Gear, skills put to test even before race begins |

Gear, skills put to test even before race begins

Devon O'Neil

MOAB, Utah – To a certain extent, the past three days have been all about evening the Primal Quest. Team by team, racer by racer, piece of gear by piece of gear. Before everyone can actually compete in the 417-mile expedition race, they must prove they’re capable. So they’ve made the rounds across the expansive grounds here at the Red Cliffs Lodge, 14-miles east of Moab along the Colorado River. It hasn’t been fun for the athletes, some of whom say that righting a flipped kayak in a swimming pool is hardly a good way to prove one can do it on a rushing river in a pressure situation.But every bit of it is required to chase the $100,000 first prize – or, in the case of most of the 90 teams here, the finish line.The list of stops in their skills and gear certification merry go-round was lengthy. It covered every aspect of this race, which is billed as the toughest expedition event in adventure racing history.Getting readyFar in advance of their arrival in the scorching Utah desert (Saturday’s high: 102 degrees), these racers were required to secure certifications in swimming (they had to swim a mile without drowning), climbing (gear testing, ascending, rappelling, self-rescue), first aid (including CPR), horseback riding (saddling, bridling and shoe care) and navigation (competence in maps, compasses and plotting).Then, upon arriving here, they had to prove all of their skills were still current. They rode horses, treaded water for 10 minutes (while listening to things like what a white water “hole” is), ascended and rappelled down a monstrous boulder. That was all in addition to a rigorous series of gear inspection stops, one after another, every bit as fun as a bee sting.Within the limitsFor an observer, the fun was in watching the PQ staff – all of whom were expert guides in their respective fields – police the athletes to make sure their gear was not an inch or an ounce more than the allowed limit.”A lot of them come in with unapproved ski touring harnesses instead of real climbing harnesses,” said Bill Whitt, a climbing guide out of Ouray who has worked at all four Primal Quests. “It’s a matter of ounces.””There are people trying to pass off a keychain LED light as an extra headlamp,” said Richard Millburn, who oversaw the trekking gear examination. “They’ll put a rubberband around the LED thing and put it on their head and say that’s good, but it never passes.”At the mountain bike station, staff and volunteers watched as competitors broke down their bikes and packed them into transport containers, in which they’ll be shuttled to the appropriate point on course for the days to come. The makeshift policemen and women watched like hawks to make sure nothing out of the ordinary made it into the boxes along with the bikes.”Some of them are trying to stash water or powder in the box. People like to get an edge – they like to bend the rules to see where the limits are,” said Karl Royer of Hayward, Calif., who along with his wife is spending his 21st wedding anniversary as a Primal Quest volunteer.The rules get as precise as this: Competitors are allowed to punch 10 holes in their 6-inch-by-6-inch identification plates mounted on their handlebars, for air flow. No more than 10, however.The athletes also received briefings from GPS and wilderness medical experts, who explained the dangers they’d face on course and how to handle any emergencies. “We’ve been asking racers if they have any questions about this environment,” said PQ medical staffer Greg Friese, a paramedic from Wisconsin. “They’ve been asking us about the snakes, scorpions, cactuses, everything.”Still, he added, “I think racers are more concerned with, are they going to be able to sleep when it’s 110 degrees out. I say, good luck.”Devon O’Neil can be contacted at, Colorado

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