Primal Quest 2015 – Race Report

Posted on 2015-09-03

Statistics, consumer trends and plain old common sense suggest that the human attention span is getting shorter and shorter (oi, focus).

At the current rate of mental decline, the common goldfish will soon overtake Homo sapiens on the ability to concentrate scale. Humans will be defined by their predisposition to visit the same social media hub every 4 to 5 seconds, overwhelmed by a nagging sense of deja vu. Meanwhile, the goldfish emboldened and freed from the stigma of it’s cognitive capabilities, will be left to contemplate one of sport’s great mysteries – why have expedition length adventure races, in the main, bucking the trends that so characterise our modern world?

Go back a decade or so and a typical expedition race might have taken a team around 100hrs. My last four expedition races have taken 120hrs, 154hrs, 138hrs and 177hrs respectively. And that’s racing at the pointy end. Imagine what it’s been like for the teams at the other end of the field?

Putting a positive spin on it, they’ve been getting some serious value for money. But what if you’re a glass half empty kind of person? I guess you’d be right to wonder why races have become so long and arduous at a time when people are increasingly time poor and looking for excitement and adventure in shorter doses.

With this in mind, signing the GODZone team up to Primal Quest would appear to have been somewhat idiotic. Back in it’s heyday, PQ had a fearsome reputation for long and difficult races. After a 6 year break, It looked like the 2015 version based out of Lake Tahoe wouldn’t be any different; 450 miles, 66000ft of ascent and over 1000ft of jumaring certainly implied a long race. Throw in altitude issues, a hot, dry climate and it was almost certainly going to be difficult one too. Still, with three female team mates for the first time the race would simply fly by as we discussed the finer points of rugby, football, cricket, middle-age male testosterone issues and contemporary politics. Oh, hang on a second …

Still, conversational and distance issues aside, PQ did tick a lot of boxes.

1) It wasn’t South America. Love the place and the people are wonderful.  But, it’s been done to death in recent years and mud, trees, injections to combat disease do have a finite appeal.

2) The host location offered up some great holiday options pre-race.

3) The PQ name still carries a lot of weight in adventure racing and there was a sense of taking on something legendary and/or iconic.

4) My last experience of PQ was Utah 2006 where the team endured some torrid foot conditions and a badly broken arm as a cherry on top. Hopefully this time around the team would get to enjoy the huge scenery without the drama of a helicopter evacuation.

There will now follow a long, in depth, description of every stage of the race, complete with a running commentary of each twist and turn. Na, I’m only kidding. The goldfish love that sort of thing but I doubt you humans have the mental tenacity to get through it with my feeble wit and literary acumen. Instead, I will provide a brief summary of the race [clears throat and shuffles papers]: It was brilliant.

Hey, that was easy. But seriously, my faith in expedition-length adventure racing has been fully restored. The PQ course was, as predicted, long and hard but at the same time incredibly rewarding. The views were amazing and there was always an epic sense of wilderness with every stage.

As I walked down the smooth granite of the Bear River valley feasting on the breathtaking scenery; as I hung by a thread 1000ft up on the Calaveras Dome, my delicates garroted by my increasingly uncomfortable harness (for over two and a half hours – some people took over 5hrs… eek); as I focused my brain on the never ending rapids of the South Fork American River, I remembered what it was like to do an event that was genuinely adventurous rather than just a slog or a race.

If an emoticon existed that could reflect me doffing my cap to the organizers, I would employ it right now (knowing full well that many of my friends would want to punch me in the face for succumbing to an incredibly annoying social media habit). Hats off to them for remembering that the vast majority of people who turn up to an expedition race do so because they want an adventure, not a race.

Before I started to pen this report, I was nudged by a couple of people to give it a ‘Girl Power’ tint. Apparently, being teamed up with three Kiwi females made our achievements somehow more newsworthy or impressive. On reflection, I don’t really see it like that. Truth is, I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the people I raced with, regardless of their Y chromosome status. After many years of racing you tend to know how certain people react under the stresses and strains of an expedition length race. I had zero worries about my three race partners and knew that they would be magnificent under the pressures of no sleep, altitude sickness, dehydration and everything else that goes with a race of this length.

Perhaps my abiding memory of this American adventure will be the 9hr bike carry from Hell Hole Lake up to the high pass above (I’d like to thank the resident flies for their generous efforts to fill our mouths, noses and ears with much needed protein). It was 35 degrees and we encountered one small, disgusting puddle on route for water. When we weren’t being attacked by shin slashing scrub, we were teetering about in inappropriate bike shoes on scorching hot granite.

Sweet Lord it was epic (it is worth keeping in mind that we had been riding those same bikes for 19hrs before we even started the hike a bike). It was the sort of thing that would reduce any normal man or woman to tears within minutes.

However, no matter how grim it got I didn’t hear a complaint or groan. Not even a single question about whether I had somehow managed to pull off the world’s most spectacular navigational cock-up and route choice. Nope. Just a simple stoic determination to get the job done whilst they enjoyed each other’s company. What an astonishingly refreshing and positive way to do an adventure race.

Whilst the three girls were fantastic to race with and their endless chit chat (on topics of mind-numbing irrelevance to a man) made the journey highly enjoyable, it is somewhat ironic that they all seem to clam up when asked to talk about their experience. In fact, asking the three to talk about their PQ adventure seems to be about the only thing that makes them uneasy, something that takes them out of their comfort zone.

That’s a big plus in my view as it makes it all the more clear that they are the sort of people who don’t really know how to talk the talk but, as they proved time and time again, they certainly know how to walk the walk. I suspect there are a lot of men out there who could learn an awful lot from that – me included.

I must offer a huge debt of thanks to the Primal Quest team for having the courage and commitment to put something so bold together after a 6-year hiatus. As a Race Director I know how uniquely stressful and time consuming it is to run an expedition event of this magnitude. Trust me, it ain’t for the faint of heart. I would also like to thank the host location, volunteers, medics and media team for being so incredibly friendly, welcoming and positive. All of our team was buzzing about the event in its aftermath – we will be back.

Final words – I sense that the sport of expedition adventure racing has received a much needed boost from the re-emergence of Primal Quest. The team at GODZone is incredibly excited about developing our partnership with this legendary American race and where we can take the sport over the coming years. Now is a good time to be an adventure racer. Roll on 2016…