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Going deep in a quest for The Grail

Posted by on November 29th, 2007 at 11:19 am

Steven Hunter dove deep in the
Willamette to uncover his piece
of The Grail.
(Photos courtesy Brian Ellin)

So much of what makes the Cross Crusade a success has little to do with racing bikes. Take for example the Quest for The Grail.

The Quest is a contest dreamed up by Crusade director Brad Ross, and event founder Rick Potestio. The stakes? Prizes, bragging rights, and one lucky winner will get a round-trip ticket to the Cyclocross World Championships in Treviso, Italy.

The rules are simple: follow the trail on the map (below), when you see the orange “X” you begin searching nearby for “a fragment of an ancient bike or even The Grail itself.” Each participant can only collect one fragment and then they must bring it to the Cross Crusade Awards Party (this Sunday) to find out if their fragment is in fact The Grail.

Detail of the map (click to enlarge)

For one local racer, the search for The Grail led to the bottom of the Willamette River.

A few weeks ago Steven Hunter noticed the orange “X” while riding on the Esplanade near downtown Portland. Then he saw an orange helmet floating in the river. Without a second thought he rode home, put on his swim trunks and headed back to retrieve it.

Hunter in the Willamette.

After cutting the rope and grabbing the helmet, he assumed he had found a fragment of The Grail. But he and his friends soon wondered…what was at the end of the rope?

The next day Hunter returned to the river with a wetsuit and diving goggles.

His friend Brian Ellin came along. “Seriously, it was gross, and I wasn’t even in the water,” he said.

Ellin reported that after various techniques, “including diving to the bottom with a headlamp and hand flashlight and looking around, we decided on a mark and sweep grid technique,” they finally settled on one: Ellin and another friend stood on the beach, directing Hunter to comb the river-bottom foot by foot.

After several tries, Hunter eventually stumbled upon a big blue bag filled with rocks. Inside was his treasure.

Now Hunter just has to bring his fragment to the Party on Sunday night. For his sake, I hope his efforts result in much more than a fun story to tell his grandkids.

  • Anonymous November 29, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    I wish we had a bike culture like Copenhagen. *sigh*

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  • Patrick November 29, 2007 at 12:13 pm


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  • a.O November 29, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    No offense, but I think I\’d rather save my duckets for a plane ticket than go swimming in Portland\’s largest sewer.

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  • amanda November 29, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    That rocks — I hope he wins!

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  • Brent D November 29, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Can we start a fund to send him to Treviso if he doesn\’t win? Anyone willing to go to the depths of the Willamette should win.

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  • tonyt November 29, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    That\’s GOT to be it. Good luck Steven!

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  • Sherry November 29, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Good luck Steven,

    and awesome photos Brian!

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  • James November 29, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    That\’s a great idea! I\’m gonna start painting orange Xs around town and baiting them with junk bike parts. Steel bridge railroad tracks, Ross Island gravel trucks, pedestrian overpasses, and high voltage areas come to mind. Basically, anywhere crap can be easily thrown but dangerously retrieved. Good luck all!

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  • Curt Dewees November 29, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    To the Anonymous Sigher, of #1. I\’m not sure what the bicycle culture in Copenhagen is like, but I LOVE our highly active and diverse bicycle culture here in Portland. There is so much going on, so many lively and interesting subcultures doing fun and crazy things, all of us different in our interests and abilities, but all united in our love for bicycling! Viva la difference(s)!

    I\’ll bet right now there\’s at least one poor sap in Copenhagen who is \”sighing anonymously\” and wishing his (her?) city had a bike culture like we have here in Portland, Ore. Maybe you two could trade places!

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  • Spencer November 29, 2007 at 4:01 pm


    Why you diggin on the Willammette?

    Don\’t you relize what a sucess story the recovery of the willamette has been? Most of the heavy lifting has been done, and with the completion of the big pipe and resolution of the inner harbor sites most of the big projects will have been completed. The Water quality has been progressively improving since the 1940\’s to a level where the river is now routinely fishable and swimable.

    That is not to say that there are still not issues (mainly non-point)that need to be addressed, but portland is a world leader in developing the technologies and regulations to address them.

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  • a.O November 29, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Spencer, I\’m intimately familiar with the water quality and pollution of the Willamette. I worked on the Portland Harbor superfund settlement agreement and several other projects related to the Willamette in my environmental law practice.

    I agree that things have improved substantially and continue to do so. The Willamette\’s cleanup is mostly a success story due in no small part to the diligence of Portlanders and the environmental laws passed in the 70s, laws that would be politically radioactive today.

    My reference was to the fact that Portland\’s wastewater (sewer) and stormwater systems are currently, in some places, one and the same. That\’s being changed with the Big Pipes, but currently after a moderate to heavy rain event if you swim in the Willamette you are quite literally frequently swimming in sh*t.

    That\’s not to mention all the agricultural and industrial runoff from the Willamette basin.

    I don\’t want to swim in it.

    As I said, I\’d rather eat bologne for a week so I could afford the plane tickets.

    But be my guest…

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  • Spencer November 29, 2007 at 4:57 pm


    It is unfortunate that you have a negative perception of the willamette\’s water quality. When looking at water quality data over the last 20 years, incredible progress in the restoration of the Willamette is evident. Typically, \”swimmability\” is measured by bacteria counts, and on that measure the willamette is typically \”swimmable\” during most of the recreational season. The times that Fecal Coliform counts do rise above water quality standards, it is often attributed to CSO events that should be resolved the completion of the big pipe.

    Industrial and domestic point sources are incredibly regulated, and are often below ambient river conditions. Additionally larger communities are becomming increasingly regulated to address stormwater pollution.

    Agricultural run off is still a concern and needs reform, but as a source of bacteria it is usually expressed during the fall and winter storm events when background bacterial concentration are already naturally high.

    I guess the question becomes, at what remedial point would public perception of the Willamette change to the point where they do feel comfortable to swim.

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  • Caroline November 29, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    I\’d drink a quart of it with a smile on my face if someone would just send me to Italy.

    Cheers, Shunter!

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  • sherry November 30, 2007 at 12:49 am

    It could be worse…..In Orange County, they are turning sewage into drinking water…

    \”It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone. But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water\”…

    full story here:

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  • David Dean November 30, 2007 at 8:47 am

    Here is an organization that keeps water quality measurements of the Willamette:

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  • Spencer November 30, 2007 at 10:36 am


    That is another example of the future that is already here. As water becomes more and more valuble, reclaimation become a more and more viable alternative. The ultimate manifestation of that is recycled drinking water.

    Of course we are already doing this on a much cruder scale. For example a city takes in water, uses it, treats it and discharges it back to the river. The next town, down stream does the same thing. Essentially re-using treated wastewater for drinking water.

    Many of these reclaim water practices are currently in practice in Europe and the technology is much more developed than here. In many cases it is not just about water savings. When you think about the huge amount of energy requried to pump, treat and deliver water, it eventually becomes a lot less energy intensive to treat the water you already have. So when you are reclaiming/recycling water it paramount with environmental sustainability.

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  • Steven November 30, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    I don\’t know if the river used to be worse or better but I can say this: while I was in there I also pulled up an old tire, a broken bottle, and some other unidentifiable debris, all while a huge length of pipe floated by. It also smelled very strongly of poo whenever I stirred up the bottom soil. The Willamette isn\’t somewhere that I\’d swim for a good time. Probably worth it though…

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  • Crash N. Burns November 30, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    Steven, what was the visibility like, and what depths were you at?

    Admirable, if somewhat icky.

    Hope you win that Italy trip!

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  • beth h December 1, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    The Cross Crusade…

    putting the FUN back in SuperFund.

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