Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Fire Makers

After realizing my knife was missing I just about lost it – my mind, that is. At first I was cursing myself, “Now what the fuck are you going to do?” Then I was questioning myself, “How will you finish? Are you going to have to make your own knife out of stones?” Honestly, I had no idea what to do. And that’s when it hit me. This is the second time I’d misplaced my knife this weekend. Why was I being so absent-minded? Why was it hard for me to hold on to something I cared so deeply for? I started to feel overwhelmingly upset about losing my KaBar. I just felt horrible. My dad gave this to me. How did I lose it?! At this point I wasn’t sure what happened. Did it fall out of the holster when I stumbled on a few rocks traversing that one ravine we had to go through? Did I leave it at the windmill? Was my race over?

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.26.42 PMI continued heading toward the next task with my head hanging very low trying to stay on course. I’m not quite sure when it happened, but eventually, I felt numb about everything. Why am I even doing this race? Even if I had my knife, could I really make fire? Doubt started to get the best of me. I tried to shake it off and think positively. Maybe someone found the KaBar while they were heading this way. Maybe you left the knife by the windmill and someone can find it if they haven’t already. My pessimism slowly dissolved and overcome with the optimism; optimism that I needed to carry on. I started envisioning what it was going to be like the moment I made fire.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.25.56 PMAfter what seemed like the longest four or five miles I’d ever experienced. I finally came to the next clearing and once there, I saw two large tee-pees, a few volunteers, and these boy scouts who basically, at first glance, appeared to be taunting the racers about how easily they could make fire. My first concern when arriving was to find Corinne, so I ran over to the area where everyone was making fire and I found her drilling away with her bow drill. I literally saw the determination burning inside her to make this fire. It was very motivating to see how hard everyone was working on their fire. Corinne had already burned through two spindles and was working on her third. It was a relief to finally see one another since the start of the race. I explained to her what had happened with my missing KaBar and shortly thereafter, we found out over the radio that someone had found my knife and was bringing it to the next challenge. This news wasn’t enough to calm me down. I had so much energy and I was as determined as ever to finish this race. Now that I knew I was going to be able to stay in this race, I kept pacing around and searching high and low for materials to make my fire. Patience is not a virtue I’ve been blessed with.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.26.56 PMIt wasn’t long before Corinne succeeded in making her fire. I was so happy for her. She went on and completed the next throwing challenge here at the tee-pees. This time, there were two stones on top of a tree stump and each racer had to knock them off with their throwing stick. After she finished this challenge I ran a short distance with her (since I was still waiting for my knife) to wish her good luck with the rest of the race. Corinne is one of the most incredible athletes out there, if anyone could finish this race, it was her. 1374045_10101040722755379_990873160_nI went back to my area and observed the other racers. I saw that most of the guys had moved on from using their knives and were strictly focused on spinning that spindle as fast as they could in hopes of getting that tiny little ember, which just might be enough to ignite a fire, into their small bundles of tinder. At times, everyone was trying to tackle this seemingly impossible task. It’s astounding that we, as a species, once depended on this skill as a necessary means for survival. Today we’ve become so disconnected that most human beings would not be prepared to survive should the need for primitive survival tactics ever arise. I finally asked someone if I could borrow their knife, I was so frustrated and absent-minded that I don’t even recall whose knife it was, but thank you for helping me out!

1001712_10101040722700489_362065211_nEarlier, while I was gathering all my supplies, I had already made my bow using some of my paracord and with someone else’s knife, I was able to make my first spindle. I set to work trying to get a good spin going. Corinne had given me this awesome rock to use as my top hold, but of course, as was the trend, I managed to misplace that as well. I had placed the stone next to my supplies, but when I came back from gathering more sotol out of the tee-pee I couldn’t find the rock. It’s very possible someone else used it. I suppose that’s what I get for leaving a rock on the ground. I decided to move away from the other racers and more into the clearing so I could see when my knife was going to arrive.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.31.55 PMAfter growing increasingly impatient with making the fire, I decided to take out some of my anger by knocking out the throwing challenge. We had seven attempts to hit the stone off the wooden stump two times. I only knocked it off once. Again, no bead for me. At some point, while waiting for my KaBar to arrive, Shannon Hulme came into the challenge and told me that he was done. He let me borrow his knife for a while as I continued to wait for mine. I don’t know how long it took but when my KaBar finally arrived I was already defeated. I’d already spent over three hours here and was nowhere near making fire. Determined, I gave it a few more attempts. It came to a point where I had to question what my next move. I didn’t have to get all the beads to finish the race officially but I did have to make fire. If I gave up on this I would be able to continue the race knowing I couldn’t finish officially. Yay. Welcome to the world of unofficial finishes once again, Tony. Before making a decision I discussed the options with Shannon. I knew all along I wasn’t going to make fire after wasting that much time, so it didn’t take long for me to realize it was better for me to take off now and make the time cut-offs rather than risk not finishing at all. I made sure to gather all my supplies, thanked Shannon once again and took off — leaving without my “I” Fire amulet. All I had so far were a couple beads and a “Fail” Symbol amulet. Whatever, another five or so miles and I’d be at the next challenge. Time to move.

From this point on, I was really just there to be there. I was no longer in the race, I was no longer a contender. Once again, I had found myself facing the reality that I could finish a race, but I wouldn’t be counted as an official finisher. This didn’t bother me as much as it did earlier this year when I finished with an “unofficial” at the Summer Spartan Death Race. No, this time it just was what it was, and I didn’t really care what it meant. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that going into this race I had never made fire or completed many of the tasks the Josue subjected us to. In that moment, I was just there to challenge myself to do something I’d never done before. Regardless of the outcome, I was there and this is how the story was unfolding. I accepted the results of my lack of preparation and vowed to  finish what I started.

As I continued on this crazy adventure through the foothills of Texas I found my mind wandering all over the place. It wasn’t like your standard race where you move so fast you can’t really think. Here, a racer had all the time in the world to get lost in whatever fantasies their mind created. Every step was slow and steady for fear of snapping an ankle with the constant indeterminate measure of distance between you and the next person. These unknowns and doubts were my biggest fears out there. We literally ran through sections that lasted more than a mile up and downwith loose rocks that threatened to slide out from you at any given moment. On top of that, I was still bushwhacking everywhere I went. I constantly needed to look at my feet but also up as well. I just couldn’t look in both places at once — that’s when I’d end up with a branch jabbing my left shoulder, or the time where I earned myself a bunch of prickly pear cactus needles sticking to the top of my foot, underneath my little toes and, of course, a nice big needle directly into my big toe. This didn’t just happen once.

View from cabin

View from cabin

While making my way to the next challenge I remember coming down this path and I could see a cabin not too far off in the distance overlooking a cliff. It looked like that was the next place we would be going. I remember thinking to myself and remembering I had not refilled my water at the last challenge, that I have to be close by now. I was starting to get so thirsty. I didn’t want to stop, but I had to get to the next challenge, I needed to hydrate. Just as I thought I was about to head toward the cabin, Josue had the course swing to the left and as I turned around I could see the cabin getting further and further away. You are a cruel man, Josue, and we all love you for it. He did this more than once on this route, it was so uplifting every time I thought I was almost to the next checkpoint and then bam, the course would switch directions steering me away from that glimmering beam of hope, that cabin on the top of that ridge. I wanted to get to it as fast as possible. I was ready to just finish this damn race. I started to question the possibility of being able to actually do the 100K Survival Run. Would ANYONE be able to complete the 100K?

To be continued…

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