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Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle – Dead Last

Continuing on the trail I eventually came to a section of single track trail. I remember catching up to Paul who had run back to make sure he was on the right path because he hadn’t seen a trail marker in a long time. I was standing directly underneath one as he approached and assured him he had to be on the right path as I pointed up to the marker. He turned around and took off with a much faster pace than I could keep up with. In that moment I started to feel lonely. There was nothing I could do to catch up. I didn’t have the motivation at this point. My feet hurt, my legs were sore, I was tired. I needed to keep moving. I kept thinking to myself that the end of this race must be near. Maybe when we get to the top of wherever all these single track switchbacks lead I thought, maybe that will be the last challenge. I hoped. These switchback went on forever slowly guiding you up the hillside. It felt like it was taking forever. The further I got the more I understood why Paul came back, there were almost no markers along this trail. It was single track, as a fellow race director I could understand why Josue didn’t put many up. But that didn’t change the fact that I wanted more confirmation that I was on the right path. I knew It was easier to just mark the places the major intersections in order to guide a racer.  As I continued on, I was always hoping that I would see another trail marker soon.

I remember when I reached the top of the hill that seemed to go on forever there was a large cross, it felt very creepy to me at first because it almost seemed like it could be the location for some sort of cult gathering, but then I remembered all the religious kids that were here at Camp Eagle on retreat the day we arrived. I guess it made sense though this seemed like a very distant place (from my perspective) to have a cross. I had no clue how close or how far we were from Camp. For all I knew I was over 20 miles away from the cabins. I was hoping to find the next challenge here at the top but left the area disappointed and continued on my journey.

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.09.50 PMArriving at the challenge location the sun had begun to set and the wind was picking up. I could feel my body temperature starting to drop. I had caught up with a one of the runners along the last stretch of single track trails and we came into this challenge together. I was greeted by the two volunteers and once again asked the same question I always asked, “How is Corinne doing and how long ago did she leave?” I was making great time I thought because she was only about 30 minutes out. Next I asked what had to be done because I simply wanted nothing more than to catch up to her.

1278014_521493327940321_1077282190_oStill holding my bow and seeing the target I knew my next challenge was to test my bow. To retrieve my arrows, I was to climb a tree and cut them down before I could discover how well made my bow really was. I walked over to the tree feeling excitement rising within me and a sudden burst of joy overcame all the pain and suffering I had been trying to keep at bay. Growing up I’ve always been a big tree climber, it wasn’t uncommon to be at a party and have someone ask where Tony went only to find me up in a tree. I looked up and at first I could not make out any arrows and then I spotted them all the way up, almost at the very top. Sweet!!!! I jumped up, wrapped my armed around the first good branch and began scaling my way up. With all my years of gymnastics it’s no surprise that I’m a human monkey. I sliced the rope holding what I declared as my set of arrows down and quickly climbed back down. As I approached the target range the wind had picked up. I laughed maniacally realizing there was no way in hell I would succeed regardless of how well made my bow was. I lined up my first shot and just laughed at myself as my arrow basically dropped not even 3 feet in front of me. There was no way I would make however many shots we were expected to make. I asked if I could just test the machine-made bow just to see if it was possible for me to hit the target with the wind, the way it was. Being fairly good at shooting a bow and arrow I figured if I couldn’t make it with a legit bow there was no way I would succeed with my homemade one. With full tension and my aim lined up to adjust for the wind I let the arrow fire and with little surprise my arrow stopped very short of the distance needed to fly far enough to pierce the target. It wasn’t meant to be. Wanting to still make the cut off I decided to be realistic, with wind picking up and my body was starting to shiver I needed to start generating body heat. Fast. After that many hours of rockin’ out my body was becoming fatigued and could not retain heat as the sun began to set.

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.15.27 PMIt wasn’t the type of decision I normally would like to have made and there will be rules in place next year to prevent participants from doing this but I decided to not even waste my time building a travois. This was the last obstacle and I recalled the time I made one during my first Spartan Death Race. With a teammate it took us over 45 minutes to build our travois at the Death Race, there was no way in hell I was going to waste that much time after seeing all the ones that were left behind not even 50 yards away from where I stood. Clearly everyone before me found this task to be impossible to finish within the time cut off. I opted to skip the challenge completely, knowing what I knew this was the best option for me if I was going to finish unofficially, I was going to do it in within the time cut. I took off without even trying to make the travois.

1391699_718660334829257_161728537_nAs I ran I saw one travois after another, abandoned. There were still tracks in the gravel, however, and the further I got the more and more amazed I became. Who the hell was dragging their travois still?! I thought to myself as I began to climb the first, steep, switch back hill. As the trail began to narrow and become a very rocky, and technical single track trail I was astonished to see that someone was STILL dragging a travois through this. I wondered if they just dropped the weight or something because it seemed impossible to drag a travois through what little passage there was.  Then I saw her. That’s right, it was Corinne. The only person who had the strength and determination to drag the travois through this insane terrain. This is where my race stopped. When I saw her attempting this challenge I couldn’t go any further,  I had to see her, see this through. It was getting darker by the minute and there was no way I would let Corinne pull over 80lbs on a handcrafted travois through these narrow and twisting trails with steep ledges and cliffs she could fall down. No way in hell. I asked her how I could help and she was in her zone. I mostly guided her through the terrain, watch that branch, ROCK!!, you know that sort of thing. At one point there was a break down and she wanted me to just go on. I couldn’t do it. I had to make sure she finished, I could never leave her alone. I was so impressed and inspired by her perseverance. She insisted on dragging that travois all the way if it was the last thing she’d do. I couldn’t understand why she was battling this obstacle with such tenacity but I was there to support her however I could. Mostly, keeping my mouth shut.

1374172_10101040719706489_1897239997_nOther racers passed us, all shocked that Corinne had gone so far with it. They continued on and that was it; we were the last two racers on the course. Dead last. No one succeeded at this obstacle, everyone quit, myself included, but Corinne pushed on. We eventually came out to a clearing and we had thought this must have been the place where this ended. There was no way Josue would have us take a travois over this brush and such. We both decided the volunteers might have left this area already and that’s when the battle with the travois finally came to an end. We were told it was a 2.5 mile trek with the travois, uncertain how far we had gone but given that it had been over 4 hours we figured this had to be the drop point. Corinne abandoned her travois and we started up a fairly steep climb. About a mile later after a lot of upward climbing we arrived at a volunteer station and discovered the real end to the travois challenge. With complete disbelief we realized how insane this challenge really was. There was no way anyone would have finished this challenge within the time cut off. It simply was not possible in that amount of time. We began our descent through more wicked terrain and we were finally on the last leg of the race.

At some point it started to rain. Already wearing Corinne’s pullover I was still shivering. Trying to keep myself warm I continued to run a little ahead of Corinne and then I would wait for her. Corinne managed to stay warm but I constantly checked on her to make sure she was okay. I forgot entirely about myself and after witnessing what she put herself through with that travois. I wanted nothing more than for her to finish this race strong. Josue has a way of getting you excited during his course, he’ll bring you just close enough to camp so you can hear the chatter, but then he swings you away to take you off into the woods uncertain of how much further you’ll have to go. This happened a few times and when we had just under a mile to go my barefoot sandal ripped completely off, the tongue part of the lacing had torn. I busted out some medical tape and strapped the entire sandal to my foot. I was really hoping this quick-fix McGuiver would last until the finish. No such luck. By the time we could finally see the lodging and START/FINISH area with under a half mile to go my sandal came dislodged again. Corinne continued running and I quickly caught up with my right barefoot sandal in my hand. We ran as fast as we could, the rain was accelerating as it came down from the dark sky above and just after we crossed that finish line, Dead F#$*ing Last, the most torrential down pour followed and we were so thankful to have finally finished. My body ached, I was cold. We had made it.

photo 3Unofficial or not I was extraordinarily proud of my FAIL. This was the most challenging event to date and if you had asked me right then and there if I’d do it again, I’d have said, “you’re nuts!” Now, I think I need to go back, better trained, better prepared. Fuego Y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer is THE primal survival test that all should experience.

foot

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Fire Makers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from cabin

View from cabin

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

To be continued…