I have heard from various sources that the nightly camps on some of these stage races leave something to be desired. I had been mentally preparing myself for 7 nights of cramming into an overcrowded tent beside some back road, huddled alone in the dark with the odd trip outside to try to find somewhere to relieve myself. Tess, Colin, Terry, Dan and the fantastic camp volunteer crew ensured that I could not have been more wrong.
From the very first campsite perched on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, it became obvious that the race directors had put as much thought into where the camps would be as they did to the actual route. The views were always different and always spectacular.
- Camp 2 was in what I have dubbed the "scrub desert", but with the Kaibab National Forest plateau rising up on one side and a view to some of the ubiquitous red-pink cliffs on the other.
- Camp 3 perched on a high point within the Kaibab Forest: the softest sand on Earth and Juniper trees and berries all around.
- Camp 4 was nestled under Elephant Butte, with a stunning panoramic view of Zion National Park.
- Camp 5 was soft sand again, nestled close to some fantastic sandstone cliffs.
- Camp 6 was in a wide open grassy meadow with 360 views, including up to the Pink Cliffs where the racers would be finishing their adventure the next day.
- Camp 7 was at the Marriot Hotel in Las Vegas. The views were underwhelming but the level of luxury more than made up for it.
- A small gallery of camp photos is right HERE.
The tents supplied to us were large, heavy-duty canvas things that would comfortably hold 7-8 people and gear and, most importantly, were all tall enough to allow us to stand up comfortably. I'm sure the racers appreciated not having to crawl into and out of their tents every day. The volunteers and media had it even better, as our tents were supplied with electricity. Yup, each one had a compact fluorescent light and a power-bar for recharging batteries and laptops.
The social aspects of camp life were also taken care of, with the fire pits, the "cyber-tent", and the medical tent being favourite gathering places. The medical tent was large, well-lit, and equipped with chairs and cots for beat-up racers or lazy journalists. The fire pits were always set up with piles of firewood and would always have a circle of racers around them every morning and night, swapping stories, sharing advice, or just enjoying each others' company. The cyber tent was a large open tent with laptops and a sound system. The laptops were so racers could type up emails which the race volunteers would drive into Kanab every day to send off to loved ones the world over, returning with printouts of emails to racers from friends and family. It was like watching mail call on M*A*S*H and was a huge hit with the racers.
The sound system was another brainchild of veteran camp director Dan. First off, it was used as a revelry every morning at 0600, awakening racers and volunteers alike with the dulcet tones of 80s hair-band rock. I'll have to dig out my old Def Lepperd tapes so I can relive the memories. There would also be funky tunes playing in the cyber-tent late into the evening, mixing with the sounds of racers chatting or snoring (seeing passed out racers sprawled across the floor of the tent was not uncommon).
Finally, and this will sound strange at first blush, I have to give a big shout-out to the port-a-potty supplier. Every camp had two rows of clean plastic luxury portable toilets. They started off the week clean and fresh smelling, and they stayed that way right through to the finish line. Speaking of which, having been driven over the roads leading up to the Pink Cliffs finish, I still cannot believe they managed to get 3 portable toilets up there. Brilliant.
Race directors out there take note: your racers will spend between 30-75 hours out on your course, but they will spend at least 60 hours in your campsites. The time and effort you take to ensure great camps is worth its weight in gold to your racers, staff, volunteers, and media. If you want some tips, contact the folks at Grand 2 Grand. They nailed it.
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