Monday, July 7, 2008

TA13 notes – ropes? Nope

Back to finish my blog notes from the last couple days of Primal Quest…

On Monday afternoon Dawn and Matt Moore relieved us of our duties at TA14 and told us Susanna had finally found an opening to move us to TA13 (Storm Castle). We were happy that we got to see MOAT come through TA14 on the way to the finish line, and Dawn and Matt were happy they got some sleep the night before, so it all worked out.

Back to our Gallatin Valley – yay! I would miss the phone and (most of all) internet access of Ennis Lake, but I was excited about being close to “home” and seeing the ropes/orienteering action up close.

The best part turned out that Jon Judge delivered a Scott-made breakfast from the Castle Rock Café on Tuesday morning. Super-delicious eggs and English muffins. And we even had time to sit and enjoy it.

So let’s see if I can recap the important stuff without going on and on.

When we first arrived at TA13, we asked a bunch of questions trying to figure out the short course procedures and answers to any possible questions that the racers might come up with in the middle of the night. There were two cutoffs:

1. One predetermined = 6 am to start the ropes or else you skip the ropes/orienteering loop

2. And a second one added mid-race = 9 am to start the trek to TA14 or else your crew drives you there instead

(insert editorial comment about mid-race changes and why they couldn’t think far enough ahead to institute that 9 am cutoff in the original instructions)

While trying to get a handle on everything, we did a couple ropes gear checks. I got to greet Team Twenty-Nine with “Hey, s..tbags!” and we got another round of laughter over that. We checked team HART/Marmot out for the ropes and it was nice to see them again. Just after they left the TA, one teammate came back – he was done. The rest of the team continued on to finish unranked (or ranked, if the PQ website hasn’t caught up with this discrepancy yet).

Somewhere around 9 pm, it started raining. Lightning. Thunder. Oh dear, now the ropes course is on hold. And now it’s completely cancelled for the rest of the race. What? Apparently the ropes guys decided it would take too long for the ropes/rocks to dry and with only another 8 hours before the ropes cutoff anyway, it made more sense to call the whole thing off. An hour later there were stars in the sky.

(insert more editorial comments that I really shouldn’t put on a public forum, so delete those instead)

Racers started returning to the TA – they seemed disappointed, resigned, upset, angry, and most of all, quiet. Many had worked hard to make the 6 am cutoff for the last fun part of the race but got stopped waiting in a big queue at the bottom of the ropes climb. It was one final blow after many had missed the riverboarding, no one got to kayak on the Yellowstone, and now this. Someone called it the “PQ Duathlon.”

I talked to each team, recording their position on the course at the point of the ropes cancellation, and telling them they could start trekking whenever they were ready. Another volunteer with me seemed to think that since PQ would adjust everyone’s time and equalize things, that would make everything OK. I wasn’t so sure time adjustments were the whole issue!

Not only did a large number of teams miss the ropes (and orienteering!), there was an additional side effect. Some number of teams were now given the chance to start the last trek, when otherwise they might very well have been shortcoursed at 9 a.m. John and I had watched the Spot tracks for the lead teams that took 15 to 20 hours on the trek (plus another 4 to bike to the finish). Typically teams in the last half of the pack might take up to twice as long. There was a hard cutoff of 3 pm Wednesday to get to the finish line or a team would be disqualified. Would any team end up missing that cutoff? (in the end, everyone was fast enough on that last trek and everyone made it - yay! phew!)

John explained what he had seen on the trail toward TA14 (long section of blow-downs, slow terrain) to any teams that wanted to know in order to make a decision about starting the trek vs. waiting until 9 a.m. to voluntarily short-course themselves. Many racers were having difficulties walking and were concerned about one more long, knarly trek. In the end, 7 teams left TA13 on foot after 5 a.m. on Tuesday. Sixteen teams were driven around by their crew (now on the “Short Course”), mostly voluntarily except a couple teams that biked in after the 9 a.m. cutoff.

Team Werewolves was one of the seven teams out on the trek, even though Tom’s feet were hurting quite a bit. They had been waiting at the base of the ropes when the storm came through, so they had walked back to the TA to sleep a bit and then leave on foot around 5:30 a.m. John was reminded of the comments Josh “River Man” made after water skills check-in about this team being stubborn enough to finish the race!

After all the teams came off the ropes course and went to the TA to sleep several hours, I sat in the dark and waited. Nothing happened, it was all quiet. Around 3:30 am I went to bed and John took over the sitting and dozing until teams started leaving on the trek.

At 9 a.m. we started checking out a line of support vehicles containing teams headed for TA14 for the final bike ride. There was some concern that they would race each other on the roads – we could only tell them to take it easy and drive safely. We’re not sure that whole situation was well thought-out.

The final team into TA12/13 was Brunton, who had slept at TA11. They apparently were doing much better after that sleep, because they solidly beat our time estimates for their arrival. They came flying into our TA and were ready to kick out one last bike ride to the finish. Their crew was stoked to help them get ready quickly and they had the fastest transition I saw the whole race – 11 minutes! Awesome.

That was pretty much it for TA13 – time to close up shop and head for the finish line. To cap things off, here are a few things I heard from other people:

- A volunteer at TA11 overheard a support crew talking on the phone with their team, giving directions on how to get there: “Look for McDonalds, and we’re across the lake.” Later that team tried to lie about it and explain they were discussing “family issues.” Hmm.

- Dennis of team GCAR was in a bike accident that actually left him without pulse or breathing (if the story is correct). The team punched the 911 button on their Spot and help was on the way when suddenly Dennis just came back to life, looked up, and said “Hi guys!” The team was short-coursed twice but they did make it to the finish line!

- One unmanned checkpoint up in the mountains was placed when there was more snow – a lot more, apparently, because the flag ended up 11 feet in the air! I imagine it made teams wonder if this was supposed to be a special test – figure out how to get to the punch? John also wonders if the race organizers know the meaning of the phrase “vetting the course” (i.e. having someone run through each section right before the race starts).

- I talked with volunteers Ian and Igor who were at TA8 (the bike drop after our TA7). It seems we did OK by them. They had noted that Nike wasn’t carrying snowshoes, while the other lead teams had them. Later they were concerned when another team showed up without snowshoes, but they saw my note and thought it was cute : )

Post race tidbits – things that stayed with me several days too long:

* I dreamed over and over that I needed to get up because a team was waiting for me. I would wake up, not understanding where I was and how come I wasn’t dressed to go to the TA table. I thought these dreams happened only after actually doing the race!

* It took me awhile to stop gobbling my food like I had only 2 minutes before the next interruption and my food would soon be cold and forgotten. I cured that one sooner than the dream thing.

All-in-all, a great experience! No telling whether we’ll do it again, but we are very glad we were here this time. I can truly say we were useful, and we learned more than we ever expected. The best part was watching all those amazing athletes doing amazing things – inspiring us to think bigger in our future plans. We shall see how that goes!

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