Adventure Racers Are My Weakness: Words and whitewater, grammar and granny gears | The Source Weekly - Bend

Adventure Racers Are My Weakness: Words and whitewater, grammar and granny gears

Ahhhh, a two-hour trail run along the Metolius, a campfire, a mug of hot chocolate, a good book and a great dog.I first came across

Ahhhh, a two-hour trail run along the Metolius, a campfire, a mug of hot chocolate, a good book and a great dog.I first came across Pam Houston's colorful stories of adventure and travel in magazines and more recently I read the book that won her fame, Cowboys Are My Weakness. Last week, she visited Bend as one of the guest authors for the Nature of Words and I wrangled my way into her writing workshop. Pam, a single 46-year-old woman, has a house in Colorado, teaches at a university, loves dogs and takes inspiration from the outdoors for her writing. That sentence describes Pam Houston, but applies equally to me, so you can understand why I sensed a kindred spirit when I met her.

Hopefully, some of her words of wisdom rubbed off on me to your benefit as a reader of this column. Unfortunately, "Adventure Racers are My Weakness" just doesn't seem to have quite the right literary ring to it to match her standards. I'll keep working on it.


In the meantime, I'd like to share Pam Houston's explanation of what the outdoors and writing have to do with each other (excerpted from the latest issue of Women's Adventure Magazine). I think her words will resonate with many of you who attempt to balance a passion for being outdoors with indoor work:

"Nearly two decades ago, when I started publishing my short stories about guiding Dall sheep hunts in Alaska and flipping in Wolf Creek Rapids during the hundred-year flood on the Selway, I was often asked, "How in the world do you balance all that time spent in the outdoors against your writing life?" The assumption back in those days was that all writers chain-smoked and lived in New York City and their idea of going outside meant the distance between the cab and the restaurant door.

It was just two sides of my personality, I said, the yin and the yang of me. All that time strengthening and relying on my body in the wilderness made it possible to come home and sit in a chair for long hours and do the kind of living in my head that writing requires. And after a week in my head, nothing felt better than a plunge in the cold clear ocean or the view from a 13,000-foot peak. After a while I began to understand that like any yin and yang, the two things had way more to do with each other than was at first apparent.

On the simplest level, the things I was experiencing in the outdoors more often than not became the stuff of my stories: the boulders, the rapids, the mule deer, the bears. So often everything happens very fast in the wilderness; when I revisited those places with language, I could slow down enough to get a much better sense of where I had been. It is a way to love the same river twice.

These days my outdoor life and my writing life are so bound up I sometimes can't tell the difference between walking and writing, between running a rapid and relating a passage of dialogue, between skiing a chute and sticking the landing of a short story. It generates the same kind of adrenaline inside me, and it gives way to the same kind of satisfaction when I am done.

Wow. Those would be my words exactly... if I had thought of them first.


Don Mann, the organizer of Primal Quest (, recently announced that the 2009 version of the race will be held in the Badlands of South Dakota August 15-24, 2009. It came as a bit of a surprise that the expedition-length race would stay stateside as it seems increasingly difficult from a logistics and liability standpoint to hold such an event in the U.S. The 10-day, 600-mile unsupported race is billed as the "World's Most Challenging Human Endurance Competition".

The race's website describes itself as such: "The traditional adventure racing disciplines of trekking, mountain biking, orienteering, swimming, and paddling will be well represented, but competitors can expect new challenges as well. Athletes will spelunk in cave systems deep beneath the Black Hills, and will test their climbing abilities while ascending and rappelling from majestic towering spires. Navigation will play a much larger role than in previous Primal Quests and racers will traverse many miles of singletrack in the mountain biking sections. Teams will run with herds of buffalo and share the trail with deer, prairie dogs, turkeys, elk and big horn sheep. They will pass abandoned gold mines and historic western forts, while bald eagles soar overhead."

Registration just opened this week, with a limit of 75 teams. Hey, anyone want to put together a team from Bend? I'm not kidding. Like I said, adventure racers are my weakness.