Dreaming Team and ITERA 2019, Scotland

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Next week, Edinburgh-based Dreaming Team will enter ITERA 2019, a five-day adventure race in the Highlands of Scotland. The team consists of David Harcourt (captain), Simon Smith, Helen Farquhar and Megan Davey, who know one another because they all entered the Loch Gu swim-run race and are all around the same pace, though according to Megan they met in the pub and took to stalking one another on facebook.

Itera 2019 (from iter, Latin for journey with an a is for adventure) is a non-stop adventure race for mixed teams of four run over a course roughly 600 kilometres long, with shorter options for teams that don’t want to complete the full distance. The race itself begins on Monday 12th August and finishes on Friday 16th. It is non-stop and so far north there will be plenty of daylight (darkness from 10.30pm to 4am) and a few surprises along the way, including (considering Scotland’s sometimes dodgy weather) somewhere warm and dry to sleep near transitions. ITERA 2019 is part of the Adventure Race World Series. See more about ITERA 2019.

David Harcourt took time out from a holiday in France to write some thoughts before the race and then asked the team to comment (resulting in an occasional NB: from Megan). Images courtesy Dreaming Team 


Last minute team change due to injury to Simon. After some panicking we have blagged Helen’s hubby, John, that he needs to do ITERA. To be fair it has been on John’s radar for many a year. And John knows more about ITERA than the rest of us put together. Oh and John is training for the XTri ManxMan Extrem Triathlon next month…

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First a bit of Form
Dreaming Team are novices at adventure racing, but have considerable form in other areas of sport. Helen and David come from a triathlon background and have both done Celtman Xtri. Simon has a climbing background and also runs and swims. He entered Loch Gu swim-run in a team with David. Megan has a long history of ridiculous and generally wet team sports, including 19 caps for NZ women’s and age group Underwater Hockey teams. She captained the NZ Underwater Hockey Under 18 team – finest moment, a devasting 5-0 win over South Africa in 1994. It’s been downhill ever since. Although she swore she would never ever again play a sport that meant repeatedly getting wet, she transitioned to Swimrun in 2014, winning Loch Lomond Inch by Inch in 2017. She also climbs and surfs and once walked from Cape Wrath to Ullapool for a laugh. 

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Why ITERA? Why now?
David Harcourt: I found out about ITERA from Paul McGreal. He did the last ITERA in Wales and of course he runs Durty Events and is assisting with this ITERA. He told me it was coming to Scotland and that I would love it. NB Megan: I bumped into Paul at a triathlon last year, and he sort of laughed and looked a bit guilty, and said “Oh you’re doing the ITERA with Dave, are you…?”).

Purely on the strength of Paul’s recommendation I signed up as soon as entries opened, without any notion of a team – I was confident I would find 3 others. And it is in my home country – just perfect!!! It was only after entering that I began to look into what I had taken on - to be honest I still don’t really know. 

As we are all adventure racing novices we have decided to keep it unknown – obviously we have all the required kit and so we are aware it is mainly running, kayaking and mountain biking, all with navigation, but we don’t know much more than that. Having read the rules we are pretty apprehensive about teams going right through the night with just one ten minute compulsory stop. (NB Megan: I hoped there would be more swimming and less mountain biking but c’est la vie. Otherwise, I’ve read a blog and looked at some photos to see what it’s all about ).



The physical side
Personally I trainall year round and don’t do that much specific for specific events. That said, I have decreased my swimming for ITERA (actually forced upon me due to shoulder injury) replacing it with more running. Simon also trains all year round as well. Helen has been building herself back up again, quite literally, after a bad accident and several operations. Megan has been upping her cycling; she is already being a strong(NB -ish) runner (NB Megan is a rubbish cyclist which is why she does Swimrun. Her training has consisted mostly of a 25 mile daily commute to work, on an electric bike). 

We have been employing the ostrich technique when it comes to sleep deprivation, though I suspect we will need to pull our heads out of the sand on this soon. It is very much a journey into the unknown for us, but hey… that’s part of the challenge (NB Megan has tested her sleep deprivation navigation on recent trips to Assynt, the result being that she failed to find a bothy she had already visited - but at least she had the sense to know that she’d stuffed up)..

Planning and Strategies
We do not know what is coming! We will be taking lots of food (NB …and humour) and currently our thinking is to stop every night and have a proper mash-up, then put the tent up and get a few hours kip (NB yeah!!). However, we have no idea if this is realistic or even possible as there may be compulsory night sections and check points. 

We have agreed that we will go at the speed of the slowest person (NB sorry!) and not get grumpy with them… but that decision was made when we were fully slept and not starved of food…

We will take on specific tasks out on the course but what they are I think we will learn as we go…


What will be the most challenging aspect event?
We each have disciplines that we are weaker at: I know that I am not a great runner but will be strong on the bike. So the most challenging aspect may be encouraging team mates when you are strong and they are not feeling so good, without coming across as patronising or getting disgruntled.

We fully expect ITERA to be very physically challenging and hopefully we have done just enough training that our bodies will be able to cope physically. Mentally is whole other ballgame.

What are your expectations?
We are expecting great experiences being out in the wilds of Scotland for 5 days. I don’t think knowing Scotland will be an advantage, but it will definitely not hurt us that we do most of our training in Scotland and are therefore used to running and cycling in the cold and wet -  because Scotland isn’t always sunny and warm… (NB And we know about midges, though perhaps ignorance would be better…)


What does achievement look like?
We are realistic and achievement for us is aiming to finish the short course on good speaking terms and have had a good challenge.

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Beacon Adventure Racing and ITERA 2019

Beacon Adventure Racing will be one of around 40 or so teams competing in Britain’s only expedition length adventure race, ITERA, which takes place in Scotland in mid-August. The team consists  of Andy Wayland and Ross Phillips, who have raced together for many years, who are joined by Andy Woodhouse and Helen Chapman. 

ITERA 2019, staged out of the city of Inverness, is a five-day, non-stop adventure race for mixed teams of four, with disciplines including mountain biking, kayaking and hiking with complex navigation. The full course, some 600 kilometres long, will have the magnificent mountains, rivers and coastlines of the Highlands of Scotland as its backdrop and will run Monday 12th- Friday 16thAugust, when the nights will still be quite short (dark between about 1030 and 0430). The fastest teams are expect to complete the course in around 60 hours. 

ITERA is part of the Adventure Race World Series. See more about ITERA 2019. For image below courtesy ITERA/James Kirby. Others form Beacon Adventure Racing

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First a bit of Form
Andy Wayland: Beacon Adventure Racing’s original inspiration came in 2012 from watching all the episodes of Eco-Challenge on Youtube. We were not very fit, and didn’t train at all at the time, but we decided we’d have a go. This year the team comprises of Andy Wayland, 53, a Chief Technology Officer and Ross Phillips, 57, a Commercial Managing Director for large Engineering Projects, both of whom are long-standing members of the team. Then there are Andrew Woodhouse, aka Mouse, 37, a Senior Tunnelling Engineer and Helen Chapman, 38, a Licensing Manager. Helen and Andrew are regular and successful competitors in Questars and tri-adventure events – a worrying factor for the older team members…

The original team’s first multi-day adventure race was in Slovenia. Since then we have taken part in races including the infamous Raid Bimbache in Spain in 2013 (infamous because a deputy race organiser ran off with the race fees just before the start and the race organiser saved the day by bailing it out himself), the Beast of Ballyhoura in Ireland in 2014, the Basque Expedition Race in 2016 and the Czech Adventure Race in 2015 and 2017. 

The name Beacon comes from the fact that the original team, including Andy and Ross, met at the Beacon Church in Camberley. Andrew Woodhouse joined through a common involvement in Scouting (Andrew and Ross help lead Explorer Scouts, teens from 14 to 18, and get to do all the adventure stuff with them). Andrew introduced Helen from seeing her win at multiple Questars events.


Why ITERA, why now?
The main reason for entering is that it’s an excuse to get a new bike and then to have something to drop into casual conversation down the pub !  But also ITERA has a history of good races in epic locations, organised by racers. This year looks to be the best yet! We have wanted to enter another ARWS-class race for a number of years and ITERA 2019 fitted the bill. The previous ITERA races in Wales and Ireland were a great dot watching experience and clearly the organisers knew how to run an exciting and challenging event. We tend to pick one expedition race a year if we can.  We are all busy career people so that’s the maximum we can do.  The target helps focus the training.  


What are your expectations of the organisation and logistics?
I think we can already see a certain secretiveness, sense of humour, and confidence from the race organisers that bodes well for some real challenges and intuition about what makes a great adventure race.  Doubtless when we will roll over the line on Friday, making the cut-off by the skin of our teeth, it will feel like the race has wrung every ounce of energy, skill and team work from the competitors.  I think during the race we will have several breath-taking moments when we realise we are being led through a place of exceptional beauty and significance that the race designers know we will empathise with.

Having the Munroes, lochs and glens of Scotland as our adventure playground for a week is an exciting prospect, although we have speculated that we might end up floating in the mist, in the middle of Loch Ness at 3am seeing sleep-monsters or worse! Deep fried Mars Bars, Haggis and single malt whisky will have to figure in race strategy somewhere, and we will need a midge-avoidance strategy too - although racing with Andy and Ross (both midge magnets of note), Andrew and Helen will probably be totally safe.

The length of the kayaking is going to be a major challenge compared with races we’ve done in the past.  “Some” of us are looking forward to that!  Bring on Loch Ness at midnight!



What specific training have you done?
Everyone has been doing their own thing to a large extent. We’ve managed a few joint outings but not as many as we would have liked. The lifestyles and business of today make it really difficult to align calendars. We haven’t had any overnight sessions this time, nor any all-weekend sessions, in fact - in the past we have found them counterproductive because they destroyed the next few weeks of normal training 

However, between us, we have managed quite a bit of cycling… in the Dolomites, Sri Lanka, France following Tour de France, Ireland and Wales, plus the Isle of Wight Ultra and multiple Questars. Helen even cycled from her boyfriend’s home (in Devon) to her home (Berkshire) in a day. She wouldn't have minded but they were still in Devon 50 miles after starting.

Helping the new team members has really been about imparting the fact that at some stage in a long race everyone feels rubbish but you’ll get through it. If you feel like pulling out because you’re feeling bad, then sleep for a couple of hours and then re-evaluate the situation. 


What Strategies do you have?
We can all navigate to a certain extent, although I think Helen and Andrew (Mouse) will be strong choices at the start. Ross tends to get stronger the longer into the race we go. Andy will be mother hen, nagging in transition, and on drinking and eating, and challenging on the most efficient strategy.  Helen is our bet for team mule as she is probably the fittest among us! We have established food and logistics methods which break the race down into a series of tasks – with coded zip lock bags and labels.  This takes a lot of the thinking out of the transitions when you’re tired.


In the past we have tried to avoid sleeping, or just to sleep for short bursts of 15 mins, but a better strategy ended up being to grab a couple of hours at the best time, where we come across a good place to sleep. Some of our favourites over the years have included a lavender field, a Slovenian church, a collapsed barn in a storm and a bank ATM entrance!  Timing needs to fit in with the ebb and flow of the race, so we look to sleep after a particularly hard section or just before a technical piece. One thing we have learnt is sleeping in -4 degrees C up a mountain is not the best choice.

I had a good piece of advice from a friend leading up to the race when we all focussed and serious – to remember to have fun.  Helen is good at making us all laugh. But most of all it’s a team sport.  The team crosses the line together, so we need to get the best out of each other.  


What will be the most challenging aspect of the race?
One hundred kilometres of kayaking with portages has some of us worried, especially because there’s a 600m climb thrown in!!  And of course the midges.

Andy Wayland: Not knowing my daughter’s A level results and therefore whether she got into Medical School until the Friday of the race (results come out on the Thursday!)

We have learnt never to give up because, no matter how bad you feel now – in two hours you might feel totally differently. As different team members ebb in and out of strong and not so strong moments, you should keep communicating and being aware of each other.  Keep talking, keep eating and most of all keep laughing. Share food and treats as well, as this bonds the team. And never refuse a tow!


Are there any things you are particularly looking forward to?
Being totally uncontactable by work!!!


What does achievement look like?
Crossing the line together knowing we got the most out of the team as a whole.a


Team Around the Bend and Expedition Oregon 2019

Looking sensible, though perhaps Matt is wondering what he has let himself in for

Looking sensible, though perhaps Matt is wondering what he has let himself in for

Team Around the Bend are competing in Expedition Oregon 2019 and freely admit to being novices in a very technical race. Unusually for an adventure racing team they are made up of three women and one man - Sandra Uesugi, captain Megi Morishita, youngest member Libby Hayden, celebrating her 30th birthday at the time of the race, and Matt Crawford. Team Around the Bend may be new to expedition-length races, but they bring a whole host of skills and considerable experience of the backwoods. And they’re funny, too.

As the name suggests, Expedition Oregon is an expedition-length adventure race staged in the US state of Oregon. Raced by mixed teams of four (with a couple of pairs and a trio), teams can expect to cover some 400km over a maximum 4 ½ days, including pack-rafting and paddling, single track mountain biking and trekking with demanding navigation. EO 2019 is the second edition, and it is a qualifying race in the Adventure Race World Series.

See more about Expedition Oregon, including Live Tracking. And see more about the Adventure Race World Series.


First a bit of Form
Megi Morishita:  Bend born-and-raised, LIBBY is our youngest teammate.  She will turn 30 just before the race and this is her celebration!  She coaches Nordic and back-country/telemark skiing and she rock climbs. She runs for fitness, and, being 29, will kick my butt and be our mule. 


We all have a weak leg, and Libby is the first to say white water scares her. I asked what she was going to do if we flipped the packraft and swam and she replied: “I will be terrified, and then it will be over.  And I will move on.”  So, we went to the white water park to practice. Libby psyched herself up - she’s usually the one reassuring me, when I’m half way up a mountain or not feeling solid on two slippery sticks – and we practiced bow draws and low braces, how to read water, swimming safely a rapid, and then caught eddies and peeled out into the current over and over… Eventually she turned to me and said, “You realize I’ve been down this easy channel in an inner tube, right?  The reason I was psyched up was because I thought we were going down the expert channel…!” 

Well, game on!!!!   We walked the boats up to the top of the big run, looked at each other and the wave holes in the “expert-only” channel...  Libby totally trusted me and was completely ready.  We lined up to make the move around the first big hole… and flew through all the waves, flashing past a group of surfers playing in the second big hole.  Next day, she hopped in an inflatable kayak and successfully ran Big Eddy – a large class III rapid outside of Bend.  

SANDRA and I met kayaking 14 years ago. Although her main sport is really mountain biking, she is an avid rafter and has rowed the Grand Canyon three times.  She is also a Masters swimmer, who has organized SwimTrek trips for us, where we swim from island to island in Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Baja, etc. She has helped guide mountain biking events in Oakridge and raced in the High Cascades 100. With her second love of healthy food and nutrition and her background as a nurse, she enjoys cooking for the entire event.  

Her weak point? Sandra states that she would much prefer to walk around all the climbing and rappelling legs on EO.  Concerned about her fear, we went to the climbing gym… where she scrambled straight up some 5.8 climbs, without even flinching.  Definitely better to have teammates who under-sell rather than over-sell themselves!

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MATT loves skiing.  Despite working a full time job, he always finds time to backcountry ski and skate ski.  He is an experienced climber, mountaineer, and alpinist.  A paramedic by training, he has always been drawn to the rescue aspect of his technical skills and he volunteers with mountain rescue units across the state. 

Matt would say that white water is his weak leg, though he is qualified (a while back, now) and he can paddle and read water quite well, on top of his swiftwater rescue technician training as a fireman, that is.  We became friends when I posted that I wanted to put together a group for a Grand Canyon trip and he replied: “Yes please.”  In less than a year of hanging out, he has rowed my raft down class IV rapids on the Lochsa, paddled an inflatable kayak down the class IV Canyon section of the SF Payette, and jumps at any chance to get on a river trip. 

Like my two renaissance women friends above, Matt also seems to enjoy, and be talented at, every activity – alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, road cycling, climbing, running… And adventure racing!


MEGI herself: which leaves me. I have gone from being the youngest member of a LaPine race team (a four-person team, November 2018), to the oldest member of Around the Bend for Expedition Oregon. My main sport is white water kayaking, though I didn’t start until I was about Libby’s age, and now haven’t really paddled much in the last few years.  But I will always be a kayaker at heart.  Bring on some white water! I have successfully recruited three amazing teammates, not just solid as outdoors athletes, but also in their mental strength and attitudes.  All three are the type of friends who will be my mule when I’m feeling weak, make me laugh when I want to cry, and make me work harder when I’m ready to give up.  


Getting the team together
Getting this far has been quite a challenge… If it had been down to just me, I would have bailed and forfeited my $1000 registration fee, but Libby jumped on board and was confident that we could do this no matter what happened.  She didn’t care if our strategy was to skip every pro-point, though she would really like to do the lead climbing leg, even if we do nothing else. We met through work at the local Search And Rescue: when she heard me talking about the Adventure Race, she simply turned, pulled out a check, and handed it to me. Then we had to find the rest of a team…

I thought… I thought… considering our group of friends here in Bend, that we would have people literally falling at our feet WANTING to be on our team!  As it turns out, people don’t really think being miserable for five days and nights sounds like fun!  AND, they definitely don’t want to pay $1000 for the pleasure. LOL. And to think, Jason and Chelsea, the race directors and long-time professional adventure racers with Bend Racing, said they moved to Bend specifically because it was an entire town of people who could and would do adventure races! 

We asked all our friends in Search and Rescue…. No go. I taught OB Emergencies to the Bend Fire Department and spent the week meeting 10-15 firemen/paramedics at each of six sessions. Surely one of must sign up...  Several said it sounded great, but with such short notice and to spend five gruelling days/nights with people they didn’t know well… No thanks. 

Lots of friends were interested and thought it sounded amazing, but… they couldn’t take the time off of work, or didn’t have the money, or didn’t feel like they could train. And some some just thought we were plain crazy.  A couple even committed 100%, but then bailed later.  At one point we thought we had a team of four and even a fifth alternate, but even as late as mid-March, with little more than a month before the race, we were back down to just two of us! 

Surprise…! Experimental uses for bike boxes, Part 1

Surprise…! Experimental uses for bike boxes, Part 1

Libby and I had a heart-to-heart.  It felt good to hear her say the two of us could just do it ourselves...  But then we agreed that wasn’t optimal, and that there might be some raised eyebrows, if two women, both new to the sport, registered to do this very technical race as a team of two… 

I went through my kayaking friends…  but they’re in their forties, married with kids, busy with careers, moved far away, nobody actually kayaks anymore, half of us are injured... and then I remembered Sandra: she kayaks and bikes and swims and runs and would make a great teammate.  I texted her, and she texted back really interested.  She read the website, asked for one night to think about it, and sent me her registration money!  

By now we were well past the time to fill out the team registration form and pay the balance, but at least we had three solid women, so I filled out the form. For our fourth team member, I literally entered first name: “Token”, last name: “Boy” and attached photos of all the guys who had expressed interest, hoping nobody would notice. I laughed that the guys always said it was hard for them to find a “token girl” to join their team. Now I needed to find our “token boy”.  At this point, I would have taken a male or female teammate - it would have been sort of awesome to show up with four solid women - but with a fourth female teammate we wouldn’t have been co-ed. And we might have felt a lot of pressure to prove ourselves then… 

Fortunately Matt, who actually did a short adventure race at Smith Rock a few years back, was prepared to join the team.  He said ‘No’ multiple times (work schedule, cost, training…), but made the mistake of saying that IF someone bailed last minute AND my fifth alternate teammate couldn’t do it, THEN, and ONLY then, would he help us out. And here we were, just weeks before the race, without a fourth teammate. Matt finally acquiesced. Secretly he wanted to do the race the entire time, of course.

When I told him I wasn’t able to edit the registration form, he said he was fine with being called “Token”. Straight from South Park, and I didn’t even know it!


 Why Expedition Oregon? Why now?
Together with Chris, my original partner-in-crime - who had to bail for family reasons – I had so much fun in our first adventure race in 2018 that we planned on doing all the shorter races last year.  We looked up the 5-hour Brain Freeze in March and 6-hour Spring Sting in April, both hosted here locally, and we thought that we might even be ready to try a 24-hour race later in the year… 

Then, that December, we learned that Bend was hosting the first-ever Adventure Racing World Series event. While I hadn’t planned on jumping from a 6-hour race to a 5-day race, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.  We could participate in a World Series race with a little home-field advantage, knowing the terrain and climate around here, not having to buy plane tickets or ship bikes or book hotel rooms, and we had an endless supply of local friends who would be great for the team.  So Chris and I decided to register even though we didn’t have a team yet, and had come in last place on our one-and-only 6-hour adventure race!

Why now?  Well, we’re not getting any younger!  I spent decades working well over 100 hours a week but realized there was so much more I wanted to do during my lifetime. My father had a heart attack and stroke the year after he retired and wasn’t able to ski and play golf as he had planned and my department chair in residency also blew his knee before retiring so there was no more skiing for him. As a medical student I went to India to volunteer nearly 25 years ago, and I remember someone saying “Americans live to work. In India, we work to live.”  Time for a change… 

Some confusion in direction? Or just some upstream paddling…

Some confusion in direction? Or just some upstream paddling…

The physical side
We all work, and none of us really hung out together before becoming a team and anyway Sandra lives on the other side of the Cascade mountains in the Valley, but we have gotten together as much as we can - in various combinations of current teammates and past potential teammates - just generally making sure to get outside.   

Biking has been hard this year because of the crazy snowpack east of the Cascades, though Sandra has been riding all winter west of the mountains, where they don’t get snow.  Libby, Matt, and I have been skiing: Libby and I did an overnight and skinned 9 hours into the mountains to practice putting up our shelters in the cold and dark, cooking a quick meal, lying down in zero degree temps for a couple of hours, and breaking camp in the dark before pushing forward for another 9 hours the next day.  My feet still haven’t really recovered.  I’ve always known that my feet and my difficulty sleeping were the two things I needed to be attentive to during the race, and that definitely was the case in our overnight training.  

Libby made tracks for the entire 18 hours of skinning.  On a separate ski trip when I was mentally and physically exhausted from tumbling down Tumalo bowl, Matt had me giggling all the way back up for a second easier lap down the other side.  Sandra dragged me out on a mountain bike ride to trial our packs and helmets and to test when and how much to eat before a big uphill climb.  


Planning and Strategies
As for roles, Libby is a silent performer.  She is excited to lead climb and would also like to do some of the navigating.  Matt has a lot of navigation experience – we believe that his being a calm and calculated person can help us go further than we would otherwise.  I really love maps and learning navigation though I haven’t had to use it much - when kayaking a river we tend to just follow the flow!.  

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We know we will be moving slower than other teams, and at the same time, we think we will need more sleep.  So, our strategy will be to skip points to keep up, and to carry sleeping gear we will need if we camp out. Which will weigh us down of course, so we’ll have to play it by ear once we learn the distances and get the maps.  It’s very exciting!

Sandra will be feeding all of us. She loves this stuff, which is great, because if it were left to me we’d eat just jerky, dried mangoes, and Pringles! A friend of ours owns Food for the Sole, a new locally-made dehydrated meal brand, which can provide tasty meals with hot or cold water, so we’ll be having kale and quinoa and sweet potatoes with Asian slaw.

What will be the most challenging aspect event?
We all are athletic, outdoorsy, and have good mental endurance.  We’ve all done long trips in the wilderness before… However, we’re not endurance athletes, so I think we all agree that fitness and training are a concern, not to mention five days of gruelling physical exertion without adequate sleep. Hey, you need more sleep as you get older!  It’s also complicated coordinating a team when one person is exhausted and wants to sleep, while another isn’t tired at all and won’t be able to sleep at that moment anyway. I think we’re all good team players and good at looking out for others, but maintaining that when you’re exhausted and in pain is a different game.  Feet, sleep, cold… 

I hope none of us get an injury and have to quit, and that’s not that improbable considering our age and level of training.  Just to mention my injuries - I have a sprained ankle from 2 years ago that nags in snowshoes, tendonitis from climbing, lower back injury from carrying a heavy pack up Misery Ridge at Smith Rock a year ago, foot pain from 18 hours in ski boots…. 

Pushing ourselves to our limit while being able to recognize our limits will be challenging, especially because it’s about your whole team not just yourself.  But that’s what makes it amazing as well. 



What are your general expectations?
I think you get the character of our team.  We don’t want to take ourselves or the race too seriously, while, at the same time, we want to take it very seriously.  This is a big physical and mental challenge for anyone and we have each had plenty of moments when we wonder if we should have committed, in fact whether we ought to be doing this sort of thing at all.  That’s why my favorite expression has become “This will be more of an adventure than a race!” 

As we mentioned above, we know that we are the runt in this race.  When the race director suggested you interview Emily - captain of Quest AR, one of the most established teams and the near winner of EO last year – alongside us - the newest and greenest team on the roster - Matt said: “They want to interview the team that might win the race, and the team that probably won’t finish!”  I think we all have a good attitude and realistic expectations. 

We aren’t trying to win, and because we won’t be able to keep up with the professional teams we plan on skipping all the pro points, and strategically we will probably skip some mandatory points as well, what we need to do just for the joy of being able to continue racing until the end.  We’re hoping this will be fun, though we also know that it will mostly be “Type III” fun.  We think we will be winning if you catch us smiling after the race has ended.

What does success look like?
We would love to “finish”, though “finish” for us just means racing until the last day and, hopefully, crossing the finish line. Even if the race directors deem that we must skip a leg to keep up with the others, if we are still in the race until the end, and still friends, and talking to each other, and able to smile through the pain and cheer the other racers on, I think then we will all feel accomplished and proud of each other, and consider ourselves winners! 

In fact I feel like registering a success already – I’ve trained more in the last four months than I would have otherwise, and I’m hanging out with similar-minded friends and enjoying life more because of the upcoming race.  Even if something happened and the race didn’t happen, it has already been a success in my mind!


Team Quest AR enters Expedition Oregon 2019


Team Quest AR, drawn from nine adventure racers from the Puget Sound area of Washington, are entering Expedition Oregon 2019. The team for the event consists of Emily Casiera and Dusty Casiera, who have raced together for more than five years, and Jason Popilsky and Chad Spence, both of whom have long AR experience. After a very close run in Expedition Oregon 2018, which all went wrong in the last few hours, leaving them in third place, the team is looking forward to getting out there again this year. They took time out to answer questions below as they set off on the race.

Expedition Oregon is an expediton-length adventure race for mixed teams of four (with some places for pairs and trios), held in the north-western US state of Oregon. The 20 or so teams, from Canada, France, Sweden, Argentina and of course the States, can expect a highly technical 250 miles course which will include white-water paddling, single-track mtb, hiking lava fields and ropework as well as demanding navigation. Teams have 4 ½ days to complete the course and the winners are expect to finish in 72 hours. This is the second time Expedition Oregon has been staged and it is a qualifying race on the Adventure Race World Championships.

See more about Expedition Oregon, including live tracking and about the Adventure Race World Series.

First a bit of Form
Emily Casiera: Quest Racing was started by Brent Molsberry several years ago. As a former competitor in Primal Quest, he decided to organize a local adventure race out in the San Juan Islands to get others into the sport. Dusty and I entered and ended up winning a spot at USARA Nationals - since we needed a third team member, we got Brent himself to race with us. The team now has 9 members, all of which are from the Puget Sound area, and the majority from Bellingham. 


The first race for Dusty and me as part of Quest was at Krank Events’ Cle Elum 24 in 2014, as our warm-up for Nationals that fall. We placed 1st in Cle Elum and 6th at USARA Nationals. The following year we raced the Bend 24. Godzone 2016 was our first expedition-length race (Editor: Wow, some first race…!). A couple of fellow Western Washington ultra-runner/ultra-adventurers (Gavin and Richard) asked us if we would like to race since we had some AR experience. We had a great race in Queenstown, despite our inexperience as a team over the distance.

It got us fired up for more expedition-length races, so when the ARWS World Championships were held in Wyoming the following year, we were able to race with our fellow Quest teammates, Brent and Annie Molsberry. Unfortunately that race didn’t turn out to be our best performance, …but we learned a lot about nav, fuelling, managing nagging muscles, and how to find shelter in an open field in the middle of a lightning storm (use your packraft as a tent!).

Expedition Oregon 2018 was our third race for the Quest Team (first for Mitch Harter, a fellow Quest teammate). We raced to our potential and led the field for the majority of the competition. Finishing third was a bit of a let-down to say the least, but things happen… especially when there is excessive heat, low water intake, and lack of sleep. Needless to say, we learned to pay better attention to our cognition levels and for the team to be more aware of where they are and where we are headed.


Why Expedition Oregon, why now?
As veterans of the Bend AR, when rumours surfaced of an expedition race coming down the pike, we were ready to sign up as soon as it became a reality. Having an awesome expedition race within driving distance for us is huge.

Jason: My first 24hr was Bend AR, so I'm fond of Bend Racing courses and I love the area. 

: Emily and I raced Expedition Oregon last year and have raced several other Bend Racing events over the years.  They are some of the best events we've done anywhere in the world and are always high quality, challenging, and well-organized.

Is there some unfinished business…?
Emily: YES. After some mishaps at last year’s race, we have some unfinished racing to do!



What training have you done for the event?
Emily: Dusty and I have been training over the winter. Not super-specific training, but just making sure to stay healthy, lift regularly, get time on our butts in boats and on bikes, and time on our feet. We have ramped it up the past couple of months, getting our backs ready for heavier packs, doing more paddling and more rock climbing. Dusty has been focussing particularly on nav, by competing in orienteering events.

Chad: With a busy family and demanding job, training is squeezed in whenever possible. Weekend warrior stuff when time allows, and when it doesn’t, on the basement trainer after the kids go to bed.

Jason: Mainly run, bike, bushwhack, with an occasional paddle.  Just trying to have fun in the woods and pushing myself.


And planning?
Emily: Dusty and I work together all of the time with planning and training and we make a good team. We haven’t worked with Jason and Chad as team before, but they have huge experience, so we hope that we will work pretty well together.


What will be the most challenging thing? And what team challenges do you foresee?
Emily: Whitewater packrafting. I would like to say I/we have worked really hard to improve this this year, but we haven’t had as much time as in previous years, especially since the race is earlier. Bend Racing always throws some tough water in the mix, so I have been working on at least mentally prepping for it.

Dusty: It's tough to pick one thing, but I think the length of the race, combined with the necessity to repeatedly adapt to unforeseen challenges along the way, is the biggest challenge I anticipate going into any expedition race.

Chad: We haven’t raced together before, so quickly learning how each teammate ticks, so we can work together efficiently.

Jason: Just doing an Expedition this time of year is a challenge.  We are still in winter at home.

At the Adventure Race World Series in Wyoming, 2017

At the Adventure Race World Series in Wyoming, 2017

What roles do you have in planning and on the ground?
Emily: Dusty is a really good communicator and researcher. He is usually the main nav. I try and help fill in gaps where I can and manage logistics for the team. Jason and Chad both have nav experience and are experienced racers, so they will be a big help to Dusty with the maps and be good teammates on the ground. We will see where our roles end up as we get into the race.

Jason:  whatever the team needs.  Navigation, back up nav, mule, and sometimes my job is just to hang on! 

Racing Primal Quest

Racing Primal Quest

What does success look like?
Emily: Pushing past limits as a team and individually, while keeping communication amongst teammates open and understanding when things get tough.

Also crossing the finish line with confidence knowing that you did as much as you could to help your team reach their potential.

Dusty: Reaching the finish line as a complete team, still friends, and feeling good about the effort we just put in and what we accomplished.  Placing high is ideal, but isn't solely how I measure success.

Jason: Finishing and having fun, but also getting on the podium.

Chad: Great memories with team goals achieved.


Just Back from IGO Montana 2018

Gemma Sisson, 28, took part in IGO W114 in September 2018, a four-day staged multisport adventure held in Montana. She runs her own cake-making business, the Kitchen Mixer, based in Buckinghamshire and wasn’t much accustomed to the outdoors, nor had she taken much exercise in the years before entering, but she wanted an adventure, so she entered the race and organised a programme of fitness to get ready for it.

IGO W114 is held each year around Whitehorse in Montana, on the edges of Glacier National Park. It is a staged race of four to eight hours of activity each day: Day 1 is a run-swim-run, Day 2 a 63km mountain bike ride with 3000 feet of ascent, Day 3 a paddle on the Flathead River and Day 4 a 40 km run into Whitehorse.

All photos courtesy IGO Adventures. See more about IGO Adventures.


Why IGO W114? Why now?
Gemma Sisson: Having invested a lot of time over the last five years into growing my company, I wanted 2018 to be more about personal satisfaction and finding that seemingly elusive work/life balance. I had been very non-committal when it came to exercise before signing up, and so IGO Montana offered a perfect challenge; the opportunity to take part in something out in the wild and an excellent focus outside work. I wasn't looking for a competitive race so IGO's ethos of "compete or complete" really captured me.

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What makes IGO Montana special?
If I had to use one word to describe Montana it would be Majestic! Second to that, Vast. Being surrounded by the mountains and Glacier National Park is really special and camping in the wilderness whilst being off-grid really is something to relish too. It certainly makes you appreciate the natural beauty around you.

There was a calmness in camp and in a way the chilly evenings added to the atmosphere. We sat around the camp fire with fellow camp mates (and crew), who we had only met a few days before, but already we felt like we knew each other from previous adventures.

A shared experience creates a common bond. The camaraderie of cheering everyone into camp each day is a testament to what a great team we became. It still brings a smile to my face. I won't forget fellow participant Tim, perched on a log down the hill from the finish line, shouting words of encouragement to keep us going for the final few metres of the first day. For me, that really captures the essence of IGO. All in it together.

The temperature took us slightly by surprise. The week before our arrival, Whitehorse had sunny skies and warm temperatures. Roll forward to the 'Brits' arrival and the temperature plummeted - maybe to make us feel more at home?! Rob, a local guy in charge of all camp logistics confirmed it was unseasonably cold.


Gemma and others on bike (2).jpg

Was the course like?
IGO W114 is a perfect mix of disciplines and the order of the days worked well. The kayaking came in between two days of endurance running and cycling, so it was ideal for resting the legs. The route was laid by expedition leader Bobby and when I found myself alone on the course, it gave a great sense of comfort to see his signs or markers on the ground.

Having never undertaken such a challenge or adventure like this before, I wasn't sure of what to expect, but the whole process ran seamlessly - a testament to the crew and all that went on behind the scenes. They became just as much part of the team, especially in the evenings when we sat and shared our stories from the day.


Did you get your training and preparation right?
I trained for 6 months prior to the trip. My main focus was to complete the course and to enjoy it as I went, rather than to worry about how fast I got round. I really was starting from scratch so I enlisted the help of a triathlete coach who guided me through swimming, cycling and running and showed me how to train for endurance.

I had never been opening water swimming, let alone owned a wetsuit, yet I found myself thriving in the new experiences of training and getting fitter. Open water swimming has been a revelation and I love the sense of freedom it gives you.

Preparing for the event also involved getting a kit list together. Although this can seem like a never ending collection, I broke the list down into what I would need for each day and made sure I was covered for all weathers. It is not essential to have your own wetsuit but I am glad I did as it was great for practice. Bikes and kayaks are provided out there.

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What was the most challenging moment on the course?
The mountain bike was due to be my most challenging discipline - a 63km leg, the first half of which was uphill. And I had only invested in a bike five months prior to the trip in an effort to get some training in. I was cycling with Mark and going uphill for three hours without a break was not only a test of our physical ability, but a real test of mental fortitude. Still, each pedal stroke got us closer to the top of Mt Werner…


Was there a particularly special moment?
…where we realised just how far we had come - over 3000ft. In that moment we were surrounded by a herd of deer. Just us, two bikes and the wildlife atop the mountain peak, with trees and mountains as far as the eye could see. Of-course we still had to get all the way back down. And it was fair to say after six gruelling hours in the saddle, cycling through what felt like three different seasons in a day and a torrential rain storm for the last 15km, I was quite emotional when I crossed the finish line. This amateur cyclist had done it (in her own time)!


And crossing the finish line at the finish of the event too I really was overcome - after six months spent preparing mentally and physically, this was the reality of completing the race and overcoming the challenge. My teammates welcomed me over the line with open arms and huge grins on their faces. For a moment in time we had all removed ourselves from our usual lives and embraced a transformative wilderness experience. A collective group of strangers at the start of the week, we were now friends and teammates who had made it through together.

Finally, swimming across Whitefish Lake, I found myself physically having to stop to absorb the moment. I was in the middle of the pack and I could see orange swim hats bobbing in front of me and behind. IGO Montana was underway and it all seemed slightly surreal.


What did you learn?
IGO Adventures really did give me a good taste of the outdoors and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience... To complete the race you need to have a basic level of fitness but you don’t need to be a pro by any means. An enthusiastic attitude and a willingness to try will get you just as far! It is all about positive, mental attitude. As participants we all had different levels of fitness across a range of ages, but there we were at the finish line having all completed the four days start to finish.

Cycling will always be my nemesis, there is only so much peddling my legs want to do.


Write here…

Just Back from... Basque Expedition Race 2018

Tom Davies and Gary Davies competed in the Basque Expedition Race 2018, held in mid-October around Valdegovia in the mountains of northern Spain. Staged for the second time – the inaugural event was held in 2016 - the course was 290 kilometres long with approximately 11,000 metres of ascent, and included the regular disciplines of mountain biking, trekking/running and kayaking, as well as complex navigation. This year, however, it also included two new disciplines – via ferrata* and stand up paddling (SUP). There were categories for mixed teams of four (Expedition) and unusually for Pairs (Adventure class).  

Davies and Davies (no relation) competed as a pair - taking 60 hours and 43 minutes to cover the course. They placed first of the two finishing pairs in the Adventure category.

The team is sponsored by Endurancelife and also by Montane and 2XU, who assist in equipment and clothing.

See more about the Basque Expedition Race. *And for more information about via ferratas, see here. These fixed line trekking/mountaineering routes with high safety levels open up difficult climbing, often with massive ‘exposure’, routes that otherwise might be inaccessible to inexperienced climbers.

The hard yards - Gary and Tom on the Leg 1 climb, c Basque Expedition Race

The hard yards - Gary and Tom on the Leg 1 climb, c Basque Expedition Race


First a bit of Form
Gary Davies: Tom and I raced together (in team of four) earlier this year at Expedition Africa in Namaqua, South Africa (see Gary’s extraordinary race report) and also at the ROC Mountain Marathon (as a pair), two weeks prior to the Basque race. The latter was good practice, with lots of time on our feet and technical navigation/orienteering in the mountains. It also enabled us to practice working as a pair and to determine our roles. We assigned Tom as primary navigator for the Basque race with me supporting, doing other navigation duties such as pacing, time keeping and measuring our ascent/descent.

Tom mentioned the Basque race soon after Expedition Africa in May. We knew that we might struggle to find a female member from our squad to race with us (due to work commitments), so I suggested we enter as a pair - the organisers offer this option, which is not usual in multi-day adventure races – and we jumped at the opportunity.

Neither of us had participated in the Basque Expedition Race before, nor even raced in Spain. However, our friend Adam Rose had – and he did warn us that there would be some steep and technical terrain...


Tom and the dry, challenging terrain

Tom and the dry, challenging terrain

What was the race like?
The main features of the Basque Expedition Race are the amount of ascent/descent, the steep technical gradients, the difficult technical navigation and the lack of surface water (for drinking) despite enormous amounts of vegetation! Navigation is key to success in the race: paths exist in some areas but not in others and so calculated risks - going in a straight line between checkpoints – were advantageous in some places but not elsewhere.

It rained in the second half of the race and given our experience in Expedition Africa (where we lost seven hours due to a broken rear mech) we were wary of the same happening again, so we were deliberately cautious going through the mud.

While the Basque Expedition Race is ‘short’ compared to some multi-day expedition races, pace alone will not determine the winners. The race started at 1700 on the Friday evening which meant that we had approximately three hours of sunlight (and heat) before it got dark. The pace at the start of the race was fast but Tom and I deliberately held back from going over the ‘red line.’ The first leg (trek) had almost 3000m of ascent/descent, the majority of which was done at night, so we knew it would be wise to concentrate on getting the navigation right while keep our intensity fairly uniform.


Winners Adventure/Pairs category

Winners Adventure/Pairs category

Fourteen orienteering maps were handed to us approximately two hours before the race and they included over 100 checkpoints! There were 8 legs (three trek, three MTB, one kayak/SUP and one via ferrata) and the checkpoints were in linear format. Two methods were used to confirm that we visited them; some required photographic evidence and others required the use of SportIdent dibbers.

We decided to carry 2 x 750ml bottles for each leg and not to carry more capacity. However we soon discovered that drinking water was sparse out on the course, limited to infrequent water troughs (near springs) and/or village supplies. We had to ration our drinking to short sips and there were two occasions where I didn’t drink any water for hours. I was so desperate at one point that I even used a muddy puddle to fill a bottle; I treated this water of course.

One night we spent over thirty minutes in a village trying to find water. Each house seemed to have very angry guard dogs, which were barking loudly – one had several dogs barking and biting one another, which resulted in lots of yelps of pain! Luckily we found a water source on the outskirts of that village before ascending to the next checkpoint.


Were there differences in racing as a pair?
Racing in a pair instead of a traditional mixed team of four over this length of time is different. The likelihood of something going wrong is higher in a team of four (e.g. personal injury, mechanical breakdowns), purely based on the larger number of people/factors. However when things go wrong, it helps to have more people and potentially a wider base of skills to deal with it.


One of the challenges in a team of four is to ensure that everybody feels that they have a role in the team. It is very easy for two or three people to have something to do (e.g. navigation) but for the other members to feel that they are spare parts. This is generally not a problem in a pair.

I enjoy racing with Tom as he’s a very good navigator and is always keen to keep moving and it worked well to be supporting him with other navigational roles such as pacing and working on the altimeter. We suffer at different times from the ‘graveyard shift’ (i.e. the moment when your brain wants to shut down during night), so I would take over the navigational and ‘driving’ duties until Tom managed to battle through and shake it off. 


How were the race organisation and logistics?
The race organisation was excellent. The maps were excellent quality both for their accuracy and their durability (tough waterproof paper). We learned after the race that Urtzi Iglesias (Race Director) had personally spent several days in the areas where the participants were likely to be and he updated the maps himself. The checkpoint descriptions were accurate and the SportIdent checkpoints were located accurately too; this a sign of a good Race Director and team. Cristina is the other side of the organisational team and was instrumental before and during the event.

The pre-race information was good and we were picked up from/to the airport and transferred to the race HQ for registration, kit checks, skill tests and briefings etc.


Tom Davies on a SUP

Tom Davies on a SUP

What was the most challenging aspect of the event?
Tom and I had done very little time on a SUP board before the race; mine was limited to 20 minutes during the summer! We both struggled to keep the boards going in a straight line on the first section of the SUP leg albeit Tom was better than I due to his misspent youth on a snowboard! I decided to go on my knees after about 2km (into 7km leg) as I was far more stable and able to keep in a straight line and thus move forward faster. As it turned out, our leg times for SUP weren’t that much longer than the more capable teams, which was surprising.

I had never done ‘via ferrata’ previously either, though Tom had. Even he said that the section in the Basque Expedition race 2018 was technically challenging. It included a traverse along the top of a knife edge ridgeline for several hundred metres, with a vertical drop either side! Crib Goch (Snowdon, North Wales) has nothing on the Basque via ferrata.


And the best moment?
The biggest ‘oh dear’ moment in the race was during Leg 2 when I realised that the checkpoint description booklet was no longer on my MTB map board. We had travelled several kilometres and descended several hundred metres since the previous checkpoint where I had used it too! It may have been dislodged from my map board when I was ‘kicked out’ of my saddle (after riding over a boulder on a very technical steep descent) and landed on the map board! Anyway, Tom and I agreed not to go back as I still had the photo booklet (which contained photos of non-dibber checkpoints) and we thought the majority of the checkpoints on the leg should be easy to find as they were on clear ground/map features. However we weren’t sure how we would get on for the remaining legs!

So our best moment in the race came a while later, when we bumped into another team and asked if we could photograph their description booklet. Luckily they obliged!


The via ferrata on the knife-edge ridgeline, courtesy Basque Expedition Race

The via ferrata on the knife-edge ridgeline, courtesy Basque Expedition Race

How did you get on ?
We started out pretty well and were yo-yoing with other top teams (fours and pairs) on the Leg 1 trek as we all made different route choices with different degrees of success. This leg was anticipated to last around 12 hours for the fastest team, so we were delighted to do it in a couple of hours less than that - and to find ourselves in the top five at the first transition. As the race progressed, the teams spread out and we saw very little of them except during the transitions.

The muddy terrain was a challenge, particularly following the rainfall in the second half of the race and after our experience in Expedition Africa we were deliberately cautious. Even so, the mud stuck to our tyres and drivetrains, making some sections of the MTB legs unrideable. We ended up having to carry the (now heavy) bikes, even down some shallow descents.  

Even after the muddy sections the issues continued. Our chains and derailleurs were full of mud, resulting in ‘chain-suck’ and kinking our chains. We were reluctant to use our drinking water (if we had any) to clean the drivetrain because of the lack of suitable re-supply, so Tom even tried peeing on my chain once to clean it! Later we found a big water trough and dunked the bikes and removed as much mud and weight as possible before the next climb.

It was great winning the Pairs/Adventure category in a starting field of 13 pairs and to place third overall (i.e. including teams of four in the Expedition category). There were two other very good pairs in the race and for a while all three of us were in contention for podium positions. Then one of the teams retired, so we ended up head-to-head with the third team, exchanging first place (in the Pairs category) through the second half of the race. But finally we managed to pull ahead, gaining a four hour lead by the end of the race. We believe this happened for two reasons: first we had a very good quality sleep (2 hours, our only sleep during race) on the second night in a small timber shed; and second our navigation was probably better.

Pairs/Adventure category winners podium

Pairs/Adventure category winners podium

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Expedition Africa 2018 Namaqualand: A Novice Team's Account

Team Sleepy Dragons took part in Expedition Africa in Namaqua earlier this year. The 530 kilometre multi-day event was their first full-length adventure race – prior to that they had raced only single day races - so it was a big undertaking and of course it took them for the first time into new domains such as sleep deprivation and multi-day planning.  But it’s funny how addictive the sport can be… and it wasn’t long after the end of the race that they found themselves dreaming of the next event. Below, team Captain David Naylor talks about their race.


About the illustrations: Diane Shearer, a member of Team Sleepy Dragons, is an artist who specialises in landscapes and the outdoors. She has drawn a number of pictures inspired by the race and the Namaqua area on the west coast of South Africa where the race was held, and we are pleased to illustrate this article with them. See more about Diane Shearer and her work.

And see more about Expedition Africa.


What was Expedition Africa 2018 like?
David Naylor: #ExpAfrica was our first long-distance adventure race.  We had previously done a few ~120km races but never before did we have to worry about budgeting sleep (we’ve never needed to sleep on a race before), taking enough food with us or blister management. The race taught us so much.

Namaqualand had been going through a drought just before we started the race, however on the very first day inclement weather rolled in.  During the week of the race the area experienced more rain than in the previous 3 years.  And we dodged all of it! 

Olifants River

Olifants River

It was a beautiful race, with wonderful people at the transitions, keeping the spirits up and the fires warm. The legs were long and so we often went many hours without seeing another soul. At the end of the event, after a good sleep, we were already excited to do the next race.  We wanted to improve upon what we had learned. 

Finishing the race was a moment in itself - the vibe at the finish line was awesome. 

Random Thought
## Adventure racing isn't only about the good and beautiful moments, but also about pushing yourself through tough times. 


Did you get your Training and Planning right?
The fourth leg - the first and longest cycle - spanned nine 1:50,000 maps.  Once we had plotted our route, we had to cut up the map as it wouldn't all fix in the map sleeve.  So, during this leg we had to periodically stop and fish out another section of the map.  That was a first! 

##Training - More training, lots more training, over longer distances! 


What team Strategies did you use?
#Pacing - We had been warned about setting a pace that was too fast, so we did the opposite and went too slowly.  Next time we will focus more on setting a good sustainable pace.  We will also cut down on the number of rests we have. There is no need for a 5 minute break every 45 minutes. 

## Food - Make sure you take a variety of food.  You will get tired of anything after a while.  Our navigator had packed too many cashew nuts and ended up a cashew nut merchant, desperately trading them for anything that wasn't cashew nuts. 

Maskam Mountain

Maskam Mountain

#Things get surreal - On the 6th day we found ourselves with a short ~50km cycle to the finish line.  We set off and soon found ourselves in beach-quality sand, on the top of Gifberg Pass.  Alas, someone was negligent and failed to include the ocean.  So, through soft sand, comical moments of falling over, and sheer pain, we came to the end of Gifberg. 

#Hike a Bike - Despite avoiding the hike-a-bike mud nightmare (see below) we did end up hiking our bikes over fences and up a hill at one point in the middle of the night, as our navigator took us on a scenic "shortcut". 

#The end is magical - As we cycled down the last pass, we could see the fields of Namaqualand, and a road cutting straight across those fields into the horizon.  That straight road was our route home, and what a beautiful sight it was.  After 6 days, 127 hours of racing, less than 20 hours of sleep, the end was in sight. 

Was there a particularly special moment?
There were so many memorable moments, but here are a couple:



#Cycling alongside a coal train - On the fourth leg part of our route took us alongside some train tracks and while we were cycling, during the night, a train passed us - except it was so long that it took a good ten+ minutes to pass.  Never have I seen such a long train – there were packs of locomotives at the front, middle and back.  The train passed us in the darkness, with nothing else to keep us company except the rattle of the bikes on the dirt road and the clinking of the wires above the train tracks. 

#A Party at the top of Hel's Pass - It happened that our navigator had his 30th birthday during the race, on a day when we had a major route decision to take.  Stephan (the race director) had given the teams an option for one of the CP points: either a shorter route that involved a hike-a-bike section of ~1km (Option A), or add 20km to the distance but avoid the hike-a-bike (Option B).  Both options involved an equivalent amount of elevation. 

We chose the long way around, and luckily that was the right option for us – it turned out that rain had flooded the plains on Option A, turning the route into a multi-kilometer hike-a-bike slog through mud. And that was before the real hike-a-bike section up the narrow pass.  Taking Option B – and unknowingly dodging the mud – we had mostly dry tracks up Hel's Pass.  And so, on the 3rd morning we found ourselves at the top of Devil's Pass with a little cake, a candle and a mini bottle of Amarula to celebrate our navigator's 30th.  What a sweet moment! 

#At the Finish - Getting back to our lodge on the evening we finished and turning on a cellphone for the first time in a week - and seeing a flood of over 600 messages on the Sleepy Dragon Whatsapp group discussing our progress throughout the race and messages of congratulations - made us realise that although we felt very alone at stages of the course, our trusty dot-watchers had been with us all the way.



Tip Top Tips - What did you learn?
Normally we include Tip Top Tips elsewhere, but as this is the view of a team on their first major race, we decided to include them here.

After walking for miles over quartz rocks and cycling for 36 hours at as stretch, were learned some key lessons - wear double socks for long treks and carry spare socks to allow yourselves to have some time with dry feet (say after sleeping). On long cycle rides wear double cycling pants.

#Other Random notes
 - Sleeping at transition may be more comfortable, but it’s a lot noisier
 - David has back problems and a back rest on the kayak leg was essential (and likely a life saver). 
 - Time your stops! 
 - Sometimes compasses invert (especially if you have a magnetic camel pack), look out for a "slow" compass that confuses the navigator. 

You can read David Naylor and Sleepy Dragon’s thoughts before they set off for the race here.



And here are Diane’s images held in situ. The race course took them from the coast around Dooringbaai, inland on the Olifants River and then south to Sneeukop in the Cederberg mountains and then via Gifberg to the finish


Team Ertips win AR Croatia

Leading French adventure race team Ertips recently won the inaugural ARC Adventure Race Croatia by a considerable margin. The 350km race, which was held in Zadar, with its extraordinary ‘karst’ limestone terrain, saw 20 teams compete over 17 legs of sea kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, gorge walking, ropework and of course, demanding navigation.

IMG_6714 (2).jpg

Adventure Race Croatia was a demonstration race within the ARC calendar, and the winning team was awarded a free entry to this year’s Adventure Race World Championships – the Raid in France, to be held in early November in the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean.

Team Ertips has been winning races in various incarnations for more than 20 years, since the days of the original adventure race, the Raid Gauloises. They covered the course of the ARC in just over 56 hours, five hours faster than their nearest rivals, Team Intersport from Slovenia. On this occasion the team members included Sam Hubert, Clement Eldin, Stephanie Bianchi, David Barranger. Sam Hubert, captain of Team Ertips, tells us about their race.

See more about Adventure Race Croatia and more about Raid in France, this year’s Adventure Racing World Championships.


First a bit of Form
Sam Hubert: I have been captain of the ERTIPS Team for 13 years and I have competed with all three other team members over the years, but this was the first time that the four of us have entered an adventure race of this length together.

David and I are the most experienced racers in the team and we have competed in six world championships together, as well as in many other adventure races. It was Clem and Steph’s second major adventure race. Team ERTIPS has won lots of races over recent years, but it would be fair to say that the ARC was one of our favourite victories.


08 Vido_evi_.jpg

What was ARC 2018 like?
The ARC 2018 was a proper adventure race. It was quite short, obviously (and that’s why we choose it), but the balance between the activities was good and the 17 legs gave the race a good rhythm, and it enabled us not to fall asleep !  One of the aims of Igor Dorotic (the race organiser) in his course design was to take us through some historic parts of Croatia, so for instance that’s how we ended up on the Velebit Road, an old Roman road that links the sea and the mountains.

The mountain bike sections were not that technical, but the treks were really demanding and pretty unforgiving - you really didn’t want to make a mistake out there - a fall could have been really dramatic ! Also, as it turned out, our two sea kayak legs took place at night and the navigation was challenging.

What makes ARC special?
It’s important to know that terrain in this part of Croatia is extremely hard going. You had to be a real mountain goat to get through the hiking legs. We suspected this before the race – and we even found some similar rocky terrain in which to train. It was definitely worth it !

During Leg 7 particularly, you really had to get your navigation absolutely spot on – it was necessary to strike out away from the paths. In fact this turned out to be a key point in the race, and it enabled us to build up a lead on the other teams.



Was the course a success?
For a first race, the ARC was definitely a success ! Maps, check points, check point photos and the organisation were almost perfect. I say almost, as there are a few small things that they could do to improve, but we would like to emphasise what a big, big job Igor and his team undertook and how accomplished it was.


Did Ertips get training and planning right?
We have plenty of experience, obviously, so we train individually and this time, in order to get ready for the race, we entered just a single, one-day adventure race in France in early September.

David and I are the team navigators and when one of us is leading, the other verifies his decisions. Steph is in charge of the sleeping time, which is a crucial job, because in the third night, we were so tired that we could have slept on and on! Clem was in charge of the control-book … No mistakes are permitted in that job :-)



How long did you sleep? Team strategies?
Before the race we decided that we wouldn’t sleep on the first night, and then that we would take a minimum of an hour’s rest during the second night, and this is exactly what we did. It was particularly good rest because we found a refuge on Leg 7 to sleep in. On the last night we slept twice for 10 minutes and that was all we needed.

Our strategies worked pretty well in the race itself. We were pleased that we managed to navigate pretty accurately and to keep our race rhythm – if the weather’s hot it’s important not to push too hard so that you don’t dehydrate, because you will always pay for it later.

We can always improve though. We lost about 10 minutes during the first sea kayak leg, when we had our heading out by a few degrees for a whole hour. Also, in the final moments of mountain bike leg, which we did during the night, we made some small mistakes. However, we were lucky that this didn’t make a difference.


What was the most challenging moment for the team?
Probably leg 7, the hiking leg in the Crnopac Mountains. It was only 15km long, but the terrain was brutal karst limestone and it was like a labyrinth weaving around the outcrops, so the navigation was really tough. We expected to be doing the leg by night, which would have been really hard, but we were lucky and we made it through the difficult bit by dusk.



Was there a particularly special moment?
The sunset on the third evening was beautifully red and we were confident about the biking and kayaking legs to come, so that’s when we began to scent a possible victory. So that was a good moment. Also, when we got through the difficult navigation on Leg 7 that gave us another boost!


What did you learn?
We reminded ourselves that taking the time to navigate properly is key to doing well in any race.

We don’t worry about what the other teams are doing. From the start we just concentrate on our own yellow jersey....

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Team What's Your Dream and Nordic Islands AR 2018

Team What’s your Dream took part in the inaugural Nordic Islands Adventure Race 2018, which was held between Stockholm in Sweden and Turku in Finland, via the scattered isalands of the Aland archipelago. It was quite a novelty for the team because three of the members - Kalle Zackari Walström, James Roberts and Jens Larsson - had never raced a full length adventure race before. However, they were accompanied by Marika Wagner, an extremely experienced competitor with podium places in several major events over the years. Kalle Zackari Walström is a well-known Swedish television presenter, who specialises in taking on sporting events as a challenge and then reporting on them. Here the team gives their impressions of the inaugural Nordic Islands AR. 

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What was Nordic Islands AR 2018 like?
Marika Wagner: It was a very special feeling to race on home soil; during the first 24 hours of the race there were spectators all along the route, cheering us on and giving us a lot of well needed positive energy. The landscape was magical and that kept us going on many occasions during the race.

The first three legs (the abseil, city-orienteering and first pack-rafting section) were intense, because we knew beforehand that the bike was going to be long and a little short of time for us, so we pushed it pretty hard at the start. At the same time, I tried to keep an eye on the pace and the well-being of the team, so we wouldn't hit the wall too early.


What makes NIAR special?
For me the most special moment was the start. There were lots of spectators and I was in my home town. I was touched by how many friends turned out to give us a great start to the race.

James Roberts: The course was a fantastic mix of wilderness and feeling small in nature. The Aland archipelago particularly, where we were swim-running and pack rafting, was spectacularly beautiful. I felt so fortunate to get to spend time there, to get out into the wild environment.

Was the course a success?
Marika: The course and the organisation was well done in quite challenging circumstances - it was a huge logistical task to create a safe, A to B race which crossed a sea and then an archipelago. A lot of experienced and professional staff gave their utmost to give us this adventure and it delivered everything.  

Kalle Zackari Walström: The maps and check points were very well placed and accurate. We felt a little low at some of the TAs. When you’re fighting really hard, every TA is a milestone and you put so much effort in to reaching it. We were really longing for something special, only to find the TA was just a parking lot. That took a little mental push to overcome. 


Did you get your training and planning right?
Marika: The guys admitted that they didn’t do quite enough training, especially in kayaking and biking, which they found hard to find time for. 

Jens Larsson: Marika’s experience and professionalism with the planning made everything work out very well. 


How long did you sleep? Did you get the food right? Team strategies?
Jens: Food was well planned and balanced. As always you find some stuff in your food pack you like the most and there’s some stuff you don't want to eat at all. It would have been nice to take a bit more real food, but the extra weight stopped us from doing that. 

Sleeping turned out better than we expected because of the timings. We powered through the first night on the mountain bikes and then each night after that we got about 3 hours during the dark before heading out onto the sea with tricky navigation. On the last night we decided to take a longer sleep and we felt very confident with that decision. It gave us a lot more energy for the final bike ride to the finish and I'm sure we gained time in the end because of this. 



What was the most challenging moment for the team?
Kalle : The whole crazy adventure was the challenge. This kind of racing is insanely challenging and hard. It really takes 1000% discipline and commitment to make it to the finish line of an adventure race.


Was there a particularly special moment?
Every sunrise was a unique special moment.

Kalle : There is nothing I love as much as a sunrise during an adventure race. I remember the daybreak in the packraft on Day 3: everything was peach. I’m missing moments like that already.  

James : A part of the race that meant a lot to us was the friendship; within the team of course, but also friendship with other teams that we met along the course, especially Puppy Adventure Team who we kept an even pace with for a long time. 

Also, it felt really adventurous setting out on the third night. We slept in a barn and then headed out on the sea in the kayaks. I really liked that stage. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that. 


Team Endurancelife in Expedition Africa 2018

Gary Davies of Team Endurancelife talked us through the team’s race at Expedition Africa 2018, the 530km adventure race held in South Africa in May, including the moment when he managed to fall asleep while walking... The course, which involved kayaking, mountain biking, ropework, canyoning and of course hiking, ran from Namaqua on the Atlantic coast and inland into the Cederberg Mountains.

It was an unexpected race, both for the organisers – after months of drought it rained the day before and then during the race – and for Team Endurancelife themselves, who after a mechanical failure unexpectedly found themselves near the back of the field. Their considerable adventure racing experience and some superb navigation from Tom Davies helped them to climb back up the order. Eventually they finished in 7th place.

The team is sponsored by Endurancelife and also by Montane and 2XU, who assist in equipment and clothing.

From 35th to 7th at the finish, © Kirsten Oliver, Expedition Africa

From 35th to 7th at the finish, © Kirsten Oliver, Expedition Africa

What makes Expedition Africa special?
Gary Davies: The reason we went back to Expedition Africa is because the race is so special. The organisers are great hosts: Heidi is the people person and she makes sure you are well looked after from the moment you arrive at the airport. You almost feel as though you’re on holiday… Stefan puts on very good quality courses and that was the case this time.

His courses feel like a proper journey: for instance there was an abseil with the bikes at one point in 2018 – 50 metres down to a ledge and then another 100 metres to the valley floor - but they weren’t there just for the sake of a spectacular abseil (in some courses you would just ride back up to where you were). They were there so that the cycling could continue along the next section of the course.

What was Expedition Africa 2018 like?
We were expecting a dry race. This area of South Africa had been through a drought for months - the grapes and other crops weren’t growing for lack of water. And then, the night before the start, it began to rain, which it did on occasions throughout the race. So Expedition Africa 2018 turned out to be quite wet. And that meant it was quite cold too, amazingly. Some teams even suffered hypothermia in the Cederberg mountains.

Our race was defined by a problem we hit early on, on Leg 4 (about 200km of mountain biking). It started when we chose a route that was much longer but which would have been faster because it had plenty of tarmac road. However, it fell outside the organisers’ permissions, and we were told we couldn’t use it. This meant that we had to change our route on the hoof, and we opted for another route that nobody else considered, down a dry riverbed. Normally this would have would have been fine, but after the rains, it was incredibly muddy and hard going.

One smashed rear mech and a failed single-speed mend

One smashed rear mech and a failed single-speed mend

Then we suffered a problem to the rear mech on Phil’s bike; first the hanger snapped as we traversed a very muddy (dry) river bed and then in the mud the whole rear mech broke. We tried to create a single speed to enable us to continue on the stage, but that failed and so we had to return to the transition - asking every team we passed if they had a spare in their gear box (our boxes had already been moved on). Eventually Alec Rust from South African Team Rustproof kindly gave us his spare, which he was carrying with him. We very much appreciate his generosity for sacrificing their team spare part to enable us to continue. 

All in all it wasn’t a great start. Despite the good luck in getting the rear mech, we had lost 6 ½ hours and we ended up down in 35th place. We considered carrying on in tourist mode – sleeping plenty, enjoying the view, taking photographs – but two of us were particularly keen to race and in the end that’s what the team did. Tom (Davies, but no relation to Gary Davies) and Phil did a spectacular job of the navigation and so for us the race was all about climbing through the ranking.

In the Cederberg Mountains, © Expedition Africa

In the Cederberg Mountains, © Expedition Africa

Did you get your training and race strategies right?
We hadn’t trained together much. We identified our individual weaknesses and then worked on them on our own. I did a lot of mtb, with lots of turbo training, high power and short intervals, but others were more focussed on trekking.

Training was our biggest unknown, but it turned out that we were pretty equal, certainly over the long distances. Nobody bonked or had to be dragged. Possibly this was down to our sleep strategy, which worked pretty well.

We started out with me as Team Captain and bike nav, and with Phil as foot navigator, but before the race I handed over the primary nav to Tom. He was up for the foot navigation too. On one leg we leap-frogged six or seven teams because his route finding was so good.

How long did you sleep?
We went through the first night, slept 2 ½ hours the second night, 2 on the third and then an hour in the canyon, so 5 hours in total, which was fine. Often in a race someone will have a really bad night, but it didn’t happen this time. Perhaps we know how to deal with the lack of sleep better after our years of racing.

We still had our moments, though… Natalie would sing to keep herself awake. And I had a strange thing where I actually managed to fall asleep while I was walking, holding onto Natalie. It was a fairly smooth track and I would wake up each time I kicked a stone or something, but I managed a whole series of micro sleeps while walking.  After 10 minutes I was feeling fresh again.

Shhhh! Team member sleeping

Shhhh! Team member sleeping

© Expedition Africa

© Expedition Africa

What was the most challenging moment for the team?
Definitely Leg 4 when the rear mech broke and we lost so much time. That and the end of the canyon, after hours of fighting our way through the vegetation in there – at times you had to burrow down and push through and then drag your rucksack behind you. Once we were out we headed off on our chosen route, but lost confidence, worrying that we had gone the wrong way. Heads dropped. But then we met a leading team and realised we were doing well and on the right track. It gave us a boost and the heads came back up again.

Was there a particularly special moment?
For me the most special moment was in the canyon. In the middle of the night, after about four days, when I saw this huge pair of eyes glowing in a tree above me. They seemed as large as headlamps. Later I was told that it was a bush baby.

Kayaking, Leg 2, © Alfred Thom, Expedition Africa

Kayaking, Leg 2, © Alfred Thom, Expedition Africa

Was there any kit that turned out to be particularly useful or you realised you needed?
We took some high quality Montane waterproofs, which we didn’t really think we would need in South Africa, but as it turned out with the cold weather in the canyon they were really useful.

I had a moment of good luck. On a skype call before leaving, the team all agreed to bring an extra set of brake pads each and I didn’t actually do so. And then with the gritty wet and mud, I was down to the metal half way through the race. Which was potentially embarrassing - as I might have had to walk my bike downhill… But Expedition Africa has a mechanic on call and so I left a note on my bike box asking them if they could fit new brake pads – and when we saw the bikes again my brakes had been fixed!

What did you learn?
Be open and honest within your team. You’re bound to have a few disagreements under the stress of racing. Vent them early. At the start I didn’t know whether Tom and I would get on – we’re both quite macho types – but we did get on and we worked together well.

Also, never let your head drop. You have to get back in the race. As it turned out, from position 35 we spent the race climbing the order and this gave us a good feeling as we went along. Through Tom’s navigation we were climbing four or five places per leg at one stage. By the finish we had climbed to 7th overall and, you never know, if we hadn’t lost the time at the start we might have been pushing top 5.

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