year is the year. It does appear that race management is relying on it pretty heavily, which is a strategy I am skeptical of at this point. We shall see.

* Very exciting to have a TV production guy who put on several Eco-Challenges (including Borneo) here working on putting together the race video. Even the 5-minute race course preview was really cool, with awesome Eco-like music. On the downside, I have no idea what channel "Rush HD" is or whether many people will get to see the results.

* The climbing director described one part of the ropes course and then said "the rock is generally sound. Watch out for loose rocks. If you have any question about the rock, thump it with your hand… if you see it move, flex, vibrate, etc., notify a guide" - at which point I said to John - "remember Telluride - look, look, here's a loose rock, better call that in - wait, here's another one - ahhh, they're all around us!!!" :)

* Our water director, Josh, did a spiel including a comment about how big the water looks from the road looking down. But don't worry, once you're in the water, it will look EVEN BIGGER :) Who knew our water director was so charismatic in front of a big crowd? He's been mostly quiet and serious around us.

* They did a 3D flyover of the course (although one of the water crew guys thinks that was an older version of the course before some recent changes). It was really cool, and I think I followed quite a bit of it in terms of what areas they are going to. First a huge hike up Lone Mountain which looms over Big Sky Resort (still has plenty of snow on it). Teams loop back around to the resort for TA1, then leave again on foot for many more miles until they reach TA2 and the start of the Duckie section (that's us - yay!). We'll have a dark zone there, and I theorize that at least a couple of the fast teams will make it before the river opens on Tuesday morning.

About 20 miles of Duckies in fast (but not too terribly challenging) water. Then the teams switch to riverboards for 9-10 miles of the most bumpiest, wavy, challenging water the Gallatin has to offer. Our team is going to mark the big hazards tomorrow to prep for team arrivals.

John and I were excited to see the course looping by Squaw Creek Road several times during the race - Howie is hanging out less than half a mile from there. Sweet!

The rest of the course involves heading east toward the Yellowstone River for kayaking, lots of trekking up and down mountains, plus a couple long sections that are obviously mountain biking. Mentioned in the briefing: Telephone Ridge (just east of our "home" and close to where we have been training), Hyalite Reservoir (east of there), Bridger Bowl (north of Bozeman), and the Crazy Mountains (east of Bridger Bowl).

And it sounds like the main ropes course (out of 3, including a rope up to Long Mountain) is above the riverboard portion of the Gallatin River. Looks like really interesting rock to climb around on.

Well, I was hoping to see a course map online tonight, but it looks like the Spot site isn't active yet (must be holding off until race start) and I guess I shouldn't bug any of the teams for CP locations... or maybe we will anyway :) Hoping to get back online sometime after the race begins, probably won't be until later this week after the river sections are done.

See ya!

Water skills testing

A few photos...

Team Werewolves in full gear for riverboard skills testing:
Tom and Paul posing after kayak skills testing (note the sign in the background):
Team Halti hanging out during the "will you survive 10 minutes in this cold water?" test:
Team MOAT getting gear up:
Leslie from Team MOAT ready for riverboarding:
Team HART/Marmot staying cool:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Big Sky time (2)

I just discovered that I don't have the camera USB cable with me in the truck, which is good to know so I can pick it up tonight. But sad because I can't post any photos from water skills check-in yet. Nothing all that exciting, just people walking around in wet or dry suits, playing on boogie boards, and paddling around in duckies and Necky kayaks. But I did get to chat with (and photograph) teams MOAT, HART-Marmot, Werewolves of Austin, Merrill, and Nike. Along with quite a few others. We checked in most of the teams today - yay! Maybe a relatively easy day tomorrow. Then a pre-race meeting and meal. Then people try to sleep before the start of the race Monday morning. One more day of potential web access, and then I promise we'll be disconnected for a while. Or maybe we'll be lucky as we drive to various locations on the course.

It was neat seeing so many people from Texas! Go teams! :)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Big Sky time

We saw the Primal Quest starting line area for the first time yesterday. We went up to the Big Sky Resort to check in and let them know we exist. We ended up airing up and cleaning over 40 duckies (inflatable boats) - fun! Well, at least we felt useful. Initially we were told we would be deflating them for transport but today we found out that they might move the boats to the river as-is. That would be a bonus :)

Today we started with a couple volunteer meetings, heard about bears and moose, and briefly met with Josh, the water director. We were actually given a couple hours to ourselves in the middle of the day, so we jumped at the chance to go for a run. Who knows when that will happen again, gotta take it when you can get it. In a few minutes we're going to help set up the area where we are doing water skills testing this weekend. We're told the water in the pond at the resort is a balmy 47 degrees, as opposed to 41 degrees in the river...yikes. We were also told that WE wouldn't be expected to get in that water ourselves, so that would be another bonus.

That's it from this end at the moment! No idea how much web access we'll have in the coming days, but we'll keep in touch when we can.

Good luck to all the racing teams!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Running fun

Tidbits from a long run yesterday...

>> I'm trying out a new hydration system - a Camelbak bottle with a straw and a hose attached. Easier to fill and clean than a bladder. I've been looking for a way to use trekking poles and still carry bottles. This could work.

>> iPod favorites of the week:
David Sedaris has a hilarious new book out - When You are Engulfed in Flames
Anastacia's self-titled album - not released in the US, but big in Europe and with good reason (in my opinion)

>> The weather is SO MUCH better now - sunshine, 70's. Yay!

>> The views from the top of Garnet Mountain are amazing - one of us should have lugged a camera up there to capture the snow-capped mountains and green valleys all around.

Go Celtics!

I didn't get to watch any of the NBA Finals, but I was sure excited to hear the outcome. The Celtics are the first pro sports team I ever rooted for (wow, that was quite a few years ago, let's not count how many). OK, I'll go ahead and date myself - Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, DJ, Danny Ainge, Parish, Walton... and a Lakers rivalry. For the Celtics to be in the finals again - and against the Lakers, no less - very cool! To actually win - rockin'!!

Americans on safari

We're back after 2.5 days of trying to see all of Yellowstone in one weekend (verdict = not possible). What an amazing place! Old Faithful is the most famous geyser, but there are 10,000 geothermal features in the park - including hot springs, mud pots, and fumeroles.

Then there are the waterfalls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - we spent a wonderful morning running on trails for close-up and far-away vantage points on both sides of the river.

And finally (my favorite part) - we saw animals!! They didn't stay put like the waterfalls nor were they anywhere near as predictable as some of the geysers, but they seemed to show up at random times when we were just driving down the road. The best way to figure out where the animals were was to watch the other drivers - a huge congregation of cars beside the road and people pointing cameras at something could only mean: animals!

Not all of them were easy to capture on camera, especially the ones that were far away (we're talking about a spotting scope/much better camera as future purchases). But we did see:

A grizzly bear
2 black bears
A coyote walking on the road
A coyote chasing pronghorn antelope
A couple osprey, including one in a nest
A female bighorn sheep hanging out on the side of a cliff
Small darting birds of green/purple color - maybe martins
Uinta ground squirrels
Hawks soaring
A bald eagle, also soaring
A moose!
Garter snakes
Possibly a heron, and many other birds I couldn't identify without a field guide
Many, many bison, elk, and ravens
And my favorite - yellow bellied marmots (don't you love that name?)

Go Bear Go! :)