Primal Quest - 3rd place
Updated: Jan 18, 2019
Lillooet to Squamish, BC Sept 6 - 11, 2018
A Team Called Quest...
Before the Quest Race Team was traveling around the world seeking out expedition length adventures, we were a race organization hosting 6hr and 12hr races in Bellingham, WA (Kulshan Quest) and the San Juan Islands (Island Quest).
Our race director, Brent, participated in the Primal Quest 3rd edition in Washington state back in 2004. It was his first adventure race. Soon afterward, he founded Quest Adventure Racing and started putting on his own races, utilizing the well-known “Quest” moniker from Primal Quest. Fast forward to 2013 when Dusty and Emily Caseria (aka Dust’Em) entered Island Quest 12hr as their first adventure race. They won handily, and in doing so qualified for USARA Nationals, and haven't stopped racing since. And thus is the origins of Quest Race Team with Primal Quest being a spark to the fire.
Here we are in 2018, with Primal Quest 8th edition being held in our big backyard, of course we were in! The race would be Dusty and Emily’s 4th expedition length race, Mitch’s 2nd, and Scarlett’s 1st. Collectively - our racing experience totaled 15 years. For some perspective, our top competition - Bones and Columbia Vidaraid - had several members with 15+ years racing individually!
We were stoked on the race, and to have this experience together.
Leg 1 - Paddle/Run/Kayak - Seton and Anderson Lakes - 27 miles
Photo credit: Luis Escobar
For the start of the race, we were divided up into three beautiful Coast Salish canoes to paddle across the long expanse of Seton Lake (about 13 miles long!). We chatted among the other teams and the enjoyed the sunny day, knowing that the forecast was WET and REALLY WET for the remainder of the race.
At the end of Seton Lake, we had about 1 mile run to get to our tandem kayaks which were at Anderson Lake, also a ~13 mile long lake. All the teams were still together at this point, so we were able to size up our paddling competition on the expansive lake. We were paddling inflatable sea kayaks by Advanced Elements. They were not the fastest boats, but their inflatableness was pretty comfy! Columbia Vidaraid and the New Zealand St Martins teams were clearly the strongest paddlers. We got the off the water in 4th or 5th place, just in time for sunset.
Leg 2 - Bike from Anderson Lake to Whistler Blackcomb - 100+ miles
We received all of our maps with CPs after the first paddle and were also given detailed hand-written instructions on the order of CPs and which trails to take. RDs Maria and David were available for this which was really great! Dusty and Mitch spent a long time in the TA working on the route for the 100+ mile bike ride. Bones and Vidaraid spent much less time and were out of the TA almost 30 minutes before us. Dusty thought it was better to take the time to plan the route where there was a dry, lit table and the RDs were there to answer questions. And looking back, it was a good call for our team because we would catch both Bones and Vidaraid in just a few short hours.
Photo(s) credit: Luis Escobar
Based on a news article, this first long bike leg of the race had to be rerouted at the last minute due to a grizzly bear infested huckleberry patch! This of course is an RDs nightmare and I can imagine them scrounging to get maps re-printed at the last minute. It also explains why were doing out and backs to add on mileage.
The new course took us up to Birkenhead Provincial Park. The steep climb on the forest service road was a rude awakening. Dusty put Scarlett on tow for this. He was feeling energetic and she was feeling nervous about a 100 mile bike ride and the many days of racing ahead. We paused for minute to eat near a field with some glowing eyes watching us. The eyes were wider apart than a deer, we suspected mountain lion, but didn’t linger to find out and surged away with a hit of adrenaline. At Birkenhead Lake, we got onto the Sea to Sky Trail which we would follow on and off the whole way to Whistler.
After the lake, we descended to Pemberton where we had to do a loop on the local, mostly singletrack trails. While climbing Nimby and Middle Earth, we did what felt like 400 switchbacks. Dusty could of course ride the whole thing, but the rest of us mortals hike-a-biked. We also dealt with a few minor mechanicals on this leg - the soles of Emily's biking shoes fell apart and we had to duct tape them back together and Mitch lost a screw to one of his bike levers. Luckily nothing too major!
When we finally neared the top of the climb where the CP was, we encountered multiple teams! Bones was slightly ahead of us, but we started descending just before Columbia Vidaraid. Some pursuit teams where there too. The descent down Rudy’s trail was awesome and fast, the best singletrack riding of the race!
We rolled into Pemberton at daybreak with Columbia right behind us. At some point they disappeared though, and we later learned they had stopped for hot breakfast at a local coffee shop. Ah, so this is how the pro's do it, in style too.The final checkpoint in Pemberton was at the start of the Hurley Forest Service Rd and required a ~30 mile out and back ride on pavement. We got in a pace-line and pedaled at 16-18 mph on the smooth road in a time-trail format. Along the way, we saw our only bear on the course - a cute mid-sized black bear in a field along the road. We learned later that this bear and her cub had crossed the road RIGHT in front of the Bones team causing some momentary chaos in their organized paceline.
Once back in Pemberton, we spent a moment refueling and donning rain jackets as the WET had arrived. The pace line had been grueling and Mitch in particular looked a little flushed and at the beginning of a bonk (He had outdone himself a few times leading the pace line at 19MPH). We took a more moderate pace back to Whistler taking time to search for the Sea to Sky Trail that we were told to take but was not on our maps. It was nowhere to be found so we pedaled roughly 14k from Pemberton to Whistler along highway 99 in the rain during the morning rush hour commute. Not our favorite part of the race!
Photo credit: Luis Escobar
Probably about 3/4 of the way to Whistler we found the Sea to Sky Trail and were relieved to not be riding on the shoulder of a busy highway. We made our way to the last CP on Comfortably Numb, and as we turned to descend the trail we suddenly encountered both Bones and Columbia/Vidaraid hiking up. This was one of the few times we led the race! With the rush of excitement and adrenaline we sped to TA2 arriving around 11:00AM. We thought we would get their first, but Bones with their local knowledge of the trails took a quicker way and arrived mere minutes before us. It took a bit of wind out of our sails that they beat us, but it still was exciting to be racing this venerable team! It didn't matter for the results anyway since we all had to wait out a 15+ hour dark zone together. Columbia/Vidaraid would continue to ride Comfortably Numb looking for the non-existent physical CP and get to TA2 a few hours later (We were not given a passport that told us if we were looking for a physical CP to punch, a virtual waypoint, or to check-in with a person and our handbooks at this point were essentially useless due to the many last-minute race updates).
After 20 hours of racing from Lillooet, we would now be completing 2 days of glacier trekking and 1 white water day with dark zones in between each day trip. This meant sleep! Woo-hoo! And also that no real time advantage could be gained as long as you could clear the part of the course that was dark zoned because the race would restart each day.
For the first dark zone, we would have nearly 17 hours before we could set foot on the Blackcomb Glacier/CP6. During this time, we refueled with amazing hot sausages, eggs and pancakes at the TA, clean up in the bathrooms, sleep for 7-8 hours, and finally hike the 4 mile road to the Blackcomb Glacier.
Leg 3A Glacier Trek- Blackcomb/Spearhead zone - 26 miles
The race originally had the ambitious goal of having teams complete the entire Spearhead Traverse. However, due to low snow levels, melting glaciers, and warm temps, the traverse could not be completed safely, so the race opted for 2 out and backs on either ends of the traverse. First was the Blackcomb out and back.
For the glacier trek, we were given a gpx file to follow on the smartphone app Gaia. Anyone that knows Dusty and Emily, know they rock the flip-phone/no-wifi-at-home lifestyle. It was kind of comical handing over an I-phone to him for an adventure race…(Dusty: “My gloves don’t work on this screen!” Dusty: “Ugh, I started a timer and it’s taking up half of the screen! Help!”). But per usual, he adapted and mastered the new skill quickly.
Photo credit: Dean Wutke
The course included a traverse on a small bit of bare ice on the melting Blackcomb glacier followed by a very long section of rocky ridge and talus fields past Circle Lake and beyond Decker Mountain. Then we got back on snow/glacier where we met the friendly face of Michael Horst, one of the mountain guides helping with the race and also Primal Quest 2004 teammate of Brent Molsberry.
Now we were fully on the traditional Spearhead Traverse route and we weaved between Mt Trorey, Mt Pattison, and Tremor Mountain. At Tremor, we turned around and retraced our steps back. We raced side by side with Bones and Vidaraid the whole time on the glacier, with us all regrouping during crampon changes. One of the coolest and most technical parts of the traverse was to weave our way through some beautiful blue, bare ice sections with teams all choosing a slightly different route while jostling for position.
Photo credit: Mari Chandler
Photo credit: Mari Chandler
Once we made if off the glacier, we took it easy down the gravel road/cat track descent back to the TA. There was a dark zone on the next glacier section until 7:30am the next morning and Mitch and Scarlett were wearing stiff soled boots and trying to preserve the bottoms of their feet.
We arrived back at the TA at 10pm more than 30 minutes after Bones and Vidaraid. After a long time of indecision, we finally decided to sleep at the TA and get up at 2am to start the trek to CP11. Dusty was still full of energy and stayed up a bit later to do some map work for the next few sections.
Leg 3B Glacier Trek- Spearhead/Whistler side - 26 miles
We were the first to head out of the TA at around 2:45 am. Mitch and Scarlett brought running shoes as well as boots this time to save the feet. The trail up to Singing Pass was a pleasant grade and we relaxed for a bit together.
CP11, where the dark zone started/stopped, was at a small hut at Russett Lake where a volunteer had instructions written out for us. This 2nd glacier trek had been shortened from an out and back to a short loop on the Whirlwind glacier. (This was the norm for this race - getting updated instructions from a volunteer right before you were about to transition. Sometimes it mattered if you followed their instructions exactly, other times not).
Photo credit: Dean Wutke
Photo credit: Michael Sero
At 7:30AM, the dark zone lifted, and we were the first team to head out. We pushed hard to get out of sight of the other two teams by scurrying into the rocky moraines. The instructions stated we were to follow cairns and ascend the lookers left side of the glacier and not walk on exposed ice at any point. They also said we would meet a guide “at some point”. Once we identified the glacier we were supposed to ascend (it was not labeled on any maps, so was a bit tricky), we noted that it was all steep bare ice except for some sketchy snow on the right side of the glacier. We first checked out the snow, and then traversed back to the left side of the glacier and see if we could find the cairns. Voila! We found the cairns and excitedly scrambled up the lateral moraine left of the glacier where we met the climbing guides. Dusty commented that this was the trickiest bit of navigation yet in the race, and we thought this might be our chance to get a gap on the other teams as they were still down below searching for the route.
The glacier route was well-marked and thank-goodness because it was blowing and blizzarding up on top. Just before we reached the top of Whirlwind Peak, we were surprised to pass both Bones and Vidaraid together moving in the opposite direction from us. They were not following what we thought was a prescribed route. After our momentary high from our diligent route finding, it was frustrating to see the other teams on a different one because apparently they could not find the prescribed route. Furthermore - why the heck were we being given so many prescribed routes in an adventure race?!
Once off the glacier we were still in the lead, and pushed hard to get out of sight of the other teams as to not be an aid to their navigation out in the alpine area. We covered ground quickly as we headed past Russett Lake and onto the Musical Bumps Trail. We kept the lead for a while, but Columbia Vidaraid caught up to us as we started descending the steep, rooty, slippery mountain bike trails at the Whistler ski area that would take us down to Cheakamus Forest Road. Vidaraid was amazing at descending technical terrain. We were so glad we didn’t have to have our bikes on them. For those in the know, we descended Top of the World, Khyber Pass, Upper Babylon, and See Colours and Puke trails before reaching the Cheakamus East Side Main Road and TA3.
Leg 4 Mountain Bike- Cheakamus to Elaho River - 44 miles
We were the second team to reach TA3 around 5:00 pm, probably 10-15 minutes behind Columbia/Vidaraid and 10 minutes in front of Bones.
Mitch was a little slow out of the TA and had to be prodded hard by Scarlett and Mari (thanks Mari!) to get his stuff together so we could get on the road. Once we made our way down to Whistler Olympic Village we had a hard time finding and keeping the Sea to Sky Trail, but muddled our way through.
Bones passed us along the Sea to Sky trail when we blew past a trail intersection but we passed them back before the long climb up Chance Creek. The climb up the road started steep with a few walking sections. We passed one of the Pursuit teams, Get Outthere!, at the top of the climb, with none other than Mike Kloser. Scarlett made fun of him for riding a teal Juliana before she realized who it was. He was encouraging to talk to and said he liked our packs! It was a brake burner down the logging road then a sleepy, bumpy slog along the Squamish River for 10-15 miles until we hit the confluence of the Squamish River and Elaho River - TA 4.
At the TA we were greeted with hot chili, hot chocolate and another dark zone. We were told that we would meet no earlier than 9:00 am to get a plan for the morning, and that they didn’t even know if we could run the river due to the influx of rain and rising river levels.
Leg 5A Whitewater Raft - Elaho River to Squamish River- 22 miles
We woke up in the morning around 7:30 and were immediately rushed to get ready by the race organizers. They wanted us to be ready and gathered as quick as possible. It was annoying being rushed since we thought we had given ourselves enough time to be ready by 9 and really wanted to eat that Heather’s Choice hot breakfast. We also were irked that our paddle bags weren’t there as promised. (We will note though that we did get to see all 5 of our bins at every TA, and that was stellar!)
Photo credit: Luis Escobar
Six total teams were ready by 9:00 am and we hiked up the road together to the raft put-in. We teamed up with Get Outthere! in a raft. The guides said the water flow had doubled since the previous day and the flows were quite good for us that day. Dusty and Mitch sat at the front of the raft and took on the brunt of the freezing cold water (low 50s F) in the class 3-4 rapids. The first part of the river was more canyon-like and had more continuous rapids. Once the Elaho flowed into the Squamish River, the river opened up with longer stretches of mellow water between smaller rapids.
After we finished the whitewater raft there would be no more dark zones and therefore, no more time resets for teams. It was game-on!
Leg 5B Kayak- Squamish River to Anvil Island to Britannia Beach- 50 miles
The raft with Bones and Columbia Vidaraid was the first boat to be at the TA, with us shortly behind them. We made a quick transition (maybe our proudest transition of the whole race), making sure to prep for a super long (50 miles!) wet, dark paddle. We were the second team on the water shortly after Vidaraid with Bones hot on our heels, I mean elbows? Paddling the moving water of the Squamish River/estuary was quite fun and very beautiful. We stopped briefly at the manned CP at the mouth of Squamish where volunteers gave us instructions to stay along the eastern mainland shore for a while before crossing over to Anvil Island due to increasing winds in Howe Sound. They also told us THEY FORGOT to give the same instructions to Vidaraid, and therefore they would be aloud to take a direct line to Anvil while we were forced to take the longer route. It's impossible to say exactly how much difference these volunteer communication differences made on the end results of the race, but it sure was irritating in the moment. It felt like the race staff was getting in the way of the racers and in the way of the race itself!
Photo credit: Michael Sero
After about 5 hours of rainy paddling in Howe Sound we reached the shore of Anvil Island not a moment too soon as Mitch hurriedly performed a low 5th class scramble for a nice place to have an emergency dump. After he down-climbed back to the boat, we saw Bones closing in and we paddled hard to get to the TA on Anvil Island before them.
The volunteer on the Island told us there would be one CP near a lake and hopefully another volunteer who set the CP would run into us on our way up the trail. We asked the volunteer if we needed mandatory gear (first aid, waterproof lighters, space blankets) for the short hike, and she said they were not checking so we stupidly left it in the boats.
The hike to the top was very steep with slippery rocks. Columbia Vidaraid seemed to throw caution to the wind on these crazy descents and flew by us just as we were reaching the CP. We estimated we were 15 minutes behind them. Then we passed Bones on our trip back down the mountain and they were about 10 minutes behind us. As we were about to get back in our boats, a different race official than the one we encountered when we first arrived asked to see our mandatory gear and we told him it was in our boats. He told us that we needed it and that there may be a penalty for not having it. We tried to explain that the other volunteer had told us otherwise just an hour before, but the penalty was already won.
The return paddle was maybe the sloggiest bit of the whole race. It took forever, it was dark, and the tide and wind were working against us.
A funny moment occurred though when Emily and Mitch’s boat ran aground on a shallow spit of land that they could not see in the dark. All of a sudden they were just stuck! Finally we reached the takeout after 12+ hours of paddling. We hopped out of our boats at the same time as Bones and carried our boats across the street to TA 5.
Leg 6 – Trek - Mount Habrich and Rappel – 17 miles We were 3rd out of the TA. There were two options to get to the lake where the next CP was. One on roads and one on trail with a short bushschwack. Dusty chose trail so up up up we went. There was a very welcome 45 minute dry-spell in here where we were in dry clothes and it wasn’t raining. It felt AMAZING.
We reached the lake after about and hour and a half of hearty uphill pushing, and one poop stop. We saw lights behind on us on the other side of the lake and while we assumed it was Bones, we secretly hoped it was Vidaraid. We felt the only time we were faster than Vidaraid was on the uphill treks. We viewed this trek as our moment to seize the lead if there was going to be one.
From the lake, we had a bit more single track until we got onto a forest service road, which took us up to the popular Sky Pilot hiking/climbing zone. We ran as much as possible on the roads with Dusty and Mitch putting Emily and Scarlett on tow. We felt surprisingly good. Perhaps it was the 12+ hour sit we had just taken during the paddle in our icy cold bathtubs.
Once we got into the alpine, there was a key left hand trail that we needed to take to get to Mt. Habrich. We missed it the first time and went too high. On our return, we heard Bones coming toward us. We didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of seeing us or learning from our mistake, so we jumped in the wet huckleberry bushes along the trail to hide. Mitch quickly took a nap, Scarlett munched on some Huckleberries, and we all giggled as we spied on the other team. As it would happen, Bones decided they needed to make a clothing change and stopped next to where we were hiding! It felt like it took them forever to make what was likely a quick change. We were all muttering for them to hurry up, except Mitch who was sleeping.
Upon moving again, we found the right trail and continued to push ourselves to the next CP near the summit of Habrich. (Later we learned that Bones turned back and saw us on the right trail after they realized their mistake of taking the misleading Sky Pilot route). At the next CP, which happened to be manned, we were informed that we were getting a 45 minute penalty that we had to serve immediately on the ridge in the rain. The penalty was for not taking our mandatory gear on the Anvil Island hike. OCR guy and former elite AR athlete, Ian Adamson, was all too happy to be the deliverer of the bad news. I was expecting burpees from him, not a time-out. But you get what you get and Mitch set us up a tarp and we huddled underneath biding our time. Bones also served a time penalty at this location – and 1.5 hour one! Vidaraid did not serve a penalty.
The alpine area around Mt Habrich is stunning. If only we had better weather and more time, we would have definitely lingered! The way to get around Habrich was via series of steep scrambles with lots of handlines and grippy granite rock. We hit the last CP on the ridge and quickly looked around for the checkpoint (again you frustratingly never knew if the checkpoints were a physical orienteering punch, a waypoint, or manned). Then we took a typically Canadian harrowing descent 1,500 ft trail back to the road we came in on. Once back on the roads, we towed up and motored/ran as fast as we could to the rappel area. Later we learned that both Bones and Vidaraid stayed high on the ridge while we opted for the low road. Looking back, the low road was the faster choice, but not fast enough for what would happen next.
The last CP of this trek leg was supposed to be right before the rappel. We were covering ground fast as we approached Slhanay (aka “The Squaw”). We followed trails to the cliff edge where we thought the CP would be and it was nowhere to be found. We reviewed the photo of the hand-written notes we had received at the last TA. It said to follow ribbons to rappel area. This ribbon chasing would lead us on a 1.5 hour wild goose chase all over the top of the Squaw. Eventually we wised up and retraced our steps back to the main trails, and found the CP a couple hundred yards down the small trail from where we turned off. It was very well marked and flagging led us to the rappel site. We were happy to hear that we were still in second as we reached the rappel, but we knew Bones would be close behind.
Photo credit: Luis Escobar
We rigged ourselves for rappel and made our way down the two rappels. One of the ropes had a bad spot in it that Mitch encountered as he rappelled past. He was the last to rappel but they had to change the ropes before Bones came down. They were now waiting at the top of the rappel. At the rappel bottom we bushwhacked straight down to hit Mamquam Road and then ran along the road to the final TA.
Leg 7 Mountain Bike - What happened Tuesday Night?
Finale or How we ended up in 3rd place - To anyone watching on Tuesday evening, we had a pretty comfortable lead on Bones even after our rappel station finding snafu. So how did we lose it??? Well it’s complicated. Who wins these races is a multivariate problem involving strength, endurance, skill, timing, luck, and much more. But here is our best description of what went down.
Photo credit: Michael Sero
We transitioned very quickly from Trek to Bike (it felt like we were finally getting good at this!). The final bike leg included 3 CPs and was estimated to be about 22 miles/4 hours. At the TA, the volunteers showed Dusty a map of the area and CPs and instructed him to climb the “Climb trail” to 2nd CP and “Leave of Absence” to the 3rd CP. Left to his own route-finding, Dusty wouldn’t have chosen either of those trails as there is a road to climb instead of the “Climb Trail” and “Leave of Absence” is a blue/black downhill trail requiring lots of hike-a-bike. https://www.trailforks.com/trails/leave-of-absence/
Bones made the better route choice to stay high on forest service roads between CP25 and CP26. Both Vidaraid and ourselves did not do this and descended from CP25 back to the University and then had to climb back to CP26. Dusty admitted he also knew you could take a forest road to connect the two trail systems, however, that way would take us off the provided paper maps. Dusty had overhead RD Maria Burton telling another team that you could not leave the given maps as it was consided out of bounds. Looking back – this was not a written rule distributed to all competitors – and therefore, maybe should not have applied to Dusty’s choices. It was just so hard to know, and we were doing our best.
Given our state of sleep deprivation this late in the race, it’s possible that Dusty heard wrong from the volunteers. But his valid concern over time penalties kept us to the prescribed route. Columbia Vidaraid apparently got the same instructions from the final bike TA and also took Climb Trail and LOA up to the CP. Bones, on the other hand, did not receive the same specifications for their route, and took the easier, faster approaches to the 2nd and 3rd bike CPs. They also had a Squamish resident on their team which was a clear navigation advantage.
The splits for the final bike leg for the top 3 teams were: Columbia/Vidaraid – 5H 15M Bones – 4H 30M Quest Race Team – 6H Thus, a combination of our longer, harder, forced route and the wheels coming off our young, sleep deprived team as we slowly pedaled through the dark Squamish woods was the decider of 2nd and 3rd place. To be clear here- we don't want to appear winey or to blame Bones for what the volunteers did or did not tell them we just want those following our dots to be aware of what really went down during that final stage. It all goes back to the disorganization of the race. They were underprepared, and the staff were under-informed. We ultimately hit the last CP (CP26) at the same exact time as Bones. We groaned as the impending doom of being hunted down was fully upon us. In retrospect, we should have followed Bones out on the faster, easier route. Instead we fumbled our way down LOA which would have been a blast to ride at any other time arriving at the finish 10 minutes behind Bones just before midnight on Tuesday, Sept 11.
Overall, we are really proud of performance at this race against some stellar competition. Vidaraid paid complements to our "Chap with the map", which is about as good as any prize you could ask for.
Thanks to our sponsors and to all of you who followed along at home! We'll be back!
Thanks also to Maria Burton and the Primal Quest team for getting us out into some awesome terrain in some spicy weather. Kudos to going big with the Spearhead Traverse.