Friday, June 28, 2013

Death Race 2013. Part II (of 3): Chillin' at Chittenden Reservoir

Chittenden reservoir in the early AM. Photo credit Peak Races

As the 8 pm cutoff came and went, we lined up to prepare for our hike to Chittenden reservoir over Bloodroot mountain. I had been over Bloodroot once before in the 2012 summer Death Race and recalled that it was a long (20+ miles), tedious hike that followed the Long Trail for much of the distance. Embarrassed that my original rock had been smashed to pieces, I hastily grabbed a stone from the driveway at the farm and lined up with the other athletes. Joe carefully inspected each racer’s rock and gave me the hairy eyeball as he inspected mine, which was clearly too small. I admitted that I had just grabbed a new rock because my original rock had been crushed in the barbed wire crawl and agreed to get a larger one before departing. As the group began to depart from Riverside Farm, I found myself scrambling along the roadside for larger rock that would not be inadequate for the task. I grabbed a large, heavy chunk of quartz from the hillside, got it checked and headed off with the first part of the group departing.
Racers headed off to Chittenden with rocks. I can identify Amelia, PJ, Don and Ken amongst the group.
 Photo Peak Races.

As the hundred or so remaining racers headed off into the night, I tried to find a comfortable position to carry my new rock in. It had no rough edges to grab on to, and was smooth and round from years in the riverbed. I tried to use webbing to secure it somehow in front of me, which was futile with a smooth, round rock, especially now that it had begun to rain. As I struggled to find some way to carry the rock, a small group splintered off the front of the pack and their headlamps disappeared in the far distance. My friend Stacie and I decided that we didn’t need to travel at the blistering pace of the lead group anyhow and settled into a comfortable fast hike. As we arrived at what appeared to be the end of the dirt road, an old man stopped us for 50 push ups with our packs on and directed us to a trail that followed the river. Shortly thereafter, we came to a to a trail junction. To the right was what appeared to be an old road- to the left a trail through the long grass with a sign marked “Chittenden reservior”. We headed up the trail towards Chittenden and soon found more pink streaming flagging tape, providing confirmation that we were headed on the correct trail toward Bloodroot. I vaguely recognized the trail from the summer before, but the fog and driving rain in the darkness of the night made it difficult. I continued to struggle to find some way to carry my rock. It was wet and kept sliding down my arms, forcing me to use my forearms to support much of the weight. At one point, I stopped and put the rock in my pack. It seemed like the only way that I was going to be able to get to the reservoir without leaving it behind. Oddly, as I resumed hiking with the rock in my pack, a weird sensation overtook me that I could not ignore. I began to wonder: why am I here? If I am here to complete this race for me and me alone, why do I feel that I need to cut a corner to make this adversity easier? Who cares if no one else knows? I know. And that really is all that matters. I stopped and gathered the rock from my pack and put it back in my arms. 

Shortly after, we were caught by Dan and Brian from behind, and the 4 of use continued on through our second consecutive night through the darkness together. I knew the route to the reservoir would be at least 20 miles, so we determined that we would arrive at the reservoir with less than an hour or so to spare before sunlight. We hustled, hoping to catch some of the stragglers off the group in front of us. We hiked up a mountain, through grassy snowmobile trails and muddy never ending trails, but were not able to catch anyone. I started to wonder if we were going the right way....

The 4 of us continued to follow the pink flagging tape in the fog and darkness for hours, stopping for 2-3 minutes every hour for fuel and electrolytes. After about 15 miles, we did eventually arrive at the reservoir. It was a little before 2 am and there was no sign of anyone else. As we approached the camp at the end of a long driveway, it became clear to me that we we were in the right place, but not at the right time. We had not taken the trail over Bloodroot Mountain as the others all had. Robin and Melissa Crossman came out of their cabin and told us that other groups had also lost some hikers and had doubled back to move as one group.
Stacie and I looking bewildered about something.
This wouldn't be the frist time, nor the last. Photo Chad Weberg.
We must have made our wrong turn before the group doubled back and had gone undetected all of this time. I knew this was not good for us. Not good at all. While the Death Race is not designed to be fair.... no one gets away with finishing a Death Race while having missed 5 miles of extra hiking and Bloodroot Mountain. Worse yet, the next challenge was a swimming challenge, and we would never be allowed to leave without doing it first. Oh, and no swimming before sunrise. The earliest we would be allowed to start our swim would be after 6 am. So what for the next 4 hours? I asked Robin if we could just start doing our burpees now. I figured there would be thousands of them.

Unfortunately, they had a different plan for us. It would involve cold water submersion and lots of it.

While Brian decided to hang it up at this point salvage what was left of his feet at the fire, Dan, Stacie and I were sent to stand in the reservoir. We huddled together in silence for thirty minutes in the water, followed by 50 frozen-calf-wrenching burpees and a 5 minute break. Repeat. As we continued on this cycle, other racers slowly began to filter in.... those who presumably had also become lost and wound up on the same trail as us.
More racers arrive at Chittenden to learn of the burpee/soaking penalty.
Photo Valerie Moreno-Hardison
The group grew larger over time until eventually reaching 18 or so racers by 6 am. While it was utterly amusing to watch, one by one, as the guys fell asleep only to be jolted awake by their swaying bodies, it was also getting pretty chilly after multiple submersions into the water. By my 3rd hour, my lips were as blue as my little fleece hat, my hands and feet shriveled and punky, and my teeth chattered almost uncontrollably (I could stop them if I focused hard enough- which was the basis I used to convince myself that I was not hypothermic). The one saving grace for me was the the intervals seemed to be getting shorter- our last submersion lasted a mere 12 minutes.
One of the last water submersions at Chittenden before the sunrise.
Photo Valerie Moreno-Hardison.
We watched the headlamps of the larger group of racers as they descended towards the reservoir in the darkness. It was sometime around 6 or 7am that we were finally sent up the driveway to fill our backpacks full of stone to bring back to the cabin. We were relieved of our driveway duty and sent to finally move to the next task: the three mile swim.

No comments:

Post a Comment