Monday, November 06, 2006

USARA National Championships, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Photo by Mike Bitton
Adventure racers mountain bike past palm trees in Santa Barbara, Calif., during the USARA National Championship race.

The first weekend in November I covered the national championships of the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA), held this year in Santa Barbara, Calif. It was a great time to be away from Portland, Ore., since we were logging record rain totals every day I was gone!

It was a little strange to be at a race where I only knew a few teams. At Primal Quest I knew dozens, at and the Wicked and TRIOBA races here in the Pacific Northwest, I know even more. Walking around the starting line on the beach, I only met a few groups I recognized. Where were all the so-called "top teams" of the sport? I guess they don't bother with "grassroots" racing any more. Or maybe they were taking the weekend off so they could be in Rio for EcoMotion Brazil. That was the case with my friends from DART-nuun in Seattle.

I'd never really spent any time in Santa Barbara before, just drove in once when I lived in SoCal and took a stroll on the beach with my wife. This trip was different. I spent three days driving around town and up and down the San Ysidro Mountains that form the city's dramatic backdrop.

It's funny the things I miss about California -- being so close to Mexico; seeing $100,000 cars being passed by Kias; and the ever-vibrant Los Angeles International Airport. Things I forgot I didn't like -- the endless supply of rude people; maniac drivers in the fast lane of every freeway; and a parade of lousy radio stations. KCRW FM in Santa Monica is the only exception.

I was welcomed like family into the rental home of team Mighty Dog from Atlanta, Ga. Sherry and Ardie Olson, team manager and captain, respectively, have taken me under their wings every time I've seen them since May 2006, when we met at the Mighty MO Expedition adventure race in the Ozarks of Missouri. One of the greatest things about adventure racing is reuniting with friends every few months, always in a diferent state, and sometimes in a different country!

Daylight hours were spent taking photographs of teams. Dark hours were spent downloading photos off my memory cards and onto my laptop. There was no stress to put up stories and photos every night, since the USARA said they had their own method of updating their web page to keep family and friends up to date on race conditions. Sadly, it didn't come together for them, which left fans in a lurch. About a dozen people asked me Saturday morning where all my stories and photos were. I told them Checkpoint Zero had agreed not to post anything until AFTER the event, so as not to compete with the USARA information machine.

I spent a lot of time talking to athletes after the race about training and nutrition, as I will be racing in 2007. In fact, Iwill be racing next month! There's a BEAST race near Seattle on Sunday, Dec. 3. I'll be there with some other newbie adventure racing friends from Portland to see how we all perform under stress. Nutrition and training have become an important new part of my life since I decided to race in 2007. I'm lucky to have so many elite-level adventure racing friends to point me in the right directions!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wicked Sunsweet 24hr Adventure Race

Photo by Mike Bitton
Glenn Rogers of team nuun/Clif grabs a checkpoint in a culvert during the Wicked Sunsweet 24hr adventure race in Oakridge, Ore.

Oakridge, Ore., was recently ranked by a national magazine as the second-best mountain biking location in the United States, beaten out only by Moab, Utah. So why the heck hasn't anyone outside of the Pacific Northwest heard of Oakridge? Now that the Wicked Sunsweet 24hr adventure race has wrapped, I bet the word will spread like wildfire.

Green Waters Park in the center of town served as headquarters for the race, which begain at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept, 23. The course was so Wicked that only six of the more than 30 registered teams were able to finish the whole thing. Thankfully, time cutoffs allowed slower teams to complete a "sport course," and still see the highlights of the area, which included a 100-foot rappel.

While I normally work alone covering adventure races, I got to host two new friends this time around. Julie was in my Jeep, supporting solo racer Duncan Sailors. Jalen was with us as well, supporting his mom, Terri Smith.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market

Every August and January, about 1,000 outdoor sporting goods gear manufacturers gather in Salt Lake City for an industry-only trade show called Outdoor Retailer. The August show is Summer Market, and the January show is Winter Market. I just got home from Summer Market, and what an experience it was!

On assignment for Checkpoint Zero, North America's leading source for adventure racing news, my job was to find gear of interest to adventure racers. The show is so massive, it's not easy to whittle down all the good stuff to just great stuff. I'm eager to return next summer and do it again, though.

While there, I got to see Rich Brezeau and Gordon Wright of the Primal Quest expedition adventure race. I also saw people from SOLE Custom Footbeds, Merrell shoes and Backpacker Magazine that I'd met at Primal Quest in Moab about a month ago. Several adventure racers were at the show nurturing relationships with sponsors. I spent time with members of teams DART-nuun, Salomon-Crested Butte, Silly Rabbits, Gerber Gear, Adventure Racing Concepts,, Bulleit and Jen's Men (now called Men for Hire, as Jen has retired). What a treat to see all these people again! They all inspire me to train harder and enter more races.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

TRIOBA 12-Hour Adventure Race, Snoqalmie Pass, Washington

Photo by Mike Bitton
Members of team Double Trouble/Peak Physique descend from Checkpoint 9 during the TRIOBA 12-Hour adventure race at Snoqualmie Pass, Wash, on Saturday, July 15, 2005.

I spent Saturday, July 15, covering the TRIOBA 12-Hour adventure race at Snoqualmie Pass, Wash. It was very comforting to be in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, after having spent a couple of uncomfortable weeks in Moab, Utah, for the Primal Quest expedition adventure race. The high temperature during this TRIOBA 12 hour never even cracked 70 degrees! Home, sweet home!

Some real news came out of this 12-hour race when team defeated regional powerhouse team DART/nuun. It's a rare day DART finishes anywhere other than first place in the four-person, co-ed division. Here, they got second by 17 minutes.

In DART's defense, all four of the athletes that raced here -- Matt Hart, Aaron Rinn, Ryan Flemming and Jennifer VanGorder -- toed the starting line at Primal Quest in Utah back on June 23. Hart was with DART; Rinn was with SOLE Custom Footbeds; and Flemming and VanGorder were with Gerber Gear.

Mergeo's talent pool included orienteering guru Eric Bone, comic relief Aaron Vanderwall, triathlon diva Julie Heidt Schnepf, and Scottish workhorse Ruaraidh Stenson.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Little Diddy, 'Bout Dan and Diane

Photo by Mike Bitton
Diane Bush and Dan Miller sit for a portrait in the garden of their Richmond, Utah, home.

On my way home from the Primal Quest expedition adventure race in Moab, Utah, I stopped for the night in Richmond, Utah, to visit with longtime journalism friends Dan Miller and Diane Bush. Dan was the photo editor of the daily newspaper in Logan, Utah, when I was in photojournalism school at Utah State University in the same town. Diane was a photo intern who came to work at the paper for a summer, and never returned home to Minnesota. As is the case with many small-market journos, Dan and Diane are no longer in the biz. Dan shoots occasional freelance assignments, and runs a non-profit dedicated to keeping OHV riders on legal trails. Diane bakes artisan breads in Logan, and runs a soapmaking business from home. The time I spent with them was peaceful, a welcome change from the non-stop action of Primal Quest. Thanks, D and D, for putting me up for the night!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ryan VanGorder Returns to Primal Quest Headquarters After Close Call With Heat Stroke

Photo by Mike Bitton
Ryan VanGorder and his wife, Jennifer VanGorder, pose for a portrait outside Primal Quest headquarters at Red Cliffs Lodge near Moab, Utah.

Ryan VanGorder, workhorse for Seattle-based adventure racing team DART-nuun, was taken off the Primal Quest expedition adventure race course via helicopter four days ago after suffering what doctors here have called a classic case of heat stroke. Whether Ryan would survive his close call with the sudden illness was in question for the first few hours.

Thankfully, Ryan's condition improved daily while in the hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., and today, Ryan returned to Primal Quest headquarters to thank the doctors who very likely saved his life.

"I thank you and my family thanks you," Ryan said to Primal Quest Medical Director Bill Webster.

All the well-wishers who spotted Ryan at headquarters expressed great relief to see him back on his feet.

I'd heard through the grapevine that one of the first things Ryan did when he woke up in the hospital was ask for enchiladas. When I saw him today, I gave him a big hug and apologized for not having any enchiladas to give him. Everybody laughed. We were far too close to not having that laugh with Ryan.

Welcome back, bro! I can't wait to see you back in the Pacific Northwest woods where we belong, instead of this blast-furnace desert.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Primal Quest Media Center Often Empty or Full

Photos by Mike Bitton
The Primal Quest media center is either overflowing with reporters and photographers, or just about empty.

I've been working out of the Primal Quest media center for nearly two weeks now. Popping in here in the middle of the day to try to get any work done can be nearly impossible, as every inch of table space and every Internet connection are clogged with those who slipped in before me.

It's been fascinating to work with journalists from all over the U.S. and the world. Here's a sampling of who showed up:

The Summit Daily News, Colorado, USA
The Gazette, Colorado, USA
Los Angeles Times, USA
Backpacker Magazine, USA
Inside Tri Magazine, USA
Checkpoint Zero Website, USA
Sleepmonsters Website, USA
Nelson Mail, New Zealand
Trail Runner Magazine, Sweden

Pretty cool to meet so many new people in the business!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

This is Yak, AKA Paul Angell of Checkpoint Zero

Photo by Mike Bitton
Paul "Yak" Angell, the brains and labor behind adventure racing website Checkpoint Zero, updates his blog in the Primal Quest media center at Red Cliffs Lodge near Moab, Utah.

In today's tech-saturated world, it's pretty common to know people via e-mail and telephone, and have no idea what they look like. Such was the case for me in regards to Paul "Yak" Angell, the guy behind the adventure racing news website Checkpoint Zero.

Yak walked through the door here in the media room and instantly recognized me, because he's put shots of me on his website before. I wasn't sure whether the guy in front of me was Yak or some other dark-haired fella with a goatee. It was Yak!

Within minutes it was clear to me why Chekcpoint Zero is the best AR site out there. Yak is well-spoken, fiercely intelligent and is all about the details. If this guy had a talk show, it would instantly go gangbusters in syndication, and he would be swimming in cash.

As if his professional character traits weren't enough, he's also a happily married family man with a baby boy back at home in South Carolina. In my book, he's in the running for the Decent Human of the Year award.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Time to Drain the Blisters

Photo by Mike Bitton

A member of the Primal Quest medical staff at TA 3 near Green River, Utah, uses a needle to drain blisters for athlete Tara Paprocki.

Primal Quest Utah 2006 got underway without me, but I did get some field time last night. Fellow media team member Bob Heady and I rolled out to Transition Area 3 (TA 3) just upstream from the town of Green River, Utah, to see if we could polish off some interviews with teams we've yet to profile.

While there, I did get to interview team Terra Trekkers. Probably more interesting, though, was the time I spent with Tara Paprocki, who I interviewed last week for a profile on her team, Tara's feet were in sad shape, and she was about to wake a medic to receive treatment.

The photo says it all. Puffy feet aren't happy feet. Any foot that needs treatment from a needle that's several inches long is not a happy foot. Tara wasn't happy, either. Every time the doc touched Tara'sright pinky toe, Tara let out a yelp. I gave her some pats on the back and told her how sorry I was.

What a difference getting out of race headquarters has made to my outlook. Before, I was almost dreading the upcoming task of escorting media around the course. Now I'm excited, because I'll be with the athletes again. They are absolutely inspiring!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Meet Rich Brazeau, CEO of Primal Quest

Photo by Primal Quest Volunteer Ye Fun Wong
Mike Bitton snags a photo opportunity with Primal Quest CEO Rich Brazeau in front of the Red Cliffs Lodge near Moab,Utah.

Many things about the 2006 Primal Quest are different from the 2004 Primal Quest experience, and I believe that's largely due to the influence of Rich Brazeau. Rich was hired to be the new CEO of the race, and he's basically reinvented it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Primal Quest Media Director Interrupts Bitton Blog

Photo by Mike Bitton
Primal Quest Media Director Gordon Wright, mastermind behind the flood of media coverage about the world's toughest adventure race, flashes his famous smile in the media room.

I've been away from the blog for a few days because Primal Quest Media Director Gordon Wright has been working me like an insecure summer intern who's desperate to gain favor. I interviewed a team, wrote about that team, repeated the trick a dozen times, and now I am beat. I'm ready for a vacation from my vacation!

I've volunteered to stay here at the PQ headquarters media room for a few days. Some time next week, I will rotate into the job of escorting media around the race course. The strategy behind that decision is that hopefully, life around here will be a little less urgent with nearly everyone gone, and I can get some much needed rest.

Highlights of my 2006 Primal Quest experience so far have been all my interactions with athletes, volunteers and staff.

Many of these athletes count me as their friend, and that is such an honor. I know teams not only from Washington and Oregon, where I live, but from California, Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, Michigan, New York, Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Volunteer friends are also from all over the U.S. and the world. It's such a fascinating cross-section of cultures and languages, all brought together by a passion for adventure.

Race staff are a pleasure to work with, because they are not only professional, they are intelligent. They know not only what they want their volunteers to do, but why they want the volunteers to do it. What a nice contrast to the newsrooms I worked in for 10 years, where workload was based not on intelligent decisoins, but on politics, egos and a never-ending false sense of urgency.

The next few days should be a great break from the constant interviewing and writing I've been doing since Monday. Maybe I'll sleep in a few times, lounge around by the deserted pool,and start reading the good book I brought on the trip.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pucker up, Buttercup

Photo by Mike Bitton (with self-timer)
Mike Bitton is overcome with joy after driving his 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited through the gap in the Moab landscape known as Pucker.

This morning I interviewed team Mighty Dog for a team profile I'll be writing later today. They had a cool picture of their Jeep Commander driving through a gap in some nearby rocks, and I asked where it was.

"Pucker," they said.

So when I finished with Mighty Dog, I sought out the trail named after the pre-kiss muscle contraction. As you can see, I found it! What a blast this place is. Pucker is one of hundreds of dirt roads around Moab that peter out into Jeep trails. My street-legal Jeep is not ready for the most gnarly trails, but it does OK on the small stuff.

It was nice to spend a few hours away from the media crew room. I doubt I'll have that kind of freedom again any time soon!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Gargantuan Gatorade Reserve to Defeat Dehydration at Primal Quest

Photo by Mike Bitton (with self-timer)
Mike Bitton tries out a forklift while viewing hundreds of cases of Gatorade at Moab's Red Cliffs Lodge, headquarters for Primal Quest 2006.

Today I wrote a story about hydration for the Primal Quest website. The story is exactly the type of nuts-and-bolts work I am expected to deliver at least once a day until the race wraps up July 4. Here is a link to the story.

Before I took on what has come to be known as "the Gatorade story," members of the Primal Quest Media Team took a short walk to the volunteer headquarters to officially check in and receive our swag or schwag. The good gifts were considerable! They included:

Merrell Overdrive shoes
Gregory Reactor backpack
Nike Dri-Fit T-shirt with official Primal Quest Utah 2006 logo
Headsweats ballcap with official Primal Quest Utah 2006 logo
Water bottle with official Primal Quest Utah 2006 logo
yankx (lower-case, with a "z") shoelace replacement system with official Primal Quest Utah 2006 logo
Official Primal Quest Utah 2006 patch
Myriad other free stuff like sunblock, energy bar, lip balm, and even some stickers for my Jeep!

Heat continues to be a fact of life here that slows everyone and everything down. Yesterday, when the mercury was clearly above 100 degrees, was worse than today, which is only in the 90s. I know I'll have some days out on the course, basking in the brutal heat, but for now, typing away on my laptop in the air conditioned media room at race headquarters, I'm as comfy as can be.

Because I've been working on writing team profiles for the Primal Quest website since last fall, I've built something of a reputation as the go-to-guy on these things. I've already written team profiles on DART-nuun, Silly Rabbits, Don't Look Back, Jen's Men, Merrell Wigwam Adventure, Millie,, Nautilus Pearl iZUMi, Silicon Valley, and SOLE Custom Footbeds. That's a lot of profiles! All that work has given me so much practice, I believe my writing is back to the level it was when I was churning out award-winning features on deadline at daily newspapers.

One of the goals of our race coverage on the Primal Quest website is to write about, photograph and videotape every team. Having already polished off 10 team profiles, I've taken a sizeable chunk out of the writing workload. The photos and video will fall to professionals and volunteers in those departments.

There is still much writing for me to do. As of today, specific assignments for more team profiles include Adventure Racing Concepts, Dynamic Earth, GCAR Moosejaw, Hombres de Maiz, McKinley, Mighty Dog, NEMO, NW Nike ACG, Odyssey Adventure Racing, Stinky Feet/Kilt Racers and Wicked Adventure Racing.

I don't know if it's actually possible to write that many team profiles before the race starts. I may have to do micro-team profiles on the course when I see some of the teams at checkpoints or transition areas. I love a challenge, and getting all this work done, plus the other stories Gordon assigns to me (like today's Gatorade story) will certainly be that!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bitton Arrives at Red Cliffs Lodge

Photo by Mike Bitton (via self-timer)
The Red Cliffs Lodge sits on the banks of the Colorado River northeast of Moab, Utah. Several movies have been filmed here because of the dramatic red sandstone formations that shoot straight up from the valley floor.

I have arrived! The Red Cliffs Lodge near Moab, Utah, will serve as headquarters for the 2006 running of the Primal Quest Expedition. Widely regarded as the toughest adventure race in the world, Primal Quest Utah will take co-ed teams of four through 500 miles of the wildest terrain the region has to offer. Fast teams may be done in as few as five to seven days. Those hoping "just to finish" will have 10 days to officially cross the finish line.

The overnight drive from Portland was as smooth as can be. I left my house at 2 p.m. Sunday, and arrived in Moab at 7 a.m. Monday. Accounting for the time change from Pacific to Mountain, I was in my trusty red Jeep for 16 hours.

Since part of my job here at Primal Quest will be to escort credentialed media around the course, my first order of business in Moab was to buy the tools and materials to recharge the Jeep's air conditioning. The fact that the AC blew ambient wasn't an issue in Portalnd, where ambient has been 50 degrees, rain or shine, for months. Here in Moab, the high is expected to be in the triple digits today, and tomorrow, and to stay that way until September! The auto parts store was open early, so I got the goods and recharged the AC. The air now blows so cold I can only stand having it on low. Lucky credentialed media!

Next I drove the 20 minutes along the Colorado River to Red Cliffs Lodge. This setting is unbelievably beautiful! The red cliffs shoot straight up from the Colorado River. It reminds me of the time I went backpacking in the Four Corners area with my friends Jud Clark and Dan Miller. We explored the Grand Gulch Plateau, especially Fish and Owl Creek. There is a serenity here that I don't feel other places. I bet I'll come to rely on that peace when things start to get a little hectic here in coming days.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Wicked Urban Adventure Race, Portland, Ore.

Photos by Mike Bitton
These two photos are of Seattle-based adventure racing team The rainy one was in the morning. The sunny one was in the afternoon.

On Sunday, June 4, I covered my third annual Wicked Urban adventure race in Portland, Ore. The weather was just as zany as can be expected for springtime around here. We had rain, then bright sun, then torrential rain, then sun and wind, then more rain, then hot sun, then more rain, and the day ended with sun! It seemed like every 30 minutes, the sky simply changed its mind.

It's rare that real news comes out of an adventure race, but we had some today. During the in-line skate portion of the race, a freight train was blocking the route of Seattle-based team Mergeo waited 20 minutes for the train to move, then got impatient and climbed the stairs at the end of one of the cars to bypass the train and keep racing. A police officer was on the other side and detained the team. Arrest was considered, as were citations. In the end, the officer let the team go on its way.

I've been chipping away at a Mergeo team profile for a couple of weeks now. Today's incident will add a little color to the piece!

Monday, May 22, 2006

2006 Northwest Rafters Association Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival

Photo by Mike Bitton
A paddle team makes its way through the rapids of Carter Falls on the Upper Clackamas River near Estacada, Ore., during the Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival on Sunday, May 21, 2006.

For the second year in a row, I photographed the Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival for Next Adventure, Portland's Alternative Sporting Goods Store. The event is at Carter Falls near the town of Estacada, Ore. I missed the first day of events because I was in Cle Elum, Wash., photographing the TRIOBA sprint adventure race. Last year, day two of this whitewater event produced the best photos anyway. Day two features boater-X, where paddlers in whitewater kayaks jockey for position as they make their way downriver. It also features paddle teams, which pack inflatable rafts with padders who try to make it through a series of gates as fast as they can. I always feel energized after spending a day on the banks of a river.

2006 TRIOBA Sprint Adventure Race, Cle Elum, Wash.

Photo by Mike Bitton
An athlete punches checkpoint 4 during the TRIOBA Sprint adventure race Saturday, May 20, 2006, near Cle Elum, Wash.

Rain raked athletes at the start of the TRIOBA sprint adventure race near Cle Elum, Wash. Just a few hours later, sun scorched participants as they crossed the finish line. Ahh, springtime in the Cascades!

Normally dominant team DART was third overall, and nearly 42 minutes behind the first finishers, the 2-man team of Montrail Northwest. Second went to the 4-man team, which was only a few minutes back from the winners.

Because DART was the first co-ed team of four to cross the finish line, they lead the 2006 TRIOBA adventure race series in the points standings (only co-ed teams of four are elegible to earn points). Being on top is not new for the Seattle-area team, which has won the title of Pacific Northwest Adventure Racing Champions (just the TRIOBA sereis, really) for the past three seasons straight.

Second place in the 4-person co-ed division went to, another Seattle team, and DART's most serious competition. Mergeo actually beat DART at the final TRIOBA of 2005, where just two minutes separated the teams at the finish line.

Rosters have shuffled a bit in the off-season. DART lured Aaron Rinn away from Mergeo. To shore up its ranks, Mergeo recruited the two-person co-ed team Rubber Chickens, which is far more serious than it sounds. The Chickens are Georgia Daniels and Mike Miller, known throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond as expert trail runners whose specialty is endurance. I think any team whose members can run all the trekking sections of a race puts DART dangerously close to defeat. In years past, DART could easly make up time lost to bad navigation choices. This year, Mergeo will be a constant threat.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mighty MO Expedition Wends Way Through Ozarks

Photo by Mike Bitton
A team shoots through Class III whitewater on the St. Francis River in Southeast Missouri during the Mighty MO Expedition adventure race.

I just got back from the Ozark Mountains of Southeast Missouri, where I covered the Mighty MO Expedition adventure race. It was fun to catch up with the teams I'd already met, and great to meet even more teams I never knew.

If you aren’t familiar with adventure races, they are multi-sport endurance events. In most adventure races, athletes will at the very least hike/trek/run, mountain bike and paddle either whitewater or flat water. Race directors add to or subtract from these core disciplines depending on the available terrain. One thing that is nearly universal in adventure racing is that the course is not marked. Athletes must find their way through the course, hitting every checkpoint in order, to avoid a time penalty.

In Missouri, I was on assignment for Checkpoint Zero. That’s a website that covers adventure racing ( If you visit the site and click on the “Features” link at the top of the page, you’ll be taken to a page showing the biggest adventure races in the world. If you click on the Mighty MO Expedition adventure race logo, you’ll be taken to the coverage I provided of the event. I wrote several journalism-style news stories during the race, as well as magazine-style features profiling three of the participating teams in the weeks leading up to the event.

My next assignment for Checkpoint Zero is the TRIOBA sprint adventure race in Ellensburg, Wash., coming up May 20. Other Checkpoint Zero assignments will follow, including the Wicked Urban adventure race in Portland, Ore., on June 4, and the TRIOBA 12-hour adventure race July 15.

In August, I will cover the Adventure Racing World Championships for Checkpoint Zero. Lucky for me, school is out for the summer at that time, so I am available! I’ve heard teams will cross into the Arctic Circle. I’ve never been to Europe, and I’ve never been to the Arctic Circle, so this will be the trip of a lifetime for me!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Writing Back in the Bitton Baliwick

My dream in high school and college was to be a writer. A little research taught me that daily newspapers hired reporters, some of whom grew into amazing writers. Get paid to write full-time, straight out of college? What a plan! While at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, I had to take a photojournalism class as part of my journalism program. I found I had a knack for the work, and focused my major on photojournalism. Internshihps and full-time jobs added up to 10 years in the daily news business. I grew disenchanted with the negativity of the industry. I'd won some awards for my writing and photography, but looking around the newsroom, I saw no one I wanted to be in 10 or 20 years. I switched briefly to public relations before abandoning my writing dreams alltogether and became an elementary school teacher. A few years into teaching, my sedentary lifestyle was taking a toll. I bought a mountain bike for my birthday, and started to volunteer at endurance races. I even snapped a few photos at the events. The more races I went to, the more impatient I grew with the lousy stories coming out of these truly remarkable events. The writer in me, long burned out, still wasn't ready to take on the poor prose problem of endurance sports. That has recently changed. I've been writing my guts out for Gordon Wright, media director of the Primal Quest expedition adventure race, churning out team profiles with which he is very well pleased. I've been writing even more for Paul "Yak" Angell, founder of Checkpoint Zero, the website that in my opintion covers adventure racing better than any media outlet in the world. I've aligned myself with Checkpoint Zero because I believe it is the future of endurance sports media. But I'm working five and six hours every night because I love Yak, and I love the athletess he's letting me profile for his website. For the past two years, I've been known mostly as an adventure sports photographer. Please add writer. There's a whole other side of me that you're all going to see with great frequency in 2006.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mike's New Ride a Real Looker

Photo by Mike Bitton
This is a shot of my Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited in the driveway of my Vancouver, Wash., USA, home.

While on spring break in Idaho, I picked up a replacement SUV for the 1994 Ford Explorer I smashed up on my way home from a fine day of snowboarding at Timberline on Mt. Hood. I moped around for a week when I learned my insurance company decided to "total" the car, even though the damage could be fixed for less than $4,000.

Had I known I'd get so lucky on the Explorer's replacement, I wouldn't have been sad at all. What you see above is my new Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. It's a 1995 and has a LOT of miles on it. But the body and interior are in great shape, so if the day comes that it needs a new transmission or engine, I'll gladly make the upgrades. This platform is exactly what I need to chase my adventure sports assignments all around North America.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I (dramatic pause) am an Army of Zero

Photo by Ryan VanGorder

Here's me testing out my new Checkpoint Zero duds at the Colinoba II adventure race in Seattle, Wash.

I sent this photo to my friend Paul "Yak" Angell, head of the adventure racing website Checkpoint Zero (, and he decided it was worthy of his own blog. Soon after he posted this shot, Yak was contacted by a Midwest photographer who wants to contribute to Checkpoint Zero as well.

Yak felt very good about this second addition, and had a vision of a whole army of Checkpoint Zero photographers and reporters...and immediately dubbed his two recruits the Checkpoint Zero Army. He even assigned me a serial number, which is 000001. He's still recruiting, so if you're good with a pen, camera or both, and consider sleep depravation a wholly acceptable working condition, visit his website and drop him a line. He's ready to help you be all that you can be.

Over the past year I've had stories and photos on Checkpoint Zero, as well as on other adventure racing websites like, and For 2006, I agreed to send my work from certain races -- the Wicked Adventure Racing series in Oregon, and the TRIOBA adventure racing series in Washington -- only to Yak at Checkpoint Zero. The price of exclusive rights didn't set him back too much. He sent a few T-shirts (one of which is pictured above), some neat hats, a stack of stickers and a really cool thank-you note.

Once I was on board for the Wickeds and the TRIOBAs, Yak asked if I'd like to cover the Mighty Mo Expedition, a new multi-day adventure race set in Missouri in May. Of course! So now I'm knee-deep in planning for Missouri. I've already written a preview feature about the Mighty Mo, which will appear on Checkpoint Zero in coming days.

I'm in the army now. I am not, however, an army of one. I (dramatic pause) am an army of zero.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Colinoba II Adventure Race Draws Exclusive Crowd in Seattle

Photo by Mike Bitton
Justin and Joel Yeager, directors of the TRIOBA adventure race series in Washington state, run through the streets of Seattle, Wash., during Colinoba II.

Athletes from all over the Pacific Northwest converged on Seattle for Colinoba II on Saturday, March 11. The annual adventure race is open only to invited teams, and marks the birthday of Colin Ness, now 45. Ness is a fixture on the regional adventure racing circuit not because he is handsome or charming (which he is), but because his wife, Connie (also an adventure racer) is stunningly beautiful and absolutely enchanting. I could go on and on and on. So back to the race.

Three of the race checkpoints were in famous Seattle pubs, and each team at Colinoba was assigned a beer name as its "team name" for the day. The phrase, "I hate to drink and run, but I gotta go," wore a little thin on the barkeeps after more than a dozen racers laid it on them, then ran out the door.

After a penalty was assessed to those sneaky Yeager boys for skipping the roller coaster checkpoint at the Space Needle, team Guiness were declared the winners. Guiness included Ryan and Jen VanGorder, normally of the DART adventure racing team, and Jerry Gamez, who usually races with team Missing Link.

During the awards ceremony at yet a fourth Seattle brewpub, I received a trophy for "Best Action Shots." What a vote of confidence that Colin awarded it to me without having seen any of the photos yet! They're on my website ( if you want to see.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Timberline Halfpipe Competition Produces Stellar Photos

Photo by Mike Bitton
A competitor in the USASA halfpipe competition at Timberline, Ore., catches major air.

Sunday saw me on beautiful Mt. Hood again, photographing a snowboarding competition sponsored by my friends at Next Adventure, Portland's Alternative Sporting Goods Store. I'd never shot halfpipe, so was unsure where to stand or what to look for. Through some trial and error, I found some spots that worked, and switched lenses often enough to decide a wide was usually too wide, and that my telephoto produced much more dramatic results. See above.

Next Adventure hooked my 10-year-old daughter, Ashton, up with a demo board, and we made a couple of runs down Bruno, AKA Timberline's beginner's area, before the halfpipe competition began. We had a great time! Many thanks to Next, and to Tony and Jill at Timberline for taking such great care of us.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Blue-Bird Day Encourages Snowboarding Practice

Photo by Mike Bitton
The south-slope of Mt. Hood is home to the famous Timberline ski resort, where I snowboarded Feb. 19, 2006.

Apparently, I arrived late at Timberline for the USASA Halfpipe competition on Sunday, Feb. 19, because when I got there, it was already over. Very few participants showed up, and the runs down Stormin' Norman were over in less than 30 minutes. Sharp contrast to the USASA's slope style events I shot at Timberline a few weeks back, which went on all day long. Not one to waste an opportunity, I asked for and got a lift ticket from Mountain Services (thanks, Jill!), and bravely made for the bunny hill with my demo gear from Next Adventure. It would be my third time on a snowboard.

I slummed around the top of Bruno, the bunny hill named after one of Timberline's mascot dogs, hoping to overhear a few free pointers from the Timberline snowboard teaching staff. "Just strap in your downhill foot and skate around a bit on this flat stuff," was the first tip, which I tried. It worked for me! Another tip: "When you need to stand up, flip over onto your belly and push yourself up," which I thought sounded a little loco, but I tried it. It worked! Instantly up and out of control! I was so pleased to see many-a-30-something there on Bruno, struggling to get into their bindings; trying to figure out how to stand up; and slipping around once they got upright. I was truly among peers. Next week I'm scheduled to shoot the USASA halfpipe competition again. I will arrive a few hours early, just in case.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Matt Hart Sets Personal Record for Elevation Gain During 24 Hours of Sunlight Ski Race

Photo by my brother, David Bitton
As the sun sets during the 24 Hours of Sunlight ski race at Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs, Colo., Matt Hart of Seattle, Wash., climbs toward the top of Compass Mountain.

Matt Hart of the DART adventure racing team invited me to be his support crew at the 24 Hours of Sunlight ski race in Glenwood Springs, Colo. The race began at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, and ended at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12. Matt's showing was impressive. He completed 17 laps for a total elevation gain of well over 26,000 feet. He took eighth place out of 18 in the men's solo division. The course required participants to climb more than 1,500 feet to a ridge on Compass Mountain at the Sunlight ski resort, then ski, snowboard or simply hike back down. As his only support crew, my job was to meet Matt at the bottom of the hill each time he skied down, and get him ready to head immediately back up the hill. I'd hand him vitamins, coffee, energy drinks and food, put the climbing skins back on his skis and send him on his way. Forty-five minutes or an hour later, I'd do it again. Then again. And again. My brother, David Bitton, staff photographer for the Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colo., joined us at the race. Because he sent his photos to the Associated Press, his coverage of the 24 Hours of Sunlight ran in newspapers all over Colorado. What an awesome trip! I got in some great brother time, and was able to support one of the best endurance athletes I know. The more time I spend with Matt, the more impressed I become. Congrats, Matt! You are super-human in my book!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Adventure Racing's Team DART Packs House at REI Flagship Store

Photo by Mike Bitton
Erik Nachtrieb, manager of Seattle area adventure racing team D.A.R.T., introduces himself to a crowd of more than 70 during a lecture at the R.E.I. flagship store in Seattle, Wash.

Seattle area adventure racing team D.A.R.T. packed the house at the flagship R.E.I. store in downtown Seattle, Wash. for a lecture about multi-sport endurance racing. The presentation included videos and still photographs of the team in action. Most of the still photographs were shot by me during the 2005 racing season. The first slide of the team's presentation, shown in the photo above, is one I took of team member Matt Hart during the Wicked Gorge adventure race in 2005. I love hanging out with D.A.R.T. and trying to capture the team's intensity. Seeing so many of my photographs on R.E.I.'s gigantic screen made me feel like a bit of a rock star. I'm stoked to go shoot more racing in 2006! Special thanks to Ryan and Jennifer for letting me sleep at their West Seattle home.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Next Adventure Sponsors USASA Timberline Classic Series Slopestyle and Halfpipe Events

Photo by Mike Bitton
A competitor in the USASA Timberline Classic Series Sloopestyle competition catches air off the third jump in a snowpark spnosored by Next Adventure.

I love being associated with Next Adventure, "Portland's Alternative Sporting Goods Store." I shoot a lot of the events the store sponsors. This year, Next Adventure is sponsoring the snow parks at the famed Timberline Lodge ski resort on Mt. Hood, Ore. The USASA series will have events at Timberline every weekend through the end of February, so I'd wager I'm about to become very familiar with the drive from my house to Timberline Lodge! The banner in the bottom left corner of the shot is from the store. Owners Deke and Bryan will be elated!

Riverboarders Brave Winter on Oregon's Fish Creek, Hope to Appear in Wend Magazine

Photo by Mike Bitton
Riverboarders Ice (left) and Docta P hike upstream along Fish Creek in the Upper Clackamas River drainage near Estacada, Ore.

I photographed Portland, Ore., riverboarders Ice and Docta P back in August 2005 for a New Orleans fitness magazine. Hurricane Katrina soon put the magazine out of business.

But these adrenaline junkies have successfully pitched an article on their addiction to a new magazine in Portland called Wend (as in "wend your way," or find your own way in the world). Hopefully, some of the shots from September's shoot can accompany some of the new winter shots I got today.

How cold was the water? The Ice Man and Docta P were both double-wrapped in neoprene wetsuits, and still squealed like babies in a chilly bathtub.