Remember when adventure racing was all the rage?
The niche sport — actually a combination of multiple outdoor sports bundled into one event — has undoubtedly lost some luster since its heyday in the mid 2000s.
It still exists, however, and the baddest adventure race of all is set to make a comeback in the northern Sierra, as Primal Quest Lake Tahoe returns this week for the first time since 2003. The last Primal Quest event, held in the Badlands of South Dakota, took place in 2009.
“It’s definitely slowed down a bit. I just think it’s hard for people to find that much time to devote,” said Susan Bower, a Truckee mother of three and experienced adventure racer. “The 2003 Primal Quest Lake Tahoe had 83 teams. Now there are 18.”
Bower’s old team is among the 18.
The squad, called Team Tahoe/Haeleum, includes her husband Scott, Truckee’s Jim Easterbrook and Thomas Bastis, who lives in the Bay Area. The four competed together for years before the popularity of adventure racing began to wane.
The reunited group is prepared for whatever Primal Quest throws its way. The thing is, nobody outside of event organizers knows exactly what that entails — not even where the start and finish lines are located.
“They said they’re going to bus us to the start line. It could be in Bishop for all we know,” Bower said, adding that the event is based out of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Stateline.
After the start, the co-ed teams will race 450 miles on an unmarked course. They’re given a map and compass, and nine days to reach the finish.
While they are unaware of the course details, teams were given a rough idea of the challenges they’ll face. They include some 100 miles of walking/running, 250 miles of mountain biking, 1,000 vertical feet of rappelling and ascending, 50 miles of flat-water paddling on an inflatable kayak and 35 miles of whitewater. Bower suspects the American River might come into play.
“You really have no idea when you’re going to finish. You could literally finish in five days, or eight. It could be three days longer than you think,” said Bower, adding that she might miss her first couple days of work at Creekside Charter School, where she teaches sixth grade.
No matter how long Team Tahoe/Haeleum spends on the course, they’re sure to be tested both physically and mentally. The team must plan well, packing the right amount of food and proper attire, and manage their time between racing and sleeping. They also have to navigate and make sometimes difficult decisions as a group.
It’s those combination of factors, Bower said, that sets apart an event like Primal Quest and, say, an Ironman triathlon.
“They’re apples to oranges,” she said. “Ironman, to me, is a short, fast, all-out race. You’re sprinting basically. We’re crawling at times. You can’t compare them. We have to deal with our food for eight days and sleeping for eight days, which I like. It’s a whole break from life that pushes you beyond your limits. The unpredictable-ness is awesome.
“You just have to prepare to suffer. If you’re in really good shape, and you have a high tolerance for pain, then that will get you through.”
Primal Quest Lake Tahoe will air on the Outdoor Television network.