Friday, June 28, 2013

2013 Death Race recap. Part III (of 3): Leave It to Me To Be The First To Almost Actually Die At The Death Race

Reservoir punishment. Photo Pittsfield General Store.

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." 
-Neale Donald Walsch
The swim was a 1 mile loop that went nearly across the reservoir and back. Lifejackets were mandatory for all racers, which turned out to be an epic source of chafe for many of us. Personally, I enjoyed the swim. Being able to move in the water made it seem much less frigid, despite the fact that my body temperature had dropped significantly before the swim commenced. After a second mile loop, each racer spun a wheel to determine their fate: another swimming lap, permission to head back to Pittsfield, or a DSQ. I was fortunate enough to be able to return to Pittsfield without a third mile- at this time I was also informed that my punishment had still not been served: I would have to return the long way back over Bloodroot Mountain. After changing into dry clothes, I knew Stacie would soon be handed the same fate, so after she changed and packed up we were off to Bloodroot. It was at this point in the race that I had real doubt that I could finish the race. The last I had heard, the next cutoff would be in Pittsfield at 2 pm. Nearly 8am already, I doubted this would be possible. The first few hours of this hike were the most difficult for me: not physically, but wrestling with the idea that I had taken myself out of the event when we took that wrong turn the night before. I know many people like to say that that the Death Race is unfair. Sometimes, it isn’t fair. But this was my own fault. I shouldn’t have lost sight of the group. I had no one else to blame. I tried not to let negative thoughts take over, but they were there. After covering a few of the miles fighting our own self doubt, Stacie and I decided that our only option was to hustle. As we covered the miles through some of the sloppiest, muddy, buggy terrain, our spirits lifted and we both felt confident that the unknown was not to be feared.

Bloodroot Mountain took its toll on many racer's feet.
Photo matt Davis.
We would cover the 20+ miles back to Pittsfield through knee-deep shoe sucking mud, over Bloodroot mountain in the baking sun with 40ish pound packs and swarms of tiny black flies feeding off of us in just about 6.5 hours. The only times we stopped were to access food in our packs and to take care of our feet. Stopping for proper foot care along the trail would pay back huge dividends later in the day when continuous thunderstorms would plague us once again. Afraid of a 2 pm time cutoff, I covered the last 5 miles in a light jog- this would be where Stacie and I would cover the remainder of the race separately. I had no doubt that she would make it without me. 

When we arrived at the next challenge, I learned that the cutoff time was actually 6 pm. Having made the cutoff at only 2:30, things were pretty comfortable. Our challenge was to begin by retrieving 8 logs from a wood pile and split and stack them. The catch: log retrieval required a full submersion through a mud and fertilizer pit under a wall.

That mud was really effective at messing with contact lenses.
Photo Peak Races
After splitting the wood, our ankles would be lashed together and we would have to hop up a steep hill about 1/3 mile to a memorization task that would require correct answered at the bottom. Failure to answer the question correctly meant another trip up the mountain with ankles lashed. Breaking the ankle straps meant beginning back at the wood task. It took a surprisingly long time to hop up the mountain. My calves were shot requiring frequent rest breaks. When I arrived at the top, my contact lenses were so caked in mud that I had to wait for other racers to move away from the board so I could see the tiny writing. I studied the board carefully the "Bones Dice Game”- memorizing every detail from the type of plastic used to hold the notecard and it’s dimensions. On my way back down the mountain, I nearly became the first racer to ever die in the Death Race: certainly not the way I had envisioned my day ending.
More wood splitting. This time I forgot my gloves.
Photo Valerie  Moreno-Hardison.

I must not have noticed the approach of the epic thunderstorm that was about to swallow up the little town of Pittsfield, but when it hit, it was something I will never forget. The winds blew in without warning and the tops of the 125-150 ft. tall pines began violently swaying above me, cracking as they were tossed about by the storm that raged above. With my ankles lashed together, I surveyed the area to see where to go in the event of some kind of trouble. No obvious safe haven jumped out at me. The rains poured down and the wind became more intense until finally I heard the unmistakable crack of a tree somewhere above me that was going to come down. Another racer just above me on the trail yelled for me to get out of the way, but with the driving rain and grit in my eyes I could not distinguish which tree was the biggest danger or in which direction it would soon fall. I dropped one of my walking sticks and scrambled to
Solo still smiling in one of the downpours.
Photo Matt Davis
the downhill side of the largest tree I could find. I hoped that if the tree came down on this one it would be strong enough to remain standing anyway. Within seconds, a large tree above me broke about 50 feet from the ground creating a widowmaker across the trail. A few moments later, the other racer that was with me (I wish I knew his name, but I was too frazzled), started down the trail in the driving rain and wind. I begged him to stay with me for just a few more moments until the storm had passed and the danger was gone. He somewhat reluctantly agreed, if nothing more than to humor me. No more than 10 seconds later, the tree broke a second time and smashed across the trail about 15 feet below us, ironically on top of the walking stick I had abandoned just moments before. 

I clung to the tree for what seemed like a long time before venturing on down the hill. Despite an uncontrollable shake in my left arm, I composed myself long enough to correctly answer the memorization task, gather my gear and head for another 5 mile round trip up to the summit of Joe’s mountain. At the summit of the mountain in Shrek’s (Joe's) cabin was a stove.

We would later be asked questions about the stove to ensure that we had actually made the trip. Despite the monsoon that had now completely overtaken Pittsfield, I snapped a few photos of the stove and returned through a torrent of water as it washed out many of the beautiful landscaped stone stairs we had worked on during the first day and night of the event. I then headed up the road to the iron mine to collect my final set of poker chips- a round trip hike of an additional 6 miles.
View from inside the iron Mine. Photo Peak Races.
I believe there was another time cutoff here at the mine at 10 pm. I arrived around 8 pm or so, but felt good and continued to move at a steady slow jog regardless. 

The final task of the day was to return to Riverside farm where we would endure poker PT. Poker PT required each athlete to select a card from a deck of cards and then complete the exercise indicated by the number on the playing card. For example, and Ace was 100 cartwheels (I remember that clearly because I got that one twice), other exercises included a 5 minute plank, 100 squats, 50 flip-flops, 50 Turkish get-ups, 100 bent knee sit v-ups, a bear crawl, a swim in a cold pond, 500 jumping jacks, hill repeats, and others that I can’t possibly recall. A PT session was concluded when 13 cards had been drawn and exercises completed. I am not sure how long this all took, probably nearly 1.5-2 hours or so. 
Amelia and I after finishing up the final challenge. Four women in the top 10 finishers, proud to represent the ladies! Photo Matt Davis

At 10:30(ish) I completed my PT session and was told to return in the morning at 6 am to the casino with my tuxedo for poker. This was about 62 hours from when my journey had begun and I was ready for bed. Ironically, I had felt great until the second set of cartwheels, somewhere in the middle of my PT session. Somehow, the cartwheel managed to hurt everywhere: from my hands to my toes. At the hotel, I attempted to shower, but found no hot water in the shower at the hotel, so I slept anyway. I felt kinda horrible about what the pillow looked like in the morning when I got up. Oops.
My apologies to housekeeping at the Swiss Farm Inn.

The casino was a bit of a circus. Those of us who had collected poker chips at every challenge were sent into the casino one by one first to play a game of hi-lo against the dealer. After losing 5
Waiting outside the casino to see what was to come next.
 Photo Courtney DeSena
consecutive games of hi-lo at the the barbed wire crawl, I was pretty sure this one was rigged too. While I lost my first chip (my yellow chip from the swim) to dealer Chris Davis on my first try, I beat him handedly in an all or nothing second round to collect my finishers skull. 

In the days since the race I have heard all sorts of confusion about what went on in that casino. Evidently, there were some dirty dealers. I don’t know. What I do know is that this weekend delivered all that was promised. Once again, Spartan Death Race, you forced me to look beyond what I see everyday and into the depths of the human condition. Well played, sirs.

Gotta love Amelia's tux. The top hat was a nice touch.

I conclude this post with another from fellow Death Racer Will Bowden.

Life changes...evolves. I was reminded of this concept several times during the race. It comes to, and all situations therein, are as simplistic or complicated as we allow or want them to be. We can stop, pause or break...or we can decide to push on, when circumstances appear unbearable and impossible. For, there is always a way...if we want it. 

But, there is no shame in coming face to face with a boundary and choosing not to cross it. Showing up is amazing all in itself. 

This race was the epitome of life. For life, is not smooth, nor planned. it is how we respond that tells all. There are those who will understand, those who will eventually learn and those who (unfortunately) will never get it. 

This race was a game changer for me. Any situation that brings you to your mental or physical boundaries (or both) and allows you to decide if you want to hold short or cross them and create a new boundary will always change the core of your being. The Death Race did just that. 

Life is awesome...always. I will always remember the power of a smile as I continue this journey. 

"I'm pretty tired... I think I'll go home now."- Forrest Gump

Ready for a nap. Who could ask for a better crew? Photo Christian Hrab

No comments:

Post a Comment