Feature of Paul’s Adventure Racing


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Sacramento Bee, The (CA) 2006-08-24 SCENE METRO FINAL E1    John Schumacher

Bee Staff Writer Adventure addict
Paul Goyette likes his races extreme – and each one tougher than the one before Imagine crossing a narrow ridge top 12 inches wide, with drop-offs of a few hundred feet on either side, for three hours in the middle of the night.

Picture ascending a 300-foot canyon wall on ropes, only to get stuck halfway up when two pieces of your equipment get tangled.

Visualize kayaking down a river framed by spectacular cliffs … in the dark.

In this remote, scenic world, food and water must be rationed, temperatures hover well above 100 degrees and survival means finding a way to finish a 10-day, 450-mile race without getting yourself or your three teammates killed or seriously injured.

Aid stations? None. Support crew? Not this time. Misery index? Well, that depends on how you define suffering.

This is the stuff Paul Goyette loves. Stick him in the middle of nowhere, where he can clear his mind and focus without the distractions of daily life, make the race as hard as possible, and he’s about as happy as an attorney who’s just won a verdict. Which Goyette does in his day job.

But it’s his hobby — adventure racing — that stands out as a bit out of the ordinary.

“It’s hard to talk to people about it,” said Goyette, a 45-year-old who lives in El Dorado Hills. “They’ll ask you, ‘Why the hell would you even go do that?’

“People who push the limits get it. You kind of understand what you get out of that. A lot of it’s internal. I enjoy the competition of it all, but many times it’s just a competition with yourself.”

Adventure racing offers three types of events — sprint, 24-hour and expedition — and is growing in popularity. The United States Adventure Racing Association sanctioned 320 events last year, up from 35 in 2000.

As the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Goyette talks in the Gold River office of the law firm he founded — Goyette & Associates — enthusiasm fills his voice and intensity jumps out of his brown eyes. He’s a decade into his adventure-racing pastime, and loving it.

His latest race, Primal Quest, featured all the challenges mentioned. Goyette‘s team, Policedefenders.com, needed nine days in late June and early July to finish the expedition race through southeastern Utah. The entry fee of $8,000 was paid by his law firm. Competitors were vying for a $250,000 purse.

It met the Goyette test — it was harder than the Primal Quest of 2004. So, to date, Goyette has competed in Primal Quests in 2002, 2003, 2004 and this year. (Due to the accidental death of a competitor, Nigel Aylott, in the 2004 race, there was no event in 2005.)

“It’s a bad disease in a way for me because you always want to do something bigger, longer, harder,” said Goyette, who estimates that there about a dozen expedition racers in the Sacramento area.

“And then you get done, cross the finish line, you eat a little bit and sleep, and then you can’t wait to do another. But it’s got to be harder.”

All the ingredients for difficulty

Primal Quest in a nutshell? Intense, difficult, hot, long and dangerous.

Out of 89 teams, only 56 finished. The Policedefenders.com — Goyette, Garden Valley’s David Egbert, Santa Rosa’s Kymberli Fant and Folsom’s Mats Jansson — placed 40th. Every team member must finish together.

Ponder horseback riding, hiking, running, climbing, cycling, traversing and rappelling your way through a brutal but scenic course in scorching heat.

“It’s the hottest, driest place I’ve ever been in my life,” Goyette said.

The horse assigned to Goyette‘s team for the first section threw Fant and Egbert and took off twice, leading to a three-hour penalty for finishing that stage without the horse. Goyette filed a protest, to no avail.

Fant fought blisters from the first day and finished with raw, bloody feet.

Egbert developed heat exhaustion, needing an hour break on the trail and about four hours of rest at a transition area six miles away.

Goyette, once “semi-afraid of heights,” found himself stuck halfway up that 300-foot wall, and 30 to 40 feet off of it, when one of his ascenders got jammed with another piece of equipment at 2 a.m. Wearing a pack carrying 30 to 40 pounds of food, water and equipment, Goyette couldn’t free himself. Jansson came up on his rope, locked legs with Goyette and after about 20 minutes helped him break free.

“A very scary moment,” Goyette said. “If it wasn’t for my teammate’s help, I’d probably still be out there.”

Crossing that narrow ridge top for three hours in the middle of the night was no picnic, either. But the team handled that demanding stretch — some teams opted to take a longer, safer route — without incident.

“It went on and on and on, up and over rocks,” Goyette said. “The beauty of it was, it was just business for us. Nobody stressed out.

“We got down to safer ground, and we all just looked at each other (and thought), ‘Man, we’re good at this.’ I guess. Or we’re sociopaths and we don’t feel anything.”

Everyone felt something at the finish.

“It definitely makes you realize what you can put your body through,” Fant said. “There’s no better feeling than at the end. Amazing. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Said Jansson: “It’s so different from everyday life, where everything is so safe and convenient. I can enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning and think it’s a great thing to do because I’ve experienced these contrasts.”

Goyette, the team leader, drew praise for his stoic, levelheaded approach to the race.

“He’s tough as nails,” Jansson said. “He just goes and doesn’t complain. I can’t see him ever saying, ‘It’s too hard, let’s give up, let’s stop’ or ‘Let’s quit.’ He’d probably die (first).”

Said Egbert: “You try going eight days without any sleep. You’re bound to have some arguments. That’s one thing Paul never has out there. He never gets upset. He never gets frustrated.

“He’s just a fantastic guy. You can always depend on him.”

Longtime friend Phil Mosbacher agrees, recalling an adventure race in Ventura when he messed up his hydration and nutrition, and Goyette spent five or six hours at a checkpoint helping him regroup.

“Without any pressure to keep moving,” Mosbacher said. “Very nurturing at that point.”

Egbert does have one issue with Goyette, though.

“The guy can fall asleep in two seconds,” he said. “That’s huge. It makes me so mad because he snores. He’ll keep us all up because he snores so loud.”

Support on the home front

Balancing adventure racing with family life can be as tricky as traversing one of those narrow ridge tops.

Goyette‘s wife, Janet Cross, stays at home with their four daughters: Gabrielle, 14; Maxine, 12; Gretchen, 10; and Blair, 6. She laughs as she talks about handling the inevitable questions about her husband’s hobby.

“I find myself explaining what he’s doing … and making a cuckoo sign by the side of my head,” said Cross, who met her husband while both were attending the University of San Diego School of Law.

“I made a joke about my own adventure race at home, a transition area at home, getting kids to soccer game No. 1, softball game No. 2 …”

Goyette notes that he owes his wife “a lot of favors.” Cross, who suggests a trip to Europe might qualify, points out that her husband is a great father who helps coach one daughter’s softball team and spends some weekends watching another’s soccer tournaments.

“He totally gets involved with his kids’ sports,” she said.

Being gone for 10-day expedition races and training 15 to 20 hours a week can make for a tough juggling act.

“I think it makes me a better parent,” Goyette said. “And I hope it teaches some lessons to my kids. They like what I do and they’re proud of it. … One lesson I like to teach is, you can do anything, and this shows that.”

Not a sitting-around type of guy

In a way, Paul Goyette has prepared for adventure racing all his life.

As a boy, he often found himself outdoors on family trips, whether it was near his home in Apple Hill or off to Yellowstone or the California coast.

After high school, he worked on a firefighting crew for the U.S. Forest Service, once flying to Bakersfield and driving up into the mountains, leaving his pack at camp and hiking eight hours to a fire. Goyette and his crew didn’t come back for 10 days.

“It was very, very hard, but for whatever twisted reason, I liked it,” he said.

As an adult, he competed in rowing at Humboldt State University and enjoyed climbing, mountaineering, rafting, biking, triathlons and marathons. So when adventure races started popping up in California in the mid-1990s, Goyette was intrigued.

“This was way harder,” he said. “In a lot of ways it was more fun.”

Goyette tends to put maximum effort into everything he does.

“He’s definitely an achiever,” Cross said. “He’s not a sitting-around kind of guy.”

Neither is his father, who plans to celebrate his 80th birthday with a trip to Yosemite.

“I’m hoping he can get to the top of Half Dome,” Goyette said.

Still seeking, but savoring too

Goyette loves his job — his firm does employment and personnel work, representing police officers and firefighters — but it’s adventure racing that puts the biggest bounce in his step.

At 45, will he keep going?

“I’m still always looking for challenges,” he said. “I want to keep adventure racing, and I want to do more mountaineering. I’d like to learn how to be a better whitewater kayaker.”

Cross, who put together a plaque with a dozen racing awards for her husband’s office, said Goyette “wants to have the perfect race.”

And savor the special feeling that comes in the middle of nowhere, far from the demands of daily living.

“You can really get this ability to focus and this clarity that’s just hard to get in day-to-day life with cell phones and pagers and faxes,” he said.

“You’re not bombarded with the constant demands of your work or personal life.

“You get back after 10 days or two weeks without all that interaction; it’s a good experience.”

The Bee’s John Schumacher can be reached at (916) 326-5523 or [email protected]. OUTBOUND – A guide to outdoor activities Sacramento Bee photography / Kevin German

“One lesson I like to teach (to his four children) is, you can do anything, and this

shows that, says Goyette, 45.

Paul Goyette of El Dorado Hills trains on a mountain bike near Folsom Lake, top, and on the walls of the Granite Arch Climbing Center in Rancho Cordova, above, for the multidisciplinary sport of adventure racing.

Paul Goyette says every race leaves him eager to start another and that he wants to continue polishing his adventure-racing skills. He “wants to have the perfect race,” says his wife, Janet Cross. BIOGRAPHY Text