Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cool Whip dreams

The teams have now been racing for almost 11 hours. To see the leaders in real time, visit

Each team carries a GPS transceiver that lets a live online map know where they are. This is one of the only easy ways to play spectator for this sporting event. The trail is just too remote to get a good look otherwise.

This afternoon in 95-degree heat, we spent hours reaching a checkpoint where the teams said goodbye to their horses after 23 miles, and started hiking through a long, open valley that, no joke, had not so much as a twig of shade. You learn a lot by going to the checkpoints, like that the Golite team was given a sick horse that has put the favored runners more than an hour behind the lead, or that the Salomon/Crested Butte Team's horse (Peewee) was slow until they realized "tapping it in the behind with a stick" could get it up to jogging speed.

At the 23-mile mark, reached at about noon today, all the teams still looked human. We'll go out tonight and see if the heat of the afternoon has drained away some of their humanity.

To give you an idea of what they're in for, one of the first things I noticed when showing up for PQ was a huge poster by the medical office explaining the findings of a study the lead physician had done the year before on "hallucinations in adventure race athletes."

The findings: 83 percent reported experiencing full-on hallucinations during the race. Most often they happened at night, brought on by sleep deprivation, and most often they included animals (40 percent) ghosts, wizards, friends and family, and, of course, food (10 percent).

The somewhat typical, if wired, sightings were "a short, fat German lady spinning a pizza" and "enormous tubs of Cool Whip hanging from trees."

It's ironic that the sport takes racers to such remote places at such weird hours that they are generally the only spectators there (even the made-for-TV helicopter crew cherry-picks shots in the best light). And yet even though they are the only ones to see it, often they aren't really seeing it - they're seeing Cool Whip.

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