Extremely regular Joes
Team Four Corners takes Adventure Xstream race

Team Four Corners member Rick Callies, left, surveys the team’s next move with Brett Sublet, left, at Checkpoint 8 early last Saturday morning during the Adventure Xstream race. The team, members of which have operated under the now defunct name Team Durango.com, is currently unsponsored but nevertheless took first place in the nearly 100-mile race, finishing in just more than 19 hours./ Photo courtesy Red Scarf Shots

by Missy Votel

They may be teachers, full-time moms, retail workers and desk jockeys, but when it comes to their free time, they take the term “weekend warrior” to new extremes.

Operating under the unassuming title of Team Four Corners, four local adventure racers took home top honors in last weekend’s Adventure Xstream race, held north of Durango. With a finishing time of 19 hours and 7 minutes on the 100-mile course, Team Four Corners beat out such perennial winners as Team Crested Butte/Salomon and Team Bagelworks, out of Boulder. But perhaps more impressive than the team’s hour-plus lead over the next-closest finisher (Team Bagelworks, 20 hours, 33 minutes) is that they all hold down day jobs.

“We are all regular Joes, and we beat some pro teams which is pretty remarkable,” said team member Rick Callies, who plies his time between training missions working at the Durango Rec Center. Fellow teammates include Brett Sublet, 41, and Tom Ober, 35, of Durango; and Emily Bear, 31, of Silverton. This marked the first victory for the team, which began racing together earlier this year at the inaugural race in the Adventure Xstream series in Moab.

However, unlike their major competitors in the four-person, co-ed category, Team Four Corners has no official sponsors. Instead, team members foot the $1,000-per-race registration fee themselves, helping offset the cost by volunteering for the race.

“We’re actually going out next weekend to help take down the checkpoints,” said Bear, full-time mom to son, Bernard, 14 months.

While the team as a whole may be new to the adventure racing scene, the individuals themselves are no strangers to the grueling world of extreme endeavors. Bear, Sublet and Ober are all elite ultrarunners, with several 100-milers between the three of them, and all four are experienced adventure racers and triathletes. Callies, Sublet and Ober have raced together in the past, but Bear just joined the three, as well as alternate Kiviok Hight, for the six-race series this year. “It just came together for all of us,” said Bear. “I had a bad race in Moab, and in Buena Vista (the race prior to Durango) we missed a checkpoint and came in fifth.”

However, the racers knew if they could manage to hit all of last weekend’s checkpoints, they would be serious contenders. “We knew we were going to be fast in Durango, we just weren’t sure if it would be in the right direction,” said Sublet.

At the beginning of each Adventure Xstream race, teams are given maps that delineate mandatory checkpoints. From these coordinates, teams must map out their own routes. Callies said he was a little uneasy about this given that frequent teammate and map guru, Kiviok Hight, was not racing in Durango. Fortunately, this is where the home-field advantage came into play. “We’d been out there the last four weekends using routes from the previous years,” said Bear. “We familiarized ourselves with the terrain and it paid off. We felt really comfortable out there.”

But this isn’t to say it was all smooth sailing. The mountain biking leg, which covered more than 40 miles, was filled with setbacks. For starters, Bear blew out a sidewall on her rear tire not far into the ride. “A friend recommended that I use these super lightweight tires,” she said. “I hit a rock on the upper section of Hermosa Creek, and it sounded like a major explosion.”

Rick Callies, back, and Tom Ober, front, tackle rapids on the Arkansas River during May’s Adventure Xstream race in Buena Vista. They are trailed by teammates Emily Bear and Kiviok Hight. The team placed fifth in that race./Photo courtesy Todd Newcomer

Without a spare tire, the team had to make do with supplies on hand. “We put a bike patch on it and then doubled over it with a GU wrapper and then duct tape over that,” said Bear. As luck would have it, the MacGyveresque ingenuity held. “I had to baby it on the downhills, but it worked,” she said. “By the end of the leg, the bulge in my tire was scraping my chain stay in the back.”

The tire blow-out wasn’t the only mechanical. Due to a nearly undetectable thorn, Ober also went through four tubes before the culprit was discovered. “We ran out of tubes and had to beg one off a solo 12-hour racer,” said Bear.

And in between all the pit stops, the racers found themselves backtracking after a trip up a steep “short-cut” proved unavigable.

“Rick had remembered a trail up a ravine from years ago that would have turned a 2-mile stretch into a quarter of a mile,” said Bear. “But it turns out the high winds a few weeks ago had filled it with deadfall, and we were up to our knees in thick, goopy mud.”

The team was forced to turn around and face the daunting Dutch Creek climb. “We had already been going 13 hours when we hit Dutch Creek, it was not happy times,” said Callies, who twisted an ankle during the 40-mile run and was having trouble clipping into his pedals. “There were multiple hike-a-bikes.”

Fortunately, it was at this point, that the racers bonded together – both physically and mentally. “Those guys were the heroes,” said Callies of his teammates. “The thing with adventure racing is, you can short rope. It’s called towing, and I clipped onto Brett’s bike. He was literally pulling me around the course. I just hung on for dear life.”

Despite all the problems, Team Four Corners managed to finish the mountain bike leg trailing the leader, Team Bagelworks, by only 15 minutes. However, by the time they reached the Tyrolean Traverse, Team Four Corners was fairly certain that the leaders had missed an out-of-the-way checkpoint, which they, themselves, had nearly missed at the bottom of a steep canyon. If so, the mistake would cost Team Bagelworks a one-hour penalty, putting Team Four Corners in a respectable lead heading into the paddle. “We kind of knew they had missed one of the checkpoints, but at the Tyrolean Traverse, they played their best poker face,” said Bear. “We knew if we could just stay steady and on course, we could win.”

And win they did – despite a harrowing run-in with a diversion dam on the Animas River, which had come up significantly since the team’s practice run. “The water came way up, and next thing I know, we’re going to go sideways in a big hole,” said Bear. “That’s when I made everyone get out and walk around.”

However, despite all the luck, good decision-making and home field advantages, in the end, the racers agreed it was one simple strategy that put them over the top. “You’ve got to keep spirits up,” said Bear. “Adventure racing is like real life – but on steroids; it can get really intense.”

Sublet said it was satisfying to finally gain a spot on top of the podium. “Everyone had ups and downs,” recalled Sublet. “What made the difference is that even though we were having problems, we knew the other teams were probably having problems, too. With something that long, you have to just keep moving and putting one foot in front of the other.” •

Team Four Corners will continue the Adventure Xstream race series July 21 in Breckenridge, Sept. 8 in Vail and Sept. 27-30 in the series finale expedition in Moab. Look for the series to be broadcast on Altitude Sports sometime in September.

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