Primal Quest 2015 Race Report
Results: 3rd Place Overall
By Katie Ferrington
It’s been almost a week since we crossed the finish line for Primal Quest 2015. My brain still hasn’t completely returned to full speed as well as my body. Daily naps are required to get me beyond 6pm. My poison oak is calming down, but I still have residual “itches” from my heat rash and bug bites. The survival of my toe nails and even a couple toes remains to be decided. And definitely the toe numbness is here to stay for a while. Something about hiking a bike 50 miles can do that. But as I think about the finish line at the Nevada – California state line, about the beer and hot chocolate double fisting, the lights, media attention and crowd, the team pride, and above all the feeling of absolute happiness and accomplishment, I know it was all worth it.
The beginning: Our team, Journey Racing, composed of Julian Tonsmeire, Fletcher Hamel, Olof Hedberg, and myself, arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel in South Lake Tahoe around 5pm August 18th. The 18th was supposed to be “early” check-in, the 19th regular check in and skills testing, and then the race was to begin on the 20th. We quickly found out, however, that we were the last team to arrive and that they would try to rush us through check in so that the morning we would be free to do skills testing and start the race. What?? Did we miss a memo? Roll with the punches team, we’re starting our quest a day early. Get packing! That evening was the pre-race meeting and then off to bed.
Early morning then August 19th, we wake at 6am to get to our water skills check by 7am. However, we now have a major problem. Olof had a fever, sore throat, and serious congestion and was sounding like he may not be able to race. Julian, ever positive, told him to get back to bed and not worry about racing till that afternoon. I got pretty negative at that point and was mentally preparing to back out of the race also. Why put myself through that much pain and time away from family to be racing unofficially? We kept moving forward though that day with a water briefing, gear packing, and food prep for pre and during race. We did our best to get Olof race ready since this is apparently a team sport ☺ Julian put a call into Olof’s wife for advice on how to handle him. We made a trip to CVS for Dayquil, EmergenC, and Ricolla and dropped that off for Olof in the room. Not much sign of life yet…will he race? Around 12pm, Julian gets a phone call from Olof saying he’s up and just realized he needs to get ready to race!! Oh yeah, we’re doing this. Grab 12 cheeseburgers from McDonalds for the gear bins and meet the team in the gear room to close bins and get ready to march. 1pm, procession (with a huge team flag) down the streets of South Lake Tahoe, ride the gondola to the top of Heavenly ski resort, and do a ropes skills check. Quick nap for Olof in the shade and then get to the start line. 3pm, GO TIME!
Run down the mountain, check. Paddle 5 miles in Lake Tahoe, check. Keep Olof’s heart rate down by allowing Julian to do all the paddling so Olof can rest. Yeah right. See you later guys, Fletcher and I will slowly bring up the rear. Olof didn’t rest. From then on, he was racing. Yeah, we kept encouraging him, “let’s just get to the next CP. Let’s just get to the TA. The ropes next!” After the first paddle, we put our bikes together at TA 1 and then headed out for the night on bikes. Time to work out a few nutritional hiccups and get our pace together. Julian had his only weak moment of the race with a little bonk session which created our first of many LOL stories. Laying on the ground, Julian was encouraged by Fletcher to just puke and he’ll feel better. Exhausted, Julian heeded his advice, turned to the side, and emptied his stomach of water and whatever blueberry bar he had just eaten. Rule number 2 of adventure racing was created, don’t roll in your own puke. Thanks Fletcher for your help in arranging our fearless team captain out of his own puke night one. (We’ll get to rule number 1 of AR later) The rest of the bike continued to be interesting. We had a few nav errors on unmarked snowmobile trails and ran into our closest competition multiple times, teams NorCal and Tahoe/Helium. We were surprised to not be passed by our bike strong fellow Colorado team Seek Adventure. Turns out they were having their own issues (as all teams do). Anyway, we’re on the Tahoe Rim Trail riding occasionally when Olof has bike issues. His right crank breaks and he can’t pedal with his right leg. Oh great. Lots of stopping for temporary repairs including duck taping a rock to the pedal. Not bringing a camera, biggest mistake of the race. Keep pushing forward to CP 2-3-4…I have no idea when we run into a race volunteer, Phil. Oh we love you Phil!! Can we please please switch bikes with you? Julian offers him $100 cash now, $100 cash later, and his credit card. Phil confirms with RD Maria that that is allowed, and he selflessly allows Olof to use his NEW bike for the rest of the race. Oh the places that bike will go. (And he never accepted the money)
Now I go fuzzy with details. Which one was TA 2 or 3? When did we get back on bike or foot? When did we sleep? I vaguely remember a very cold parking lot night 2 with snoring racers. The dust and dirt were immense, so sinuses were all jacked up for everyone. This became an issue when trying to sleep next to Julian. In addition to his moans and groans, his snoring was out of control. The rest of the race, Olof and I tried sleep somewhere Julian was not. Fletcher seemed to not mind as much. Good thing we never had to all pile in our tent.
The terrain was absolutely amazing and epic. Sunrise on foot (my favorite) morning 3 (or was it 4?) from the top of the Sierras, sunrise morning 4 while ascending Calaveras Dome 1400ft, sunrise at the base of the Rubicon trail, sunset from the Pacific Rim trail, and sunset while paddling the middle of Tahoe…every minute was epic, but the views during sunrise and sunset were the most incredible.
My toughest physical moment came during day 2…rappel with bike, ugh. After some confusion as to where to start the rappel and a bike whack, we arrived at the start of the rappel. We found out then that the first and second place teams didn’t do it because they couldn’t find the start either. Hey! Not fair! Press on I guess. Thanks to Julian, we created the “how to rig your bike to your pack” and led all the other teams that had caught up by that point. Olof and Julian seemed to enjoy the challenge with Olof making his now famous quote, “I don’t always rappel with my bike. But when I do, I like to be the first.” Fletcher and I, however, weren’t so sure. After the weight of the bike and ropes were released to me standing on the edge of the cliff, my bike shoes slipped out from under me and I hit the deck. Nice knee and elbow gashes always are fun. Over the edge we go, and wow, that’s a lot of intense pressure on my core. Breathe Katie, pull 600ft of rope up through my ATC, relax. Julian, again being a leader and positive, helped guide me one step at a time for what felt like an hour. We made it to the bottom to find out we still had some bike whack to do. Fun times.
My slowest moments came not due to any nutritional bonk, but instead due to sleep deprivation (aka sleep monsters) and intense foot pain. Early in the race, most likely due to so much hike a bike in bike shoes and my poor decision to wear new-ish shoes during the first trek, my feet became the main physical complaint. The 3rd night I required a little assistance to keep moving through the pain and sleep issues because we needed to make it to the ropes before our closest competitors (I didn’t’ sleep night 2 due to snoring TA racers). Doing so would be one of the critical moments of the race. We were then given 2 gifts. First, we found the pipeline that ran down the steep hillside that allowed us to move with a hand hold (we called the pipeline our best friend) and avoid the thick sticker bushes. Not only did this pipeline allow us to make good time descending 1500ft, but it woke us up. And in case my feet weren’t already hurting, this was a KO punch. Second, we passed NorCal who had decided to set up tent and sleep at the top of the pipeline. We’re not sure why the decision to sleep then, but it put us to the ropes first which was huge. After a scramble up a climbers access trail (not well marked) another 500-1000ft, we found ourselves at the start of the ascent up Calaveras Dome. It was dark then, so the magnitude didn’t hit till a couple hours later. Olof and I were hooked up first and away we went while Julian and Fletcher tried to nap at the bottom. I loved the ascent. Favorite part of the race. My weight to strength ratio and my background as a swimmer allowed me to move up the ropes pretty fast. Only a couple times did I allow my mind to pick out which rock I would go splat on below if my harness or the ropes failed. I made it to the top during sunrise and was rewarded with a little nap as I waited for the rest of the team to make it up. Hopefully Fletcher’s fear of heights wasn’t a big issue.
We were in 3rd place. Julian commented that he had never before felt like he was being hunted, but the next few days he did. We all did. Every CP or TA our first question was, “where is NorCal?” We just needed to keep moving.
The dark zone hit us before the first white water section, so although we were upset about allowing the other teams to catch us, we much enjoyed the 6 hours of sleep (and shower) it allowed us. Morning came and we loaded the boats with NorCal and Tahoe/Helium. Julian and I were in the boat together and led the way since Julian was a prior white water instructor and could lead Olof and Fletcher’s boat through some amazing class 3+ rapids. Awesome time, sweet rapids, and we were the ONLY team not to swim during this section. Way to go Julian and team! We had passed the front of the water release and ended up hitting shallow areas with boat freeing maneuvers required. No biggie, TA time, and off on foot. We have 18 hours to make it to the next white water section before the dark zone. GO TIME!
The next 16 hours were some of the most fun hours of the race. Never have I laughed so hard and much during an AR. Olof at one point decided to get a running start and jump some barbed wire which failed miserably. The board he used as a launch point broke and he came down right on the wire between his legs. The barb mainly caught his inner thigh with one good puncture wound. Once the excitement of the maneuver wore off, he was out on the ground while Fletcher and I cared medically for him. Julian went to scout the area on how to get out and returned to see 2 local home owners staring over us. It’s 2am, so super creepy for us and probably them. All they could say was, “why is there a person on the ground?” Yeah, I guess that looks suspicious. Julian explained the situation, we finished wrapping Olof’s leg, and off we go. To avoid sleep monsters, we would ask each other either/or questions such as “19 year old Britany Spears or Christina Aguilera?” (every one of the guys answered Britany without a question.) Julian then asked the best question of the race, “what is your end time plan?” Now I took this question as where am I going when I die which is heaven. Olof and Julian, however turned it into some sort of zombie apocalypse and what to do and not do when that day comes. Rule number 1 of adventure racing (and zombie apocalypse) was then created…”don’t get that shit” or more basic, “survive.” Above all else, survive. The fun hike/run continued with super close calls by Fletcher and Olof being bitten by rattlesnakes (like inches) as well as a few swims. The first crossing was caught by some camera crew and were they given a show. The guys went naked except for the required PFD, and I kept on underwear and sports bra (no fun, I know). We laughed about the pics that were captured, “Swim Suit Calendar, Primal Quest edition.” The second swim of the night was the scariest across the middle fork of the American River. Again undressed, Julian took the lead across a pretty rapid river that rushed us all downstream a hundred yards. I lost a trekking pole, Olof lost a water bottle. We got dry and warm and continued moving fast and working well as a team to make the cut off for the next white water rafting section.
We hit the TA about 15-30 minutes before we were to board the truck for the North (or was it South) Fork of the American River rafting trip, complete with 4+ rapids and a guide. Since Godzone was dark zoned the night before, we caught up with them and hit the water at the same time. Now normally this would be a thrilling rafting trip (which it was during the largest rapids), but we used this time to sleep in the raft. The poor guide seemed to understand as Team Bones had done the same the day before. Try to sleep a little, get splashed a little, and then try to sleep some more. 5-6 hours later, we were at the TA, complete with 100 degree weather and lots of sand/dirt. Just what our swollen and blistered feet need! We unsuccessfully TA’ed quickly, got our bikes put together, and off we went on one of the longest bike sections ever in an AR. NorCal, again, was only about 1-2 hours behind.
Fletcher Hamel's report can also be found here:
This bike section was the toughest for many reasons, but primarily because we lost Fletcher for a while. Heat, exhaustion, lack of proper water/nutrition, etc took over his body. We had to drastically slow our pace, take an extra nap, and make our route decisions based on what would be easiest for Fletcher and for the team to take care of him. At appropriately named Hell Hole and with the guidance from our buddy, race staff, Paul, we chose to alter our course away from a 10 hour hike a bike up 3000ft (one that Team Bones had been lost all night on) and opted for a much much longer but paved route. My guess is that this route was at least 40 miles out of the way, but indeed paved. We cruised down in elevation 2000-3000 feet before starting a massive climb to the entrance of the Rubicon Jeep trails. This road was creepy! Never before have I seen such clean, perfectly paved roads in the middle of nowhere that had zero road kill and zero animal noises at all. We had been warned that mountain lion activity was strong in this area, so I spent a majority of the climb chanting “here, kitty kitty.” At 2:30 am, just after we woke from a 1.5hr sleep, we learned of the purpose of those creepy roads. Logging trucks begin their day at crazy hours and those trucks make some noise. Naaaaaahhh nan a nana will ever be imprinted on my brain. And oh yeah, they move fast. One almost got me as I couldn’t get over to the right side of the road fast enough. Anyway, the climb continued with Julian towing Fletcher the majority of the way until sunrise. At this point we had realized that our planned 24-30 hour bike section was going to be more like 45-50 hours, so we didn’t have enough food. Julian and I worked hard then to buy food from local logging workers and campers at the Rubicon trail. Well worth the effort as we were rewarded with a pound of turkey, loaf of bread, granola bars, grapes, watermelon, etc. We had a breakfast feast and then set off, on foot, pushing our bikes up the Rubicon. This jeep trail system was tough, especially in bike shoes, and as the day pressed on, the heat rose and we barely creeped our way up to TA 5 on the Pacific Rim trail just before sunset. We had started this bike over 2 days ago…holy crap.
Now here’s a good time to shout out to the race volunteers and medical staff…they were amazing!! At this point we really looked forward to their bright shiny faces, words of encouragement, and medical attention. Never before have I done an AR where the volunteers outnumbered the racers and were ready to take care of your every need. I had assistance getting a bath in a bucket, fast food delivered to me, and foot/hand/etc care. We were cheered on extensively even when we left the TA and weren’t sure what direction to head. They hugged and kissed us (Olof and Fletcher more than anyone) and cleaned up our trash. The race was epic and amazing in so many ways, and the volunteers were tops!
Good bye bikes forever, onto foot. Pacific Rim trail while sleep deprived, not a good idea. Don’t get sleep monsters when you have 100ft plus drops inches from your right foot. We napped 2 hours on the trail 12-2am, woke up frozen, and climbed as fast as we could to warm up. Fletcher had returned to himself for the most part and had taken over nav, but we continued to monitor him and carry a lot of his weight. At times this caused some tension as Fletcher felt he was being babied, but to Julian and Olof, we needed to do whatever it took to keep him healthy. Just before sunrise, we arrived at a gas station off the trail. COFFEE!!! Oh, magical coffee and hot burritos. Everyone fuel up and let’s get going. To me these transitions were really slow, and if in the future we’re in a close fight for placement, I’d recommend not making these stops. The warm bathrooms and difficulty in making food decisions added a lot of time to the clock. Lucky for us, we weren’t close to second place, and 4th place we had learned was hours behind. In any case, we just needed to keep moving. Olof and Fletcher had a little issue about an hour later over a route choice, and trekking poles went flying. The nice part of that though was Fletcher’s anger added a boost to his march, and he took off up that mountain. 30 plus miles later, the guys had kissed and made up and we were approaching the end of our trek/start of final paddle. Hey guys, “we are going to be done with this mother f@#$J%I race TODAY!!!”
We stopped by Taco Bell in North Lake before the final transition to boat, and then slowly made our way onto Lake Tahoe. The winds had picked up and the sun would be setting in a few hours. I thought the plan was to eat up, bundle up, and drink a hell of a lot of caffeine to make it to the finish. I had brought music loaded on an old i-phone and a splash resistant blue tooth speaker (best decision ever) for Julian and I. We were happy and singing when Julian noticed some “issues” in the other boat. OMG guys…we’re so close to finishing??!! Olof and Fletcher weren’t as stable in their sit on top kayak with the waves capping pretty big, so they had a hard time adjusting clothing and eating. They seemed to be yelling at each other also. Ugh. At one point the choice to turn around and go back to shore was brought up. I’m pretty sure I would have jumped out and swam the lake to the damn finish if the guys had opted for that. Instead, we made a slightly dramatic stop on some rocks so that the guys could load up on food and layers before dark hit. Can we please finish now??!! Music back on, questions going back and forth between boats, and splash tactics to stay awake. Olof and Fletcher learned that they both know every word to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” which was one of the funniest acts I’ve ever seen. Whatever it takes to get us to the finish. The lights on the far shore seemed to take forever to get to, but alas, at 12:15 am on August 28th, 8.5 days after we stared, we finished. We all collapsed on the beach (after washing the pee out of my wetsuit…hey, it was 7 hours in that kayak), and then frozenly shuffled our way up to the state line and Hard Rock Hotel for the best AR finish ever.
To everyone that organized and helped with the race, thank you for the most epic race ever. Part of my heart was left on that course (as well as my toes), and I will never forget the memories created during those 8 days. To my team, you guys are amazing and I’m pretty sure I would not have had as many laughs and cries without you. We worked so well together and always had each other’s backs. Julian, you are such an incredible leader. Your ability to take care of the weakest link, motivate us all, and come up with conversation that kept us mentally rolling for over a week is amazing. Olof, thank you for being so tough and racing through your sickness. As Julian said, you are a fearless warrior. Fletcher, your laugh is infectious and your ability to roll with the punches and rebound from bonking is pretty unique. And last, to my family, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to fulfill this dream. I know you sacrificed a lot to let me go and you put up with a lot from me as I go through my post-race depression/recovery.
Cheers to us all,