Friday, February 22, 2013

Fuego Y Agua- final chapter: "I fail" and the DNF adventure.

My two successful puzzle pieces that together read "I fail". Sadly, we never got the pieces that read "did not".

"I really don't think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don't mind the failure but I can't imagine that I'd forgive myself if I didn't try."
Nikki Giovanni

Having missed the time cutoff and earned the title of DNF, we decided to continue up the Maderas volcano knowing that we would not be able to earn official Survival Run finisher status. I had decided long before that it didn't matter. We came to Ometepe for adventure, and we weren't ready for our adventure to be over. Not yet anyway. Lani and I agreed that we would take advantage of the opportunity afforded to us to ascend the volcano to the crater where there would be an aid station and continue over the summit to the section of the course referred to by racers as "the jungle gym".

This ascent was the first time that we had been completely alone along the course. Other racers had turned around at the checkpoint and volunteers at junctions were no longer there. We hiked in silence, stopping only once for a quick snack. Despite our unofficial status, we made good time up the volcano as the air became cooler and dryer with a sweet smelling breeze, almost like Maine in the summertime. The vegetation became green and lush and the trail thick with mud. No longer racing, our hike to the crater became a sweet, spiritual retreat that Lani and I shared without many words. We climbed down the sharp decent into the crater to the aid station where it all changed.

At the summit of the volcano there was a small, shallow, murky lagoon where we learned remaining survival racers would swim across to retrieve an egg that would be worn on their forehead down the volcano to the finish line. The volunteers were tired and appeared to be packing up for the day. We filled up our packs with water, but the food was gone. We tried to "check in", but it was clear that since we were not officially in the race any longer, our whereabouts were of little concern to anyone. The volunteers encouraged us to avoid descending through the jungle gym as the trail was technical and light was fading quickly. However, it was also clear that a return down our original path would bring us to a location where catching a ride to the finish was unlikely and we didn't know the island well enough to confidently find our way.
the crater of Maderas volcano. Photo credit Matt Davis?
So, we continued on despite their recommendations, knowing fully that there was a chance that no one could make the cutoff at the aid station and pass this way. No one took down our bib numbers or radioed of our intent, which was a little unsettling.
view of Lake Nicaragua with Concepcion in the background from the rim of the Maderas volcano. Photo Deborah Goehring?
We ascended the trail out of the volcano to be met with our first utterly spectacular vistas on the mountain. In one direction we could see out over Lake Nicaragua, the isthmus connecting the two volcanoes and Concepcion volcano in the near distance. In the other direction was the jungle of the Maderas, lush and green. It was breathtaking. As we traversed the rim of the crater, we could hear monkeys and birds in the jungle readying themselves for the night that would soon descend upon us all. After a few moments to take in all that surrounded us, we realized that daylight was indeed fleeting and we needed to hustle as far down the volcano as possible in the daylight. The "jungle gym" truly lived up to its name. We climbed over, under and between roots, swung on vines (yeah, that was awesome), and used some cables and ropes to help us navigate the terrain. On two separate occasions, I actually clothes-lined myself with overhead branches out of my view from the visor of my cap. Had I had an egg on my forehead, I think this might have been DNF number 3.

As darkness approached, trail markers became nearly impossible to find. I can't imagine coming down this trail in total darkness as the remaining racers would have to do behind us. Although we didn't take any wrong turns, I attribute it to the fact that there were two of us searching the landscape with our headlamps. Alone, it would have been more difficult. Nearly 5 hours after departing the tree obstacles, we made it to Monkey Island where the Survival Run finish would be. Only two racers would make the time-cutoffs and finish this race, although there were many of us who had an experience that surpassed any disappointment we may have experienced.

Looking back at this experience, I regret nothing and would change nothing. I met other Survival Runners and ultra-runners who shared the beauty of the Maderas volcano and Ometepe with me over the week that will remain in my soul forever. I don't believe you needed to run this one to be part of the magic it held. My eyes were opened to a whole world of ultra-running that I can only hope to be a part of in some capacity for years to come. DNF or no DNF, this one really delivered. 
Sean, one of our new crazy ultra-runner friends.

An extra special thank you to my dear friend Lani for believing me when I said she would never regret joining me for an adventure of a lifetime.
Thanks to Simple Fuel for such great support and love...

"I don't believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process."
Oprah Winfrey 
Some of the friends we have left behind on Ometepe. Photo credit to Paul Bujis.

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