Went to Utah, and lost my sole(s) – Primal Quest 2006
By David Bogle – firstname.lastname@example.org
Team Sutliff Hummer
I generally don’t write race reports for races that I DNF’d. I don’t know, I guess I just don’t feel satisfied when I don’t get to cross the finish line. I am making an exception in this case since I raced for 6 days before stopping. In that amount of time, I guess there should be something worth talking about.
I have already given away the ending of my personal story at this race. I did not make it across the finish line, but the rest of Team Sutliff Hummer hung in there and made it across the finish line.
I race a good bit in the southern part of the U.S. under primarily the team name Backpacker. My longest races prior to PQ have been a few 3 day races. For PQ, I teamed up with my long time racing buddy Julie Standing from Lake Charles, La, Mark Montague from Virginia, and our team captain Sam Mummert from Pennsylvania. Sam was able to get a lottery spot for PQ 2006. Sam’s wife Donna was instrumental in getting us all to PQ. She was able to obtain sponsorship from a Hummer dealer in Pennsylvania, Sutliff Hummer. This team had all raced together only once. We all met for the NGAR race a few months earlier. At that race, Julie and I suffered from the very cold temperatures. We figured that would not be a problem in the deserts of Utah, boy were we correct!
There was plenty of excitement in the air as all our team gathered in Salt Lake City. This would be the first long expedition race for all of us. We were all excited and could not wait to get started. Our team chose to rent a car and drive the 4 hours to Moab versus waiting for the shuttle bus. Once in Moab, we rented a cabin the day before our check-in was to start. The next day we began the long check-in and certification process to get ready to race. We had to go to multiple stations to prove we can swim, climb, bike, and many other things. This was a full 8 hour day in the sun. At the end of this day, it felt like we had been racing already.
Bus ride to the start:
At our pre-race meeting we were instructed to turn in all our final gear bins and boxes and load up on buses at 11 pm for a 4 hour bus ride to the start. This meant no real sleep the night before the biggest race of all our lives. We all hoped we would sleep some on the buses, but once the first yellow school bus pulled up, we knew that would never happen (we hoped for nice tour busses with plenty of room). As 89 team of racers, with 50 lb backpacks loaded the bus, it quickly became clear that we would be cramped for space on this long bus ride. About ½ way through the bus ride, the busses were forced to make a stop in the middle of the desert for racers to empty their bladders. Back on the busses, we once again were all cramped up for a very uncomfortable ride through a maze of dirt roads which found the bus drivers temporarily lost and confused. Once we did finally arrive at the race start location, Julie and I set off to obtain our GPS tracking unit. Julie proudly wanted to wear the GPS unit. She never relinquished the burden of that thing for the entire race (carrying this extra bulky gear was quite a feat for this race). Mark and Sam set off to get our horse which was randomly assigned to us. Once we all re-grouped, we were told to walk a mile or two down a road to the starting line. Mark decided to ride the horse, but the horse was not happy about that and quickly started raring up making Mark look like the Lone Ranger! We got the horse calmed down and we proceeded to the starting line. Most all of the horses were skiddish and bucking horses were the norm out in the desert. Everyone gave each other plenty of room.
Chaos at sunrise!
The race directors thought it would be very cool to line up all the teams with all the horses across a very wide section in the desert. That by itself seemed fine, except all these horses were getting restless and were not happy with all the things dangling from the packs of adventure racers. The start was to be signified by a cowboy firing a rifle. This had all the racers questioning things since the horses were scared by just people making sounds. To add to this, a helicopter would fly low over the start to get some good camera shots. All the racers around us were scared. The time finally came and the gun went off, we were finally racing, no surviving. Horses immediately reared up, throwing riders and taking off in random directions in a full run. Cowboys immediately gave chase roping and running down these escaped horses. Our team took it slow and started a jog across the desert with our horse. Mark was riding the horse per the race start requirements.
We made it 2 to 3 miles when the race came to a screeching halt as the horses were led down a very narrow canyon trail. We waited in line close to an hour before it was our turn to run the gauntlet with the horse. Once down the canyon trail, we tied all our packs to the horse. We then just jogged and walked along with the horse. Once we figured out that our horse did not want anyone next to it, we all got along well. It did make it difficult to get a drink from our packs. It was quite an ordeal when we got thirsty. This was the beginning to a painful race for me. This is the desert. Sand is everywhere and can get into anything. Within an hour of this jogging, I could feel my feet already developing hot spots from the copious amounts of sand that had penetrated my shoes. We would stop to empty tons of sand from our shoes, but moments later they were full again. We tried duct taping the tops of shoes, but that would only last a few minutes before the tape would come off. I had to stop to attend to a small blister in this opening 25 mile desert hike. About ¾ of the way through this, we had some mandatory time stops in order to water and cool the horses. A bit later a vet came and checked our horse. We were actually fortunate in getting the horse we did. We passed many teams who were having terrible horse issues. Some horses had no interest in going at all. These teams were forced to now carry all their own packs and drag along a very stubborn animal. Water was already an issue. Each of us set out with 6 liters of heavy water, but we were draining that fast. The course supplied water at fixed locations, but at our speed it was going to be 8 to 10 hours between water stations. The end of this section came about 4 pm (almost 9 hours after the start). Mark was hurting from the heat on this leg. We had to cool him off a couple of times. It was hot, so we spent about 40 minutes in this transition drinking fluids and eating some food. Julie was ever present driving us to get going and get back on the course. From what I recall, my feet were already hurting so I stopped to work on a few hot spots.
Beginning of the desert trek
We were off on the second leg of this journey for another 25 mile desert trek. This time we had to carry our own backpacks (which were 40+ pounds with all the required gear, food and water). This race was true expedition style, we almost never saw our gear or food boxes during the race. We would not see our food boxes for the first time for a couple of days. The desert was hot (I will say that plenty, because I don’t want anyone to forget!). The trek started off easy enough. Navigation (in general for the whole race), was not very tough. There were plenty of land features to look at, but the strange map scale (1:40,000) took a bit of getting use to. The maps were shrunk down due to this scale, so at times it was difficult to see great detail. I am from south Louisiana, where contour lines on maps are in 5 foot intervals, and we only get one or two on a map, so it took a bit of getting used to the 50’ contours on the maps. I was constantly asked by my team if every little hill was on the map.
We trekked the rest of the day and into the night, until we came across several teams going different directions. This is never a good sign, as we had not been seeing many teams for many hours (odd how 89 teams of 4 racers can spread out so much in less than 24 hours). We came to a trail intersection that was not on the map, and it was pitch black outside. The map instructions told us to follow a certain canyon wall, but in the darkness (and now 2 nights of no sleep), we, and many other teams, were having a difficult time finding the right path. We searched several different options for an hour or two, and then we made the call that we would stop and sleep until right before dawn and then continue. Mark did find another possible route, right before we went to sleep, so we started there when we awoke. I am still unclear if the route we took was the correct route, but looking at GPS tracks of other teams, it seemed to be one of the two main route choices. We eventually ran into many other teams and followed a road into the first real transition area – TA 2.
Finally to the bikes:
At TA2, we ran into Donna, Sam’s wife. Donna was a volunteer on the bike transport crew. We had to pick up our bikes here so it was lucky for Sam that he got to see the ever smiling face of Mrs. Donna. We had to assemble bikes, refill waters and get to biking. We spent about an hour in this transition. The leaders spent only about 35 minutes here, but some teams spent several hours. We surely would have been there longer if not for Julie hammering all of us to get out of here. By the time I put on my bike shoes, I knew my feet were in big trouble. I figured we would be biking for a while, so no need to do much with them for now. This bike leg actually started out with some real biking. We biked on some old jeep roads for a while. We did not get far until Mark hit a rock and got a pinch flat. He was the only one with a hard tail bike, and so he flatted where our suspensions took over. We changed the tube, but it went flat immediately. I think it was actually the CO2 inflator that made it appear to go flat. We used Sam’s inflator the second time and we were all good. That would be the end of flat tires for us. Much of the credit is likely due to the No-Flat’s tubes we were running in our bikes. We later heard of other teams with many flat problems. The team was moving well on the bikes, but the land here was all relatively flat. There were pockets of deep sand which made us get off our bikes and push a bit. With all the extra pack weight, we easily sunk into the sand. I recall I was dragging at the back of the group for the bike ride. All the soft sand really sapped my legs. I also did not want to get caught into pushing too hard. The others were constantly fretting when a team would pass us and would always try to catch teams that were close. At one point we came across a team that Sam new – Goals. Sam assured us all that these guys were top notch navigators so we would hang with them for a while. We did that, and it seemed like we went out of our way, but in looking at our GPS tracks, we did follow the path that we originally planned. I think some teams found a shorter cross country route, but that was a bit risky with all the cliffs and the rules stating we must stay on roads, trails or creek beds. There was one long arduous push up a very steep exposed section of trail. Sam was getting very hot on this day and was already complaining of feeling poorly from the heat. At some point, we ran into Tom Lane from Texas. We briefly said hi, but then Julie told us to get a move on. All the teams in this area were working to get to the whitewater swim before 6 pm or we would be faced with a 12 hour dark zone. By this time on the course, the officials figured out that water was going to be a big problem with racers (not enough of it out there). Race officials started adding some additional water stations. Near the end of this ride, we stopped at a water station and met Iona from team 39 – Pedro’s Boulder. Iona had been stepped on by her horse at the opening and got a fractured toe – Ouch! We refilled with water, and when we were about to leave a truck pulled up with ice. What a wonderful thing – cold water versus hot water!! It was not long after leaving this water station that Sam started feeling very bad. He was having a tough time with the heat. I put him on tow but he was getting dizzy. We were in fairly open desert with not many places to stop. We did finally find a spot not far off the road that offered some shade. We had Sam lie down and we poured precious water over him to cool down. Julie massaged some cramps from his legs. We took a good 30 minute break here to get Sam to cool down. Once he was semi-coherent, Julie had us on the move again (did I mention Julie is not human, she is a machine). This time, we made a double tow for Sam. I (Dave) towed Sam, and Julie towed me. We had a long way to go, and the dark zone time was coming soon. We really hauled ass on this section. We chased down, caught, and passed several teams. Near the end of this leg, we came into the town of Green River. We stopped at the first store and all bought a cold drink. We kept moving through town since it was actually hot in that store. On the other end of town, near our turn, there was a Burger King. It seemed like we had time, so we stopped for a meal at BK. 3 of us ate, and Sam kind of laid on the floor trying to get over his heat illness. Back on the road we headed to the swim transition. As we got closer, team controversy struck. We had a route laid out, and time was very tight. There was a sign up the road (past the turn we had planned) which was similar to the name of the place we were heading. We were split as to what to do. I wanted to stick with our planned route since the other road did not show on the map. We stuck with the planned route, but even that was controversial as we had to go down a couple of very sketchy jeep trails. One of which was infested with more mosquito’s than any other place on earth. We were eaten alive by mosquito’s which made the group even madder at me for picking this route. Sure enough, the route I chose was our planned route, but it did meet up with the alternate road not shown on our maps! So, I was wrong, the road not shown on the map was paved and likely would have been faster. Time was now getting tight. We still had a few more miles to go before the transition for river-boarding. Somewhere along this road Julie’s parents passed us in their truck and were yelling words of encouragement (and some discouragement, when they told us it was 4.5 more miles – when I thought we had less than 2 to go – it turned out it was less than 2 miles). We flew into the transition about 5:20 in the evening. There was a 6 pm cutoff to be in the water for the river swim.
The mad rush to the swim put in
We hurriedly reported into the transition and we were told we would not make the cutoff so we should relax. We questioned as to why we would not make it and the answer made us furious. The PQ staff told us they did not have enough cars to shuttle us to the river-boarding put in so we would miss the cutoff. How could this be our fault? We hauled ass to get here, we made it with plenty of time, and due to poor PQ staff planning, we were going to be hit with a 12 hour dark zone?? We told them we would get a ride with Julie’s parents and they vetoed the idea, but they did allow us to donate the car to PQ to haul OTHER teams who were already waiting. This seemed unfair, but it moved us closer in line. My parent’s also showed up at this transition so we commandeered their rental SUV (very small).
They allowed Donna (Sam’s wife) to drive as she was an official PQ volunteer. Donna drove like an off road racing champion. I am still not sure how this SUV survived that road. 4 of us loaded up in the SUV, along with Donna driving. We also had 4 river-boards, and all our swim gear. We did not have any spare time, so we had to change into wetsuits as we drove this horrific bumpy road. This was quite a feat for 4 people to change in this tiny car. Sam was still kind of in a daze so he sat in the front seat while we all changed. We were ever so polite and built Julie a small changing booth out of river-boards. We arrived and got our feet in the water about 5 minutes before the deadline. We had made the cutoff time! There was certainly a big sense of accomplishment.
Finally having fun in the whitewater
We actually hung out on shore for an additional 15 minutes getting all our gear ready and packed. We were all burning up from heat as we just hammered a very long hot desert mountain bike leg, and now we were all wearing hot wet suits. We ran into my buddies on Dynamic Health Racing at the river put in. Once on the water, we did not go far before pulling over to re-adjust our wet suits and gear. Sam was starting to feel better now that we were in the water (his element). He even broke out his Burger King sandwich and started eating before it got too soggy. I have to admit, this was the one section of the race that scared me prior to the race. I did not know what to expect since there is no whitewater in the swamps of Louisiana. It turned out to be a ton of fun, but still a bunch of work. The real rapids were kind of far apart, so there was a good bit of flat water mixed in. Julie lost one of her fins on the first rapid, so to keep her from swimming in circles Sam and I took turns towing her along (finally, we were faster at something than Julie!). The few class III rapids we hit were pure fun when swimming them. I actually suggested that we should go back and do it again (I was voted down!). We were now up facing another deadline. We must be off the water by 9 pm. If we were not done by 9 pm, then we were to get out and hike along the shoreline to the end. We made it to the finish at 9 pm sharp. I think the only team to not make the 9 pm cutoff was likely Dynamic Health as we saw them putting on clothes because they were cold (we were all actually hot as the water was warmer than we expected).
Off in the kayak’s
Back from the river swim, it was time for the first kayak leg. Finally, a chance for me to rest my aching feet. I decided I better hit the medical tent before going off on this leg. Turns out Licia Greenleaf (wife of Kimo from Spirit of Louisiana) was the medical director at this TA. They took one look at my feet and said “YUCK”. Both feet were heavily blisted on the ball of the foot and were filled with sand and grit. They decided to try and clean them out so they cut open the blisters and out ran some green gook – not a good sign on day 2 of a 10 day race! They fixed me up as best they could and sent me on my way. This was a long transition for us, almost 4 hours long! The lead teams were very fast out of this transition, but they had the night before to plan for it as they were hit with the mandatory dark zone. We finally shoved off about 1 am. It was a dark night (like all nights at this race) for a paddle. We could hear rapids near the start of the paddle, but in the dark, we were not sure what to expect. The water support people told us nothing over a class I, so we did not pay much attention to it. Several miles into the paddle, there was a mandatory portage around a in the river. We docked our boats and were told to carry them up the hill and follow a marked path. There was another team there with us and not much space so we had to wait a few minutes before starting. These Necky Amurak’s are heavy, my guess is about 150 lbs with all our gear loaded into them. There would not be any actual boat “carrying” for our team or any other team we saw. We used some climbing slings and carabiners to create tow straps and just drug the boats along. It was suppose to be a 1 mile portage, but it was closer to a ½ mile. We only took one boat at a time so we had to make 2 trips. We saw boats at several points along the path. People had stopped to sleep instead of finishing the portage. We were quickly getting tired as it was now getting to be early morning. We knew if we could keep going, we would be passing back through the town of Green River which meant another chance for some real food. We finished the portage (and passed a few teams doing it), and got back into the water. We paddled for a while longer until we hit the town of Green River. I think it was about 4 am, and there was a man on the shore calling out to teams. We had planned to stop there for food and some sleep, so we stopped by this man. He was actually a spectator looking for his team. We pulled up our boats and slept under the bridge. I think it was at this sleep break (which we planned for 1 hour) that we told Mark he could not sleep by us any longer. Mark snores like a freight train and it would keep the rest of us awake. It does not seem very team like to make him sleep 100’ away, but for the sake of the team, we had to do it.
A real breakfast:
After an hour of sleep, Sam, Mark and I awoke and went to the truck stop for some real breakfast. Julie stayed asleep as she needed her beauty rest before yelling at us to hurry up and get our asses moving. We met up with Stinky Feet Kilt Racers at the truck stop. They too were enjoying a nice big breakfast. They even shared an extra order of pancakes with us. We all ate a big breakfast and headed back to the boats. It was now light outside, so the paddle was a bit more enjoyable, and faster. Before stopping we had hit several sandbars and were suffering from the sleepmonster (falling asleep while paddling). The paddle on this day was very pretty. There were many tall canyons to look at, but after the first hour or two, it all looked about the same. We arrived at the boat takeout at about noon on day 3 of the race. At the water take-out, I ran into Leslie Reuter of MOAT. They were far ahead of us and actually heading back out in the boats (they had completed this desert trek (called canyoneering, but really desert trekking). She was in her usual great mood just smiling and wishing us good luck.
Back to desert trekking
This trekking leg started with a swim across the swiftly moving Green River (that we paddled down). Julie was now missing one swim fin, but she still got across faster than all of us. This was real hard work. We all worked our butts off to get across this river and not get swept downstream. I think we actually worked harder than we had to, but it seemed prudent at the time. On the other side we changed into dry shoes, but Mark had crossed a small tributary river and changed on the other side of that. We had seen many teams heading into the woods there. I did not like that route, so we had to wait for him to take off shoes and cross back over before we could get started. Little things like that seem like a big deal to people when they are sleep deprived and racing for several days. The rest of the team was a bit nervous as we were not following the teams in front of us. My plan was to basically shoot a bearing and head to the first point (crossing the small river was safe as there were roads leading towards the cp, but it was likely twice as long). Our first attempt to bushwack from the beach was thwarted by very heavy trees. We backed up, walked down the beach 100’ and found a nice trail from the beach, back to the wonderful desert! (and yes, it was already HOT!) There were footprints everywhere as we came out of the trees and back to the desert, many people had gone this way. Nothing in PQ is close, everything is of epic scale. I think from the beginning I could see where we were heading. It was a small square shaped rock on top of a cliff (turns out we were right). We headed straight for the land feature. We had to re-route a couple of times due to cliffs. We did not see any other teams anywhere during this trek, which made everyone a bit nervous, but we did see the occasional footprint so that eased everyone’s fears. At one point we found a small road and some of the team wanted to follow that road instead of continuing on our direct path. We did so and it took us a bit out of the way, but it was a road, and not just plain desert. I don’t think it really cost us too much time. We finally made it close enough to that square rock to confirm that it was the correct land feature. As we hiked closer and closer, we could see something blue in the distance (turned out to be the volunteer’s tarp at the CP). As we walked up the narrow trail to the CP, we saw a team leaving this point and a photographer began snapping our photo. It took about 3.5 hours of hot open desert trekking to reach this point. Now it was time to go up and over this mountain (a mountain to a guy from Louisiana). It was just a huge rock out in the desert. There was marked path that required some real work to climb up and over. I don’t recall the elevation, but overall, I bet it stood close to a 1000’ above the desert floor. From the top, the view was absolutely spectacular. You could see for so many miles in any direction. On the other side of this rock was a rappel. It took us an hour to go up and over the rock and hit the rappel section. This was the first ropes section of the race and we were ready to use all this heavy climbing gear we had been lugging around. Mark and Sam went down first. We went in tandem to keep from spinning around. This was a 300+’ rappel. It was straight down with the Green River at the bottom. We hit this rappel at about 5 pm on day 3. That first step was a bit scary, so I did not look down. I went down in tandem with Julie.
This was one spot again where I was finally faster than Julie, but not by choice. With my weight and the weight of my pack, I could not slow my descent. Julie and I were tied together by safety lines, so she slowed me down along with the belay guy at the base of the rappel. At the base of the rappel, we were still 50’ above the water on a small precarious ledge. We were to follow that ledge around until it wound down to the entrance of the first canyon in the race. Mark went ahead, and met us at the beach. Julie, Sam and I made our way down to the beach with another team (forgot their name). It was 5 pm by the time we got off the cliff and down to the water level. We just came out of scorching desert so we all took a quick dip in the river. We made a quick look at water levels and figured out we were going to be in water trouble as it was a very, very long way until the next water station. We first filled a couple of bladders from the grungy Green River. It was likely treatable, but very full of sediment. Another team had a filter pump and pumped us a ½ bladder. As we headed out to the canyon, we ran across a group of kids with their parents (Boy Scouts or something). One group was leaving and offered all of us racers the last of their clean water. We split that up amongst a couple of teams and headed out into the canyon. We were all excited about this canyon as we had visions of tight slot canyons and an abundance of cool water.
In the Canyon
No tight canyons here and no real water (except the occasional small puddle leaking from the rocks. Water = mosquito’s, so no one wanted to linger around these small water sources. We trekked along with some other teams during this leg. This is where we first did some trekking with Pedro’s Boulder. There were a couple of other teams, but I don’t recall names. I was slowing the team on this trek with my feet and they were getting a bit worse. As usual, Julie would crack the whip and keep us all moving. The route was easy as we were in a canyon with no way to get out. It was all fairly wide for the most part. There had been 100+ racers through there before us, so the path was fairly well beaten down. At the end or, near the end of the canyon was an ascension where we were to ascend up and out of the canyon. The canyon was long and took about 5 hours to trek to the end, ascend up and out and hit the next CP. I recall being very sleep fatigued at this stage and wanting to be alone a bit. Before we hit the ascension, we actually did get to do some real slot canyoneering. The section was not terribly long, but at points it was only wide enough for one person to walk through and there were several spots where it took some teamwork to get down and over some boulders. We were working with Pedro’s Boulder team during these sections. This was a fun part.
We managed to arrive at the ascension point with Pedro’s and no-one else was there. Within 10 minutes, 3 more teams had arrived. Ropes are first come – first serve. We did not do a good job getting our first two people ready, but we made it on the ropes before any real bottleneck. Julie and I went up first. We have had very little sleep to this point in the race and now we were going to do a 100’ ascent after being about out of water for quite some time. It was a struggle but we made it up. I recall Julie getting some gear jamming from all the safety lines required on our harness. Our climbing gear looked like a jumble of spaghetti with all the stuff required. All 4 of us made it up and through the ascension. There was a CP not too far from the exit of the canyon. We made our way up out of the narrow shallow canyon and basically shot a bearing to where the CP should be. We had a road as a catching point, so I was sure we would not miss it. At some point, Sam or Mark spotted some glow-sticks at the CP and we basically marched towards them. At the CP, we asked for some water and the TA person said we could have about a pint. He felt that should be enough to get us to the next CP which was an actual water station.
This section became the longest most miserable trek for the team. We only had 2 or 3 miles of road to trek to the next CP. I suspect we were moving about 1 mph. We were all dead tired, out of water and ready to be there. We contemplated just sleeping and hitting the CP after some sleep. As a team we decided it would be better to trek to the water so we could re-hydrate, eat, then sleep. A team or two passed us while we were trekking. I was slow with my feet, but I don’t really think the rest of the team felt like trekking much faster. We were really hurting. To add insult to things, a dust storm kicked up at one point. It was almost impossible to even see. We passed a volunteer car at one point, but they were not giving up any water either. Finally, we arrived after what seemed forever. We arrived a bit after midnight. We all immediately drank about a gallon of fluids. We planned to sleep at this CP and move on at first light. As we started to settle down to sleep, it started to rain a bit. It did not matter to me; I just closed my bivy sack over my head and basically passed out. I later learned Mark ran some teams out of there with his snoring. I did not hear him. We did not depart until about 5:15 am on day 4. We were to travel in another canyon back to the beach that we originally swam to. On the way, we were to pick up one more CP. I think we traveled with Pedro’s for most of this leg, but we did chat a bit with another couple teams again on this leg. At the end of this canyon, we came to a small river which was flowing nicely. Once again, it was miserably hot outside, so we all submerged in the river for 5 minutes. This river actually led to the next CP. Too bad we had so much gear on us and no flotation devices. We could have just floated in the current to the next CP. We hit the last CP, got to the beach, donned our swim gear and went back across the river. The return trip seemed a bit easier as we could walk in shallow water further upstream before having to start the swim.
Back in the boats
We were now back to our boats a little after 2 pm on day 4 (CP 19). It took us an hour to get back into the boats and push off onto the river. We had another 45 mile paddle ahead of us (last paddle leg of the race). I like paddling, and with my feet issues, I welcomed paddle time. All of us were pretty stanky by this stage. We decided to get moving down the river and just go slow a bit. I washed my clothes (yes, in the dirty brown river) as we floated along. Julie and I always paddle together, and our boat looked like something from the Beverly Hillbillies. We had clothes, shoes, backpacks and all kinds of stuff strapped to the deck so it could dry out. We actually all were riding with our feet on the deck of the kayak to try and let the sun dry out our feet a bit. It was relaxing, but a rather slow position to paddle in.
Dave’s sleep problems
This is the first time in the race, when I recall having real difficulties staying awake. Once night set in, I just could not focus on paddling. I think Julie was very frustrated with me as I was responsible for steering our boat. I think I can paddle and sleep, but steer and sleep was not working out at all. Does Julie ever get tired?? We paddled until about midnight or so and decided we should pull over and sleep a bit before hitting the end of the paddle and the transition area. We found a little sandbar and hopped out of the boats (well, I hobbled out). Mark was on the beach first and freaked out a bit when mosquito’s got on him. Julie had a small amount of bug spray left so we divided it up. I recall eating some MRE’s and climbing in my bivy sack. After several nights of sleeping in that thing, it was beginning to get kind of ripe. I think we slept about 4 hours again. It is now early morning of day 5 of Primal Quest 2006. We are back up and paddling, well 3 of us are back up paddling. Not long after we started paddling, I was once again falling asleep. I generally enjoy paddling and have not had paddling sleep problems in the past, but this time would be different. Maybe it was because normally on the water I have to keep up with maps. There was no real navigation since this was just following the river. Julie was great on this leg (as usual) and worked hard to keep us all mentally engaged. She started some word games, which helped, until I fell back asleep in the middle of the game. Basically, we had to think of foods that started with certain letters. We would call them out. We were still paddling in canyons and voices really echoed. The next day teams would greet us by telling us food names. (sorry to those we woke up with our word game antics). I recall running into several sandbars during the night. You just could not see anything at night because it was so dark. As it became light, it certainly helped to keep us awake.
Finish of paddle 2 – and the short course news
We finally reached the paddle take out about 6:15 am on day 5. As we beached, we were informed we missed a new cutoff (not previously announced in the race). There was a 6 am cutoff to hit this beach for the next canyon trek up Hell’s Roaring Canyon. Julie was some kind of mad, but I was smiling as this meant less torture for my feet. The canyon was taking everyone far longer than anticipated. There were no water stations in the canyon and people were having big problems with the heat. We were told to just move directly to the next leg of the race. I took the time to go to the med station to work on my feet. The guy in the med tent was nice and gave me some advice. The med people were no longer willing to work on racers feet. I removed a bunch of skin from my feet bottoms. I then was able to clean them out a bit (with river water). They were not looking good at all. My left foot had quite and infection and it was swollen like a balloon. The next leg would be biking, so I just wanted to get moving.
One heck of a climb with all our gear
From the boat drop, we were to take every item with had with us (paddles, climb gear, swim gear, food, etc) and trek about 2 miles up to the next TA area. The only thing about it was that there was 2000’ of elevation to gain. We were all burdened down quite heavily. We dumped all but a little water since there would be water again at the top. It was kind of odd they made us carry all our gear to the top, since we were constantly passed by trucks hauling boats to the top. I think they did it just to make us suffer a little more. I am surprised they did not make us carry the boats also. I felt we actually made good time going up this hill. As usual, my feet were slowing us down. Sam and Mark were helping me out and carrying some of my extra load. Sam looked like a giant truck with all the stuff he had strapped to him. We did not have to make any stops on the walk up the very steep hill. It sure helped that it was still early morning and not too hot as of yet. We made it to the top of the hill about 8 am on day 5. We dropped all of our gear at the top of the hill and found our bike boxes. This race was totally unsupported. When it came time to bike, we had to take our bikes out of boxes and assemble them. This was also true on the other end, when we finished biking, we had to take the bikes apart and put them back in the boxes. Julie had a small bike box which required a lot more work to take her bike apart, but as usual, she was always done first and usually helping one of the other guys get ready (and yelling at us to hurry up!).
Back on the bikes
This bike leg was laid out as a 65 mile ride. This should not be too bad as the beginning of the bike should be mainly on roads of some sort. We later figured out, 65 miles was just a little over halfway. I think it meant we should be able to ride about 65 miles and push our bikes the next 40 miles. The ride started good enough. It was rolling hills on dirt roads. We were making good time and finally covering some miles. Some of the downhills were quite painful on the feet. I found it much easier to un-clip from the pedals and just hold my feet in the air. Sure, it was risky due to possible crashing, but it felt better. We were on our way to a place called Gemini Bridges for a rappel. We biked roads with no real problem all the way to the correct location. There was one possible shortcut, but I was not interested in heading off of a good gravel road for cross country bike pushing.
Rapelling off Gemini arches
We arrived at Gemini arches to find the first great surprise for me on the course, my folks. As we pulled up to the CP, I saw them and kind of broke into tears. When you are racing this long, it does not take much to make me break down. Family usually does it, so most of the time, I just try not to think about them. Too bad we were still on the clock or it would have been very nice to sit around and socialize for a couple of hours (yes, Julie was telling us to hurry up). The TA director instructed us to drop our bikes and place 2 prussics on them. They would be zip lining our bikes to the bottom of the canyon. This sure changed the route I had planned from this CP to the next one. I did not think we would take our bikes down into the canyon. I figured we would rappel down then hike back up to the bikes, but no worries, we would figure it out. We got on our climbing gear and headed out on the bridge. Gemini bridges are a pair of natural arches, very cool stuff. We would be rappelling off of both sides, two of us on one side, and the other two on the other side. Once we got down about 20’, we would be face to face with each other. My folks positioned themselves up the rocks a bit and got a few good pictures of us. Mark and I paired up for this rappel. As I stepped over the edge, a rock caught me on the tender part of my foot and I slipped. I then inverted and was hanging upside down. I am sure my mother was about in tears, but she did not say a thing. I righted myself and we headed down. This rappel was pretty darn cool. This rappel actually was 3 rappels altogether. At the bottom, there was a volunteer with a sign reading “Go Sutliff Hummer”. It turns out he was a volunteer from Pennsylvania and lives not far from Sam. They did not know each other prior to the race. It is super cool how far people come to just volunteer for this race. We sat in the shade at the bottom for a few minutes and then decided to move on; well I am sure it was Julie who decided we should move on.
Back on bikes, and bikes, and bikes
From this point, we were not actually very far from the town of Moab, but from the route we had to go, it would be quite some time. We headed out and took a bunch of sandy jeep roads. We even stopped to take a couple of group photos at a place called eagle rock. Well it turns out these photos were just pictures of us going the wrong direction. We had missed our turn by a mile or so. It took us an hour to figure all this out and head back to the correct intersection. From there we were to just follow some marked slickrock trails to the next CP. These trails were tough, very tough for our tired bodies. I think we ended up pushing our bikes on most of this section. This was not a bike trail by any means. I don’t think we actually biked on any bike trails in this whole race. We were on off road jeep trails. I am not real sure how Jeeps get up most of this stuff. This is Hummer land. We are team Sutliff Hummer and we sure wished we had a H1 about now. We finally found CP 26. We knew we were close when we saw a helicopter hover over the spot in the distance. I think they were making a water drop. The CP 26 volunteer told us that many teams had trouble finding the location. The course officials had been out a couple of times to verify the location after many complaints. I don’t think Julie ever heard him say that, so I wanted to make sure I had a good excuse now for missing the turn. We were able to get some water from CP 26 which was very welcome. He told us that all CP’s after this would have water since people were running out of water on the course so often. From this CP, Moab was still not far away and everyone was anxious to get into town. I think this is about the time when I told the team, I did not think we would make it to Moab tonight. It was 7:20 pm on day 5 and I told them we had a long way to go. The volunteer at this CP also relayed to us that this trail was voted one of the best mountain bike trails in the country. He was wrong, very, very wrong! We started moving along, but the going was slow. We would zoom down a hill, but then the trail would turn right back up. We were just zig-zagging up and down this mesa we were on. It would sure be a fun 4 wheel drive trail, but not so much fun when you are tired, on a mountain bike, and wanted to get to the end of the trail.
It got dark and travel got even slower. It was difficult to see this trail. The ground was just all slickrock and the trail was marked with white paint. The paint was not reflective so we were constantly searching for the correct route, and of course my slow walking was bottlenecking the team. After a few hours, we got very close to Moab. We could finally see all the wonderful lights of Moab. We could see the rooftops of the RV park we had rented cabins at before the start of the race. The only problem was that we were over 1000’ above Moab on a very tall Mesa. There was no way down as this was a shear cliff face. We decided we should sleep for a couple of hours, then move on so we could get to Moab early morning. We knew we wanted to buy some supplies so better to get there when it was daytime. We decided to just stop and sleep where we were at. It was a wonderful view and there was a little bit of sand around here. Julie, Sam, and I settled down near a little tree. Mark hiked off a little way so his snoring would not disturb us much. Just before we went to sleep a team came along. It was 24Seven. My friend Beth from Texas is on that team. They were really moving well but stopped for a few moments to talk to us. We had jumped ahead of them when we got short coursed from the canyon. 24Seven are all great mountain bikers. I have raced with Beth in the past, and she really rocks on a bike. She was unfortunately having some vision problems due to contact lens issues. She was still flying along much faster than we were able to go. They quickly got on their way and we went to sleep. After about 4 hours we got up and got moving. It took us about an hour before we hit CP 27. We left this CP about 4:45 am on day 6. Not much excitement here, we checked in and out and kept moving. They told us it was mainly downhill to the next CP. All the time we were now moving away from Moab, but it was the only way to get down from this elevation. The trail from this spot was for the most part downhill so we were able to ride and coast a good bit of it. At the bottom of the mesa, down near the Colorado river was CP28. This was a water station, but we were about to hit Moab, so we got just enough fluids to make it to town. Cold drinks awaited our arrival in Moab.
Finally in Moab – a nice shower and some food
We had to bike back up the Colorado river (on the wrong side of the river), in order to get back to Moab. We crossed over the river on the bridge we initially took when driving our car to Moab in what seemed so long ago. Now it was time to enact our revitlement plan. We made a stop in the RV park that we stayed at a week earlier. We hit the group showers for a body cleansing and washed the clothes we were wearing (in the shower). Wow, it sure feels nice to be clean. We then headed out of the RV park into town. We stopped at Denny’s along with many other teams, but the line was long and we already spent a bunch of time taking showers and cleaning up. We rode a bit farther down the road and hit a store. We all bought some food and some nice cold drinks. Now it was time to get back to work and do more of this course. I actually bought some frozen burritos to enjoy later. In Mark’s sleep deprived stage he honestly questioned me how I plan to cook my burritos. Had he already forgotten that we were heading back into the desert and 120 F canyon temperatures? We headed out of town seeing about a half dozen other teams around town. There were even a few spectators just wanting to give whatever aid or directions possible to teams. It was nice to see real people and some civilization.
More near death biking in Pritchett canyon
It was time to leave Moab and head up Pritchett canyon. On the maps, it did not look too bad, or too long. Oh, how wrong could we be? We actually entered the canyon about the same time as our buddies on Pedro’s Boulder, so we went ahead and traveled with them for the entirety of this section. We later learned that one other team made it into the canyon shortly behind us. Race officials then closed the canyon until 6 pm, due to expected extreme temperatures and lack of water and rescue capabilities in the canyon. This meant a nice long rest for folks still in town. In hindsight (we actually discussed it out loud), it would have been much smarter for us to rest in town. The temperatures in the canyon were truly extreme. We were told temperatures reached 125 F in the canyons. Some say, don’t worry, it is a dry heat, bah-humbug to that, it is still freaking hot. There were no water stations or CP’s in this canyon. There were only a couple of way points (WP’s) that we were required to travel through. My estimates were 24 hours to get to the next place we could find water. I did not think we could make it with the water we were carrying.
Old man on the motorcycle
This is where the story gets a little odd. Some folks even felt we had some sort of divine experience in the canyon. It was hot, real hot and we were all just creeping along as the sun beat down on us. Out of no-where an old man with a large white beard rode down out of the canyon on a motorcycle. We had not been able to ride much of any of the canyon so far as it was way too gnarly for us to even hope to ride on a bicycle. This guy was not even wearing a helmet on his motorcycle. Julie was the first to stop him (always let the girls talk in the middle of nowhere). Julie asked him if he had seen any colored ribbons (representing the markings for a waypoint we were required to pass through). The old man replied, “no, I have not seen any ribbons”, he then paused for a moment, and then said “but someone is going to have a picnic up there because there is a bunch of water and juice up the canyon”. Wow, this was some great news to all of us. We had hoped to get some water. In a few moments, the old man was gone on his motorcycle. It took us another hour to work our way up the canyon to the water station. I think all of us just wanted to pour the water over ourselves to cool down, but we knew others behind us would need that water as bad as we did. We refilled our water bladders, cooled off in the shade for a few minutes and then got moving again.
We really were moving slowly. It was mid afternoon now and the heat was oppressive. We would only move for about 20 minutes then we would duck under a rock or shrub trying to find shade. After what seemed forever, we finally climbed, with our bikes, to the top of the canyon. An hour or two later, we came across the next prescribed waypoint. It was a great site to see. This WP also had water; it had cold water and drinks. They had set this up a day or two earlier when the lead teams complained heavily about the lack of water and the danger to athletes traveling in the heat of the day. We were truly grateful. About this time, actually a bit earlier in this day, I began to really suffer from the heat. It was my turn to get hit with heat problems. Apparently I was not drinking anywhere as much as I thought I was. It is funny when you are fatigued and way overheated, how your perception is really wrong. I would swear I was drinking tons, but when they checked my water bladders, they were darn near full. Julie had a small rag which she dipped in the ice at the water station to help cool me off, it really helped. We likely hung out at this WP for 30 minutes or longer. Once again, I am sure it was Julie who was keeping us on track and got us out of there. Back on the bikes, most of the remainder of the ride was actually rideable. We were traveling with Pedro’s Boulder and they were actually moving the same speed as us or a little slower, so we had no issues keeping up with them. We biked right through the large camping area used for the 24 hours of Moab mountain bike race. Not much happening there right now. We biked on through the area headed for the LaSalle Mountains. We had been seeing the mountains for a day or two now. The mountains promised cooler temperatures and actual living plants. The snow had already melted, but it would still be tough cool hiking. I knew a decision was coming for me. My feet were now gone. I could not stand without the aid of my bike. At the completion of this bike leg was a 40+ mile mountaineering section with several 12,000’ peaks. I did not think I had a chance of being able to do the trek. We exited the trail a little before 9 pm.
Finally to the base of LaSalle mountains
We were finally on a paved road. From the altimeter reading, we still needed to climb another 800’ to the actual transition area. This was a long slow bike ride up to the TA. We pulled in about 9:45 pm. Things got a bit weird as we were all tired, dehydrated, and hungry. People were all around and someone kept telling me that Kip was there. It did not register at first. Kip? I only know one Kip, and he is from Texas. Why would he be in Utah at PQ? Sure enough in the light I saw the long hair of Kipley Fiebig, a fellow racer, friend, and team mate from Austin, TX. He apparently got tired of wasting all his time at work tracking the race, so he hopped in his car and drove to Utah. He picked this TA to show up at as he figured he could see many people he knew. He was right; I think he saw all the people he expected at this TA. We chatted for a moment or two and he apologized for not being able to help us with anything (outside help was strictly prohibited). The one bit of good news here is that we would finally see all of our gear boxes at this transition area.
We were now at the base of the mountains, next to a nice looking stream. We all grabbed a bunch of bottles of Gatorade and made our way to our gear boxes. Our plan was to get some sleep and evaluate situations in the morning. We had our real sleeping bags at this TA along with some actual clean clothes. It would get rather chilly during the night so better get some clothes ready. We settled down on a small grassy hill. We had not seen grass in a long time, so it looked to be a nice area to sleep. The problem with sleeping on a hill is that everyone eventually slides down the hill. At some point during the night, we all woke up in a bit of a jumble. It was a long sleep likely 6 to 7 hours. It was the longest sleep we had so far. When we woke up we called a team meeting to discuss the situation, my situation – the feet.
Dave’s racing story ends here
It was time for the mountains. It would be a tough trek up and down the mountains. We had lots of gear to carry, and I could barely stand, much less walk. We discussed our options. Initially we all agreed to skip the mountains and bike around to the next TA. This was an approved alternate short course. It meant I could stay in the race a bit longer, but it was not really fair for the other 3 people on this team. Sam had been talking for days about how he could not wait to get to the mountains. That was what he had been really waiting for. Julie was having knee problems. It only hurt her when she biked, but you would hardly know it because her one good leg could easily keep up with all of us other guys. After a few minutes I told them they should re-consider. If they really wanted to do the mountain section, then they should continue on as a 3 person team. They agreed that they wanted to do the mountains, so my racing story ends about here. I raced for 6 full days before I stopped. The team had planned to hike out with Pedro’s Boulder as we all got along real well. I helped get all there bikes in boxes and packed up for the hike. We said our goodbye’s and they were off. It was very hard for me to watch my team hike off to more racing. What would be harder would be to explain to friends and family why I did not finish the race that I had trained so hard for. I thought there was a 50/50 chance that I would not finish this race, but I never thought it would be because I could not walk any longer. I thought we might get hit with a cut-off or maybe I just mentally could not handle any more of the course. I was not prepared for a couple of seemingly small injuries to end my race. It was ironic that Kip was here at this transition. Kip has done quite a few expedition races, and his one word of advice to me was to take care of your feet. He told me time and time again “if you can not walk, your race is over”.
Trip to emergency room
Once the team left, I needed to get out of the mountains. We could not get any cell signal (parents were likely in Moab somewhere). Kip was great and agreed to take me into town. As we approached town, I was able to get a call through to my folks. They met me at their RV. After a shower and a look at my feet we headed out for the Moab hospital. Kip headed back to the transition area to see more teams. The hospital had seen quite a few PQ competitors and was still in shock that people would pay money to come out there and take this kind of abuse. A great young girl named Ash worked on my feet for a couple of hours. She was so incredibly polite. Every minute or two, she would warn me “this is going to hurt”. I was tired and kept falling asleep on the gurney. (Yes, she was right, it did hurt at times). They told me I would need a wheelchair for a couple of weeks as I had lost both of the soles of my feet. I told them that were not an option, so we settled on crutches. I was wheeled out of the ER and on my way to some sleep. Back at my folks RV, I tried to stay awake, but it was futile. I crawled into a bed and slept for most of the day. I got up that evening and watched the race progress from my laptop.
Following the team
GPS showed the team was in the mountains and picked up one or two CP’s. They were still traveling with team Pedro’s. Kip came back from seeing other teams at the TA where he picked me up and we all went out to dinner. It was nice to get a real meal (steak). I don’t know if the steak was as great as I remember, or it was some of the first real food that I have had in a while. After dinner I was off to bed. Kip stayed the night in the RV with us. The next morning Kip headed out on the road back to Austin. During the night Team Sutliff Hummer had stopped for a long sleep and then skipped a few of the mountain CP’s and headed for the next TA. I later learned that Sammy was hit hard with altitude sickness and could not think very straight. From this TA, the team had to put bikes back together and bike to the next and final TA. I hear a good bit of it was downhill and quite scenic. From the final TA it was a trek to the final massive ropes section. When the team arrived at the ropes, they were turned away and said no short course teams were allowed on the ropes. I think the team was a bit split over this decision. The ropes were epic and quite scary in scope, but they should have been allowed to try them. Since there was no ropes to be done it was a couple mile trek to the Colorado river for the final 2 mile boat leg to the finish line. I was at the finish line awaiting the arrival of the team. Julie, Mark, and Sam crossed the finish line at 10 am on July 3’rd 2006. It took them 8 days to get to the finish line.
Time to go
Once I saw the guys cross the finish line, I knew it was time for me to leave. Sam has his wife at the finish line; Julie had her folks and her husband at the finish line. My folks were with me, but I was missing my wife and boys. I made sure all the team’s gear was back in their hotel room, said my goodbye’s, and I headed back into Moab. I packed all my gear into the RV for the return ride home and jumped in the car for the 4 hour ride back to Salt Lake City. I ended up buying a one way ticket to get home. I arrived home about 11:30 pm on July 3’rd. Not only did I get to be home with my family, but I was able to make it home in time for my son’s fifth birthday which is July 4’th.
It was a great experience. This was my first race over 3 days in length. Athletically, I felt I was well prepared. There were times when we should have moved faster. Most of that was on foot. We spent too long in transitions. We knew going in this would be an issue, and it was. We wasted a good ½ day just sitting in transitions. We should have implemented our hot weather plans. This was to rest during the hot part of the day and move more at night. We are just so accustomed to move when it is light and sleep when it is dark, that we could not break the habit. Picking the right team mates is very important for a race like this. Racing together prior to a big race is also equally important. None of us really knew for sure when the other person was not feeling well, or just sandbagging. Julie is a super athlete; she should simply race with much faster teams (although it was nice of her to carry my stuff at times). Would I do it again? Going into PQ, I widely told people this would be my first and last expedition length race. I think my opinion has changed. Once we got going, I enjoyed the experience. This venue was a bit punishing, but I think expedition racing was cool overall. So yes, I think I would consider doing it again. It is now a full week after getting my feet fixed in the Moab ER. They are healing super fast. I can now walk, well sort of gimp around, but no more crutches or a cane. (I did not include any feet photos, because that was just gross, but they do exist if anyone likes to look at that sort of thing.) Thanks to Sam Mummert for allowing me to come race on his team for Primal Quest 2006. And of course, thanks to all the friends and family that encouraged me and mapped our progress in this race.