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Pittsfield

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 7 – A Ravine and a Cemetery

Back at Riverside, we were briefed on the next task, which could be completed in teams. I opted to wait for my friends to make their way back to the White Barn before embarking on this next challenge. Everyone was given until 1600 hours to complete this task. The biggest relief was that we did not need to carry our full rucks for this segment of the event. It was entirely our decision what we would carry along with us and the rest of our gear could be safely left back at our tent in basecamp. Naturally, I opted to drop my ruck and suddenly what felt like thousands of pounds came off my shoulders.

At long last we had finally entered the orienteering challenge, one that everyone knew we would inevitably face during the “Year of the Explorer”. With items such as a compass on our gear list, many participants worried how involved the actual orienteering of the event would be.

When we approached the White Barn we received our instructions for the orienteering challenge, participants were to collect a four points to move on to the next challenge, should you fail, you were done with the race. There was a firm cut-off at 4:00pm. At the White Barn, we were shown a map of Pittsfield, VT. On the map, there were points plotted with descriptors such as the Hayes Brook, the cemetery, Iron Mine, and the ravine. Some of these locations were a great distance to travel after all we had done, while others were much closer. Picking a solid strategy was vital if you wanted to be successful at completing this challenge in the time allotted.

Each participant was given a punch card, so essentially we would be looking for an orienteering hole punch at each of the locations. From looking at the card I could tell that each hole punch had a different shape, star, moon, circle, etc. Looking at the map, there were a few spots that I knew the exact location of straight away, the cemetery which we had just passed on our way back from Gilke’s, and the ravine where I had spent plenty of time during the week I stayed in Pittsfield helping my good friend, Miguel Medina to build the foundation for what was meant to become a cozy cabin in the woods. Knowing the general location of the cemetery and the ravine convinced me that we had an edge. These two destinations on the map would give us enough points to move onto the next challenge and they shouldn’t be too hard to find. 

Death Race Land NavThere was still plenty of time to do this challenge so I took a brief moment to collect myself. When a few of my friends showed up I decided to team up for this and I reached out to Chris Rayne, Chris Accord, and Brain Edwards to tackle this challenge with. The plan was to break up into two separate teams. One team, those who felt the freshest on their feet, would make the longer trek to the cemetery. Those two would take all of the punch cards and have them punched with the Silver Circle hole punch and then make the trek as quick as possible. While the two who went out to the cemetery were on their journey, the other two would climb up the ravine and locate the Green Clover hole punch wherever it was hiding. Given that the location was so close to the White Barn, where we would be checking in, the assumption was it might require more time to find, possibly hidden in a tree or somewhere out of sight.

Once the strategy was understood, the question remained, who had the freshest feet? Rayne and Edwards both offered to go to the distance back to the cemetery. The four of us decided on a spot just past an intersection on the Green Mountain Trails that led back to the stables at Riverside Farm. We declared this our meeting spot, this is where Accord and I would wait after we had located the hole punch at the ravine.

Our two teams split and sought out the hole punches that would maximize our points with the least likelihood of becoming lost in the rolling mountains of Vermont. Having spent so much time over the years on these trails, I had become somewhat of an expert at navigating them. I knew the fastest routes to the ravine and in my gut, I had a feeling I knew exactly where this hole punch was hiding.

As we crossed over the rushing water that was flowing down the ravine we came across the unfinished cabin in the woods, I knew it was time for us to start looking high and low, that hole punch had to be somewhere in that general area. I was feeling a little better now that I was moving again, so I quickly headed up the steep slope to the rear of the cabin. It felt steep, but I was determined to find the green clover hole punch. Everywhere you looked there were leaves that covered the forest floor and when you looked up it was just a sea of green leaves, ten shades of green, with a sprinkle of orange and yellow making it very difficult to identify the green hole punch that we were looking for. The directions we were given back at the White Barn were intentionally vague, if you were a master at finding Waldo, you were playing the right game.

While searching up, down, left, and right, I found myself ascending higher and higher up the trail past Miguel’s cabin. I carried on and continued to navigate the steep trail. After going a fair shot up the hillside, I turned around and shouted back to Chris to see how he had been doing. Right as my head came full 180 back in his direction is when I suddenly spotted it, the green hole punch! It was down a little ways, dangling from a low hanging branch. I alerted Chris that we had found it and the two of us quickly began our descent back to the meeting spot our team had designated earlier.

While Chris Accord and I waited for Brian and Chris Rayne to return, feelings of guilt began to set in. As the sun moved across the sky, and time went on, a feeling of remorse developed inside me. Did we let them down? Was it bad of us to handle the closer less challenging checkpoint while they went on another long hike? Why did we let them do the harder part? How was that fair? I started to question the logic, it still seemed sound, but I remembered I knew the area around the ravine better than anyone, I knew the most direct route there, the hope was that we would save time finding hole punch at the ravine because of this knowledge I had. They knew exactly where the cemetery hole punch was, they remembered seeing something purple in the distance on the way back from Norm’s task at Gilke’s.

In my head, I justified the strategy, when they returned they would be able to go sit and relax while we went out and captured the final hole punch. No matter how I tried to frame it in my head Chris Accord and I definitely got a better deal and in acknowledging that I cannot thank Rayne and Edwards enough for going the extra mile or 10. Your selflessness certainly helped improve our chances of finishing, especially mine, so thank you, again.

Whether or not the strategy we utilized was fair or not, one thing was certain, it was efficient. When Chris and Brian returned, I grabbed their cards from them and took off, all the rest we had while they went to the cemetery gave me a huge boost of energy. The whole process of running there and back was quick and painless, for the most part. I returned with the holes punched and we checked in as one of the first few teams to finish. We had an entire two hours to spare until we had anything else to do. Two truths were proven, knowledge is power, and it pays to win, we finished quickly and as such we earned rest. It was welcomed and feared…for if you rest too long, your whole body could lock up.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 5 – Pocahontas and Porcupine Quills

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Don Devaney at the water cup in a log challenge.

The time had come to depart from the top of Bloodroot Mountain Trail. After a long and tedious process thanks in part to Don’s desire to break me by angering my soul, I successfully finished crafting my cup of water in a log holder project. With the remains of my creation packed tightly away, I took off down the mountain trail. With the radiance of the sun gone and replaced by the starry skies of central Vermont, the first night of the Death Race had finally begun.

Darkness engulfed the sky and these moments are a test of willpower and determination. Naturally, when the sun fades, the body and more importantly, the mind will naturally find itself desiring sleep, rest, and comfort. During these long, dark hours are a test of perseverance. Enduring the darkness and doubt brings its own reward — like the rising sun’s power  to bring a spiritual resurgence  and provide the kick in the ass necessary to carry on. 

Unaware of what lie ahead during this first evening and now alone in the mountains, I knew I had to maintain my focus. Knowing that  Kristine had finally arrived I knew it would be tough when I finally saw her to not want to stop the race and spend all my time in the majestic wilderness alone with her. It’s true, internally my emotions within were all over the place, as much as I’d probably want to suspend time and stop racing to be with her, I was equally giddy with excitement at the prospect of having her see what I was made of. I wanted her to see that I had the gusto to finish the Peak Death Race.

My trek down Bloodroot Mountain Trail was far better than my ascent. No longer feeling any foot pain, I had almost completely forgotten about the episode. Determined to return the the White Barn at Riverside Farm to catch my lady, a fire inside began to rage. I barreled my way down the treacherous trails. With my headlamp lighting the tree lines up with the power of 200 lumens, I swear that Black Diamond Icon headlamp is like having your own personal sun, and because of its brilliant light  I was able to leap over every puddle, creek, and stream that lay in my path. Utilizing my trekking poles, I managed to navigate the dark path without hitting any water by propelling myself over each water source in my way. 

The further down the trail I made it the more I felt the weight of my pack taking its toll on my shoulders. In an effort to quell the discomfort, I messed around with my straps loosening them and tightening them, sometimes unclipping the chest strap and allowing the shoulder straps to fall off, putting a majority of the weight into my waist belt. I was resolute to keep my pace and not have to stop. I had made it down the more treacherous parts of the trails, but no matter how much I shifted and adjusted the pack, the nearly 70 pounds was too much. I eventually caved, and dropped my pack to the ground. I had to rest, if only for a minute. Fellow Death Racers passed by and I felt a sense of defeat, I was unhappy with my inability to bear the weight. It was my own fault; even with all my knowledge from previous races, I made a mistake and over-packed. The truth of the matter was I feared Bloodroot. In my experience, going to Bloodroot typically meant a trek to Chittenden Reservoir. A journey to those parts meant long distance swims in frigid waters. Swimming, I can do. In frigid, open waters? That’s when I get a little shaky. Thankfully, it seemed we avoided that water hole of misery, at least for now, I thought to myself.

Continuing to make the long hike back, I relished in the fact that at least with the downhill gravity was doing some of the work. Just a little further and I’ll be back, I told myself. It seemed like a never-ending hike. As I made my way off the trails and onto the road that leads to Upper Michigan and towards the path that leads past Jason’s home, I paused to soak in my surroundings. Here I was, still in the beginning stages of another Death Race adventure,and yet, if only for a moment, it was a chance to acknowledge the vastness of the universe. I gazed up at the blackening abyss over the clear Vermont sky speckled with blinking beams of light that traveled light years just to reach my eyes in this very moment. The experience was transcendent. Staring out gave me this assurance that as difficult as anything I might face ahead may be, that there are far greater challenges being faced everywhere. For a moment, my mind expanded beyond my conceivable conscious. I returned my mind and myself back to this planet after sitting for a brief moment on a roadside guardrail, lost in the stars above. I redirected my enlightenment to getting through this Death Race as a finisher. This was it, everything I’ve done over these past few years has led to this defining race. You’d be mistaken if you thought it was only about racing others, the truth is the Death Race is you against you. Can you overcome whatever demons might reveal themselves in the face of the adversity crafted to disrupt you? I believed I not only could, but would. 

Not too long after my short meditation, I gained a bit of pep in my step and finally could see the lights of Riverside Farm in my sights; all I had to do was safely cross Route 100 and run up the driveway. As I approached the farm, excitement filled me, having already been going for well over 12 hours; I finally got to see the beaming smile of my lady, Kristine. As I ran up she greeted me already prepared to help me as my crew in any way possible. 

I was informed I had to speak to the woman by the teepee tent that was there in the back corner of the corral where a large amount of Death Racers were already hard at work on the next task. 

The next task to be completed was to take the log that I had just carried back from Bloodroot and I needed to make a hole in the center. It was required to show this woman, who resembled Pocahontas in the garb she adorned, through this hole that the mandatory porcupine quill I had brought with me could be slid all the way through it. Sounded like a simple enough task. Before I was allowed to do that, however, I had to change my clothes. It was time to take the four yards of buckskin, or in my case vinyl that looked the color of buckskin but felt like a “pleather”, and create a top and bottom that mimicked her look. Specifically, I would need to use 108 stitches to do so. Those were the instructions. 

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Amie Booth adorning her amazing survival garbs.

Immediately I ran back to where I dropped my pack by Kristine and my attitude changed. The temperatures were dropping and I was not in the mood to sew a stupid outfit that I would have to wear for what at worst could be the rest of the damn race. All I could think was, this was going to be miserable!. Negativity overwhelmed me. It engulfed my soul so quickly, I was actually thinking about quitting. Why the f*ck do I have to do this bullshit? I could just go back to the hotel with Kristine and enjoy Vermont for once, why am I putting up with stupid shit like this. It’s incredible how fast the negativity can exasperate into an uncontrollable fury. Kristine tried to encourage me. This was only the first night; I had to snap out of it. This is what the Race Directors wanted, they wanted to get a rise out of us, and they wanted to break those of us who lacked patience. It’s not always the physical tasks that will get you in the Death Race; it’s the ones that require mental solitude, perseverance, patience, more often than anything else it’s these challenges that force a Death Racer to quit. 

This would be my greatest challenge — overcoming the mind-numbing task of sewing, which I’m pretty awful at, my own hunter/gatherer style outfit. I decided to essentially slice the fabric in half, one part to make a skirt of sorts, a kilt, if you will. For the top I would fold it in half and using my Ka-Bar I turned it into a tunic, making a hole that may have been a bit larger than necessary for my head to go through. I sealed up the sides a bit to fulfill the requirements of having stitches and made sure to count each stitch one by one, an impressive test of focus. Stitch, count, stitch, count. It was a repetitive task that had to be done precisely for fear of penalty. By the time I had my tunic and skirt all stitched up I had regained my composure and desire to race. I  decided if I was going to deal with wearing this I might as well have a little fun with it, so I took my knife and sliced some stylish cuts into the skirt to give it a more “Gladiator” style, at least that’s what I pictured in my mind . It looked far from the garb of a gladiator, but it certainly gave me and everyone else a laugh, including Pocahontas.

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Death Racer working on porcupine quill through the center of a log challenge.

Next up, I had to get to work on my log. While the task seemed like it would be easy at first, I quickly realized how difficult this could be. Strategizing with my crew, Patrick Mies, a fellow Death Racer with whom I had raced with the previous summer, suggested first to begin splitting the wood with my hatchet without breaking it in half. Then I could shove screwdriver or something similar down the middle. While I loved his suggestion, there was one problem I didn’t have a screwdriver or anything like that. Not even two minutes later, I found one on the ground by my side. It’s strange how items just appear right when you need them at a Death Race. 

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Ella Kociuba working on her log.

Working hastily, I jammed the screwdriver into my already half split log and started pounding it down with the back of the hatchet I borrowed from fellow Death Racer, Rob Barger. Once it was through I went to pull it back out of the log. It was stuck! Shit?! What do I do? I could feel my heart rate accelerating. I’m screwed. I started throwing my log on the ground, pulling, pushing, twisting, and doing whatever I could to try to wiggle it free. After tirelessly working on it for a good 10 minutes I finally succeeded. Now to make sure I can get the porcupine quill through. It was important to me that I could do it before I went and showed them. My first attempt I lost my quill in the wood shavings and debris. I had to make it smoother. Round two with the screwdriver went a little smoother than the first. After losing another quill, and I only had 2 more left, I finally succeeded. Excited, I ran over to the teepee tent and fire that was burning in front of it and presented my project to Pocahontas. Success came only after my log almost fell apart, only a sliver of bark held it together. Ecstatic to finally be done with this tedious task, I ran over to Kristine and Patrick and began gathering my things so I could prepare for what lie ahead. 

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 3 – Return of the Stone Stairs

In the middle of the Death Race, I was pulled from the action to give a quick interview for the new Spartan podcast that they were recording. They asked me simple questions with complex answers, “Why was I out there? Why return to the Death Race?” Those answers are not the easiest to answer on the spot. I was out there racing for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, I was out for redemption from the previous year. Next, I had a burning desire to at last earn the coveted “official” finish. I wanted to gain an understanding that with each Death Race I learn something new about myself. I cannot remember exactly what I said on that podcast, but I’m thankful it was early on in the race, because who knows want kind of ramble and fumble on my words I might have had were it 36, 48 or even 60 hours into the race?

After finishing the short interview, Chris urged me with, “Hurry up, Mr. Celebrity,”or something to that effect. I jumped right back in with Chris and Brian and we worked our way up the mountainside staircase. We lugged and struggled to move what would become new stone stairs to their new home on the mountain. The year before when these stairs were built there were sections where racers took the utmost care in making sure the boulders were properly set; with other sections, not so much. There were a few sections where very large, nearly immovable boulders were careful placed and others where smaller stones, able to be carried by a single person, were simply placed with little effort in securing and setting them into the earth. The key to building a solid stone staircase along a mountain is making the stairs appear to be one with the earth. The objective was for it to appear as though these stone had been there for thousands of years. This year, we were rebuilding the sections that fell apart from careless placement. Because of the lack of effort in properly placing these sections, the weather and snow, and their overuse caused the stones to become a danger to those who used them on a regular basis. 

Unlike the prior year, this task would not and should not have taken the same 24 hours to complete because only a few sections near the mid-mountain and upwards towards the top that were in need of repair. Some people look at these tasks as simply doing Joe’s landscaping. What many fail to understand is we are doing so much more than that. We’re working together as a team to build something that will forever be a part of this mountain. These stairs will be here for generations. A man-made structure so great that we all can own our accomplishment and one day return to say, “Along with my comrades, I built this.”That’s something so unbelievably awesome, it brings joyous tears to my eyes every time I think about what a group of 200 fellow Death Racers and I are able to achieve. 

pittsfield vermont death race stair case rebuild It was a lot of working lugging these enormous stones up and down the mountain, but with teamwork and camaraderie anything is possible, even when it doesn’t seem that way. All around me, I could see Death Racers working together, making the impossible, possible. The ingenuity of the racers is something to admire. Some racers utilized rope and webbing and such to fashion together different dragging systems. Others found sizable tree limbs and created a basket of sorts from their buckskin to carry the boulders in. After Chris, Brian and I brought our rocks up to their place we were sent back to the top of Tweed River Drive to ensure that all the stones had made their way back. 

On our way back down the trail we saw a collection of abandoned stones by those who gave up on moving the oversized monstrosities. As we passed one we had the unfortunate luck of being in the vicinity of the man known as the Task Master, Don Devaney. As usual he was in his angry, yelling Death Race character, which I now find to be more humorous than anything else. My inability to take him seriously anymore tends to get me in to some less than desirable situations. That held true here. Don saw us and immediately directed us to pick up the nearest stone. It was an obnoxiously large one. One that quite frankly looked a bit phallic. As soon as Don carried on we did attempt to move the stone only to quickly discover why it had been abandoned. Though in size it shouldn’t have been too much for the three of us, it was. The density of this stone was surprising. Once Don was completely out of sight we ditched the rock in the woods, in truth it wouldn’t have made a very good step, I mean it looked like a penis for crying out loud. It was clear to us why this stone was abandoned, and I’m not talking about its shape, if three strong men had difficulty moving it, how much effort was it worth? There were still plenty of other abandoned stones along the path that we could move and so we found another and carried on. 

We found a couple who was working on moving a stone though they were not moving very far. Instead of grabbing our own stone we jumped in with them and decided to lend a much needed hand. Together, we worked to move the stone they appeared to be struggling on for some time. It was awkwardly shaped forcing us to carry it in most particular way. Some edges were round making the ability to have a good grip difficult. We heaved and hoed, taking breaks every 20-30 steps as needed. The breaks were short, mostly to readjust grip and give the forearms a bit of relief. 

stone staircase death race rebuildArriving back at the staircase, we brought the stone we carried to the nearest spot it was needed. All the while we had dropped our bags in what we had hoped to be a safe location. Once the stone was dropped for other racers to secure, we quickly made our way back to the tree that Brian, Chris and I had dropped our bags. Having exerted a significant amount of energy over the past couple hours, we made sure to hydrate and fuel ourselves a bit before moving our bags up the mountainside. From there, the three of us continued to find others who needed assistance in transferring the substantially large boulders up the mountain. Our preferred method of moving them was via a rope system. It [the rope] would be secured to the stone, then six or more handles were attached to distribute the weight. From there it was simply a system of pulling as far as we could then repositioning ourselves and doing it all again. As often as possible we would utilize the leverage we could generate from wrapping some of the rope around the nearby trees. This helped speed up the process and we would just zig-zag bouncing from one tree to the next for added leverage. Science, gotta love it. 

As we move the stones up and set them in place one by one, you could see this incredible amount of team work happening all around you. It reminded me of the Hurricane Heat I had been leading for Spartan Race. A bunch of strangers and friends coming together to do incredible feats. What makes the Death Race so much more incredible is the notion that we’re actually building something that will be here for centuries; I cannot help but come back to this thought over and over. As the final rocks were being set in place in one section we were sent further up to help. When Chris, Brian and myself arrived at the highest point of the staircase build we were informed there was no need to go any further. It was clear there was no need for more bodies up here, as the path was narrow and already a cluster of Death Racers working tirelessly to secure the final few stones into place. The volunteer didn’t know what to tell us other than to look busy, so we started moving any spare stones out of the way and headed back. 

Shortly after chucking a few stones off the beaten path and into the brush, the racers were informed the task had come to an end and we were rounded up by Johnny Waite. He made an announcement that the following names he would be calling off had done an exceptional job thus far in the race. This earned the opportunity to get a small head-start to the next challenge. There was an opportunity for the racers to nominate a few additional people that may have been missed by the race directors. After that those few lucky individuals earned a good three to five minute lead on the rest of us. 

vermont pittsfield death race stone stair build rope draggingOur mission, was to run back down the mountain to Riverside Farm. To my advantage I knew this mountain very well from all my visits over the course of three years and I was able to take a few shortcuts that easily took minutes off my time getting back down. With a full ruck, I was running as fast as my legs allowed me to run. As I approached Riverside Farm I saw that there were some water bottles lined up as well as other items. It turned out my suspicions were correct, the volunteers and race directors did snag some of our items from our rucks when they had piled them all on top of each other. The blue Nalgene water bottle I borrowed from Mark Webb, included. As we ran up they explained that you must complete fifty burpees to retrieve your item, unless it was a water bottle in which case you could simply pick it up. I ran up without hesitation scooped up the water bottle and headed towards the area where we picked up our bibs earlier that morning. 

All along the tree line there were small log stumps all in a line, enough for over 200 participants. Some had X’s spray painted in black on them, others had O’s and a few even had what appeared to be a capital letter E painted into the grain. Our objective was simple enough, grab the log and head over to Bloodroot Mountain Trail. Bloodroot has become one of the constants of the Death Race. You know you’ll face this mighty mountainous trail at one point or another during the Death Race. The only question is when. In my first year it was one of the very first tasks, in my second is came later in the game and involved a night hike, this time it was early enough to ascend in the daylight but how far we were going and what lay ahead remained a mystery. With my log in my hands I began hustling my way across Route 100 up the drive way that led to my co-worker, Jason Jaksetic’s house which led to the road to Bloodroot. 

To be continued…

Photography Credit: Marion Abrams and Doug Kline

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 8 – Surviving the Delusions

There I was, feeling a little lost back at the entrance to Bloodroot Mountain Trail. I thought, how did everyone disappear so fast? I tried to keep my cool. There were two people in front of me just a minute ago, they couldn’t have gone far, I thought,  reassuring myself. I decided to investigate the route that Junyong Pak took earlier. Perhaps he was right after all, perhaps that was the correct route to take. I started to climb up the mountain. Still carrying my rock, I could feel my heart begin to race. I decided to stop, and instead of wasting time searching for my fellow racers with no real sense of which route to take, I opted to use the best tool I could think of in this situation, my rape whistle! Just kidding, but it was a survival whistle. There I was at be beginning of Bloodroot, surrounded by towering trees, barely able to see the crystal clear, starry sky above. Finally, I found my survival kit. I hastily opened it and retrieved my survival whistle. Since so little time had passed since I last saw a person (maybe ten to fifteen minutes at most) I was confident someone would be close enough to hear the whistle. No matter how many times I made that whistle echo through the woods, I heard nothing in return. I turned my headlamp off to search for any bobbing lights in the distance. Nothing. I set my headlamp to flash and started scanning the horizon in hopes someone would either hear the sound of the survival whistle, or at the very least, see the flashing of my headlamp. Still nothing. I couldn’t waste any more time.

8560_10151688450303766_1649729534_nOnce my bag was packed, I secured it to my back once again and I tossed my rock aside. It was slowing me down and it was far more important for me to find the correct route. I assured myself this wasn’t cheating; I planned to pick another sizable rock up again as soon as I was back on track. Thankfully, the mountainside has an abundance of shale rock. I ran back towards the intersection where the group of us struggled to decide what route to take previously. As I ran back down the right path, I finally saw someone running toward me. It was one of the Race Directors, Norm Koch, relief entirely overcame me. I told him I couldn’t figure out where everyone went after I tied my shoe and he told me to hurry behind him and he’d show me the route.

We ran back down the path a little and we came up on this pink ribbon, which appeared to be placed in a manner suggesting this path was a blocked off. I realized that wasn’t the case when Norm climbed over the pink ribbon and started to climb up the mountain. It’s no wonder why I struggled to find the correct route to take. The path was hidden, it was blocked off. The path didn’t shout out and say, “Hey, take this path.” I laughed to myself and thought, another great way to mess with our heads, nice.

As it turned out, Norm is an exceptionally fast and efficient hiker; he moves up and down these mountains with ease and impressive speed. He should be fast, though, he lived in the area and hiked the mountains all the time. I tried to keep up with him but found myself trailing further and further behind with each step. Not only was Norm used to climbing up and down these mountains on a daily basis but there was no pack weighing him down either. He was cruising. I did my best to keep up with his pace until the gap grew at an exponential rate and I had to call out for him to slow down a bit. He continued moving at his pace. It is the Death Race, after all. Of course he wouldn’t put on the brakes for me.

I felt relieved that he never pulled too far ahead of me. After about ten minutes of climbing we reached a road where a group of racers were waiting by a truck. It seemed they too were off the path and were directed to wait there for Norm to come lead the way. It was clear I didn’t have a rock at this point. I feared someone would call me out for it. Naturally, I made an effort to blend into the darkness while I searched the road for something suitable to pick up and carry once again. I did not feel good about being rock-less. Guilt was finding its way into my mind. I knew dropping that rock when I did was the right choice, so I just told myself to keep looking. I assured myself, you’ll find something. And find something I did. Not even a quarter mile later I found myself back at it trying to figure out a way to fashion a harness on the front of my pack for my new best friend, the new rock. At this point my pelvis already felt bruised from the poor decision I made to use my waist belt as part of the holster for my first rock. The importance of finding a solution that wouldn’t add to the collection of cuts and bruises this challenge had already left me with was rising. When this challenge began I had thought I was a genius. I thought the combination of bungee cords and compression straps would be the ultimate solution to secure this rock nice and tight to my pack. That was not the case, the faster I moved the more the bungees gave, the more the rock would wiggle its way out, and the more frustrated I became. I had to stop at least four or five times just to readjust my straps and reattach the rock. The frustration was starting to poke at me like a five year old who wants you to look at something. It took everything in me not to let that frustration get the best of me.

Eventually our little group hit a well-marked section and we were all on our own. I remember taking off on my own for a bit up the mountain pushing myself and trying to shake the delirium that was beginning to settle in. Bloodroot Mountain is one of the toughest climbs I’ve ever been on. It’s even more twisted and challenging when you are climbing while the moon is out and having not slept in over 40-something hours. With each step I began to question whether or not my eyes deceived me. Looking to the left, I saw what appeared to be a racer. As I began to get closer I was certain this racer was rocking back and forth. Were they cold? Is it possible the rain from earlier caused this racer to become hypothermic, I thought to myself. As I approached I closed my eyes and shook my head. When I reopened them all I saw were some branches swaying in the air. These were the dark moments of this race. I found myself questioning what was real and what was just a mirage from the delirium that takes over after being up for nearly two days straight drinking 5-Hour Energy shots every ten or so hours. Some of the things I would convince myself were there even if it made absolutely zero sense, but it was hilarious.. Without question I saw a chicken run across the path ahead of me; again an illusion from the branches blowing in the wind. Not knowing what was really there was pretty trippy; even if the illusions only lasted a few seconds it’s worthy to note that I wasn’t always in a stable frame of mind.

JANE CoffeyThis is what makes the Death Race such an extraordinary challenge to overcome, not only do you push your body to its absolute max but you are also testing the strength and endurance of your mind. Can you stay awake? Can you make the right decisions on little to no rest? Can you push your mind to keep going when your body starts to cry, only wanting to quit? The Death Race is ultimately a test of the mind, everything else is just there to make it suck even more. But those who endure, those are the ones who know success.

Along the hike I bumped into my friend Jane Coffey a few times and I expressed to her how I was feeling a little off with all the things I was seeing. At the same time I was running low on water and I recalled back to the previous year during the 2012 Death Race when Andy drank from one of the streams and told us this was his norm. I figured what the hell and filled my hydration unit up in one of the cleanest, clearest streams I could find. We also met up with one of the most incredible athletes I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. She was wicked fast, and relentless. Amy Palermo Winters was crushing this mountain. I couldn’t help but wonder how her prosthetic leg handled some of this mucky terrain they had us trudging through. Like I said, she was relentless.

My mind was entirely focused on reaching the peak of this climb. The climbs always take their toll on me. I knew once I reached the summit it would be all downhill from there. Literally. I was more than ready to reach the Chittenden Reservoir. Even if it meant we had to swim. As the descent continued I was cruising down the mountain, through some swampy areas and making killer time up for how slow I was on that treacherous ascent. During the climb down I ran into Mark Webb; I was so happy to see him.

urlAs I remember a group of about four of us all converged at a road and had to turn around and take another route that was marked just a bit up the mountain we had just came down. I thought I had seen the worst of the sloppy muddy marshes on the mountain, but they were nothing compared to what came next. I was shocked my shoes weren’t sucked into the abyss. The sun was finally starting to rise. It felt like we had been on Bloodroot forever. I kept seeing houses off in the distance but apparently those weren’t real either! What the hell is real anymore? I kept thinking we just had to be close to the reservoir by now. I wasn’t feeling good anymore. The food I was eating was starting to get to me. It kind of came at me all at once. My head began to hurt, my stomach uneasy, I could feel my throat swelling up. Why am I getting sick now? Is this flu sick? Am I going to be able to finish? What the hell is happening to me? I felt horrendous. Barrrfff!!

 

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 6 – The Unexpected

After finishing the barbed wire challenge I had the opportunity to gather my gear before proceeding to the next challenge; or lack thereof. My mission required that I head back to the Riverside Farm and wait. That’s right, myself and the other four racers who finished were so far ahead that we had to wait for over four hours. After everyone was together, we once again gathered for instructions about the next challenge. In the meantime, we were practically given a free pass to do anything we wanted. The only instruction was to be back at Riverside Farm ready to go by 4:00 pm.  I made my way to the bottom of Tweed River Drive back to the large field outside the White Barn at Riverside Farm. This area was also used as the parking lot for most of the racers and it just so happened that Mark had also parked his car here.

IMG_8145Finally arriving at Riverside Farm after hiking back down, I went straight to Mark’s Land Rover, found the key that he hid just in case one of us finished early, and opened up the hatch. Inside I found the perfect tool to keep me busy these next few hours. I recall purposely packing away my travel-size foam roller knowing how wrecked my body would be after another dance with death. Around this same time some of my fellow Corn Fed Spartans came back down from the barbed wire challenge to check on me. They asked if I needed anything from my bag check, or if I wanted anything to eat as they were about to go grab lunch from the General Store.

Oh, the Original General Store of Pittsfield, VT. The most magnificent General Store ever. (How I love you so). I was ecstatic when they asked me if I wanted  anything to eat. Are you kidding me? Of course I want something, I thought to myself, I’ve been eating protein/energy bars, trail mix, and other random foods up to this point. The thought of a juicy bacon burger from the General Store popped into my head. When Missy Morris asked me what I wanted my immediate response was, “Can I have a burger, with BACON?!” Everyone laughed and then they hopped back in Lisa Weberg’s SUV and headed out.

While I waited I grabbed the foam roller and went to town on every sore part of my body. No muscle was left unrolled! Upper Back? Check. Hamstrings? Check. Calves? Check. Hip Flexors? Check. Lower Back? Double Check. My basic theory in rolling everything out during the down time was to prevent my muscles from locking up. A few of the guys I made it back with laid down and went straight into nap-time. Not me, I was still rocking-out from the wicked energy spike after crushing that barbed wire crawl and nailing the celebratory Burpee back-flip. My primary objective was to be proactive and reserve some of my energy and channel it to my active recovery efforts.. The more I thought about it, the fact was evident that, once again, being a leader in this race was less than ideal, especially early on. The larger the lead you take in this race, one of two things happen. First, they continue to give you more and more work to break you down until the rest of the pack catches up. Or, secondly, they do make you wait, giving you time to rest. You are probably thinking, how is that a bad thing? The thought of it isn’t that bad, especially since you’ve been going for over 30 hours at this point. However, the reality is the longer you rest the more the soreness sets in. Muscles begin to cramp and you can feel your shoulders tighten, your legs begin to stiffen up, and the thought of lifting them becomes the greatest challenge. I could not let this happen.. During those hours in the field I did everything I could to stay somewhat active. Everything in my power to keep my body “fresh” whatever “fresh” meant after 30+ hours of racing.

1040752_10151998181159418_71694408_oWhile waiting in the field, I was visited by my dear friend, Andi Hardi. She was also about to make a trip back to Amee Farm, where our gear drop was and asked me if I needed anything. I realized this was quite possibly the last chance I’d have to get some fresh socks and shoes for a while so that is exactly what I requested. I gave her exact directions as to where to find my gear at bag drop and any other pieces of information she’d need so I could finish this monster of a race.  She asked if I needed food but I informed her that Missy was already grabbing me a burger—or  so I had hoped she was. It felt like it had been a while since they had left. Andi took off and I went back to stretching and utilizing my foam roller. I will NOT cramp up, I kept repeating in my head. Control the mind, control the body.

I was just about to begin stretching when down came my Corn Fed Family. The sight of burger brought out pure jubilation from my ribcage. I demolished nearly half of the burger before they had to take off to look for the other members of Corn Fed who were back at the previous challenge now. They only stayed long enough to hand me the burger and wish me luck. My caloric deficit was quite evident, something that’s just part  of these multi-day adventures. In endurance racing, caloric intake and retention is everything—it can really make or break someone’s race (and body). No matter how much you try the body will almost always be in negative calorie deficit.

1010434_10100879264324369_690310363_nTo put that into perspective, in a typical day a person will generally eat anywhere between 1200-4000 calories/day depending on a lot of factors. A typical high intensity, hour plus workout can burn upwards of 1000 calories, again many factors to actually determine accurate counts. During a race of this magnitude you are easily burning nearly 10,000 calories/day and it is very likely you are only consuming somewhere in the realm of 2000 calories per day. Taking that into account I was trying very hard to keep my intake optimal so I could still perform and not lose too much weight and keep my energy levels sufficient. I entered this event weighing in around 158-160lbs on average leading up to the Death Race.  No matter what, I was leaving this race lighter than when I began, and with my metabolism helplessly trying to keep up.

After they left I ate another quarter of the burger and put the rest aside for later. Not knowing when we might start up again, I didn’t want to risk being too full. Nothing is worse than throwing up during a race. I wanted to avoid that as long as I could. I don’t remember when it was, but eventually Andi returned with a whole trove of goodies including a whole pizza. I was stuffed but not even ten minutes after her arrival I found myself digging in and having a slice. Might as well take advantage of the fresh, food while it’s available! Soon enough, it’d be back to dried fruit and nuts, beef jerky, and whatever protein/energy I had left in my ruck. Andi also brought me a new pair of smart wool socks, my Brooks Cascadia 7’s that I used last year for more than half the race. I was excited to have something to change into since I’d been walking around barefoot since arriving at the field. It’s good to take advantage of being able to air your feet out and keep them dry. I stick to a strategy of using a pair of Injinji performance socks underneath either a pair of smart wool socks or compression socks. The smart wool wicks away the moisture and the Injinji toe socks keep anything from rubbing usually resulting in minimal blisters.

1011758_10200579451383550_26490325_nAnother hour or so had passed and finally it was time to get back into race mode. All the other racers were arriving at the brown barn toward the back of the. Making my way over to the circle drive where all the racers were reconvening, I was shocked to see how many people were still in the race at that point. It didn’t sit right. Given that I knew the race was about to become increasingly difficult from here on out. If this many people remained there was no doubt Joe and Andy would turn things up a notch to assist in boosting the drop rate and help them reach their less than 15% finisher rate.

I decided I’d be ready for whatever sadistic curveball they were about to dish out. I remember wandering around trying to catch up with any of my friends that I hadn’t seen in a while to see how their race was going. There was a ZICO Coconut Water tent set up distributing coconut water to all the racers. I snagged a few for myself being conscious of how much I ingested knowing that the magnesium content could make you more likely to be required to dig yourself a hole in the woods. Something I’d like to avoid for as long as possible.

992864_10200579444343374_492645063_nI recall connecting with some of my Team SISU friends, including Daren, whom I met at my first dance with Death the year before during our eighteen mile hike with Team Tire. I also saw my fellow Corn Fed Spartans teammates, Jonathan Nolan, TJ Nomeland, and Andé Wegner who informed me she would not be able to continue after the barbed wire crawl challenge. When I asked why, she showed me her ruck and how it was completely torn apart. There was nothing she could do to fix it. She had tried to make adjustments and fixes but nothing worked and that was it. I never would have thought to bring a backup ruck, but after seeing that I made a mental note. Something to consider. You really never know what could be the determining factor in this race. Somewhere in-between all this and the race announcements I also bumped into another friend that I met around this same amount of time into the race the year prior, Matt B. Davis. He informed me that he had been talking to Corinne and she wanted him to give me a kiss for her. That’s right, Matt gave me a kiss…from Corinne, of course. At this point I was like whatever and told him alright, he promised to shoot her a photo of it, too. It definitely gave me a smile and made me laugh. He asked me if I wanted to tell her anything, and I told him to tell her I loved her. He reluctantly obliged.

936434_559919897387856_216992498_nShortly after, Andy and Joe hopped up on a rock and began to explain to the racers, the crew members, and all of the family and friends in attendance that the race was about to officially begin. Another one of the mind-boggling mind games they play. At this point, I sympathized more for the family, friends, and crew. They usually are the ones that are most taken aback by these announcements usually having less understanding of how the race works than the racers. Being a veteran, I just knew they were trying to see if anyone would drop, they had a goal and sometimes the mind games were the most effective way to achieve their desired results. I understood this, studying the race so closely gave me a lot of insight on what their tactics were, especially from developing how to conduct my own simulation of this event. They began to explain what our next task would be, but my mind was racing. My energy still spiked through the roof and all I wanted to do was blast through this next part of the race. I just spent more than four hours doing next to nothing. I needed to get back out there. I needed a new challenge. I needed something to curve my appetite. I was starving for adventure.

To be continued…

The Human Death Race Documentary Update

Have you seen any of the updates on The Human Death Race Documentary website lately? You HAVEN’T?! The Human Death Race Documentary is capturing all areas of the Death Race. Straight from the documentary description, “Now, for the first time, the thrilling intensity of the annual Death Race is revealed. We examine the psychological process of how fear can be converted into excitement, how the impossible can be transformed into ecstasy, and how a better quality of life can be achieved.” As part of the process of creating this documentary a group of Death Racers, including myself, have been selected to follow and document through everything leading up to the race and taking place at the race.  We have been asked to film clips introducing ourselves and then various shots from our training sessions.  Take a look at some highlights from some of the racers that are being followed by 100th Monkey Productions.

Returning for more action after her first place finish at this Winter’s Death Race, Nele Schulze is coming back for more at this year’s Summer Death Race. I was very impressed with her performance at the Winter Death Race and I am excited to see how she does when we are out there on the mountain this summer. Keep your eyes out for Nele.

winter death race female winner nele schulze

Also returning is, Mark Webb – one of the best “mates” I know – for his 4th appearance at the Death Race, 2nd Summer. Mark and I will be traveling from Manchester, NH together to the race. We’ll be sure to get some great pre-race footage together.

winter death race finisher mark webb

From the land of California comes a friend that I connected with while suffering for over 20 hours with the original “TED the Tire” at last years Death Race, Daren de Heras. He is returning for his 4th Death Race with many others from Team SISU who have become one of those families of obstacle racers that you just feel welcome being part of. Oh ya he’s celebrating his 40th birthday on the mountain with us too. Should make for one hell of a celebration once we get our skulls.

40th birthday Daren de Heras 4th Death Race DR Finisher Peak Races DR

Daren here at WDR 2013 ready to hit the mountain – Pictured right

I am also looking forward to seeing Michelle Roy compete again this years at the Death Race. She is one incredible woman and demonstrated an amazing amount of courage a the Winter Death Race this year. I was absolutely stunned by her ability to face her fears as she battled the frigid waters they were forced to suffer in for hours.

michelle roy spartan death race dan grodinskyThere are many others entering the “danger zone” that you should keep your eyes peeled for as they take on one of the most challenging and grueling races this side of the universe. To keep up to date on these racers and the others head over to the Human Death Race documentary and follow us as we enter the final weeks of preparation for the unknown, the uncertain, and the unforgiving world of the DEATH RACE. It’s almost here. See you all in Pittsfield, VT, I’ll be at the General Store.

 

Winter Death Race: Frozen

My last minute presence at the Winter Death Race was the result of social media networking’s ability to unite likeminded individuals. About a week out from the race I was considering driving up to Vermont from Chicago all by my lonesome…and then…it hit me, Facebook post! I simply put out a request asking if anyone was driving from the Midwest to the WDR and within minutes had a response that Michelle, Lee, and Eric who I met at the Ultimate Suck were driving up from central Illinois and they had room for one more. Just like that I had myself a ride to Pittsfield with a group of strangers who I had only met on maybe one or two occasions at other races. It never even crossed my mind that they were strangers until after the entire trip came to an end. I guess that’s part of why I love this community that has sprung up from these extreme endurance and obstacle race events, trust. It’s just there.

Pittsfield General Store Vermont VTAfter a long 16 hour drive, which I found myself asleep for a majority of, we arrived in the wonderful small town of Pittsfield, VT. There is just something about this little mountain town that just draws me in every time I visit. I love it. We stayed above the General Store with some of the people who worked with Spartan Race and Peak Races. Whenever there is a race in town its like a big mixed-family reunion of sorts and I love it.

As many of you already know this trip to the Winter Death Race did not involve me racing and was primarily scheduled so I could provide coverage via the Obstacle Racing Magazine USA Facebook page and document the event for a story in the next issue of ORM. When I arrived all I wanted to do was help out in any way I could. I volunteered and helped a LOT of racers at the event. It was pretty hectic, but not once did I feel overwhelmed with all the responsibilities I decided to take on at the Winter Death Race. In a nutshell I was a reporter, photographer, volunteer, crew, and a cheerleader.

Reporting/Photography

obstacle racing magazine reporter

Photo Credit: Michelle Lomelino

The most challenging part of photographing and reporting this event is trying to be in multiple places at once, there is a lot of action happening all around the farm and due to the nature of this type of endurance event people spread out fast. Thankfully the first 15 hours or so everyone was pretty much forced to work together which made that portion fairly easy to get some great photos and coverage. More challenging than trying to be in many places at once was the challenge of finding service. AT&T does not have very good coverage in the mountains of Pittsfield, VT. It’s awful, you might think you have two bars but you’ll just be draining your battery as you sit there trying to upload a photo to Facebook. This added another dimension to the challenge of providing coverage, but I did everything I could to get back to the General Store as often as possible. Often times I would stop in the store upload a photo and then hop in a car or run back down the road to catch up on the action.

Volunteering/Crewing

fire warmth feet frozen frost bite winter death raceWhen all the racers began to drop during the river section of the race where racers were responsible for removing a 2600 lb. i-beam and then doing ten laps of crossing a three-rope bridge, performing 100 burpees, then crossing the river to receive a sharpie tick on their forehead for each lap completed.  It was frigid just being outside all bundled up. These racers were taking off their clothes and spending hours in the river. I was truly inspired by the courage the racers showed facing this demon. It was during this span of time where I found myself switching to a more helpful role. I brought a few racers back to prevent them from going full out hypothermic. When we would return to the greenhouse at Amee Farm, which was home base, the place was becoming packed with frozen bodies being warmed by family, friends, crew, and volunteers. It was insanity and yet even though there was so much chaos that even one racer was brought in and stripped down while being carried to a shelf with blanket and comforters, it all felt very manageable.

Just before the first  Legend of the Death Race Training Camp, I became certified as an Emergency Responder with CPR/First Aid training. While I didn’t follow the whole rule of asking racers what was wrong and if I could help, it was a given that any help was desired,  I did find it very rewarding to help so many people out, whether it was grabbing them socks, warm soup, putting heat packs in their shoes, whatever it was having the opportunity to help these racers who are putting so much on the line to finish a very dangerous race… it was something I can’t even describe. Helping people get through their suffering, its quite special, I know how much I appreciated all the help I received from Morgan’s parents this past summer who were complete strangers at the time. It’s nice to be able to give back to the same community where you’ve been helped.

The Race and The Racers

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To make this simple I’m going to bullet point the tasks and highlights I remember fromt the race.

  • First task wood sawing and chopping… of course
  • Hike from Amee Farm to Riverside Farm
  • Basement Barn Physical Training led by mainly by Lee for over 3 hours
    • Individual Videos made of each racer’s favorite exercise
    • Burpees, Planks, Burpees, Squats, Sit-ups, Squats
  • Split into teams that alternated between splitting wood and cleaning out the horse stable about 1/4 mile apart
  • Moved large round hay bales about a 1/4 mile
  • Hike with Jack, 10-15 racers were zip-tied together in teams and went on a hike up Joe’s mountain did a turnaround at the top, crossed the rope bridge after being unzip-tied, and meeting back at Amee Farm
  • Another hike to the top and back following Andy
  • Next up, as the sun rised, they had to remove a 2,600 lb i-beam from the river by the rope bridge
  • 10 laps of crossing rope bridge, performing 100 burpees, crossing the river, check mark on head, wash, rinse, repeat.
  • Next is when the race really began, take a large log to the top of Joe’s mountain
    • At the top they split their log
    • Built a snow mound with their left shoe to a measured height, then it was knocked down and they rebuilt with the right shoe.
    • Solve 6 Tangram Puzzles
    • Back to the bottom of the mountain
    • Repeat for 3 Laps total
  • Time cut-offs began being enforced and they were required to be at the Bikram Yoga Studio at 5:30am
  • 7 Finished 3 laps and made it to the studio, 4 persisted to continue after only finishing 2 laps
  • They were told they were going on a hike and would be gone for almost 20 hours. Bloodroot Mountain Trail awaited them.
  • Less than an hour later they discovered they had finished the Winter Death Race and were awarded their skulls

What these racers had to put up with out there was mind boggling even for me. Every time I watched someone strip down to their skivvies and slowly push their foot, followed by their legs into that ice cold lake.  I shivered for them. It  was very inspiring to watch the top racers push until their bodies wouldn’t let them anymore. It wasn’t because they wanted to quit, you could see it in their eyes, the desire, the defeat, the battle of wanting to continue but being medically inept for the sake of saving some toes, feet, and nerves. Even today racers are still talking about the tingling they have from neuropathy of the toes. Everyone who has seen doctors have been assured they will return to normal but as other racers have confirmed from past experience, it will take months.

winter death race finisher skull rewardThe amount of strength, courage, wit, physical and mental endurance, and damned stubbornness it takes to be a finisher blows anything I’ve seen in a movie and anything I’ve ever read in a book. It truly is remarkable to see everything from the other side. Even today I am still trying to process how great these athletes are that I find myself surrounded by. I love it.  The inspiration that drives each person, the different motives for finishing, and how training can prepare you for everything or nothing. And what’s even more impressive is the award for finishing is simply an inexpensive plastic skull. It’s what that skull symbolizes that makes it such a sacred treasure.  I can’t stress enough that even if you don’t race you have to witness what this race is all about.

The Winter Death Race may not be as long as the Summer Death Race and the challenges may not be as demanding in some ways, but what that cold does…it puts the WDR on a whole other level. One untethered to the simple paradigm of who is strongest, most mentally tough, and fastest. At the WDR your body’s ability to withstand extended exposure to the cold plays a larger role in determining who will make it into the actual race portion of all the chaos.

To hear the story from some of the racers themselves and other volunteers check out my post Winter Death Race Recaps. I’ll continue to add any new posts I find on the topic there.

All photography by: Anthony J Matesi Copyright 2013

Legend of the Death Race – Part 9: And We’ll Keep on Fighting Til the End

Being out on the mountain, living, surviving, being physically and mentally challenged, this is what life is about. From chaos, came clarity.  In the heart of feeling defeated we had found our inner strength.  Camaraderie creates a very powerful connection; it has the ability to make the impossible become another training day.  The presence of a strong, powerful woman helped give me the will and strength to go on.  I remember Morgan telling me about an incident early on when she was dehydrated and found herself vomiting. Thankfully, for both our sake she came back from it.  Without her, continuing on may not of happened.

2012 Death Race Ravine

Another Glimpse of the Ravine Photo Credit: Andy Greenwood

About half way up the ravine we found a couple of bundles of what appeared to be pre split logs.  Upon further investigation we discovered that not only where they already split logs but there were 12 of them.  This could be our first six out of  twelve, we both thought.  Morgan suggested we move forward and continue to the top of the ravine to see if anyone was making there way back. We met a trio of racers but they were already onto another challenge. Perfect.  We could head back down and save ourselves time traveling to our previously split leftovers, or worse having to chop more wood. From there we immediately pulled a 180º back down the ravine. Once we had made it back to the spot we had found the logs, I managed to squeeze a half dozen into my bucket and Morgan stuffed the other six in her pack. I actually took my ruck off and just brought my bucket up.  My ruck was left at the bottom in a nook I had thought was hidden enough.  Given the theme of betrayal I had no idea how risky this could be. I was willing to take the gamble in order  to give my shoulder relief before possibly having to split more wood. It paid off; the pack went untouched.

Yes, the Ravine was wet and slippery. Photo Courtesy of: Morgan Mckay

During the descent we had went slightly off course to avoid the ravine.  Truthfully, I was sick of falling on my ass, looking like a fool.  I went ahead to retrieve my pack. It actually took me a while to figure out where I had to cut over to find it.  Once I retrieved it, I made my way back to meet Morgan on the elevated path.  I was still a little ahead so I hung out, sat down, and soon enough I was fading away. Snap! Crack! Huh? What?  It wasn’t so much fear as it was panic that woke me.  Being seen sleeping by another racer (other than Morgan) was something I really wanted to avoid at that time.  Now, it seems kinda silly, considering we were closing in on racing for 42 hours. I had already been awake for two days.  Damn.  I grabbed my pack, stood up, then Morgan and I continued on. We reached a series of switchbacks that led down. Certain this was the right way, I started making my way down. I slid down a couple to try to scout out to make sure we were going the right direction and started second guessing myself.  Morgan was convinced this was not right so we went back toward the raving the way we came.

When we reached the ravine again, I looked to Morgan and teased her about how we had to go back the same way.  We laughed it off.  I mean, lets be honest how many trails can our brain actually process under current conditions. We made our way back and from a different direction found ourselves back on the switchbacks that would lead us to the bridge we had crossed earlier that morning. This part is fuzzy, but I remember running into a DR Volunteer, Jessica.  She radioed back to Joe to try to stir the pot some and create more madness. I kept shooshing her off.  When she ran into us as we were applying protection to our skin. We didn’t need the blistering heat of the sun to leave us sunburnt on top of everything else.  We also ran into our fellow Storm Chasers, Mies and Chris along with Jennifer who were on their way out with another racer up the mountain.  I asked Jennifer if I could steal her for a bit. She broke off from the others and came back part of the way to the farm with me. Morgan already had gotten a head start, we were less than a mile away now.

Return Trail

The path we came back on just before hitting Amee Farm to return our logs. Photo Credit:

Following a motivating conversation with Jennifer, at least I think it was, we hugged it out and she wished me well.  It’s moments like these that can really help you get through the Death Race.  A pep talk, pretty girls, hugs, the sun, I was surrounded with positive reinforcements.  Speaking of pep, I added a little to my shuffle and caught back up with Morgan. We were still carrying our logs and would have to check in as soon as we returned to the farm.  When we finally arrived Joe told us we needed to do burpees as a penalty for taking so long.  First we had to walk over and drop off our logs.  A volunteer witnessed the returning of our logs and we were sent back to Joe.

This was a pretty unique moment of the race.  Margaret greeted us initially; she was live streaming our check in on Ustream via Dirt in Your Skirt.  We answered some of her questions on the video and continued with trying to continue on to our next task.  I also recall being greeted by Matt, I had never met him before but he recognized me because of my blog.  It was the first time ever that someone recognized me for that reason.  I was secretly ecstatic.  Joe’s presence was made known the best way he seemed to know, by telling us that we were unable to continue on.  Joe continued to tell us that not only were we disqualified but also he went on to tell us that we would never finish.  Our minds had been made up, and as with all the other attempts to get us to quit, we rushed him to get to the point so we could continue on to our next task.  I refused to believe a word he said.



Video streaming by Ustream

We were not the only ones suffering from sleep deprivation it turned out. Joe gave us our next task, and did not at all acknowledge the burpees he threatened us with just a few minutes earlier. What a relief that was!  Thanks Joe, but mostly thank you sleep deprivation. 🙂

Our next task was to make our way back up to the location where we had chopped wood. No, I am not kidding, we were heading back to essentially the same location we had just trekked back from.  Fair enough. I remember Morgan feeling slightly panic’d about our pace and I stopped her. I told her she needed to STOP worrying and that it was all part of the game. They wanted us to rush and exhaust ourselves. There was no reason to do that though, we just needed to continue on at a pace that would allow us to finish whatever they threw our way.

Our trek led us back toward the bridge and up the mountain again. We took some shortcuts that led us out back on the road but eased the overall climb.  It was interesting to walk so much of the road this time.  The last time I remember going this route was when we took the truck up part of the way for weigh in. That felt like so long ago.  It was starting to get a lot hotter out, our focus shifted to utilizing every stay-cool tactic we could think of.  Shade, check. Water, check. Gatorade, check. For shade we would switch sides of the road depending where we could catch the most easily accessible “dark” areas.  Whenever we needed a rest we would hide out under densely covered areas to avoid the DR Volunteers and Staff. Who knew if they would harass you or worse penalize you. We didn’t, so we took precaution.

When we finally arrived at the wood splitting area there were a few volunteers on a picnic bench and that was about it. The rest of it was abandoned. Equipment was just thrown about. An ax, walking sticks, half split wood, buckets, there were so many items just left behind. We made our way to the table where the volunteers sat.  They had a list with our names, I think they were just checking us off with it.  We gave them our names, told them which obstacle we had just completed.  They made some marks to their sheets of paper, and told us we could head back and move onto the Origami portion. Really?  It was just a checkpoint and nothing else?  Oh how silly and tedious some of these tasks are. Ha Ha Ha. This cracked me up.

Morgan and I about-faced, put our smiles on, and marched off.  To the Origami challenge!  We had to head back down the same way we came.  Like a shot of caffeine being injected directly into your blood stream, suddenly Morgan and I found ourselves becoming very slap happy.  Our spirits overall were so high now.  I looked to Morgan and said, “you know what, we are going to finish this race. You know why…because Weeeeeee Are the Champions..” That’s right. I busted out some Queen.  That right there put us in the goofiest mood I think I can ever recall experiencing.  We couldn’t take ourselves or anything else seriously. On the descent we passed a few racers who were headed up, but for a different challenge. Uncertain to this day what it was that made us start saying this but we started joking around with people.  We would tell them we had just finished the race and all we had to left was to make it back to the farm.  Then we would be the first male and first female finishers to finish at the same time. We just kept making up nonsense about winning and being in first.  Some people actual would buy it, if only for a second.  Some we admitted to teasing, others, we let them figure it out.  It was all in good fun and we were just having a blast. Truth be told, I thought we had to be in last place.

During our return trip, Margaret pulled up and greeted us as she made her way down the road in a green Subaru. With her window already rolled down, she looked over to us and began one of the, seemingly common, attempts to tell us we were disqualified.  From the beginning of this race and beyond this moment, I lived and breathed by one absolute rule for tackling this Death Race of Betrayal. That rule was to only listen to Joe and Andy, and then know not only when to listen but what to listen to.  It was tricky but it left us with one easy device for handling these situations, don’t listen.  They are not Joe, they are not Andy.  Knowing who and what to listen to makes a world of difference in this race.  I’m happy I had this policy intact from the beginning. It was very beneficial.  Later I found out that not everyone knew to avoid listening to volunteers or in this case, someone who had stopped racing. Who knows maybe they were trying to strike a deal to get back into the race.  If they could make someone opt to quit, they’d be reward a spot in the race again.

Hmmmm….The plot thickens.

Margaret’s attempt to break us down was simple to shrug off for us now.  The strength of our pact to finish together grew stronger with every shot taken at us.  We wished her farewell, and continued following the road back down towards Route 100. We were starting to run low on water.  As if there was a direct link between Morgan and her parents, suddenly they appeared in their car driving up the road. They pulled up and with out stretched arms asked us “Do you need some water?”  I was in shock; literally two minutes prior Morgan and I were discussing our shortage and the need for hydration in this heat.  Fortune was in our favor.   We kept it brief and quickly they drove off.  Enough thanks could not be given.

When we made it to the intersection with Route 100 we were approached by another vehicle, this time it was an SUV with DR Volunteers.  They told us we could no longer go to the Origami challenge because it had been shut down.  Our response, of course, was, “where to next?”  This caused them to try to tell us we couldn’t finish and that we would be disqualified.  We didn’t accept that and told them, “No, we are continuing on. What’s next?” An unexpected, laughable response followed from the volunteers. They tried to tell us it was a safety issue for us to continue on.  I snapped back, “I don’t what kind of safety concern there is for you, but we are GOLDEN.   We are going to keep going, so please tell us what to do next.”  It was obvious they didn’t have anything else to throw at us when they just responded, “okay go see Joe at the farm.”

Original General Store. Pittsfield, VT

We took off down Route 100, went past the General Store. Our spirits were still incredibly high. We said hello to everyone we passed, including a very nice elderly man hanging out on his porch. Within ten minutes we found ourselves back at the farm ready to find out what challenge awaited us.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 8: The Comeback Kids

Andy asked me whether I was sure I want to quit or not. Well no, I was not sure I wanted to quit. More than anything I wanted to finish. That’s why I came out to Vermont to compete in this race in the first place.  Finishing the Death Race was the only option I had truly considered. Days before the race I pulled a Bart Simpson and wrote “I will finish the Death Race” until I covered the entire dry erase board. When Andy offered me that moment to decide if I really wanted to quit I knew I had to re-evaluate the situation at hand. Morgan wanted to as well.  When Andy questioned us we looked to each other, then back at Andy and quickly responded “Give us a few to think this through.”

Bart simpson moment

“I will finish the Death Race” Photo Credit: Lena Burkut

Laying on a make shift cot made from a couple of chairs was Jennifer. Finally, I got to see my crew member. I did not want to tell her I was considering quitting. She seemed half awake at the time. I went up to her and she could tell I was cold. I explained to her the situation with my shoulder, and how Andy had questioned our desire to quit. She told me that no matter what I had to be proud of how far I had come. She was, and so was I. But, I was still only half satisfied. I joined her for a bit in the make shift cot. Thankfully she was very warm, she had me place my legs under her sleeping bag that she was still bundled up in. Just that combination of body warmth and the sleeping bag had me feeling warmer. It was nice. I had taken off my shoes and socks and placed them by the fire before sitting down. I was starving, I’m not certain what my calorie deficit was but it was not helping to make this decision any easier. Jennifer got out a bunch of MRE packs and started feeding me, I had an oatmeal cookie which I covered with peanut butter along with some roasted almonds, and let me tell you, that was stupendous!

Jennifer went on to tell me that she never stopped looking out for me from the time she arrived.  She was informed that we would be making our way back to the farm, eventually.  Instead of searching on the mountain and missing me, she decided to wait at the farm; the plan being to link up with me when I returned.  It was a long while until I made it back.  Jennifer spent her entire night laying on that make shift cot searching for me. Calling out my name over and over throughout the night.  Because of the darkness out in Vermont it was difficult to identify faces, so she would call out “Tony?!”  Over 30 people came through. Jennifer called out to every one of them in hopes of finding me.  Someone actually responded one of the times, but it was the wrong Tony.  Jennifer you are an angel, thank you for sacrificing hours of sleep to avoid missing me when I came through.

never quit, never surrender, this is the death race

Warming up by the fire in red contemplating. Photo Credit: Jennifer Sullivan

Once I was feeling a little more alive I told Jennifer I’d be back in a bit. I went over to the racers tent to see Morgan. She was organizing some things and had decided she wanted to continue on. She started hounding me to come with and finish what we started. I was not sure yet. Mr. shoulder was hurting me a lot. I told her to give me a few. I had an idea. I scrambled from the tent and went to Andy. I couldn’t carry the wood but maybe I could negotiate some sort of alternative obstacle. Andy wasn’t buying it though, I had to bring the logs back to the farm. He liked where my head was at but if I didn’t bring the logs down I was done. Okay, I thought. Andy, has completed some serious events in his life, he must have dealt with injuries before. I asked him to be straight up with me about my shoulder tear and what he thought I should do. He told me ultimately I have to decide.  If I thought this could cause permanent damage, we’re talking damage that would last a lifetime. If I thought that were possible I should really take that into consideration when making my decision. I didn’t have much time left to think.

With the new advice I still wasn’t fully ready to quit, nor was I completely ready to go back for those logs. Another twelve to sixteen miles would await me.  Just to finish a challenge I was only three miles away from half completing before deciding to “quit.”  That really sucked. Then in the distance I saw another good friend, Todd. He was making some adjustments before heading back out to his next challenge. I gave him a quick run down and asked his advice. He looked at me and then divulged to me the key elements that would make this race beatable. We had gone over whether or not I could feasibly go back up the mountain and bring at the very least a couple logs at a time. Of course I could handle that, other than a couple blisters starting to form on the ball of my foot I was pretty golden. It was just the thought of excessive weight in addition to the weight of the pack that got to me.  Todd suggested that no one said you have to take the logs down all at once. If you must, then simply take one at a time. Good logic right? It’d be more distance but, I’d still be in the race. That wasn’t the key piece of advice though. That came next when Todd said to me, “only you can pull yourself from this race.” Only I could pull myself from the race?  He was right, there were no real disqualifications. That was part of the mental game. If we truly wanted to continue on and continue racing, who was going to stop us? No one. Not Joe. Not Andy. Not any volunteer. The only person who could disqualify you from the race is yourself, you are your own worst enemy. 

With this new found knowledge I thanked Todd a bunch, gave my favorite red-headed giant a hug and wished him the best of luck with the rest of his race. One of the main reasons I was here competing in 2012 versus waiting until 2013 was because of this guy. Todd has a way of motivating and inspiring that is unparalleled. Hell, the man claims training for the Death Race is a crutch. So,  I shuffled my way through the wet grass back over to Morgan in the racers tent. I sat down with her and asked if she was going to continue on. I told her my shoulder was sucking it up and making this extremely difficult, but if I had to go one log at a time then maybe I could continue on. For some time she had been harping on about how we couldn’t quit. “Are you going to keep harassing me until I decide to keep going?” I questioned her.  Morgan’s head shook up and down and she vocally confirmed that she wouldn’t let me quit. Well, alright then, “let’s do this damn thing,” I exclaimed.

Death Race Time

40 Hours on the Death Race Official Timer

By the time we had our gear back together and acknowledged our desire to continue on, the red led lights displayed just over 40 hours. Jennifer wished me good luck and told me she would keep in contact with my dad about my progress. During the prep time just before we set back out on the trails, I ran over to Mark’s car in hopes of finding his keys in his bumper. I searched and searched and didn’t find anything. Then I heard a noise. I started to walk toward the rear passenger door, when a head shot up and I jumped back. Holy shit it was Mark. I was shocked. He quickly handed me my container of pain medicine as he opened the door. Apparently, important messages travel well at the Death Race. As it turned out he almost destroyed his Achilles.  It was a very wise decision on his part to pull out of the race (confirmed by his doctor later). He had only just DNF’d a few hours prior and was going to hang out until I was finished.

Death Race Ravine Shortcut

This is the start of the ravine that we choose to go up. Photo Credit: Andy Greenwood

So there we were back on the trail. Morgan and I felt refreshed and silly for wanting to quit. We hustled our way from the farm towards the mountain once again. We had some options for which direction we could take to get back to where we chopped the wood. There was the normal trail route, which would probably consume more time over a longer distance. Alternatively, we could head up the ravine. It was a bit more challenging and involved the likeliness of getting wet feet again.  However, it would decrease the amount of distance we’d have to travel and  hopefully, the amount of time as well. This is where I discovered that the shoe I choose as my second pair would not be to my benefit. I had chosen to bring along my New Balance Minimus Trail MT10’s as my second pair of shoes. The problem with the MT10’s is they were nearing the end of their life span. They’ve been through quite a few races, many runs and a few other miscellaneous adventures. Though the bottoms were low on traction I don’t think it was simply the fault of them being old. The ravine was slippery. As, wet rocks tend to be. That was the only bad part about choosing this route. I was on my ass a few times and every time I did slip, Morgan and I would just laugh it up.

It didn’t matter that my shoes sucked though. The sun was shining through the trees, and the water trickled down the ravine. Pure bliss. This is the life, this is some good living! It’s truly amazing how refreshing and revitalizing the sun can be. It reinvigorated our very souls, and gave us that extra push to be happy about racing again. There was nothing that could wipe the big smiles off our faces. We were back in the Death Race and we had decided to make a pact.  From here on out we would finish this race.  Together, we would finish the Death Race. No matter what. Together, we would be, unbreakable.

To be continued…

Shortcuts

It’s not a shortcut if it’s not a challenge. Photo Credit: Andy Greenwood

Legend of the Death Race – Part 7: Make It Hurt So Good

At last, I could relieve myself of carrying my pack. I was overdue to give my shoulder a rest from all the added weight. Unfortunately, swinging an axe, being left handed, splitting a log in half and then both halves into sixths is not the kind of rest I needed. Walking along the right side of the road, which had been consumed by logs, I scouted for a good one. During that time I came to a few quick realizations. First, the good pickin’s were becoming scarce at an increasing rate. Second, some of these logs are GINORMOUS! Okay, maybe just lowercase enormous. My last realization was that my shoulder had become a serious issue I needed to consider from here on out.  I would have to chop this log using both right and left handed swings to get through this challenge.  I found a log with a diameter slightly larger than I’d have liked.  No time to be a picky, though. I grabbed it, pulled it out into the road and made my own little area to start chopping.

Even though I had cleared an area, so I thought, I was very nervous about how close people were walking without noticing my swing.  That included racers, volunteers, and support crews. It was a sea of people hacking away at their logs. A few racers broke their axe heads off. Others were struggling to get through, taking out handsaws to finish getting  through their log. The open spot I thought I cleared for myself continued to be a nuisance for me. After changing my angle that I swung from much I became much calmer.

Smack, crack. All you heard all around you was the sound of axes ripping through the logs. Wood splinters flying off in every direction. Every so many strikes I would take a pause, switch sides and go back to it. I positioned my log with a rock wedged in front of it to minimize its rolling, and movement. Trying to get this log in half was quite the task, there was a pretty nasty knot towards the center. I finally made it through and once I had my two halves the rest was just like the Fiskars website had advertised. While I didn’t have exactly a one swing split, it only took a couple strikes before my first half  divided. Soon enough I had my first six logs and was ready to move onto the other half. Same deal, thankfully. Now there I was, I had a dozen split logs. It was time to strategize.

The next part of this challenge was to return to Amee Farm.  As I understand it a few people were sent back to the Farm and told to leave their logs. They were being penalized for the cheating that happened with the numbered sticks. Their punishment. Tread in the pond for various amounts of time. Since I was informed that we were given the go ahead because of the mistake the volunteers made I did not join the cheaters. I remained behind with some others to figure out how I was going to get all these logs back with all the pain I was experiencing. If there was ever a time I could use my pain medicine it was right here and now. Had I more pills readily available at this point, which I was completely out, the following events may have unraveled differently.

Trying to build a log transport device…FAIL! Photo Credit: MadMotion

For some time I played around with different configurations, I had strapped all my logs to my Gunslinger bag, that was a fail. When I tried to stand, I could barely get my pack off the ground. Then I split it in half and tried putting six in my bucket and strapping six to the pack…another fail. I still couldn’t bare that much weight on my shoulder. What was I to do?  The sun was gone, it was now night. I found myself teaming up with a partner. We spent some time grabbing some long skinny trees out of the woods. From there we proceeded to build a sled of sorts. Using a lot of rope to bundle the logs, and even more 550 paracord to create a platform and tension system to hold everything together. Well that ended up being a waste of energy, strength, and time. It didn’t work and fell apart within seconds. Our brains were not functioning at their full potential. We should have known that wouldn’t have worked but we were willing to try anything to ease the workload. It wasn’t going to be simple though. It was going to be evil, so heinous that it would eat at me and put me into a downward spiral that would lead to my first desire to just quit this damn race.

Since the sled didn’t work I decided there was no way around it, I was going to have to take two trips to get all the wood down to the farm. I believe it was 8 miles to get back. That was a lot of distance to cover just to finish this task, but then again, this is the Death Race, right? I dropped half my logs. Grabbed the other half and made my way out with Patrick and another racer (sorry, drawing a blank on names). We began our decent and my logs were not cooperating with me. The bundle I had made wasn’t holding together well, some logs were sliding out, and I had to keep adjusting. Patrick thankfully lent me some compression straps which made things a lot more bearable. My shoulder continued to aggravate me.  It’d have been best if I could get my mind off of it but it seemed nothing would stop my mind from focusing on the pain.

During our decent we ran into a couple other racers including Morgan. Morgan is a fellow Storm Chaser who I knew from a brief meeting over six months back. It was after the World Championship Spartan Race in Texas. We were excited to see each other and started talking about how much the race was sucking at this point. We both were aggravated with how things were going.  At that instant of the race we were starting to feel notions of quitting. One negative thought after the other. This is pointless. I’m hurt.  How bad  would my pain be without the cortisone shot the Monday before? Why are we here?  Should we even bother finishing this race?  We were losing focus on the goals we had set prior to starting the race. I no longer cared if I finished our not. I was actually very proud of how far I’d come. Finishing seemed so far away though, and some of the madness was getting to us. The darkness of the night, the silence of the forest, the pain.

Oh My GOD! The pain! The pain was getting so bad that I could not do this anymore. F this and F that. I don’t want to do this anymore. I QUIT!

Soon enough, Morgan and I had made our decision. You know what sounds a lot better than this lunacy…a beer! Thats right, Morgan and I had decided. This was it. We were going to quit and become TEAM BEER! While everyone else will continue to suffer we’ll get to go drink beer and have fun during our remaining time in Vermont. We chucked our wood into the forest, I returned Patrick’s compression straps. When I told him, he was a bit shocked. Patrick didn’t blame us. He felt this years race was way different from last year when he finished. He wasn’t having as good of an experience as he remembered having a year ago and was even considering throwing in the towel. I’m happy he never did. Patrick was an inspiring person out there. I am happy we worked together here and on Team Tire.

Even though we had decided we were done we still had over three miles to get back to the farm. Those three miles were some of the most absurd. We were beginning to face some of the consequences of sleep deprivation. Once we had an understanding of the path to take back Morgan and I decided we were going to break off from the rest, Patrick and the others, so we could get back faster. The path zigged and zagged. There were a few long switchbacks which led us to Morgan’s most interesting hallucination. “Is that the Michelin Man?” exclaimed Morgan. Perplexed, I looked at Morgan and back out into the woods. I didn’t see the Michelin Man, but I did see what she was talking about. It was another racer not too far off in the distance. It was someone we knew, Will. We joined up with him for a bit right until after we crossed this creek.

This is the Bridge we searched for. Photo Credit: Jennifer Sullivan

We couldn’t find the bridge in the dark so we opted to cross the shallow creek together. Once we got to the other side we had to go through this very wet field of tall grass. I was only wearing shorts, a compression shirt and some compression sleeves. My legs were already wet and cold from walking across the creek. This grass was just making the cold wetness worse.  I wanted to just get out of that field. We could see in the distance a light and we were really hoping it was Amee Farm. It wasn’t. When we got to the road we looked left and we looked right and we had no clue where we were. We plopped ourselves down in front of a house that sold Maple Syrup. That’s what the sign out front advertised. I took out my phone and tried to see if we could get any signal. Sadly, there was none.

The Miniature Fire Morgan Started

My body temperature was starting to drop. We sat down and Morgan got out a foil blanket. We wrapped each other in it. She also went and busted out a fire starter. So there we were. We had a mini fire for us as we snacked on some trail mix, pretzels, and I think I even had a piece of chocolate (fyi: I almost never eat chocolate). The chocolate gave me some life back. A few cars drove past. Every time we saw a car we would start waving a twig that was lit on fire and I’d wave my lit up iPhone in hopes of getting them to stop. We never stopped to think, hey these people probably think we’re nuts. All wrapped up in foil waving a cell phone and fire lit twig at them. Clearly our brains were fried. After many ill attempts (more than I expected  to be possible at 4am) to get a lift from a passing car we decided it was time to pack our food and supplies back up. We had to start moving again. I had a really good feeling that we were in fact on the main road, Route 100, and only had to go about a mile to get back to Amee Farm. Sure enough, as the sun rose behind the mountains and dimly lit the sky I could see just down the road.  There it was.  Amee Farm.  As we got even closer I could see someone running across the road.  I knew within a tenth of a second who it was, “Norm?!” I shouted, hoping I wasn’t wrong. He saw us and once he realized who it was asked why the hell we were coming from that direction. We explained how we were lost and wanted to throw in the towel. I could tell he was disappointed to hear that but he also seemed very eager to bring us to Andy to report this news. Was he one of the moles?

Norm brought us over to Andy.  We said to him, “Andy, I think we’re done. I think we are done with this.” The red led lights on the timer displayed how long the race had been going. I think it read something like 38 hours and some minutes. We’ve already been in this race 38 hours, I had thought to myself. That’s pretty damn incredible given that prior to this my longest challenge was only thirteen hours or so. When Andy responded I was shocked. From everything I knew about the race, and especially about quitting the race, it was not what you’d expect. Andy looked at both of us, and with deep concern for how far we had already made it, he asked us, “Are you sure?”

To be continued…