Thursday, June 27, 2013

2013 Death Race journey Part I (of 3): The Stairway to Heaven

"Hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence- the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes- all temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose and by the seriousness of the task at hand..."- John Krakauer, Into the Wild
The finished stairway to heaven.... Photo Chad Weberg
The first 36 hours...

Heading back to Pittsfield for the Death Race a second time was very different from my trip last summer as a death race rookie. I can’t say that it was easier, or harder, just different. I knew a little better what to expect from Joe and Andy, from myself, and from the experience of being awake and pushing my body for about 3 days without rest. Some of this knowledge gave me solace while some gave me things to worry about that I was oblivious to last year. I came last year to prove something to myself. I wasn’t sure exactly what, but I knew that I needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone and that the Death Race was going to do that. Having now accomplished that and more, I felt I had nothing to prove this year. I came back simply to revisit some of the things I learned about myself and for a chance to reconnect with the death race community that I had grown to love so deeply. 
Michael Mills, the first ever paralyzed DR participant, gets a little help from Steve and Mark Webb. The DR wouldn't be what it is without people like this.

In the weeks leading up to this year’s event, I must have been asked 1,000 times whether or not I was hoping to win again this year. Those who know me or understand this race will believe me when I say that winning the race couldn’t have been further from my mind. In fact, winning the race last year was really an accident. Being the first woman to cross an imaginary finish line, while a nice honor, was never the intention or motivation to do this race. Returning in 2013, it was no more of a motivator than in 2012. I never came to this race to compare myself to anyone else. This one is for me, and I have always seen successful completion of each challenge as the goal. This year, meeting time cutoffs and the threat that only 40 finisher skulls would be available would add a new element of a competition to the challenges. However, the idea of sprinting past a competitor in the final minutes or hours to arrive at the finish first was still never really a motivator. 
Scenic Riverside farm- photo credit Chad Weberg

After taking care of family arrangements on Thursday before the race, Dave and I arrived at Riverside farm early Friday morning. I felt as ready as I could be for what was to come and looked forward to what was in store for the weekend. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the racers were anxious and excited to reconnect and get started. After some of the usual shenanigans of digging, lifting heavy things, chopping and other chores, we were broken into 10 separate teams and assigned a section of trail to move rocks into place to create a stone staircase to the summit of Joe’s mountain (which would make a path about 1 mile long). My team of 20, Team 6, quickly gelled into a fine working crew. Since some of the rocks were upwards of several hundred pounds, we used large metal poles as levers. The poles also served to allow up to 7 of us to share the weight of each stone as we moved them up he hill. The boys named each of the rocks, mostly after women. I worked primarily on digging detail- working to dig out flat surfaces to place the large stones in and help work them into position. The task was arduous and a bit mind numbing. I dug holes, dug them again, and moved rocks with the boys for about 20 hours straight. At one point late into the night, I was even elevated to the status of a “fatherf*cker” (as opposed to mutherf*cker due to my feminine nature). Needless to say, that was quite an honor. We hayed and seeded the entire trail and returned to the summit of Joe’s mountain shortly before sunrise to wait for our next assignment. The early morning sky was spectacular. All of the athletes were told to lay quietly with their headlamps out until given further instruction. While I know many took advantage of this opportunity for a cat nap, I chose remain awake and soak it all in, knowing I would likely never again have the opportunity to revisit this moment.

As the sun rose on Saturday morning, we moved on to more chores. Backpacks full of rocks were moved up bike paths and assembled into piles. Big rocks, crushed rocks, and all sizes in between. Eventually, other remaining athletes were moved down the hill to help move the remaining stone until the job was complete. 
Kelli preparing to take a full load of rocks up from Tweed Dr.

Next task, yep, more rocks. This time, just one. I chose a nice piece of shale from a nearby stream as mine. My rock had a nice shape that was relatively easy to grip without cutting my arms too badly, so I was satisfied. These rocks would stay with us for the next 12 hours or so. We were instructed to follow a path marked with pink and orange flagging tape that was mostly a bushwack hike back to Amee farm with our rock held in front of us. We were instructed not to put it down or carry it on our shoulders or we would face punishment. Those who did were sent to a labor intensive yard work session somewhere up on the mountain.

Upon arrival back to Amee, the next task was wood splitting. Thirty rounds were to be split & stacked and some carried up to a shed across the road. As usual, the farm was utter chaos.
Chaos woodsplitting at Amee. That's me in the orange shirt. Photo Chad Weberg.
Axes flying, latecomers stealing wood from athletes who arrived earlier to avoid splitting the large, knotted rounds left in the pile and mass confusion. Joe and Andy thrive on confusion and I fully expected this to be part of the race. Some were rattled by the confusion, uncertainty and apparent unfairness of it all. I actually made good time on the rounds and found the splitting task a nice break from carrying rocks. Carrying the rounds to the shed in the heat was a challenge, but not unmanageable. 
Bringing loads of wood up to the shed at Amee farm.

Barbed wire- working together with Will and Stacie.

Although it took hours, eventually the wood task was complete and we were sent back up to the top of Tweed Dr. (4 miles maybe). We hiked with our rocks to the barbed wire challenge. The sun was still blazing and I hoped for rain. In retrospect, that was probably a bad idea. Each racer would crawl under a barbed wire maze through a ravine for about 200 yards where they would retrieve a playing card and return back through the barbed wire for a game of hi-lo with the dealer. If you won, you were done. If you lost, back for another card. Of course, I lost every time. Five laps total through the barbed wire, the first two dragging gear and the final three without. While the first two laps were harder because we had to drag our cumbersome packs (we were permitted to put the rock in our packs), the final 3 presented their own challenge because the barbed wire course was now completely jammed with racers. Many would pull the barbed wire over their heads and packs and then release the string of wire to snap back like a tree branch oblivious to the others near them. I have always struggled a tad with claustrophobia when in close quarters with too many people, adding barbed wire certainly heightened that anxiety for me. I tried where I could to be helpful to other racers entering the challenge with their packs, but I also felt a need to hustle through this part of the course to avoid being a barbed wire casualty.

Barbed wire with our inevitably losing playing cards in our teeth.
After the 5 laps were complete, we headed to Riverside farm. There would be an 8 pm cutoff and any time that remained could be used in any way we wanted for those who arrived early. It was 5:30 when we arrived, so I used the time to change and clean and dry out my pack that was completely soaked from the barbed wire fun. While some of the contents of the pack were also soaked (some of my food... boo), most stayed quite dry in ziplocks inside the pack. Sadly, my lovely rock was pulverized inside the pack from being dropped multiple times in the barbed wire ravine. Unfortunately, I would not be smart enough to search for a new one until it was nearly too late...

No comments:

Post a Comment