Through the courtesy
Four Winds race organization and the
Chicago Area Adventure Racing Association, I found
myself with an entry to one of the USA’s premier adventure
races. All I needed
was to find three other teammates, coordinate
flights, transportation, gear shipment, hotel, find
a crew, buy tons of new gear (that's the fun part),
and prepare myself for the
I had planned my team’s participation in many
races in the past four years, none would be close to
The team was finalized
only days before the race and included Tom Solie, Danny
Bobrow, Colleen Kristofor, and myself.
Tom was the first to respond in our search for
teammates from the Chicago Area Adventure Racing Association.
He was new to the sport, having done his first race
in June. Everyone told me to not try a race of
this length with someone who has little race experience,
but I had a good feeling that Tom would be a great teammate
and I liked his enthusiasm for the sport.
Danny was a veteran of mountaineering expeditions
to some of the highest peaks in the world and an Ironman
triathlon finisher, but he also brought limited adventure
Colleen was a true newcomer to the sport with
no race experience, purchasing her gear just days before
the race, and having no opportunity to train with it.
She would even be renting a bicycle in Salt Lake
brought the most race experience, with over 15 races
over the past four years, but still no experience in
a race longer than two days.
In my four years of adventure racing I’ve been
preparing myself for an expedition-style race.
I just hadn’t expected it to come together like
this. We were heading to Salt Lake City for an eight-day race.
We wouldn't even meet Colleen until we got to the airport.
Friends and family are questioning my sanity, but my
past experience has taught me that personal goals and
compatibility were significantly more important than
time on the course and I had good feelings that we had
put together a solid group.
We arrive at
the mandatory gear check area and are instantly told
by “Gear Master Jerry” that we have too much stuff.
We’re all too aware of that fact, but it’s all
on the required gear list.
Three grueling hours later we’re through the
equipment and skills check.
Now, how are we going to haul all of this stuff?
Day 1 - We
make it to the starting line with backpacks bursting
at the seams with gear and feeling like we’ve just shown
up for the Tour de France on a Schwinn Stingray with
a banana seat.
How come we seem to have so much stuff and others
have so little?
All we have is the mandatory stuff…it’s too late
to worry now. The countdown begins and the teams are off!
The race starts with
a strenuous climb of the Peruvian Gulch trail, an incline
that gains 3500 feet in a mile and a quarter reaching
11,000 feet. We
choose a strategy of conserving energy on this tough
opening section of the course and to let the others
burn up as we pass the remains along the way.
Huffing and puffing our way to the top near the
back of the pack we are rewarded with incredible alpine
views that others are likely going too fast to enjoy.
Topping out on Hidden
Peak, we traverse a knife-edge ridge, a jumbled mass
of sharp broken rocks with over 500 feet of exposure
on either side.
Picking our way through the ridge and gazing
at the surrounding terrain is why we’ve come here.
This makes it worth the stress of preparation.
On top of the second summit of the day at 11,700
feet, we’ve reached CP 1.
At CP 2, we are presented with our first route
finding challenge. We can follow a two-track road down to the bikes.
It’s simple, but indirect due to many switchbacks
on the mountain.
Choice B involves reversing our course about
¼ mile and running 3000’ down a scree field and following
a river to the bikes.
It looks good on the map, but we could encounter
terrain too steep to handle and may run into some tough
We could also be rewarded with a quick trip to
the bikes, but we decide that we’re not ready to take
chances as a new team and that we will play it safe
with option A.
alpine section is followed by a long bike ride through
We’re excited about the opportunity to get off
our feet and make some progress on the bikes.
That is, until we see the trail.
It’s an uphill singletrack trail that only a
horse could love.
The next 9 hours will have us pushing our bikes
through the mountains instead of riding them.
We arrive at the Timpanookee Campground checkpoint
at midnight and as
we rest for a few minutes, we listen to the sounds of
a bear growling nearby.
After a long
day and night, we finally arrive at Transition Area
1, Utah Lake Campground, at 4:50 AM to find our crew,
Jerry and Randy Bauer, ready for us.
We decide to catch a couple of hours sleep and
hit the water at daybreak.
Day 2 - Once
on the water, we quickly move through checkpoints 10
and 11 at the south end of Utah Lake and we’re working
our way toward checkpoint 12 on the west side of the
lake. As in the first day, our navigation between points has been
going well and was not a concern.
On the way to CP 12,
the race director approaches us in a boat to tell us
that the waves on the lake are getting too rough and
that they want to route us away from CP 12 and back
to CP 10 to avoid crossing the center of the lake where
the waves are at their peak.
What had been a smooth
afternoon paddle, allowing us to make up time, has suddenly
turned into an exhausting effort battling wind and waves.
Tom and I try to paddle toward shore in hopes
that the waves are smaller near the shore. Making progress in any direction other than backward seems
almost impossible as we watch the shore to the east
appear to never change.
As we cross the waves sideways, water pours in
filling the boat like a bathtub.
assorted gear and our water bladder hoses float in the
filth in the bottom of our boat. Suddenly I've lost
my appetite to eat or drink.
As we finally
approach shore about 2 miles from the harbor, we realize
that the water at this point is only knee deep and decide
that it would be easier to get out and tow the boats. We drag the gear-laden crafts along the shore to the mouth
of the Provo River.
After picking our way through discarded pots,
appliances, and other assorted household products exposed
by low water levels, we reach a portage and haul our
boats ashore, 10 ½ hours after we began the trip.
We get back to camp
and quickly organize our gear for the next bike leg.
The last item to complete before leaving was
to decide our route and find checkpoints.
Plotting the 8 points that we would encounter
during this segment of the course is an arduous task,
using more maps than there are points.
The distance between some points is often 2 and
3 full map sections apart. I
complete the maps at about 10:45 PM with Randy’s help
while the rest of the team gets some sleep.
I ask Randy to give
me about 15 minutes to rest.
While I lay in the tent, my mind races with things
that need to be done… I want a few sandwiches for the
bike leg. I
need to have my light strapped to my helmet.
Things keep coming to me but I don't want to
get up and do any of it.
Fifteen minutes comes way too quickly so I tell
Randy that I have a better idea. “Can you do a few things
for me and them give me until 2 AM?
That way I can get some sleep too, we will spend
less time trying to find our way in the dark and have
less chance for navigational error.”
Randy’s response…”How about 3 AM?”
Ok. And I was asleep.
Day 3 - Sleeping
until 3:00 AM was just what I needed as I feel refreshed
and ready to go.
I’d gotten some warm soup and a good sandwich
a few hours before and I am feeling fueled up and ready
to ride. The team
is a little groggy but in good spirits as we
pack up and head to the checkout.
Ten miles of easy
pedaling through the City of Provo brings us to the
trailhead at Rock Canyon.
As we head into the canyon, Colleen struggles
with the heavy rental bike and the weight of her pack
as gravity tries to pull the weight back down the hill.
We’re on foot again and I realize that I’ve made
a big mistake.
I anticipated a bike ride.
We’re in for another hike-a-bike, and all I’ve
brought are bike shoes. That decision's going to bite me back hard!
After a few miles,
our trail becomes a two-track road and continues to
started at 4800’ at Utah Lake, reached about 5800’ at
the Rock Canyon trailhead, and will top out on this
trail at about 9000’.
Although the road quality is good and rideable,
we choose to walk which allows us to stay together as
a team. Passing
the time on the trail, Danny keeps us laughing with
jokes and perfect reenactments of Monty Python skits.
At the bottom of a
downhill, we run into, almost literally, the next obstacle
on the course and one that will become a common sight
through the rest of the trip…cows.
These are not the docile cows that you see dotting
Midwestern fields, but
enormous black and brown animals that stand in
the middle of the trail without a care in the world,
and definitely not intending to move for our sake.
Tom has been out of water since we stopped two
hours ago and the rest of us are either empty or getting
spot a spring on the map...we're saved!
“Here it is, Tom.” I announce.
We’re staring at a small pond with a cow standing
in the middle, flies buzzing around, no apparent source
of drainage, and mud-brown water.
He scoops up a bladder full of cow sewage and
pleads to me to find another source.
We may be in luck as the map shows what may be
houses a couple of miles down the road.
We finally pass a
house and the owner lets us use the hose as we happily
fill up. Tom
flushes the funk from his water bladder as we all gorge
ourselves on fresh, cold water.
While we’re eating and drinking, I am asked for
what seems to be the hundredth time how much farther
we have to go.
How far have we gone?
How many more climbs and descents and how big
are they? How
long will it take us? It becomes the “are
we there yet” joke, but it’s wearing really thin on
everyone, as is this entire leg of the race.
We’ve gone about 35 miles so far and by the race
organizers estimate we have about 35 miles to go.
It sure seems like there’s more than 35 miles
of map left though.
We’ve got a brief
reprieve from jarring trails and we’ll be on roads for
the next 6-8 miles.
As we leave, the first storm clouds in months
in Utah begin to roll in.
Just what we need!
A long day of towing on foot and by bike has
really taken a toll on me and I’m beat.
I pull off to the side of the road with Danny
and Tom and announce that I can’t tow anymore.
“Not a problem” they both say, “Let’s get out
of this rain” as they point to and old horse trailer
in the front of a nearby building.
We decide that it’s got to be better than a cold,
driving rain and we duck inside.
The rain is just going to keep coming so we pull
our stove and Danny brews up a tasty meal of cup-o-soup
and hot chocolate.
My stomach is growing queasy as we’re sitting
in the trailer though and I’m progressively feeling
finally stumble outside thinking I just need some fresh
air and suddenly
I’m in the middle of a new experience for me in an Adventure
This is not good for our time!
This will definitely put us behind!
I can’t believe I’m getting sick.
I’m lying on my back
in a rock pile and it’s strangely comfortable.
I have to get up though because we’ve got a race
to finish. I
grab my bike and begin pedaling along with the rest
of the team. I’m
dragging behind and not happy about it.
Colleen has also fallen sick by now and we decide
to set up camp before we get worse. Throughout the night, she’ll get worse, Danny will catch it
too, and I’ll start feeling better.
The three sickies squeeze into Danny’s two-person
tent while Tom decides to stay away from us and builds
a quick shelter using a space blanket.
Once inside, there’s no room to move but I don’t
got a very large rock jabbing me in the back, but it
doesn’t matter either. I just need to sleep, and I do.
The tent is furiously unzipped and zipped throughout
the night as sick people come and go.
I wake slightly to hear the commotion but quickly
drift back to sleep.
I’ve had the least amount of sleep of the team
at approximately 8 hours in the last 96 and the rest
is badly needed.
Day 4 - Danny
gets up first and sets to taking care of the sick teammates.
He breaks out the stove and cooks up freeze-dried eggs.
It's amazing how good food in a bag can taste!
It's moments like this that make me realize that we
really are a team and we're all working to get the entire
group through the race together.
We get back on the
trail at 9:30, 12 hours after we stopped.
Colleen is still feeling pretty rough, but she finds
the strength to keep moving. We’ve been
on this bike leg for 29 ½ hours and my
odometer reads 40 miles.
We’re facing a 2000’ plus climb, followed by
a brief downhill and a drop down a canyon on a single-track
blazing sun is baking us.
We’re hiking along talking about what we would
want when we get back to camp.
Both Colleen and I are dreaming of an ice-cold
few minutes later, two hunters pass and I spot a cooler
in the back of the truck.
“Got any sodas in there?”
Three cold Cokes later and the day has suddenly
We top out on this
trail and we’re excited about the possibility of a good,
fast downhill section through Wardsworth Canyon, until
we actually get there.
The trail turns out to be an insane jumble of
rocks, roots, downed trees, overgrown trail, stream
crossings, and the occasional precarious cliff face.
While a considerable portion of the trail is
certainly rideable, we frustratingly walk to keep the
What we had originally expected to last 45 minutes,
and in reality should take about 2 hours, ends up taking
Like other areas of
trail we had been through so far, we hear and see cows
here too. But
this canyon holds a special memory, and will
forever be know as Dead Cow Canyon.
We arrive at a river crossing about 3 miles into
the canyon. I’m
leading as we come through the bushes and I’m staring
eyes to udder with a cow, freshly fallen, rigor mortis
set in and laying on its’ side in the river.
Eyes open, legs stick straight, and a really
funny sight, in a morbid sort of way.
Colleen is right behind me as I reach the river
and she asks, “What is that”, just to be sure she’s
not hallucinating. “A cow”, I tell her, and we continue on without a word.
The arduous canyon
trek ends at midnight at CP 15A where we find a bottle
of fresh water and a note from the CP staff left 12
hours earlier, wishing us luck.
We’re now 44 hours into the bike leg.
At one point in the canyon, Danny and I pulled
out the maps to check the mileage remaining. Forty-one? This can't
be right. We can’t bear to tell the others.
Tom takes a look at the maps at this point so
he too can get an idea of the upcoming terrain and distance.
We’ve gone about 4 miles since Danny and I counted
and Tom comes up with 37 miles.
My fear has been confirmed…we were right.
We thought we were almost done and now we have
an extra 20 miles to deal with.
We feel like we’ll never make it.
uphill grind. It’s late and everyone is getting sleepy and not doing a very
solid job of fighting off the sleep monster.
Less than an hour into the hike after emerging
from the canyon, Danny announces that he would like
to take a nap.
We stop by the side of the road for a much needed
stop. I continue to insist that we need to be careful of our stops.
Nobody wants to hear me talk about this anymore, but
I’m truly concerned about the possibility of being removed
from the course due to time cutoffs.
Less than an hour later the sleep monster visits
again and everyone begs for sleep.
I agree that sleep is necessary through the race
and that pushing too far without sleep is unwise, but
we've had 12 hours in the last 24 and I try to reinforce
the fact that I’ve been trying to make all along.
You don’t need as much sleep as you think, and
averaging 2-3 hours per night means that you might not
sleep some nights if you need to push through.
You'll make up the sleep time later. Right now,
we’re in danger and we need to push through but
reasoning is lost on sleepy brains.
“Half an hour,” I ask.
There's no answer as the team dig out sleeping
bags and settles into the side of the hill for what
looks like a long nap.
Sleeping bags are a sure sign of trouble because
you get too cozy and never want to come out. My frustration at our too frequent rest stops shows as I tell
them about the danger we face.
“You’re amazing, that you can keep going without
sleep, I just don’t get it,” Danny says to me.
I’m flattered, but also disappointed that they
too don’t see that it’s possible.
I refuse to get too comfortable, instead sitting
on the hill behind them sulking in my frustration, waiting
to begin moving again.
It’s cold outside,
probably in the 40’s, and the body’s natural alarm clock,
the shivers, wakes me up after 30-45 minutes of rest.
I’m up and ready to go.
After 10-15 minutes of coaxing, we’re all on
Somewhere in the night
around this time we break out the mandatory radio and
try to let race management know we’re alive since we've
been out here much longer than we expected.
But I might as well be carrying a brick as we
can’t reach anyone. I’m thinking about how Randy and Jerry must be concerned about
where we are, do we have enough food and water, is anyone
only they knew that we were OK, they could relax and
get some rest.
I imagine that crewing is almost as tough as
the race itself.
I hope Kellie is OK.
What can Randy tell her?
This has got to be driving her crazy!
Day 5 - We
reach the next downhill section at about 3:30 AM.
I’m feeling great and have been ever since coming
out of Wardsworth Canyon. My feet are killing me because I’ve been wearing bike shoes
on a 40+ hour hike.
I’ve paid some attention to them, but not nearly
last few miles of the bike leg has been on smoothly-graded
I’ve learned over the past few miles that it’s
much easier for me to stay on the bike and pedal, however
slow it may be.
It’s easier on the feet and it feels more like
We are near CP 16
but the checkpoint marker is not where it is supposed
to be. I decide quickly that we are definitely in the right spot,
and the CP is not.
The Four Winds team has not historically hid
checkpoints, so we continue on with the belief that
the CP is missing.
We’ll make a note and let them know at Strawberry
struggle through the last couple of hours of darkness
through rolling ups and downs on our way to CP 17.
I’m feeling confident of our position on the
map and think I’m getting pretty good at reading and
identifying the mountainous
also decide that my Suunto
Vector altimeter watch is the single best investment
I have ever made in race equipment.
What an awesome navigational aid!
On the way to CP 17,
we find an incredible surprise.
At the top of a hill we come across a tent with
It turns out that they’re the CP for the hiking
section that passes next to the bike leg.
We also get our first glimpse of Strawberry Reservoir.
It’s exciting to finally see our destination
and our spirits pick up. The real bonus though is military rations!
A banquet of MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) is spread
out before us and you would never believe how good cold
ravioli could taste.
Snack pudding and fresh cold water round out
the meal as we stuff ourselves, sitting at 8400’ watching
over the valley below.
checkpoint volunteer, “Ski Patrol Mike”, watches
Danny walk away from the rest of the group and says
“watch him, he's definitely a city guy, he’s peeing
into the wind.” It seems like a good metaphor for this bike ride.
CP 17 is another ½
mile away. The
ride from 17 to the road is a fast singletrack downhill.
This time it's a nice hard packed trail dropping
about 1000’ over 3 miles.
This trail brings more animals, but of a different
of sheep line the trail and clog the way.
We race down the trail baaing at them and laughing
as they scatter.
Just another in a long line of weird experiences.
As we get within a
few miles of Strawberry Reservoir, Colleen finds a burst
of energy. She’s
cranking up the hills!
These last few miles go quickly as we ride like
horses racing back to the stable.
Of course, we have more bike problems but we
refuse to let them slow us down.
Tom’s derailleur snaps off his bike, so we convert
his bike to a single gear by breaking the chain and
removing the derailleur.
Tom gets another flat tire.
Tom’s rear disk brake explodes in a shower of
springs and screws.
No big deal, just pack up the shrapnel and continue
Sixty-four hours after
we started, we reach the park road and the marina is
in sight. Everyone’s
excited to see us after our epic as
Will from Team Aardvark hugs me and says, “Man,
we didn’t know where you were and Randy was going nuts,
it’s good to have you back.”
We walk up to the CP and proudly announce, “we
didn’t get eaten by bears, we did not have to cut into
one of those cows for food, and absolutely, positively,
at no time were we ever lost!”
The bike ride is finally over!
fries, and shakes are waiting for us.
I wolf down a Double Quarter Pounder and a Double
Cheeseburger, washed down with two tall lemonades and
a strawberry shake...kind
of appropriate since we’re at Strawberry Reservoir!
With gear prepared
and stomach full, I head off with Randy for some map
study time before hitting the boats.
I work for about an hour and fall asleep reading
the maps. Randy graciously offers to work on the route while he loads
me into a nearby bed.
What a great friend!
How many people would give up vacation and family
time to work as hard as he and Jerry have this week.
Their support is appreciated.
Day 6 - I wake
up a couple of hours later to learn that they’ve called
a doctor to come check out Colleen and Danny.
Stomach troubles have really taken their toll
on Colleen. The
EMT says that neither of them is severely dehydrated,
but they aren’t actually in good shape either.
He fills them up with Immodium and says he wants
them to rest until 12 noon.
What?!? No way! We all protest the decision,
despite the opportunity to rest.
That’s way too long!
"OK, I’ll be back between 7:30 and 8:00
to check her out and we'll talk about it then",
he says. At
8:30 he still hasn’t come back.
“Randy, go get them because I’m not waiting any
more…we’re leaving”. Team ChicagoAdventureracing.org
is back in the race!
paddle begins in calm water and will hopefully remain
much calmer than Utah Lake.
We’re expecting about 30 miles versus our previous
paddling session of 24.
Strawberry Reservoir is notorious for afternoon
winds and the reservoir has several channels between
islands that we’ll be passing through, which could either
deaden or increase wind speed.
Navigation is interesting too as the terrain
is comprised mostly of barren desert-like landscape,
making what should be prominent points of land appear
to blend together.
We’re continuing to
experiment with different team configurations in the
time, Colleen and I are together with Colleen paddling
in front. We’re really working well together and I think we’ve found
a winning combination. I
find this to be one of my favorite parts of the race
so far as Colleen and I talk for hours about the past
couple of days, family, and why we race. I begin
to think about how the team started, the nervousness
I felt at going into a race with unknown teammates,
and how impressed I am that we've come together well
and worked together as a team. We're doing a great
job of overcoming weaknesses with each other's strengths.
I've felt the pressure throughout the race as the team's
navigator and they've really helped by encouraging me
and letting me know they appreciate the work I'm doing
in moving the team through the course.
We finish the paddle,
still in the light of day near 7 PM.
We made great time and once again, navigation
We quickly swap paddling gear for bikes, grab
some food, and we’re off again, this time on the next
to last bike leg of the race.
We climb from about 7600’ to reach the 9600’
mark after midnight, after a couple of tricky navigational
Day 7 - The
midnight downhill to Currant Reservoir proves to be
a test of the entire team's abilities.
Rocks best described as “baby heads” litter the
is no escape for the next five miles.
The trail is quite steep.
It’s very dark. Although it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, we work
extremely well taking the trail in steps and leading
each other through what we believe is the best path.
We maintain good speed without any major falls.
I’m quite impressed with our run as a team.
We reach Currant Reservoir
at about 3 am.
Our spirits are high as we come across one other
team, New York Adventure Racing, sleeping in the parking
wake Randy, Jerry and “Checkpoint Charlie”, and learn
One teammate has to put on a wetsuit while all
four circle the lake to the CP on the other side.
Once on the other side, the wetsuited teammate
goes in the water about 10 yards to the checkpoint and
we’re done. Sounds easy
and a possible opportunity to make up time.
Danny agrees to suit up and go into the reservoir.
At this point, we
learn some news from the crew.
On the way to Currant Reservoir, they lost two
bags off the back of the truck.
(We’ve nicknamed the support crew vehicle the
“Sanford and Son Mobile", after it’s teetering
mass of equipment, both inside and outside the truck.
It was only a matter of time before things started
flying off). The
good news, both bags were recovered.
The bad news, the bag containing all our paddling
gear, including wetsuits, PFD’s, bilge pumps, etc, was
involved in a head-on collision with a semi.
Plastic items like bilge pumps and stove lights
Most wetsuits and PFD’s seem to have survived,
but my wetsuit
now has a large tire print running up the center.
Danny suits up and
we begin the dark trek along the lakeshore.
Halfway to the CP, we lose the trail, and in
our tired and agreeable state, we all decide to get
a couple hours sleep, hit the CP at sunrise in 2 hours,
and take off.
Through the evening, we’ve said that our goal
was to get to the horses before sleeping and we hope
that this stop doesn't hurt us too much.
It’s getting late in the race, now on day 7.
We’re starting to see the end and hopefully not getting
too confident yet.
After a couple hours
rest, we wake and get ready for the swim.
As has been a common problem for our group throughout
the race, it takes us well over an hour to get ready
to go to the CP and another hour after that to get on
the bikes. This will hurt us!
The final bike leg
before the horses follows the same theme of long, gradual
The roads are better than most sections have
been and we’ve got an opportunity to pedal during the
is strong as an ox and is powering up all the hills.
Danny’s feeling really strong today too and offers
to take on the day’s towing responsibilities.
Together, he and Colleen crank hard up the first
5-6 miles of hills, putting a significant dent in the
After topping out
on this road near 8400’, we are treated to a long fast
downhill run, it seems to be the
first truly enjoyable downhill run in many days on the
again figure into the action, this time numbering over
100 and they're all standing in the road, of course.
We race through the herd yelling at the cows
to move as they begin a stampede in front of us.
We’re riding pretty close to them as they reach
the hoof grates in the road, realize they cannot continue,
and begin darting left and right, knocking each other
over like bowling pins in the process.
I chase Colleen down
as she’s leading the group down the hill.
We reach another fork in the road and another
decision point; either option will take us to our destination.
Both appear on the map as two- tracks, but one,
the more direct route is actually a downhill single
track trail. The single track has the potential to cut
2-3 miles from our trip, but Utah single track has been
deceiving so far.
The last time we got excited about downhill we
ended up in the infamous Dead Cow Canyon for the better
part of a day.
We discuss the options for a minute and the team
unanimously decides to go for the single track.
This story, unlike
so many others, has a happy ending as we are rewarded
with the single most spectacular 3 miles of trail any
member of the team has ever touched with
It's an absolutely amazing hard pack trail with
a gentle downhill grade, meandering through a wildflower
and eucalyptus filled canyon.
Numerous stream crossings at high speed cool
us down form the mid-day sun and add even more excitement.
We can’t believe both the beauty of the canyon
and the good fortune that led us to this decision to
be on this trail.
One of our quickest
transitions of the race, about 30 minutes, takes us
to the horses.
The horseback section turns out to be an uneventful
slog, except that now we’ve added two beasts that we
have to baby-sit for the trip.
Seven miles uphill and another seven back down
will bring us back to the final supported TA of the
On the way back to
the transition area, Danny and I discuss strategy for
the rest of the race and the need for discipline in
the final day and a half ahead of us.
As the team organizes gear and eats the Domino's
pizza that Randy and Jerry picked up (a taste of civilization!),
we talk about what it will take to finish and gain the
commitment of the entire team.
Our plan starts with a complete rebuilding of
our packs, eliminating any unnecessary items.
Discipline around the number of length of rest breaks
No more then 15 minutes sleep at a time.
Five-minute breaks about once every 2 hours,
and we agree to not remove the packs during the rest
movement, regular eating, and hydration are key elements
to success. All agreed, we rebuild the packs, grab an hour of sleep and
head out at 12:30 am.
We don’t expect to see the crew until the finish
Our goal: 24 hours
to the finish.
Day 8 - Zombie-like,
we hike up the trail to 9700’ Strawberry Peak.
We pass Team Pine Nuts, huddled in the trees
out of the wind. We’re struggling in the early morning hours between 2 and 5
sleep monster is on our shoulder and we’re nearly falling
over in our tracks.
All we need to do is keep hanging in until the
sun rises and everything will feel different.
Near 6 AM, we can see the trail and we also begin
to brighten up.
The higher the sun, the higher our energy.
But, on one hour of sleep in the past 35, there
is a limit to our enthusiasm.
With a close eye on
the map, we follow a road west out of the valley, continuing
on the Great Western Trail. We’re moving into another canyon getting ready to climb the
trail, when the trail forks.
According to the map, the trail heads straight
down the middle of the canyon and climbs the right side
of the end of the canyon to meet our trail.
Although the Great Western Trail splits to the
right, I choose straight and the team follows.
Reading our position on the map I’m seeing everything
as expected. I’ve
also got this eerie déjà vu feeling that I’ve been in
this exact canyon before and have chosen this route
seems so real and I only wish I knew how the trail turned
The dream version
likely turns out better because this one isn't what
we hoped for.
Our trail has disappeared after 300’ of bushwhacking
up the back of the canyon.
I admit defeat and apologize for the mistake,
and for ultimately wasting an hour of precious time.
Going into this canyon, our navigation had been
flawless and I'm particularly upset at this breakdown
We had watched Team Pine Nuts follow the Great
Western Trail to the right and in a moment of pride
and overconfidence, I thought we could use the map to
I was wrong and we all had to pay the price.
We make our way back to the correct trail and
begin the 10-mile trek to our next and what is expected
to be the final obstacle, Shingle Mill Canyon.
begin along the Great Western Trail.
We come around a corner and I see a man sitting
under a shade tree wearing a sombrero.
He is in the shadows, so I can’t make out any
features, but I notice that he has a
young boy with him.
We reach Windy Pass,
a saddle between two mountains and the point at which
we will begin our descent to Shingle Mill Canyon and
our final climb of the race.
Here at 9000’ I find a sign pointing to water.
This time I’m not seeing things.
I hike 100 yards down the mountain to find a
horse corral. Dreaming of a sparkling clear stream, I instead find a fly-infested
horse trough with 3 inches of water covering a layer
of mud. There’s
a black pipe slowly dripping water into the trough from
a mysterious underground source. I hold my bladder under the dripping pipe and patiently wait.
After about 5 minutes, I’ve got a liter and decide
that will do.
I get back to the top and Danny asks about the
water. “It’s great…if you’re a horse”, I reply, as I
repack my backpack.
sun is fading quickly and I’m anxious to get to the
bottom of the canyon and find our trailhead before dark.
While the rest of the team finishes their food,
I head out and run down the trail, losing 1400’ of elevation
over the two-mile rock-strewn trail.
I reach the bottom and find the trailhead just
as the last rays of sunshine are left.
I wait for the team, believing that they are
Fifteen minutes pass and I grow concerned. It’s dark now and I don’t see headlamps or hear voices.
Where can they be? I eat while watching the field mice chase scraps of food.
The hallucinations begin again and I imagine
a family of mice, huddled together with their little
arms wrapped around each other in a hug, shivering in
the cold. I stare as they stare back.
I finally decide that they are just leaves.
Forty minutes have
passed and I am shaken by the sound of a whistle.
Is someone hurt?
I get up and quickly start to climb the trail
yelling my teammates names.
I see headlamps and hear their voices.
They’re coming and everyone’s OK, just moving
From the bottom of
Shingle Mill Canyon, we need to climb to 10,000’, a
2400’ rise. There’s a reference point on the right side of the canyon that
we need to work toward as the trail wanders around the
field, randomly appearing and disappearing.
It's getting steeper and it's so dark that we
can’t tell if we’re on the right or left side of the
couple hundred feet up the trail takes a turn to the
right, but the canyon walls still suggest we’re on the
left side. We
reach the riverbed, but it’s on our right side, as we’re
We're all twisted around and I’ve got that strange
déjà vu feeling again.
I know that I've been in this canyon at night
The way the trail moves, the dry riverbed splitting
into a Y, the steepness of the terrain, the rousting
of sleeping wildlife, and the feeling that this is not
going our way.
We keep climbing,
At 8400’ the trail ends.
We need to be on the right. I believe that
were on the left.
Tom thinks we're on the right.
Tom and I decide to climb up further
to better assess the terrain and determine our position.
It’s so dark that our headlamps and flashlights
are not able to help us.
Breaking out the handheld flashlight means I
have now used every piece of equipment I have been hauling,
with exception of climbing gear.
Search for a trail, we try to bushwhack through
the landmass to our right thinking we can work our way
over to the reference point.
We’re exhausted. I’m stumbling dangerously along the steep trail, barely staying
hallucinations continue as the wildflowers look
like little people with outstretched arms and legs rocking
towards and away from me.
It was if they were teasing me, laughing at me.
Stumps looked like people sitting on chairs. One flower appeared in the shape of a skull. Everything had
Bushwhacking is useless as the brush
is just too dense. It's past midnight and we’ve
been trying to work our way out of the canyon since
9 PM or earlier, with no progress.
We’re extremely tired and almost out of water.
We’re quickly coming to grips with the reality
of the situation.
We’re stuck in this canyon.
It’s impassable at night, especially in our condition.
We desperately descend to the starting point
at the bottom of the canyon, hoping to find another
Tom and I are not ready to accept defeat
and we continue to search for a trail at the bottom
of the canyon.
Danny and Colleen shut down, too exhausted to
reluctantly follows, frustrated at the knowledge that
our race is over.
The race cutoff time is at 8 AM and we won’t
hike down the trail trying to find a trail that is clearly
marked on the map.
It’s not here. I come back to the trailhead and sit on my sleeping bag and
stare at the maps hoping to find another way.
After 185 hours on the trail, our dream of finishing
this expedition race is over a mere 4 or 5 hours from
the finish line.
After all the difficulty this team has faced
and after how well we’ve come together as a group, we
will not finish the Four Winds Supreme this year.
I turn out my light.
we didn’t finish the race, we accomplished our other
better friends than when we started, all gaining respect
for each other’s abilities.
We’ve learned a lot about expedition racing.
We represented the Chicago Area Adventure Racing Association
proudly, both as strong competitors and as ambassadors
of the sport.
For a new team that has
never raced together and with no team member having
experience in races longer than 2 days, we’ve got a
lot to be proud of!
My personal challenge
for this race was to find out if I have what it takes
to compete in an expedition race. Do I have the skills, the navigational ability, the strength,
stamina, and the smarts? Can
I manage sleeplessness over a long race?
Can I lead a team through a major race?
I believe that I have proven that I can. My
perspective on racing has changed forever. Among
other things, this race has really reinforced that it
takes a team, rather than four individuals working alone,
to make it as far as we have. I’m proud
of myself and this team.
It has been a successful race!
Winds Adventures for letting us experience this
event and thanks to the Chicago
Area Adventure Racing Association for your support!
Jerry and Randy, we owe you a lot!
Winds, be ready for us in '03...we’ll see you
at the finish line!
- John Chase