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, AdventureRacingConcepts.com. 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, MPGear.com, 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 Mergeo.com. 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.com. 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!