- Annie Hewlett
Adventure Racing World Championships 2017
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Race report by Annie, sharing insights from her first expedition AR. This was a long race, which begets a long race report. Find a comfy seat and a refreshing beverage.
Location: Wyoming Distance: 450+ miles Time: 127 hours, 44 min. Results: 24th overall, 8th American team. Team: Brent, Annie, Dusty, Emily Disciplines: Trekking, mountain biking, packrafting, rappelling, caving. Hours of Sleep: 7 hours 20 min
Combined Weight Lost: 27.2 lbs!!! Somebody hand me a piece of kale and a milkshake!
Race Goals: This was our first AR World Championship race, and we were beyond stoked to be competing against the top teams in adventure racing. Our primary goals were to keep moving, not get injured, clear the course, to support one another with heart, trust, and respect, and not to lose the joy in what we were doing despite the inevitable discomfort and stress of such a high level competition. We also thought it would be great if we could finish in the top 50% of the field. And of course our secret goal was to win, because who doesn’t have that secret goal? Needless to say, that one was quite a reach for this race, but one in a million is still a chance.
Hot to trot: We started fast! We all love racing, and the first 3 stages were an exhilarating push as we found ourselves surrounded by some of our AR heros. Even if we knew this might be short lived, pushing the pace to stay with the fast-moving lead teams felt like the right way to begin a race of this caliber.
Lowest Moment: All of us were lucky to have supportive families and friends eagerly watching our dot as we made our way across the course. In the post-race conversations we have had with Quest Dotwatchers since finishing, the question on everyone’s lips has been, “What happened in the first trek?” Exactly.
Our lowest moment came during the first night, when our navigation strategy depended on trying to piece together different trails on the map. Due to the level of accuracy and detail in the map, this was a sub optimal strategy, and led us into a bowl below a couple ridges that we dubbed “Lair of The Bear.” We followed trails that petered out, branched unexpectedly into 4 new trails, switched back in the opposite direction, and did everything but what the map depicted. Adding to the ambience in this hall of mirrors was the regular presence of fresh bear scat and patches of grass matted down from the weight of a large mammal. As we progressed, the scat became more frequent, looser, and I believe I saw steam rising off a few of the small piles. AUGH. This situation catalyzed a team bonk a few hours later, as we had been so focused on navigation and bear avoidance tactics we hadn’t been properly fueling, and found ourselves shivering and depleted in a frigid creek drainage at dawn.
Critical Tactical Shift: When I was an outdoor educator and mentor for youth, one of the mottos I taught was, “The map is not the territory.” This is just a reminder that sometimes the clues we can get from looking around us are more useful than those offered by a piece of paper with a trail or two on it. Team Quest has adopted and simplified this motto to: “The map is wrong.” Because it always is. Yet, we begin each race with optimism, hoping that in a sport where
navigation is central, the map will NOT be wrong. “The map is wrong,” is a gripe, a disappointment, and often costs us many hours of our race. We need to stop griping and start practicing navigation under the certain reality that the map will be wrong. This is the shift we made after two stages of building evidence that the map was wrong, and the rest of our navigation went much more smoothly.
Favorite Stage: The second bike stage, 36 miles from South Pass City to Sinks Canyon, was our favorite hands down. Up until this stage our race lacked momentum, and it was at this point the navigation, the terrain, and our energy level all came together. We felt strong on the long climbs, danced our way down high speed descents, and passed a number of teams as the stage went on. The single track descent on the Brewer’s Trail down to the caving and ropes stage at Sinks Canyon was pure joy. This race had a lot of Type II-III fun, but the Brewer’s Trail was Type 1 fun all the way, and put some serious wind in our sails.
Working together: We always work together within our
own team when we race, but we’ve never had the
opportunity to work with another team the way we did in
this race. We happened upon our friends on Team DART early on in the mega-bike stage, and thus began a morale-saving collaboration for the 100+ miles remaining in this desolate and dusty stretch of the Wyoming flatlands. They had a playlist, we had a speaker. We had stories, they needed to chat. They had pickles and bacon, we had too much sugar in our packs... and we all needed a paceline. DART has been racing since the early 2000’s, and between them they have completed dozens of expedition races. This is expedition race #2 for us. We raced with them through half the night and all of the next day, and during this time we learned more about efficiency, sleeping, eating, and resiliency than I can even say. The crown jewel we witnessed was the DART Bivvy Burrito: In less than a minute they went from riding their bikes to lined up in the ditch, swaddled in a space blanket, and snoring. We were so impressed we could barely sleep ourselves, but somehow we managed.
Cowgirl Tough: Emily and I were proud to bring some extra X chromosomes to our team- one out of only 3 teams racing worlds with two women. The rules require each team to have at least one member of each gender, and having more than one female on a team is rare. I am not mentioning this solely to toot our girl power horn, but rather to acknowledge something special about the 4 of us who raced at Worlds. Thing one: we are partners. Emily and Dusty are married, and Brent and I are getting married in less than a month. We are a team of four bound
by partnership and friendship. How incredibly lucky we are. Thing two: We know that after many hours of racing, our capacity to endure boils down not to raw physical power, but to communication, mental toughness, and perseverance, and gender is inconsequential when it comes to these critical elements.
Sleepmonsters: I fell asleep riding my bike UP A HILL. I fell asleep riding my bike DOWN A HILL. I fell asleep while walking past steaming piles of fresh bear scat. I fell asleep while paddling a packraft, and according to my teammate I KEPT PADDLING!! Knowing I can sleep and paddle at the same time might be the biggest personal victory of the race for me. Some of our favorite wakefulness strategies, both self discovered and learned from the seasoned veterans of DART:
Call and response singing
Repeat one word over and
over until you think of another word to repeat
Recount every detail you can
remember of the story of falling in love with your partner/spouse.
Giant 500 mg caffeine pill (I witnessed this, but didn’t dare partake for fear my heart would explode)
10 min nap (amazing how this can feel like hours of sleep!)
Slacken all your facial muscles, then slap your face as hard as you can. Repeat.
Coziest storm shelter: Another trick learned from DART: The Packraft Peapod. All four teammates scrunch into a little ball and line up, one deflated packraft on each side like a peapod shell, pinch edges together, wait out the storm. Peep out occasionally, perhaps witness another team sprinting across the open plateau without rain gear and dodging lightning strikes, and thank the lord your teammates aren’t crazy like that...
Most lowbrow nap location: On the fifth night, Team Quest became a haggard foursome I barely recognized. Dusty went rogue and ran around an RV park looking for a CP as he ignored our calls to come back. Brent tried to convince a couple random Wyoming folks in a campground that they were actually ARWS staff manning the checkpoint that we were looking for. They were actually just enjoying some beers by the fire, and thought we were out of our minds. Emily had an exasperated outburst about some lights and a rock. I babbled incoherently about demyelination of peripheral nerves... we needed a nap. I found a pit toilet that I sold hard to my teammates as, “not filthy and 5 degrees warmer than the air outside.” Sold! We crumpled into a heap on the women's room floor for a much needed 80 minutes of sleep, only slightly interrupted when another team opened the door and then decided to crash in the men’s room.
Deja Vu: You may have gathered by this point that expedition adventure racing is at times more trippy than drugs. Hallucinations, out of body experiences, and tapping into paranormal frequencies pretty much sums it up. All four of us had intense deja vu at least once during the race. So intense that we each felt we could predict what would happen next, and Dusty truly did this as we started pedaling up the final climb of the race on Casper Mountain with thunderheads looming on the horizon. It didn’t take clairvoyance to predict that those clouds would open up over our heads in under an hour, but Dusty said, “In my dream we hit bad weather before the top, but right before we summit the trail totally changes and the weather gets nice again.” And
this is what happened, though Dusty admitted that the ensuing nightmare of pounds of mud caking our wheels and encrusting our drive trains was not part of his dream. True to his prediction though, once we made it to the high point of the climb we washed most of the mud off in a conveniently enormous puddle, praised the clearing skies, and continued on over pavement.
The frequency with which we all had deja vu was striking. Why did this happen? Was it a desperate attempt by the mind and body to convince us we’d already done what we were about to do, in an effort to interrupt the program? Get us to stop and rest? Quit while we were still ahead? The deja vu was both disorienting and comforting at the same time. And it didn’t make us stop and rest.
The race that keeps on giving: There were a whole lotta miles in this race. The only thing we could do was consider this a gift. What’s better than trekking for 38 miles? Trekking for 40!
Packraft Bummer: We reached the technical pack rafting section in Fremont Canyon in the middle of the night. This was a challenging section to run in the daylight, but at night it was near impossible, and we ended up portaging most of it. The stage became a technical test of a different flavor, as we rockhopped and navigated the slick canyon walls while rain deluged from the dark sky above.
Key Gear Pieces:
Sawyer mini water filters: Installed in-line with our hydration bladders, these made treating
water from creeks and rivers on the course a breeze.
Dirtbags bike packing bags! This Wyoming based company has their product design nailed-
our 15L seatbags took a bunch of the weight off our backs while riding, and the top-tube “Burrito Hauler” bag became an easily accessible pantry of tasty treats to grab while pedaling.
• Outdoor Research Sun Sleeves- I put them on before the race started and didn’t take them off till it finished. They eliminated the need to apply sunscreen to my arms, felt like a second skin, and protected from bushwhacking abrasions.
Training: We bow down to the training expertise we received from Spencer Paxson through his coaching business, Peak Energy
Performance. Other than the expected blisters on our feet and some saddle area tenderness, our bodies felt strong and capable for the entire race, and we even had the juice to push the final climb on Casper Mountain and beat out most of the storm. This was the result of Spencer’s carefully planned workouts, longer missions, and general wisdom leading up to the race. Want coaching for unconventional pursuits? Call Spence!
Favorite Foods: I have never eaten a Big Mac in my life until this race, and it was truly manna from heaven. We got them from a drive-through before heading into the hills on our bikes for the night. I can’t say I’ll ever have one again, but there’s clearly a right place-right time for the Big Mac, and we discovered it. A more likely bet for future fueling is the Heather’s Choice Salmon Chowder we were lucky enough to have along. One simply cannot exist on bars, trail mix, and swedish fish for days at a time, and the dehydrated meals that Heather’s Choice offers are packed with sustainably sourced REAL food and tons of flavor and protein. I’d have one for lunch sitting at home in my house, never mind when I’m trekking above 9000 ft on my third day of a race, and that’s saying a lot for a dehydrated meal!
Lessons Learned: Oh so many. Starting fast... it may have been fun, but it probably wasn’t smart. For future expedition race starts: more time eating less time sprinting after jackrabbits. Getting wrapped up in someone else’s race and derailing your own is a classic mistake, nevertheless we made it.
We still need to work on faster transitions and fewer stops during stages- making up even 5 minutes while moving in a bike or trek is near impossible. It is much easier to save that 5 minutes by getting off our butts and out of the TA faster.
Checks and balances with our nav could have prevented some of our early errors. This means the backup navigator is more active keeping an eye on the big picture while the primary navigator manages the details.
SLEEP SYSTEMS. The solo shiver bivvy made it impossible to get more than about 60 minutes of decent sleep at a time. Our minimal SOL Emergency Bivvies (essentially a giant deflated mylar balloon) were not our friends. We need to develop a better system that is quick to deploy and harnesses body heat x4. Coming soon: The Quest Lasagna Bivvy... or... The Quest Sardine Can Bivvy.
Bushido. This samurai code of honor became the way we reminded one another to stay true to our own race, no matter who was ahead or behind us. We admittedly have not trained as samurais, and there is a great deal about the underlying ideas of the art and practices that we do not understand. That said, this mantra helped us simplify at the right times. We used Bushido as a reminder to clear our minds of the trivial and focus on the singular purpose of the moment. That’s pretty grandiose, I know, but it helped.
Perspective: We spent five and a half days out there working against abundant mental and physical challenge. It was hard. Perhaps even harder though, was returning to read the news of what had transpired in our country and the world while we were racing. On the race course there was no hate, no violence, no threat to our constitutional rights or birth rights as living beings on this planet. There may have been struggle out there, but there was nothing but mutual respect
between teammates, fellow racers, rattlesnakes in the sagebrush, cacti, bears, thunder, lightning, wind, water, and sun. The chill of the solo shiver bivvy is a discomfort we had the privilege to choose. As an athlete, it is tempting to immerse oneself in the intensity and fulfillment of extreme physical pursuits as a complete escape from all the tragedy and injustice in the world. Instead though, it is my hope that the challenges I overcome during training and racing strengthen my spiritual endurance and ability to act against the intolerance, injustice, and hardship that exists beyond the bubble of sport. Stepping off the race course, may I meet these challenges with the same goals Team Quest had for our World Championship effort: keep moving, don’t get injured, and support my fellow humans with heart, trust, and respect. This race was a timely opportunity to prime the pump for empowered action in sport and in the world.