Sunday, June 25, 2006

In a cloud of dust and horse flesh, the race starts

At 6:31 this morning Primal Quest started as 94 horses and almost 400 racers gathered at the head of a small sage brush valley flanked by rocky, juniper-studded hills.

For live, real-time coverage, visit

As the sun peeked over the crest of the hill and spilled out on the golden grass, a cowboy who had been resting his rifle on his hip raised his gun into the air and fired at the sky. The four-member teams surged forward, three on foot and one riding on the team horse. A plume of fine dust shot up from the clatter of hooves and sneakers and caught the light, making a glowing, golden cloak that wrapped horses and racers and turned them into fleet silhouettes. It was a moment made for television. A helicopter with TV cameras swept over the herd and the dust.

But it wasn’t quite the "Hidalgo" moment the race directors probably wanted. Few of the racers have much horse experience. They were mostly being led by a halter rope by a jogging racer ahead of them. The effect looked less like a Wild West roundup and more like Joseph and Mary trying to hurry into Bethlehem before the inn closed.

There were a few rodeo moments though, intended or not. At least three riders were thrown. The horses took off, galloping across the sage with team backpacks flapping on the saddle (and often flying off into the bushes). A few race-hired wranglers rounded up the animals and brought them back, but many of the racers spent several minutes looking for tossed-off packs.

The rest of the herd shot across the flats at a quick walk and poured into a narrow slot at the end of the valley, where the sage tumbled into a steep, rocky canyon.
They have to lead the horse for about the length of a marathon. Then they have to do the same distance without the horse. Then the bike.

There is a mandatory “dark out” at the whitewater swimming section on the Green. If teams get there after 6 p.m., they can’t swim the river until it gets light the next morning, so several top teams are going to try to slip in under the wire. It will be close.

(In the photo - by Denise Watkins, courtesy of Primal Quest - Vanessa Lawrenson of team IrishAR Inov-8 shows her steed who's boss.)

1 comment:

Mike Bitton said...

Joseph and Mary hurrying into Bethlehem! You captured it perfectly! The best word-picture we crafted of the moment had a reference to Blazing Saddles. Check it out:

You, my friend, are a master wordsmith! Big props from your friends on Gordon Wright's Primal Quest Media Team!