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Nigel Aylott dies in USA Adventure Race

Nigel Aylott dies in USA Adventure Race

23rd September 2004

One of Australia's few professional adventure racers, top-rated Ultra-runner and rogainer, Nigel Aylott, died yesterday whilst his team was leading in the one of the world's most prestiguous adventure races, the Suburu Primal Quest in Washington State, USA.

Tributes from his running friends are listed here and from his adventure racing friends here.

The Subaru Primal Quest is an expedition length adventure race spanning 5-10 days and covering approximately 400 grueling miles in the following disciplines : Trekking, Mountain Biking, Ride and Tie, Skating/Scootering, Ocean Kayaking, Ropes, Mountaineering, River Paddling, and Orienteering. mixed-sex teams of 4 compete in various disciplines while they navigate across demanding terrain to find checkpoints in a defined order. All four members of the team must perform all disciplines and the team members are not allowed to be more than 100 yards apart for the majority of the race. Because the team is only as fast as its slowest member, the teams will tow, push, or carry their teammates or their teammates' gear as necessary to move as quickly as possible. Sleep is optional, so teams will experience sleep deprivation and exhaustion as they push themselves to the limits of their endurance. As many as 75 teams from all over the world will battle for the chance to take home a share of the US$250,000 prize purse, the largest offered in any adventure race in history.

Team AROC was clearly in first position out of the 56 teams. 2nd place was the Montrial USA team, then the Nike USA team followed by the Seagate New Zealand team. They had been travelling for approx 2 and a half days with reportedly no sleep. Eight members of his team and an American team, Montrail, were using ropes to descend a rocky slope about 400 feet below Illabot Peak. One participant felt the boulder, which weighed more than 300 pounds, come loose underneath him, Skagit County Chief Deputy Sheriff Will Reichardt said Wednesday.

The boulder tumbled. Everyone else dodged it, but Aylott couldn't. It struck his head. Race spokesman Gordon Wright told the Skagit Valley Herald he was not wearing a helmet; helmets were required only for the biking portion of the race. The racer who had been on the rock suffered a serious leg injury and was airlifted off the mountain, then driven to Skagit Valley Hospital, Reichardt said. A hospital spokeswoman said the man, John Jacoby of Team Montrail, was is satisfactory condition Wednesday.

A third racer, also from the American team, suffered minor injuries. Organizers halted the race at Rockport, 70 miles north of Seattle. Racers gathered at a park, wept and embraced one another after hearing that Aylott had died. AROC and Montrail were in the lead at the time of the accident and were the only two out of 58 four-person teams to make it to the orienteering section. Other teams were still biking up Highway 20 when the accident happened.

The 650Km course began with a daunting 80km sea kayaking section from Orcas Island to the mainland. From there, racers trekked southeast towards the Skagit River, then veered northeast toward Mount Baker. From there racers moved southeast into Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Following the ridgelines of Dickerman and Twin Peaks, teams they traversed knife-edge ridges and faced repeated elevation changes measured in thousands of feet. They will eventually track the Skagit River, where they begin their voyage downstream into downtown Mount Vernon. Kayaks will be portaged to the coast where teams will then complete the expedition with a return paddle to Rosario Resort & Spa on Orcas Island.

Of the 56 teams competing in this year’s race, race director Dan Barger anticipated at the start that only half would finish. His prediction was not one of pessimism, rather one of realistic comprehension of the toll that weather and terrain will take on the athletes.

DJ Brooks, one of the team's support crew reported this from the event at checkpoint 20. (The accident happened between checkpoint 21 and checkpoint 22):

We are now at CP 20, having just come from CP 17/TA3 where AROC left at 6:40 pm on the next leg on the bikes. They came into the transition about 6:10, with around a 20 minute lead over Montrail. Everyone was in good spirits and looked good. They haven't slept since the start of the race approximately 35 hours ago. Their plan is to sleep on the trail - they find there is too much excitement going on at the Transition Area to get a proper sleep. Montrail opted to sleep at the Transition Area.

As you have no doubt followed on the web, they have lead the race most the way. They were first to finish the kayak leg, had a 15 minute transition and were out first. Next was a trekking leg over some steep terrain. We dropped their kickbikes which they picked up and rode to TA2. Again, they were first into TA2, followed closely by Montrail.

Nike and Seagate opted to sleep at TA2 and I am told slept three hours. Out of TA2 at around 2 am, AROC took two bikes and traded off running and riding along the Skagit River, parallel to Highway 20. We dropped the other two bikes at a church down the road and headed to TA3 on Shannon Lake. AROC had a long bike up and over some big mountains which Alina said were very rocky. Part of the leg was x-country. During the morning they reached CP16, dropped their bikes at the top of Lake Baker and hiked around the east side of the lake and into TA4.

We've been fixing them various stews with rice, potatoes, and meat. We just fed them a stew with potatoes, baked beans, spinach, mixed vegetables, and bacon. Each time they have finished off a large pot.

The weather has been cooperating. Although it hasn't been warm, it hasn't rained significantly. Today was partly sunny. The sky was clear last night and quite cold.

They cancelled the climbing leg. They were schedule to climb onto the Easton Glacier on the south end of Mt. Baker in the middle of last nights bike and rappel off an ice wall but due to a large accumulation of snow at that altitude over the last three days they decided it was too dangerous.

Cameras and reporters are all over our transitions since AROC has been the first one to pull in. It's quite a site!

We are keeping very busy setting up and taking down at each transition, cooking food, cleaning gear, and prep'ing maps. Last night after checking into TA3 at 4am we slept about four hours. We're going to set up now and try to get a quick sleep before they come in. Next leg will be an orienteering leg.

AROC is moving well, benefiting from all their years of experience and the last four months of racing. Their success in Australia and 2nd place finished at the Primal Quest last year has given them the confidence to win this race. But we still have a long way to go. They are racing like champions.

Nigel was 38 years old and had been the Vice-President of the Australian Ultra Runners Association for the last few years, Vice President of the Victorian Rogaining Association and was also the race director of the Maroondah Dam Trail race, in Victoria. A more thorough run-down of his recent racing past Nigel Aylott is listed here, although a stand-out is his status as a World Champion Rogainer. Nigel worked as an engineer for Telstra before leaving earlier in 2004 to dedicate more time to the sport. He wrote his own profile for Adventure Racing here and much more about him can be found here

More race details at the SleepMonsters Australian Adventure Racing website

More on the accident:

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