Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mergeo Defeats DART at TRIOBA 24-Hour Adventure Race

Photo by Mike Bitton
Members of Team approach Transition Area 3 during the TRIOBA 24-Hour adventure race near Ellensburg, Wash.

I spent the weekend in and around Ellensburg, Wash. (North of Yakima) photographing the third and final race of the 2005 TRIOBA adventure racing season. Seeing my friends on various teams has become just as much fun as taking pictures, as we spend hours before and after the race finding out what everyone has been up to.

This final race was billed as a 24-hour event, but the fastest teams surprised everyone and finished in just over 10 hours. Team came in first, with Team DART just two minutes behind. DART had won the first two races in the 2005 TRIOBA series, and were the series chapmions in 2004. But a subtle error in navigation during the trekking section of the course cost DART nearly an hour, which allowed to take the lead late in the race. DART left the final transition area about 15 minutes behind DART nearly caught up in the end, but could not beat

Monday, September 05, 2005

Matt Hart Takes Third in Age Group at 24 Hours of Adrenalin Solo World Championships

Photo by Mike Bitton
Seattle endurance athlete Matt Hart takes a 10-minute break between laps 14 and 15 during the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike race in Whistler, B.C., Canada. After this photo was taken, Hart completed two more laps.

An invitation to join Matt Hart in Canada for the world championship 24-hour mountain bike race was too tempting to refuse. He'd pre-arranged to write race reports for some publications and needed photos to accompany them. I'm so glad he thought of me! I'd never been to Canada, and had always wanted to see British Columbia. I met up with Matt and his girlfriend, Tina, in Seattle, then rode with them in Matt's V.W. Westfalia van all the way to Whistler, B.C. Joining Tina as Matt's pit crew was Canadian Jennifer Segger, who often competes alongside Matt with the DART adventure racing team. Also on board for the event as Matt's bike mechanic was Duncan Sailors, an adventure racer from North Bend, Wash. Jennifer's friend, Jo, hooked us up with a room at the Fairmont Hotel in Whistler Village so we wouldn't have to camp out Friday night before the race. Thanks, Jo! The race began at noon on Saturday, Sept. 5, and ended at noon on Sunday, Sept. 6. The course was a 10-mile loop in and around Whistler Village. For much of that time, rain poured down. As the event wore on and the weather did not let up, Matt suffered imensely, as did his bikes. With carefully selected food and hydration, Tina and Jen kept Matt in the competition. With resourcefulness I'd thought only thieves posessed, Duncan kept the bikes functioning just well enough that Matt could stay in the race. When the competition ended, Matt took third place in his age category of 30-35 by completing 16 laps. Conisdering it was only the second 24-hour mountain bike race Matt had entered, I believe he did astonishingly well.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Portland Riverboarders Run Oregon Rapids to Promote Sport in Big Easy

Photo by Mike Bitton
Riverboarders "Ice" (left) and "Docta P" are flushed through a class IV rapid on the Upper Clackamas River, Ore.

"Ice" and "Docta P," two Portland, Ore., adrenaline freaks in dire need of photographic proof of their lunacy, invited me on a riverboarding trip to the Upper Clackamas River. They needed photos for a magazine article that's going to run in a few weeks. It's a small mag based in New Orleans, and I predict its readership will think these two gents are off their respective rockers. After I photographed them shooting class III and IV whitewater for three hours, they invited me to dive on in. I did, and had a white-knucked ride through Carter Falls (sorry, no photos of ME doing this!). Adventure sports photography has led me to many places, and to try many things. This was among the most thrilling, and I will go again.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sunrise Hike Reveals Mt. Rainier's Stunning Glacier View

Photo by Mike Bitton
The morning light was gorgeous when I made this self-portrait at Glacier View near the base of Mt. Rainier.

I made my first trip to Mt. Rainier National Park over the weekend for a family reunion. Sunday morning, I hiked from the visitor's center up to Glacier view. There were no clouds in the sky, and the light was stunning. I sat on one of several flat rocks at the overlook and practiced my meditation as the sun warmed my face. What a serene feeling! It was just what I needed, and a memory I will reflect upon if I feel stressed out in the future.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

BYOBoat Kayak Race, Portland, Ore.

Here's a shot of me racing the boat my friend Judson built and gave to me. Photo by Todd Phillips.

Tonight I took my new kayak to the Bring Your Own Boat "pick-up" race ind downtown Portland, Ore. I was there for my first time and all the athletes went out of their way to make me feel truly welcome. My friend recently gave me a boat, and I feel so lucky to have these races to attend to build my confidence and skills! Even though I came in last, you wouldn't know it by the heart-felt cheering I paddled past at the finish line.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Kayak Lake Shasta

Judson Clark built this pair of wood-strip kayaks. He gave me the one on the right.

My friend Judson Clark built a pair of wood-strip kayaks during the past couple of years. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I met him at Lake Shasta in Northern California for a weekend of paddling his beautiful boats. When it came time for me to drive home this morning, Jud sent me home with a boat! Thanks, Jud!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Nike Run Hit Wonder

Photo by Ashton Bitton (my daughter)

Here I am lined up with the "back of the pack" in Portland, Ore., for the Nike Run Hit Wonder.

I ran my first 5-K race today in downtown Portland, Ore. It was more fun (and a whole lot easier) than I thought it would be. My goal was to finish in less than an hour by walking most or all of the race. Instead, I ran/jogged the entire course, because the energy level was so high! My finish time was under 45 minutes. I'm generally no fan of running, but if the race comes back next year, I'll do it again.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

TRIOBA 12-Hour Adventure Race, Snoqualmie Pass, Wash.

Nelson Yu of team Dozer scrambles over a deadfall between checkpoints 14 and 15 during the TRIOBA 12-hour adventure race July 23 at Snoqualmie Pass, Wash.

I spent all day at Snoqualmie Pass, Wash., photographing the TRIOBA 12-hour adventure race. Even though I've only been around adventure racing for one year, I already have many friends in this tight-knit community. When Eric and Karyn Abraham, members of team PureFit/MissingLink, learned I intended to spend Friday night cramped in the back of my Explorer in the Hayak Lodge parking lot, they insisted I return to their home in the Seattle suburbs for a comfortable night in a real bed. How awesome! Early Saturday, we went back to the lodge, which served as the start and finish line for the race. I spent the hour before the start scouting nearby locations and decided access was easy. I skipped the start and instead picked out a spot on the lakeshore to photograph teams carrying their inflatable boats to the water. I got some great shots! Next I drove to a transition area to shoot some mountain biking, but the light wasn't much good. I hiked over half-a-mile in search of open shade, but never found what I was looking for. Hoping for thicker trees higher up, I drove to checkpoint 11/14 (both at the same spot), where I found what I was looking for. The leg from 14 to 15 was on a mountain bike trail in thick woods. The trail was barely passable on foot, let alone on a bike. Racers call this a "hike-a-bike," or a "bikewhack." I made many great pictures where a large pine had fallen across the so-called trail. Athletes had suffered mightliy to get to that point, and to see a 3-foot-tall obstacle in front of them was not pretty. Some teams scrambled right over the tree, but others looked at it and shook their heads, probably questioning their sanity. I felt honored to be there to witness people at what had to be the low point of their race day. They were spent, but they had to give a little more. I am most proud of those photos.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Wicked Gorge Adventure Race, Beacon Rock State Park, Washington

Teams come ashore after completing the kayak section of the Wicked Gorge adventure race. Photo by my brother, David Bitton, who flew in from Colorado Springs to help me cover the event.

Teams that competed in the Wicked Gorge adventure race July 16 were assaulted by stunning Pacific Northwest scenery as they navigated a course in and around Beacon Rock State Park. As the director of photography for the Wicked Adventure Racing series, I was allowed to drive to several points along the course. It's not possible to be everywhere at once, so at the end of the day, some teams get more coverage than others. Athletes experienced more than 3,000 feet of vertical gain from the banks of the Columbia River to Three Points Rock due north of Beacon Rock State Park. My brother, David, a staff photographer at The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colo., came out to help me provide more complete coverage. To see our photos, visit For race results, go to

Monday, June 27, 2005

Team DART Invites Bitton to X-Adventure Raid

DART at the X-Adventure Raid race included (from left) Cyril Jay-Rayon, Matt Hart, Jennifer Segger and Ryan VanGorder.

Seattle adventure racing team DART invited me to document its participation in the X-Adventure Raid race in Bend, Ore., June 24-26. DART dominates the adventure racing scene in Oregon and Washington, where I normally photograph adventure sports. Even though DART has won many of the races I've covered, I rarely captured them in action. I'd see them at the start, and after the race. The rest of the time, DART was so far ahead of the field, I had to let them go so I could photograph other teams. The prospect of covering DART for two or three days straight appealed to me. I'd certainly have a chance to make great photos of the team. I believe such photos will be in demand in coming years, as DART is an up-and-coming elite adventure racing team. I'd be the proud owner of the finest DART photo gallery, the go-to photographer if a magazine editor needed shots of the them.

I had a delightful time with DART and its support crew during the X-Adventure Raid. The photos I made are among the best of my career. Best of all, I now count DART as friends. No one witnesses what they went through during that two-day adventure race without growing fond of the team's ability to cope with difficulty and strive for excellence. I am proud to say I know these athletes, which I predict will be among the world's best adventure racers in years to come.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

An Adidas NW team member is reflected in the windows of the KOIN Center tower in downtown Portland, Ore., as she rappells from the roof of a nine-story parking garage.

Wicked Urban Race Takes Athletes on Radical Rose City Tour

PORTLAND, Ore. (June 4, 2005) – Athletes who competed in the Wicked Urban adventure race got an insider’s look at the Rose City as they ran, pedaled, paddled and rappelled through Portland.

Fast teams completed the pro course in about six hours, while slower teams raced for about 10. Twenty-five teams entered the pro division, while a dozen teams entered the shorter, sport course, category.

Race Director Shane Gibson designed the pro course knowing he’d have to challenge top Pacific Northwest teams like NW Nike ACG, D.A.R.T. and Yet he also provided a gentler alternative in the sport course, which many first-time adventure racers completed successfully. Results are available at the Wicked AR website (

Next Adventure (, Portland’s Alternative Sporting Goods Store, sponsored a massive gear giveaway for those in attendance. Packs from GoLite, LaFuma, Granite Gear and Mountainsmith were among the most coveted prizes.

I was recently named the director of photography for Wicked AR, and I put the best photos on my website ( At the request of several athletes, I posted the images in team galleries. Now, participants and fans can quickly navigate to the images they want to see.

The 2005 Wicked Adventure Sprint Series began March 26 with Wicked Mountain on Mt. Hood, Ore. Wicked Urban, held June 4, was the second race in the series. Wicked Gorge will take place in the Columbia River Gorge July 16, and will be covered by the Adventure Sports Magazine Mobile Tour.
The 2005 series finale, Wicked Ocean, will take place at Nehalem Bay State Park, Ore., Oct. 1.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Competitors in the Boater-X head-to-head whitewater kayak race battle for position at Carter Falls on the Upper Clackamas River, Ore.

NWRA Whitewater Festival, Upper Clackamas River, Ore., May 14-15, 2005

I learned of this event from Next Adventure, a sporting goods store in Portland, Ore. The store is a spnosor of the festival, and asked me to shoot some photos for a gallery they'd like to have on their web page. I let the event organizers know I was coming, and told them I often offer photos for sale on my website, and they welcomed that idea.

I'm relatively new shooting whitewater, so I asked a lot of people where I should be to get the best shots. Everyone was very helpful.

The first day was filled with practice runs, and ended with a fun event called the Anything But a Whitewater race. Participants ran the river in an odd variety of craft, including a home-made pirate ship!

The second day was filled with races. I was able to shoot nearly every run. Highlights included watching the inflatable kayak race, during which most participants took a swim, and the hard-shell kayak head-to-head race, called "boater-cross," where paddlers battled for first-place as they descended Carter Falls through a series of numbered gates.

Spending a couple of days next to a river is very relaxing for me. I will find ways to shoot more whitewater in the future!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Paddlers fight for position on the East Fork of the Lewis River near Battleground, Wash., during the Boatercross Sprint race, part of the Oregon Cup whitewater race series.
Oregon Cup, "Boatercross" Sprint Race
East Fork Lewis River, Washington

Day two of my adventure in whitewater photography found me super sore from paddling Lake Merwin, and from bouncing off the face of that cliff yesterday at Canyon Creek. I got to the race location plenty early to scout angles and try to chat up the crowd a bit. I got advice from several experienced paddlers, but in the end, settled on a location of my own invention. There was one rapid at the top end of the course that bottlenecked the participants into an area that just was not wide enough for more than one boat at a time. Since the race was a head-to-head event, groups for four and five would be paddling like mad through this narrow strip of water. I decided to go with it. I figured they'd still be in a pack so close to the start. Most of the time, they were. I am happy with the resulting photos. I've got a few of competitors banging into eachother, and I think that was the peak action of the race. Some of the facial expressions are very telling of the tension of the moment.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Luke Spencer slips off the last waterfall before the finish line at the Canyon Creek Extreme Race April 30, 2005.

Oregon Cup - Canyon Creek Extreme Race

I've got a bunch of new friends at Next Adventure, a sporting goods store in Portland, Ore. Among them is Luke Spencer, and he's really into whitewater kayaking.

Luke invited me to come along to the first two races in the Oregon Cup (presented by All Star Rafting and Kayaking and Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe), a whitewater kayak racing and rodeo competition. I'd never shot whitewater, so I was excited to give it a try. I borrowed a Necky flatwater kayak and other necessary gear from Next Adventure's demo program in advance, then met up with the organizers and racers on Saturday, April 30, where the bridge on Washington Highway 503 crosses the upper reaches of Lake Merwin. From there, several observers were going to padde up to the place Canyon Creek dumps into Lake Merwin, to watch the most dramatic part of the race. There were two big "class five" waterfalls in sight of the finish line, and participants were going to have to run them to complete the race.

I carried my boat, paddle and Pelican camera case to what I thought was the water's edge, and discovered the lake was at least 30 feet below. The obvious access point was a chute of rocks and mud, bodererd on both sides by moss and ferns. A canoe was tethered to a root at the bottom of the chute. This must be the place, I figured. I decided to take it really slow. About a quarter of the way down, the chute sort of flattened out, so I let go of the boat to go back for my camera case. Suddenly I heard knocking and scraping, followed by a big splash. My boat was gone! And it still had pretty good speed as it continued out into the lake. I scrambled down to the water and wondered what to do. How would I get the boat? I climbed into the canoe and tried to reach my boat with my paddle. No good. I climbed out of the canoe and thought a little more. Looks like I'm going swimming. The water was so cold I could hardly breathe. I got to the kayak, pulled it toward me, then gave it a good shove back to shore. What a way to start a day!

After a soggy paddle along the righ-hand bank of Lake Merwin to Canyon Creek, some spectators helped me beach my boat, and told me which waterfalls the spectators and photographers usually sat in front of. We started the short hike to that area, which required some tricky hiking on slick, steep terrain, or tricky wading on slippery boulders in fast water. I'd watched others go in front of us, and they'd hiked, so I did the same. At one point, I had to jump from a fallen tree to a muddy bank. Again, I'd watched others do it, so thought nothing of hopping across the two-foot gap. In a flash I found myself scraped raw by the face of the cliff I'd tried to land on top of. I looked up, and realized I'd fallen nearly 10 feet. My Pelican camera case had taken much of the fall for me. I sort of rode it down like a sled. Battered and humbled, I opted to carefully wade to the place I needed to be to take pictures.

Lots more spectators arrived, and soon, racers were appearing at the top of the waterfalls. Participants were timed as they sprinted through boulder gardens and waterfalls. The course was not particularly long, with most athletes finishing in less than four minutes. Despite my serious setbacks earlier in the day, I got some memorable images. I need to rest up. Tomorrow morning I'll be back at it again, shooting pictures at the second race in the Oregon Cup series, "Boater Cross," at the Hyacinth Bridge on the East Fork of the Lewis River.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

TRIOBA Sprint - Kenmore

TRIOBA Sprint - Kenmore Rains, Then Shines

On April 16, 2005, I photographed the TRIOBA Sprint adventure race in Kenmore, Wash.

Rain pounded my giant golf umbrella as I walked from the parking lot to the race headquarters at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore, a suburb of Seattle. The sound of the drops rattling above my head was disturbingly familiar. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d photographed an adventure race on Mt. Hood, Ore., and wondered if a lifejacket should have been on the list of participant’s mandatory gear. This day could end up being as miserable as that one was.

Nearly 50 teams had come to race, but nobody was moving very fast. Mountain bikes were lined up along the bike stands, and gear boxes, lids on tight, were snuggled up next to the bikes. A few athletes, easily identified as rookies or stupid, were puttering around by their bikes and boxes in the driving rain. Everyone else was huddled under a scattering of Easy Up shelters, wondering if the race would start on time. It didn’t.

Joel and Justin Yeager, organizers of the TRIOBA series of adventure races, called a pre-race meeting. They apologized for the weather, and then lined everyone up for the start. Maps were handed out at the last second, along with the admonition, “Do not look at the maps!”

The wail of an air horn told the teams to run run run to the first checkpoint. Some did, and ended up turning right back around. The first several checkpoints were nearby, but not every team’s map had the points in the same order. Following the fast teams (a common strategy in adventure racing) was only good if the fast teams had the same map you did! Utter chaos ensued for about 15 minutes. The photos were comical, showing teams running in opposite directions.

After the initial melee, teams grabbed their inflatable boats and headed down to Lake Washington. What some didn’t realize was that Lake Washington was about a mile-and-a-half down the hill. Because the rain was still pouring down, I decided to walk a few hundred yards toward the lake to shoot photos of the teams carrying their boats. I’d skip the paddling, thank you very much. I sure didn’t want to hike a mile-and-a-half uphill from the lake if the rain wasn’t letting up!

Soon, the fastest teams were on the way back up the muddy trail, carrying their boats back to the starting area. There, they began another trekking section that would take them to all parts of St. Edwards State Park. I got some shots of teams launching themselves off the trails in search of checkpoints. The rain was unrelenting. My camera soon stopped shooting. Was it finally soaked through? No, my memory card was full. No way was I changing it in the rain when my car was in a parking lot a short walk away. Back to the car I went. I swapped out the card, and, while I was in a dry spot, my camera’s rechargeable battery as well.

I went back to the headquarters popup tent to ask about the mountain bike leg, because so far, I wasn’t happy with the pictures I’d made. I was told there was a good single-track (hiking trail) section nearby. I decided to go there. As I was leaving, the first-place team, called Team DART, was running toward its bikes. I was going to have to move fast to beat them! I drove to a mini-mart near the trail and hurried to the checkpoint all teams would have to ride to. Just as I arrived, so did a team, but it wasn’t DART. “We’re in third place,” they told me. Man! I missed two teams! At least I knew I was in a spot that the remaining 45 would have to come to. The faces of most of the racers were splattered with muddy water. Photo op!

I scouted up and down the trail and found a spot where I thought I could shoot each team twice. I’d get them once on a flat part of the trail as they approached the checkpoint, and once again on a steep section of downhill single-track right after they left the checkpoint. I felt like a genius! But this strategy only worked on the teams that stayed on the single track after the checkpoint. For the dozens of teams that decided to take a paved road to the next checkpoint, it meant there would be half as many photos of them. I figured the teams all knew they couldn’t use the road, so I hiked away from checkpoint 18, in the direction of checkpoint 19. Very few teams came in the hour I stayed. A wiser move would have been to walk from 18 back toward 17. Every team had to get to 18, and there was no alternate route. Next time, I’ll think a little harder!

I headed to another spot the bikes had to hit. The rain had stopped and the sun was poking through white, fluffy clouds. I shot a few more teams at and near the checkpoint. Then I went back to the headquarters. The awards ceremony had already ended. Stragglers were showing up. There was hot food. I got a plate and filled up. Then I got in my car and made the three-hour drive back to Vancouver, Wash., with a big, goofy grin on my face. What a blast!

The 400 shots have been edited down to about 100. They’re all now online. I’m especially proud of the mountain bike pictures I made at this race. It’s never easy to shoot adventure racers. Once the race starts, they do everything as fast as they can!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Athletes snowshoe up a ski run at Mt. Hood Meadows on Mt. Hood, Ore.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Mt. Hood Adventure Racers Face Wet Storm

As a photographer at a March 26, 2005, adventure race on Mt. Hood, Ore., I was stationed on an exposed ski run during the wettest storm in months. A hike from the lodge several hundred feet up the run left me drenched in sweat, making a joke of my supposedly waterproof and breathable rain jacket. Its brilliant blue fabric was soaked through from the inside by be, and from the outside by snow that wasn’t cold enough to stay frozen.

Fierce wind howled through tall stands of pine on either side of the ski run. I was watching for racers to appear from the blizzard so I could get some shots and leave this exposed spot. Suddenly, there they were! They’d picked a route on the right side of the run, I’d gambled left, and now had little-to-no time to close the gap. The athletes made great time, even though the incline was punishing, and they all wore cumbersome snowshoes to stay afloat. I struggled to contour around to the athletes’ side. When I was finally close enough to fill the frame with racers, there were only half-a-dozen left. I’d nearly missed the whole thing! I was mad at myself for missing two-thirds of the racers. I tried to be calm about it, to just let it go. There would be other chances for photos on other parts of the course today. I vowed not to miss any more photo ops today.

I hobbled down the hill in near white-out conditions. Losing my balance on snowshoes in deep, wet snow, I fell half a dozen times. When I got back to the lodge after 30 minutes of hiking, I was soaked-through and exhausted. I was also really mad at myself. I’d fought nature for two hours, and I knew very well that I maybe had one good shot to show for it. Time to regroup. I needed a new strategy. The clock was running, and I had to figure out how to salvage the so-far dismal photographic day.

Shane Gibson, a friend from Portland, Ore., was the race organizer. I voiced my frustration and he could feel my pain. He wasn’t in love with the weather, either. The lack of snow the week prior had prompted him to cancel the cross-country ski portion of the course, and add a 20-mile mountain bike leg. Today’s six-to-12-inches of snow wasn’t consistent enough to bring the skiing back, but it clearly nixed the bikes. And I thought my day was going badly!

Gibson suggested I head to a checkpoint at the top of a waterfall. It was pretty easy to access by road, followed by a short, level hike on a closed road, then a quick scramble along a creek to the top of the falls. Sounded good to me! I tried to dry out my gear, soon gave up, and just headed for my car and what I hoped would be great pictures at the waterfall.

It was easy to find the “closed road” location where Gibson told me to park. But the main road into the resort had been plowed, leaving a good two foot barrier of snow between the cleared road and the small section of closed road where I was to park. I put the car in four wheel drive and punched through the snow and ice. Once in the deep stuff, I parked. I strapped on the snowshoes, grabbed the photo backpack, opened my golf umbrella and headed out. Soon I came to one of those old, moss-covered concrete bridges common in the Cascades. This was the place! The waterfall was partially frozen. I could see no teams at the top, where the checkpoint would be found. I decided to head up top and see if there were any tracks of racers who had already been there.

Hiking in snowshoes is probably most effective in snow. What I encountered on the way to the top of the falls was not just snow, but downed trees, big rocks, and random shrubbery. My giant golf umbrella, which was keeping my camera gear from getting soaked, got stuck repeatedly as I ducked under thickets to make my way up the hill. Eventually, I learned to close the umbrella whenever I had to squeeze through a tight spot. At the top, the checkpoint was easy to find, out on a bit of a ledge overlooking the falls. It was not staffed, so an orange-and-white orienteering course marker hung in a tree. A special hole punch, which created a mark unique to this checkpoint, dangled from the marker. The snow around the checkpoint showed no footprints. I had beaten all the teams!

I staked out a location where I could not miss any athletes approaching the checkpoint from any direction. And I waited. And waited. And waited.

Two hours later, the first racers arrived. What looked like a two-man team was actually a pair of soloists who were, for the moment, traveling together. They asked how many people had been through already. They seemed surprised to hear they were the first I’d seen. They punched their passports and were immediately on their way. I shot a few pictures and they were gone.

More teams were right behind them. I shot more pictures. Still more teams, still more pictures. I was ecstatic! This more than made up for what I’d felt was a failure at the beginning of the race. Now I knew I had at least a dozen great shots!

I worked the angle of the trail outside the checkpoint, and then went in to the checkpoint and shot some wide angle image in there. With that in the camera, I decided to head back to the lodge and shoot finishers. The rain pounded as I slowly made my way down the hill. I got back to the closed road. What was snow a few hours earlier was now four inches of slush. Not good for walking! I was really proud of my Gore-Tex boots. They never soaked through, not in the constant rain, and not in the final mile of sticky slush.

Back at the lodge, the walk from the car to the lodge soaked me right through all over again. I went in to dry off before trying to shoot finishers, and caught a chill. Out of dry clothing, I decided my day was done. I pulled up a chair and started to chat with the teams, volunteers and sponsors.

It was decided unanimously that we were all crazy for being out in the wettest storm the mountain had seen in months. Yet we all relished the experience. Taking on a challenge and finding a measure of success is truly rewarding. That we all suffered a little more than we expected made the day even more memorable.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Woman at the window. Hidalgo, Mexico.

Extreme Adventure Hidalgo 2005

I spent Feb. 21 through 28 making pictures in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. There, Ernesto Rivas, a Mexico City adventure racer, has put on an enormously popular multi-sport endurance race for the past three years. His race runs over four days, and includes three stages. The fist stage is 12 hours long, the second is 24, and the third is six.

My friends from Big Bear, Calif., adventure racers Karen Lundgren and Paul Romero, told me back in September 2004 about Ernesto, and that I should photograph his race. I contacted Ernesto and he welcomed me with open arms.

JOURNEY DAY ONE -- Monday, Feb. 21, 2005
Getting to the race start took 22 hours of travel from my house in Vancouver, Wash. (the suburbs of Portland, Oregon). I flew from Portland to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles to Mexico City. Ernesto had a large, modern bus at the airport to take racers and media on the five-hour drive to the race start at a mining camp/company town called Otongo in the state of Hidalgo.

JOURNEY DAY TWO -- Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005
Our bus arrived at Otongo at 4 a.m. My stomach had lurched for the final hour of our trip. Several hours of tight curves and livestock-sized pot holes had shaken me deeply. Relieved to be off the bus, I shuffled around the hotel parking lot taking deep breaths while others tried to figure out where our rooms were. The only help found at the front desk was a security guard who was not about to wake anyone up to get us our keys. It looked like we'd all have to crash in the lobby, and nobody was awake enough to care. Minutes later, Ernesto arrived. "Ernesto!" those who knew him shouted. "Good to see you! Where are our rooms?" "I'm not Ernesto," the Ernesto-looing man said. "I'm his twin brother." That did not register well in our tired minds. "When did you guys get here?" the very Ernesto-looking non-Ernesto asked. "Just a few minutes ago," racers answered. "And there's nobody here to give you your keys?" he asked. "No," he was told. "I'll get somebody," he said. "By the way, all the international media has a house at the bottom of the hill. If you're international media, come with me." Lisa and Dan from Adventure Sports Magazine followed the non-Ernesto, and I just stood there in the lobby. I wondered, am I international media? Lisa and Dan and the non-Ernesto were halfway across the parking lot already. Well, I'm not with a team, I told myself. And I gues I am media, I'm here to take pictures. But am I international media? Maybe I am. This is Mexico. I'm not Mexican. Better go ask. I hurried across the lot as they were opening the doors to a pickup and piling in. "Yes," Lisa and Dan told me. "Hop in." We were driven down the hill to our house -- a duplex really. It had three bedrooms already occupied by international media, so Lisa and Dan and I were assigned cots in the living room. I laid down and was asleep almost immediately. Woke up later this morning to the sounds of birds I did not recognize. Opened the door of our house and saw vegetation I did not recognize. Every tree and bush seemed to have a flower on it. This village of Otongo sits near the top of a mountain, and the valley is clearly visible at least a thousand feet below. The peaks are jagged but covered in vegetation. I hike up to the hotel and see many faces I remember from the Subaru Primal Quest adventure race in September 2004 in Washington state. Several of them recognize me and call to me by name. A captain's meeting was to begin in the auditorium right away. Where's the auditorium? Back down the hill, and then some. I hike down with Karen Lundgren, captain of team SOLE Custom Footbeds. In March 2004, I volunteered for West Coast Adventure Racing's first-ever event, set in San Diego County, California. A few months later, in June 2004, I attended Karen's adventure racing training camp at Big Bear, California. I'd seen her again at Primal Quest, but this was the first time we'd seen eachother since then. We caught up on the walk down. The meeting began and I started taking pictures. The Mexican television network Televisa had the stage lit up beautifully, so I didn't use my flash. I got shots of the race officials, then got shots of teams transposing checkpoints onto their maps from the master maps. The meeting broke up. Instead of heading up the hill to the hotel, I roamed the streets of the town for a few hours, making pictures as I went. Later that night, the welcome dinner kicked things off in memorable fashion. A man with a flaming cow on his head marched around the party area. The cow had a variety of fireworks attached. People ran for cover left and right whenever the cow approached. Once the party ended, Ernesto hosted a quick media meeting to tell us what we were in for. It all sounded pretty seat-of-the-pants, but I was eager to get going.

JOURNEY DAY THREE-- Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2005
Race Stage One, 12 Hours, Otonogo to Huejutla
Race start was at a very gritty manganese mine. Our media van tried to stay ahead of the racers as they made their way to a slot canyon, but the athletes were sprinting down hillsides that road engineers wisely contoured around. As a result, we missed most of the teams in the slot canyon section. Those we did see looked happy and eager to get on with it. I stayed at the top of the canyon to shoot teams before they entered the narrows. Others went downstream and came back soaking wet. One photographer even submerged a camera. I made a mental note -- next race, bring a dry bag from the kayak gear! Then I could have gone down with no worries. Back in the van and we rushed to a town along a river to watch a kayak leg. The school kids were officially out of class to cheer for the athletes. This resulted in a noisy scene at the riverside. Trees had been laid across the channel so teams would have to jump out and lift their inflatable kayaks over the obstacle. A good time was inevitable, as were good photos. One team had to drop out at this point, and they were stuffed into the media van for the ride to the finish line in the city of Huejutla. Motion sickness reared its ugly head again. One of the racers who'd dropped out had to get out and throw up. I was so close to being right behind her! Luckily, I kept it in and we arrived in Huejutla to find thousands of locals at the central plaza, waiting at the finish line for the teams to show up. Got my hotel assignment -- rooming not with Adventure Sports Magazine anymore, but a father/daughter film crew from the Yukon Territory of Canada, Allan and Angela Code. I shot the teams as they arrived, then retired to the hotel lobby to download all the photos of the day. As my card reader flashed red, reading the day's work, I watched Mexican soccer on the televsion. What a great adventure!

JOURNEY DAY FOUR-- Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005
Race Stage Two, 24 Hours, Molongo to Mineral del Chico
First thing I did this morning was find a pharmacy to get my hands on some dramamine. No more car sickness! The medicine worked really well for about an hour and a half. Lucky for me, that's when we arrived in the town of Molongo. The race wasn't going to run through the town, but the people were so eager to welcome the racers, that organizers agreed to have the athletes walk down the main street. Kids were again officially out of school, and ready to cheer. Many had flags of the nations the athletes came from. I got some great shots of a group of kids with Mexican flags. As the group paraded through town, I searched for a high angle and found one. A second-story window was in a perfect spot, where the lineup was to take a right turn. I asked the owner of the house if I could go up, and she escoreted me to the exact spot I had in mind. It was perfect! But the shot I got after the athletes passed was even better. The mother of the owner was in a window to my left, watching the same scene unfold. Lost in her own thoughs, she didn't notice me aiming my lens at her. The resulting photo is one of my favorites from the whole trip. Next we went to a nearby lake where the 24-hour race was to begin with a swim. got OK photos of the start, but better ones of racers climbing out of the water at the end of the swim. Back in the van and we hurried across the valley to a trek/bike transition area. We beat all the teams there, so had a great time shooting nearly everyone. A rare occasion! The light kept changing as clouds came and went. Thunder even rolled across the hills for a time, and the heavens opened up and dumped a bunch of rain. Eventually we left for a second lake, where teams were to transition from bikes to kayaks. The light continued to change, but this time for the better. The photographers in the van were getting antsy. Many stops were requested, but few were granted. When we finally got close to the second lake, a rainbow lit up the sky. Incredible! Down at the lakeside, team Nokia was lamenting the recent rain, because it had tuned the silty soil to something like peanut butter in stickyness. One of their teammates got injured trying to force his way through the muck. They were out of the race. We didn't know it at the time, but so were we. The sun was fading fast as we tried to find a way to get to where the boats were. by the time we got there, it was dark. We were out of business. So we got back in the van and went to Mineral del Chico. At a camp outside of town, the media was assigned a cabin. I immediately began to download the work of the day off my memory cards. I slept very happily in the loft.

JOURNEY DAY FIVE-- Friday, Feb. 25, 2005
Race Stage Two, 24 hours, Molongo to Mineral del Chico
I believe I hiked at least 10 miles today with most of my gear. The hike out to the rappell was three or four miles, I think. Once there (I arrived two hours after I started hiking), the views were stunning. Some of the ropes crew tried out the tyrolean traverse and the light was good then. By the time teams came, clouds blocked the view. Athletes took a ride on a rope having no idea where it would end! I started to feel sick on the drive back to Chico. I took a shower and a three-hour nap. I didn't want to miss the finish line party in Chico, so I headed down to town from our camp up on the hill. It must be two miles from camp to the plaza. Hungry and tired, I shuffeled into a restaurant for dinner. Forty pesos later, I felt pretty good. I hung out a bit with my Yukon friends. They recognized I was in bad shape and did a great job taking care of me. At times, covering an adventure race is miserable. But just like the racers, we all have great stories to tell in the weeks, months and years that follow.

JOURNEY DAY SIX -- Saturday, Feb. 26, 2005
Race Stage Three, six hours, Mineral del Chico to Pachuca
The final stage of the race today was FAST! The highlight for me was the town of Real del Monte, or Mineral del Monte, depending on which map you use. Racers rode their bikes through the mining town. It has tiny, winding streets and much colonial architecture. My dad told me befor ethis trip to watch for a town he could live in. I don't think a finer Mexican town exists. We got from Mineral del Monte to Pachuca in about 30 minutes on freeway-like roads. Soon we were in a traffic jam near the center of town. Streets around the plaza had been closed for the finish, so traffic was a mess. We walked the final four blocks to the plaza, just in time to see the winning team, Montrail, arrive. This crowd was many times larger than the one in Huejutla. Again, kids were in the streets cheering the athletes. It was a weekend, so they probably didn't have to be there, but they were, all in their school uniforms and waving flags. Eventually we got to our hotel. I roomed again with my Yukon friends. There were two parties that night. The awards ceremony party was at the fairgrounds in Pachuca, right across the street from the Plaza de Toros. After that, the real party took place in the basement of our hotel. The tequila flowed all night long. Not really my scene, I chatted with a few people I knew, then went to my room to download my final photos. I was in bed by 11 p.m.

JOURNEY DAY SEVEN --Sunday, Feb. 27, 2005
The race organization bus from Pachuca to the Mexico City airport was full, so I rode in a luggage pickup with one of the guys I'd been talking to all week. We had a good time chatting about all that we'd seen in the past several days. I hung out in the airport for about two hours, thinking I would save money by not getting a hotel room. I eventually gave up and got a skycap to show me how to catch a hotel van out front of the airport. About 30 minutes later, I arrived at the Mexico City East Holiday Inn. I walked across the street to Wal-mart and bought some clean clothes. Ten bucks outfitted me rather nicely. Had dinner, went to bed. Early van to the airport tomorrow!

JOURNEY DAY EIGHT -- Monday, Feb. 28, 2005
Caught the hotel van to the airport at 4 a.m. Got through security and checked in for flight. got to my gate and settled in for my flight to be called. First leg was four and a half hours to San Francisco. Got to see Copper Canyon and Los Angeles on the way. Second leg was about two hours. Clouds blocked the view, and I arrived in Portland in the rain. What an amazing trip! And what a privelige to be living my dream.