Year 1: Courage

Legend of the Death Race

Year 1: Courage

CHAPTER 1: EVERYTHING LEADING UP TO THE RACE

It’s Wednesday evening (June 13, 2012). My bags, they’re fully packed, this is actually something I pride myself in when traveling…98% of the time I can pack very quickly without missing a thing. This time it’s different however, the nerves have settled in so much so that I am scrambling all around the house frantically trying to make sure there is nothing of importance hiding behind a shelf or stuffed deep in the back of a drawer.  The rest of the house is completely asleep, my father is half awake and insists I get some rest. I dedicate myself to one more time going through my checklist. Finally around 1:00am my body lays still in on my king size memory foam mattress, the last time I’ll be this comfortable until after the Death Race and only 3 hours left to enjoy it.

Cue, iPhone alarm jingle…it’s 4:15 am and I jump to attention. I make quick to the shower, crank if up to a nice temperature. Time is sparse so I do a quick wash, towel off, get dressed, and gather my bags to put in my car. Thankfully my mother was able to drive me to the airport and to wish me luck on my journey. We arrived at O’hare 2 hours early for my flight which had a few back and fourth schedule changes but ended up leaving almost right on time. Let’s fast forward past the layover in Cleveland to Mark picking me up from Manchester International Airport. Mark’s GORUCK license plated Land Rover pulled up right after I had un-bagged my Gunslinger II from baggage claim (apparently they didn’t want the axe falling out…how nice of them). We  grabbed 2 huge pizzas and some beers at the British Brewing Company. After that we made a stop at Mark’s place, then went to Market Basket to get supplies, as I recall we got approx. 4 gallons of water each, also some bottles of Gatorade, Vitamin Water, and most importantly Deep Woods bug spray. And then it was off to Vermont to get some rest and relaxation at Todd’s house before the big start the following day.

The Magnificent View from Todd’s Place

At Todd’s house when we arrived, Todd was still not back from his trip (thanks again for the place to crash). It turned out he would not be arriving until the morning and would be cutting it very close to arriving at the race on time to start, and that’s just what happened as we were all basically ready to set off Todd was trying to deal with the massive amount of “You made it” exclamations that were coming at him from what seemed to be every direction. I had managed to get a quick hello and here is your bag of human hair in during that chaos. But back to arriving at Todd’s. Mark hung out for a bit and then headed out. Shortly after my arrival, Leyla, who I met only via Facebook groups prior to this showed up at Todd’s and then there were two of us Death Racers hanging out together. We needed to get some food so we set out on what ended up being quite the adventure, it turns out GPS doesn’t work that well in certain spots..specifically where the main road turns off to head toward Todd’s is where the GPS likes to go out on you. Leyla and I drove up and  down the main road a few times looking for a pizza place, both being from fairly large cities mistook what a “close” restaurant was and so we kept thinking we missed it. After we had finally fueled ourselves with some carbs we went back to Todd’s to get some rest.

Death Race “Hints” Briefing

Friday morning finally arrived, I woke up anxiously around 5:30am or so and saw one of the most beautiful sunrises…I was too tired to take any pictures sadly, but I did snap some when I woke up just to capture the remoteness of where we were. I closed my eyes and next thing I knew it was 8am. Time to get up, showered (yes I enjoy showering before I know I’m going to spend more than a day or two in my own filth) and ready to hit the road to make the 40 minute drive from Todd’s place to Pittsfield where the Death Race festivities would begin at 10am with a special “HINTS” briefing outside the Original General Store. I woke up to find another Death Racer, Yitzy, had arrived while I was fast asleep.  Leyla and I asked Yitzy if he’d like to join us in going to the briefing however being a racer the year prior, Yitzy agreed with us that it was most likely an unnecessary gathering just to psych people out and opted to stay behind. Leyla and I took off and when we arrived the place was already a buzz. I went inside and grabbed myself a quick bite to eat, in the form of an excellent ham sandwich, and finished eating outside while the race directors Andy and Joe gathered all the Death Racers, support crews, and whomever else was there to listen. Now at this point I was only with my clothes bag and my everyday backpack. I had left my gear and food supplies in Mark’s vehicle and at this point he had not arrived just yet. Fear of him not showing did not show itself however. For that I am thankful because at this moment I needed to concentrate to see what if anything would be unveiled to help me in my pursuit to finish the Death Race.

 

CHAPTER 2: THE ULTIMATE TRIAL OF MIND, BODY, AND SPIRIT BEGINS

The “Hints” briefing was fairly short, I even maneuvered myself further and further from the crowd as I realized nothing too serious was actually going to be revealed. One thing they did tell us that I actually believed was that we should wear shorts that night. If there is one thing important to learn about the Death Race, especially in this one – the year of Betrayal, there are some things that will come out of Joe or Andy’s mouth (especially Andy he’s the better liar) that you can choose to believe and others that you should completely disregard.  This was one of those moments…you see I still hadn’t figured them out yet, so I wasn’t sure how to tell if they were lying through their teeth or telling me solid advice for the events to come. At this point I was already planning on wearing shorts anyway since the temperature was not too hot – prolly high 70s. In my opinion it was almost perfect Death Race weather.

Supposed HINTS for the Death Race

After the meeting we were instructed to take a look at the actual “hints” they posted on the ground. I’ve included a couple images of these hints we were provided. They seemed pretty useless but I figured what the hell, I’ll snap some photos of them on my iPhone and if I need them I’ll have them. Yes, I did in fact end up bringing my iPhone along for the entire Death Race – Thank you OtterBox for being the best protection a man can ask for (when it comes to his phone). For the time being these random images were somewhat stored in my memory. I got a hold of Mark and found he was about 20 minutes away, so I went back inside the General Store to relax for what would be one of the last chances for what would seem like an eternity.

Mark showed up faster than expected. We started to organize our things in his car, made our way back down to the farm to unload our food and extra clothing and supplies at the Racers tents. We told the one volunteer Connor we would probably take at least 20 minutes…sure enough 20 minutes later he came up to me and said “you guys weren’t kidding about 20 minutes huh?” We finished up shortly after, but not before Mies and Chris showed up with a garbage bag filled with human hair. You’re probably asking yourself, why would these two show up with an entire garbage bag filled with human hair, right? It turns out that Mies is a hair stylist and she was able to grab a nice stash for us before leaving the salon. What this human hair was for we would not discover until the end of the race, and for those of you not in the know yet I’ll let you wait to find out later. Thanks again Mies and Chris for saving the day for those of us who needed our bag of human hair still. I grabbed my small amount and threw it in a ziploc, and I also bagged some for Todd…I had just found out he was still not anywhere close to being there yet.

Next up, Mark and I moved his car to a parking spot at Amee Farm and made our way toward the mountain that we needed to climb. We hopped in a pickup truck with fellow racer, Eric and his support crew. We shared some laughs as we headed up and made our way to the weigh in. We went as far as we thought we could go in the truck and the three of us got out and began our first of many hikes up the mountain with all the gear we would have with us the entire race. Now this was crucial we were required to write down all the items that we planned to have with us at all times during the race. We would then have to turn this in and if at any time the event organizers requested to check our bag and an item was missing we would get our first warning and a penalty, second time…disqualified. So there we were making our way away from the pickup truck and around a switchback that leads even further up. We noticed there were vehicles that had traveled even further up the mountain than we did and fortunately for us Rod’s family was making their way back down so they scooped us up and brought us that much closer to our final destination for our official weigh in. (Quick background about Rod, he was one of the oldest competitors there at age 61 – he must have aged very well though, a true warrior this man was. He fought until almost the very end. Though he didn’t finish he got damn close and in my eyes he was a finisher. I only hope to be doing half of what Rod does at his age when I get there).

Joe’s Cabin at the top of his mountain – Weigh-in Station Location

Again we were dropped off, finally we hit the trail and hiked our way to the top of the mountain. When we got there we had to wait in a bit of a line. While we waited a few kids with extremely fluorescent yellow DR volunteer shirts were walking around with cups of rabbit food. They were tasked with handing out a minimum of two pieces to each racer and told us that we were to keep hold of the rabbit food until the end of the race, or we’d receive a penalty. Someone couldn’t resist saying a curse and the children warned everyone that if they swore they’d get X amount of burpees, however many the kid decided to dish out. We got set back on our wait a few times since they were allowing both previous Death Racers (not Winter Death Racers, Mark and Eric tried but were told that didn’t count, ha) and females to jump to the front of the line.

Average Weight Before Race

When I made it to the weigh in station I had to give the volunteers my name, and then I stepped on the scale with my ruck and all my gear. I came in at 19 7lbs if I recall correctly. Prior to training for the Death Race I typically weighed anywhere from 160-165lbs. As the DR approached I was averaging anywhere from 152-158lbs. The week leading up to the race I did not exercise, lift, or run to avoid injuring myself before the biggest race of my life. I also tried to eat as much food and carbs as possible so I could gain some lose-able weight. I really did not want to finish the race and find out I was under 150lbs. The thought of that happening creeped me out a bit (given I haven’t been the little since high school probably). I’m not sure how accurate this scale was my pack at home weighed in around 35lbs. That would put me in at 162 which is probably about 5lbs, maybe 10lbs, more than what I really was at this point. It was close enough.

My Bib Number: 559 Sewn onto my UA Black Compression Shirt

Once we all weighed in we made our descent back down to the truck. We took a ride back down to Riverside Farm where we would finish our race registration. Inside we were asked a few times by volunteers if we were sure we wanted to race or if we wanted to quit. To all the volunteers sorry if I was a bit snotty with my laughs at your questions, it was all in good fun from both sides. Once registered we were given a Peaks Race tshirt, hat and our bib number. I was bib number 559. After leaving the registration cabin we were directed to go outside and speak with “the guy in the hat” for our first task/challenge. The three of us walked up to him and waited for him to begin his instructions again since he was half way through when we walked up. Our mission, sew our bib numbers onto our black compression shirts. Good thing I had that needle and thread. We made our way back to the General Store to do this task since we had some time until we were due to actually start the race. Using a cloth that Eric had we cut it up and made our numbers and sewed them on while enjoying our last real meal. As 6 o’clock started to approach we made our way over to Amee Farm again to see what we were tasked with next…and this my friends is where the race actually began.

 

CHAPTER 3: CRAWLING UNDER HIGHWAYS, PINK SWIM CAPS, AND SLOSH PIPES

Culvert under Route 100 that we crawled through

Now that we had our fancy bibs, I’m not going to lie I’m still a bit pissed that we did not get the awesome bibs that the racers had at the 2011 Death Race. When we made it back to the farm our first task was to report to Sergeant Screamer, as most of us have dubbed him, show him our bib and he would check off our name on a list confirming our completion of the bib sewing task.

Death Race Bib from 2011

When Mark, Eric and I got to him we were each told that our bib numbers were not the required 4 inches in height and that we’d receive a penalty at a later time. This is where the betrayal seemed to have already begun because not one of us recall being told that there was a minimum height for the bib numbers. We accepted it however and began our crawl through the culvert that went under Route 100, which is basically the main road in the small town of Pittsfield. The tunnel was small, long, and absolutely pitch black. I’ve never been one to get claustrophobic but a little over halfway through that changed.  As I followed behind Mark, occasionally having to stop because my hand would feel his shoe as opposed to the metal pipe, my heart started to race.  I felt the anxiety starting to brew within, so I closed my eyes for a split second…took a deep breath, calmed my mind and exhaled slowly. I remember thinking at this moment, you are going to be fine, just a little further and you’ll see light and soon after you’ll be back outside. After that moment I heard someone ahead of both Mark and I yell back that they were starting to see the light. Hallelujah! I knew it couldn’t have been that much further. As we got towards the end I could see that Mark was up on his toes and hands but the rest of his body was off the ground. There were some slightly more jagged parts coming up ahead, so it made sense why he wasn’t just crawling. I followed suit.

We ran back across the street and were told it was time to grab those pink swim caps that were part of our mandatory gear list and to suit up in our lifejackets. I strapped into the slightly large lifejacket that I was thankfully able to borrow from one of my neighbors, thank you again, and opened the packaging to the sexy pink swim cap that we were all required to wear for this quick little swim. Once ready we made our way back across the street basically right where we came out of the culvert and were told we had to swim out to the yellow buoy go around and swim back. Simple enough. The fun part about this is the race staff and volunteers were instructed to tell us that the pond was filled with diseases and such, including E.coli. Yay!!! To this day I really don’t know whether or not that was just a scare tactic or truth. That water was pretty disgusting. After the swim we had to head back again to find out our next tasks. For many it was time to chop wood, for me I got to go back across the street, again, to re-stack some of the wood stockpile they had which was tricky because of a well placed SUV parked right in front of the wood pile. Just before I ran over though I had finally seen Todd, this is where I gave him his hair baggy I talked about previously.

Location of Fire Wood Stacking
Wood Stacking

As for the wood stacking, at first it was just a bunch of us racers grabbing wood, running around the car laying it down and then running back. Once enough of us were over there though we quickly switched tactics and formed an assembly line. I was a the front of the stockpile therefore I was in charge of, along with a couple others, grabbing the good pieces and handing them off while tossing the fire pit wood off to the side. We had to remove almost three stacks deep which were each a little over six feet high. We simply passed back and then once we removed enough to fix the trouble areas we started going in reverse and began to restock and align everything, all nice and purrrrty like. Towards the end we were “running out of time” according to Connor who was monitoring our progress and making suggestions as to what was acceptable stacking. A bunch of racers were selected to head back and a few of us left behind to finish. It seems being at the front or back of anything in the DR is bad news, your best best is to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was stuck still stacking with the few guys that were left. We quickly finished everything off and I went and grabbed my pack from behind the small shed that I hid it behind. Being the year of betrayal I was constantly thinking ahead as to how I could be betrayed and having my pack stolen seemed like one of the most risky betrayals that may be possible.

I ran back to Amee Farm to find out it was now time to turn in our IDs, car keys, or something that we would have to pick up before leaving the Death Race. This was a safety measure to make sure no one got lost during the next few days.  I made the mistake of leaving my wallet in my normal everyday back pack in Mark’s vehicle, which is also where my extra pain medicine was also stored. That medicine stayed there since I thought I had what I would need in a ziploc baggy in my survival kit that I was carrying in my ruck. More about that later. For a few minutes while everyone else was already checked in and tasked with holding various objects about their heads including, kayaks, slosh pipes, and the now infamous monster of a tire, I was scrambling around searching for Adam who had Mark’s keys. Just before panic found its way into my head I was able to spot him. We rushed over to Mark’s car I grabbed my ID from my wallet and sprinted back to the check in table. I exclaimed my bib number to the volunteers and dropped my ID on the table at top speed.

Barely able to reach my hand in there, I have the sweaty gray shorts on

After that debacle concluded, I hastily found my spot next to Mark underneath one of the slosh pipes with barely a full hand on it. For those that don’t know a slosh pipe is simply a PVC pipe, filled with water and capped off. It makes for a fun balancing act, even more so with how varied everyones heights were. No one had their rucks on while holding these objects above their heads at this point and we were all instructed to head across the street. In my mind I was uncertain about leaving my pack behind but I of course hid it by my other gear in the racers tent for safety. Once we had crossed Route 100 and put down the objects near the disease ridden pond. Of course now we were reprimanded for not having our packs with us at all time, which is what I had somewhat expected the moment I put my pack down in that racers tent. A mad scramble of racers began as we all ran back to the farm to find our packs and make our way back to the pond.

The Mad Dash for Ping Pong Balls

Upon our return we were told it was time to get our lifejackets on once again…splish splash we were all takin’ a bath…except it was a Friday night. Into the “E.coli” infested pond we all went. Though I wasn’t believing them fully about how bad the water was, I still was extremely cautious and squeezed my lips together almost the entire time, only opening my mouth to speak when necessary. As we bobbed around our fantastic masterminds of the race, Joe and Andy, began giving us instruction about the race going forward. We would begin the race as teams and would be heading out on what would be one of the most epic hikes in the history of Death Race hikes.  Shortly after this briefing a large box of ping pong balls were flung into the water and we were all to grab one which would determine our team number. There were 10 teams, so the ping pong balls had sharpie scribbled numbers from 1 to 10 obviously. Some however, had various messages such as “you will fail” or “give up now” or even “disqualified” written on them.  I of course picked one of the “give up now” balls first, the white was all I could see when I grabbed for it. I quickly tossed it away and looked for another. I found number ten and then along with the other racers began to gather along the edges of the pond. The edge is where you could actually stand and we positioned ourselves with our fellow teammates. I was actually surprised at how quick we were able to get organized. Usually these things don’t go so smoothly.

After everyone found their teammates we made our way out of the pond one team at a time. We were to find our packs, gather our team, and grab an object. It was finally time to go on our hike. I think at this point they made a jab at us saying we hope you brought enough food and water because we’d be gone most of the night. Betrayal this was not, they were actually serious, most of us didn’t believe them and it made for a lot of food and water sharing later on. Myself and the rest of team ten, I will love every single one of you forever by the way, grabbed our slosh pipe and filtered in with the rest of the teams as we made our ascent. The hike that would eventually lead to Bloodroot pass began as the sun was slowly hiding itself behind the mountains.

Our first evening begins with an all night hike carrying Kayaks, Slosh Pipes, and a Tire along with our gear

 

CHAPTER 4: BLOODROOT MOUNTAIN TRAIL BEGINS

Operation Get to Bloodroot Mountain Trail

It was still light out. There we were on our first challenge as a team heading up into the mountains of Vermont. We would be on our way toward one of the most wicked, switchback infested, narrow passages I’ve ever encountered. Passing room would be so narrow we feared for losing someone the entire evening. This part of the journey took place on what is known as Bloodroot Mountain Trail. Over 18 miles of hell that we would spend close to 12 hours traversing. But lets slow down a little and get back to the first challenge as a team.

During the initial ascent we found ourselves adjusting in many ways. Ranging from acquainting ourselves to our new teammates to developing a system for dividing the burden of carrying the slosh pipe. At first everyone was not aware of the need to equally distribute the water in the slosh pipe.  I recall offering up the suggestion to distribute the weight of the slosh pipe by height. Then we would change our set-up depending on what surface we were on. Meaning if we were headed uphill the logical set-up would be tallest in the back and shortest in the front and vice-versa. We only required 4-5 people on the slosh pipe at a time. As we traveled on the MacGuyver in each of us came out and offered up new ideas that led to more efficient ways to handle this heavy piece of fun and joy. I don’t recall this entire part in as much detail as others because it was a lot of hustling to get to the next “checkpoint” first. We were told the team in last would be the first group of people to be DQ’d (disqualified). At the sound of this the Team Ten stepped it up a notch. In that moment we sped up and began flying past everyone instead of remaining in a peaceful line of teams ascending the mountain. People took quick notice of what was going on and realized the urgency. This was a bit chaotic and in some ways unsafe.  Racers began to forget they were going through a mountain pass with kayaks and heavy objects. Not literally forgot, but definitely acted like it. Many were not taking proper precautions when trying to pass other teams. Those of us with slosh pipes definitely had a size advantage, we were still narrow and able to pass with greater ease than the other teams.

Hiking with Kayaks, Slosh Pipes, and Tires
One of the downhills where everyone was tying to NOT be last

I remember we reached one point of the ascent and all teams were directed to immediately turn around. Team Ten was somewhere in the front among the first three teams to arrive. That was a very clever move on the race staffs part. All who were first now sat in last.  All who fell behind had the upper hand. We wouldn’t let this slick move interfere with Team Ten’s incredible athleticism though.  Within what felt like just a few brief minutes we were back at the front of all the packs.

Team Ten had a drive to excel, this was thrilling. It’s been a long time coming, the past few team events I’ve been a part of were too spread out in terms of athletic capacity. Many events have had me left disappointed but the Death Race was showing me what I wanted and needed to experience in a team atmosphere. A collective of absolute machines. Not only were we working together we were also kicking some ass and rockin’ out. Team Ten had the oldest and youngest of the Death Race together on a team. We were a diverse bunch of racers from all over. Each of us with completely different lives. Different upbringings. Yet, here we all were working together as if we’d known each other forever. Acting as a single unit. Simply taking order, and executing at the highest level. Team Ten was back at the front soon enough. I’m not sure whether we were over exerting ourselves at this point, or that we were just doing that well. Regardless, it felt wonderful so why not keep the pace. If I remember  the order of events correctly. Before we reached our first burpees pit stop, there was intentional confusion created when Andy and Joe split paths. One team was in front of us and followed Andy. We almost followed Andy but realized we were being tricked and cut back to follow Joe. There was some “are you sure this is the right decision” thrown our way by Joe but we stood our ground. We were congratulated and we moved on. I’m not sure what happened with the team that broke off, there was no time to pay attention to anyone but our team. Team Ten was back in first. This could be good or this could be bad.

Circle of Burpees Team Ten Rockin’ Out!
Burpees!

When we arrived at the first burpees resting point. Yes, if you weren’t hiking you were probably doing something else, like burpees, I considered that rest. So for the first time since starting the hike started we had a chance to relieve ourselves of wearing our packs. It was a nice change. Now our shoulders could rest, but only briefly. We placed all our packs in the middle of a circle formed by our team.  I think we still had 21 members on Team Ten. We started out with 100 burpees for all. The other teams joined in making their own circles as they arrived. Can anyone guess the advantage of arriving first? More than likely you’ll be doing more burpees.

Team Ten had a solid system, at first we knocked out 25 at a time. Then we brought it back to sets of 10. After each set of ten there would be a 5 second count down. Once we heard 1 we all dropped to the ground and began our next set of ten burpees, with the precision of synchronized swimmers. We were in tune. The quantity of burpees kept increasing by a hundred every-time someone was caught standing around.  When we were around 300 burpees in, I think the total expected was up to 600. Sergeant Screamer looked over at us at one point, we were right in front of the truck he stood on with his loud ass megaphone. As he looked over he questioned how many burpees our team had done. Collectively we shouted out what we were at. He seemed dumb founded at first. It was then we heard one of the most uplifting comments since the race began. Sergeant Screamer actually praised our team and said everyone else should be following our example. Our goal was simple. Work together. Be Awesome. They eventually stopped the burpees somewhere in the mid 4 or 5 hundreds as I recall. Team Ten feel free to comment if you remember how many, I forget.

Circle Passing the Slosh Pipe

Back to bringing pain upon the shoulders. This time it was not the fault of the pack. Oh, no. In the next task you were to as a team lift your object: slosh pipe, kayak, or tire above your head. Once above your head you were to pass it around your team’s circle.  Team Ten used this time to start rehydrating, which was also done periodically during the burpees, as needed. I remember chowing down on my first Mint Chocolate Chip Cliff Builders Bar during this task. I can taste it just thinking about it. It was revitalizing. Energy levels rose up, and we of course were noticed. Then, we were given a second slosh pipe. This rendered us to the point where there was only a half second of rest between receiving and passing a pipe. No more snacks, or water breaks. Nice work, race directors. You stayed true to your dominant ways in this game but we were unaffected by it. We needed to ration our supplies anyway. The next part of this journey was only going to get worse and worse as we moved deeper into the mountains and began the madness that is Bloodroot Mountain Trail.

After circling with our objects above our heads for a fair amount of time we were instructed to put them down, get our packs on and switch items with another team. There was one item we all seemed to have that distaste for as it approached. The enormous tractor tire. The tire that would become the first to probably ever be taken through Bloodroot Mountain Trail. Hell, I’m sure with this tire that we set the record for “most miles covered dragging a damn tractor tire on a hike through the mountains of Vermont.” Will someone  call Guinness Book of World Records next time, please?

Torn Labrum
1.7cm Tear, Almost One Inch

Before we started moving it became clear that now was the time to start taking my pain relievers. For the past six months I have been training and dealing with a tear in my labrum. It is a shoulder joint tear and has limited some of my range of motion. Days before leaving for Vermont I went to see my doctor one more time. This visit was for my second cortisone shot to ensure that my shoulder would NOT be THE reason I quit.  I knew I had to constantly monitor my shoulder’s status and be aware that the cortisone was taking away most of the pain. I must be careful, I constantly reminded myself. My prescription was for Norco, and was to be taken in a dose of 1-2 tablets every 3-4 hours. I always opt for the lesser amount and planned to adjust accordingly. For the next 24 hours or so I would stick to the 1 tab every 3.5-4 hours. I had a bottle back in Mark’s SUV and had brought about 10 tablets with me. I figured that would be enough for most of the race. A misjudgment that would have me asking other racers crew members for help later in the race.

Onward and out, now at this point I believe we had technically began what was Bloodroot Mountain Trail. I’m not 100% certain which part of the hike actually began the deadly pass. I do remember that the initial switch to the tire took us a while to adjust. All our successful strategies for carrying the slosh pipe were useless with our new found awkward object to carry. One thing I am sure of however, is that at this point the race staff suggested that anyone who wasn’t ready for at least another 18 miles of hiking through the night should pack their bags and head back now. I didn’t know anyone actually took up this offer to quit. Later, I discovered that there were actually quite a few who chose this as the end of their race. For me things were just getting started. Up until now this was just like doing a Hurricane Heat, you had a team, camaraderie, and an entire evening to get to know each other while you hauling an enormous tire through a dangerous pass. Ok, so hauling an enormous tire through the most dangerous pass you’ve ever been on may not be like the Hurricane Heat but honestly, what more could anyone wish for? 🙂

Keep Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

With the tire we tried very hard to proceed by carrying it as we were expected to.  Reality soon slapped us for wasting our energy.  As we fell further and further behind we would resort to rolling it. We tried everything from carrying it with ropes, using axes as handles, hoisting it on 4 – 5 teammates shoulders at a time. We even took posts and rope and tried to push/pull the tire along as it rolled. Many of these worked initially, when the path was wide enough for 4 people plus a tire to fit across. As the ascent continued they were rendered useless. The path narrowing the further we traveled. It wouldn’t be long before we were stopped to help a team that, surprisingly, was further behind than us. I was stunned when we found that out. It turned out their teammate blew out his knee and we’d have to help him as we continued to struggle with the tire on our way towards the next burpees checkpoint. But carry-on we must, and carry-on we did.

 

CHAPTER 5: TEAM TIRE’S TRIBULATIONS

Tire Pulling with Pole and Ropes

Up until now, Team Ten had been rocking out. We were leading every challenge thrown our way. We were struck with poison though. It came in the form of a tractor tire.  The troubles the tire caused us took the Death Race to an all new level for everyone out there. The teams that got far ahead ended up doing burpees for a long time before catching some rest. After a short rest they made their way toward the Chittenden Reservoir with their kayaks and slosh pipes. This is where they dropped their items off. Those racers did a swim and made their way back all while we were still making our way down Bloodroot Mountain Trail with the massive tire.

Overcoming Adversity – Team Tire

What I started to realize as we moved on was the imbalance in the distribution of time people spent with the tire. You see we were unable to ever have more than 5 people max on the tire.  Once Bloodroot Mountain Trail narrowed down to being a single track trail, thats one user, we would manage to have 2-3 people on the tire at a time. The third person would usually be on the outside of the tire because there was no where to fit on the inside. The chances of someone falling off and sliding down the side of the mountain were incredibly high. I’m still in a state of confusion as to how we beat what I assume the odds were. What started to become one of the pains in Team Ten’s side was the over ambitious nature of half the team and another half that was more focused on conserving energy. Those of us that were gung-ho about keeping the tire moving at the fastest safe pace possible would get frustrated and step up, sometimes too soon to give others a chance to move up. Many of us just didn’t want to stop the momentum. Multiple times we had to operate under what was basically an Indian Run cycle. Three people would drop all the way to the back and the next batch moved forward. I had a tendency to drop 3/4 of the way back, I simply did not feel comfortable being all the way behind. I have found that when I am at the back I start to slow down even more but when there are people behind I keep a much better pace when in a group.

At this time I had already taken my second dose of pain medicine and we had gone through the second burpees stop which was completely done in darkness. That stop included eating some more trail mix and taking down a GU Gel Pack, I think I had Mandarin Orange…mmmm. Tip: Join The Clymb, look it up on Google. I picked up a variety pack of GU products and a 24 pack of mixed flavors GU Gels. They sell them at deep discounts, and have all kinds of athletic, running, hiking, and active lifestyle products. Another teammate was experiencing some pain so I hooked her up with some aspirin. It didn’t do enough and I had to eventually share some of my pain medicine. After the race I found out that her heal was fractured. This is where I put myself into a sticky situation, later I would be out of medicine, in immense pain, leading me to be on the cusp of quitting.  I don’t regret sharing my medicine with Lisa. If it would help her make it that much further and survive these treacherous switchbacks, climbs, and descents then so be it. I was more than happy to help any of my fellow racers however I could. Even though it’s a race, the camaraderie never dissipated the entire race. We were all in the suck of it together. Fighting, fighting to survive all the mental objectives Joe and Andy devised for us.

Putting things in perspective. Note location of Amee Farm and the Chittenden Reservoir

When we had reached what I’ll call a half way point our leaders, Joe and Andy, made an announcement.  If you were not able to continue on, now was the time to turn back. They had an ATV on its way up to pick up the knee injury and would be leading a group of anyone who couldn’t go on back. This was the last time we’d see anyone for a long time. We had to start up again with the tire and would go on throughout the night. I remember that as the night went on some tensions would build and then subside. We were becoming dehydrated, many of us were conserving the last of our water. I was doing alright for the most part and remember at the end of the trail from hell sharing my water with those who ran dry many hours prior. Having a 3L bladder is a must when you are out this long and in the future I’m always going to bring at least one or two water/gatorade bottles in addition to the bladder. The extra weight is worth it in the end. Not only were we dehydrated but most of us were also low on food, we had gone through our baggies of trail mix, sucked down the last of our gel packs, and chomped away at the last of our energy and protein bars.

As the sun began to rise we were nearing the end of Bloodroot Mountain Trail. I remember the breadth of life that made its way back into a bunch of us as those rays of light made their way over the mountains and shined through the trees. It was an amazing sight, but our focus had to remain on that damn tire. We only could enjoy the beauty of what surrounded us for a brief moment and it was back to trying to navigate the tight pass. After a few more ups and downs, going over roots and squeezing between trees.  Dead leaves crunching beneath our feet, we made it out to a clearing where we saw Joe waiting for us.

Joe waited for us here through the night. We finally had a short break.

He sat there waiting for us next to a smoldering fire. At first I thought he was tied up when I saw him sitting on the ground, “betrayal?” I had thought. I quickly realized my eyes were playing tricks on me and he was just wrapped in a black garbage bag. Even Joe needs to stay warm in the wee hours of the night. Upon our arrival we were told we had fallen something like six hours behind the rest of the racers. Joe presented us with two options. Option A would involve us heading out to the Chittenden Reservoir as a group and trying to catch up on what we missed out on so far. Option B was to wait for the rest of the group to come back, with no knowledge of how long that might take. Instead of letting our body’s muscles sieze up we opted to keep moving. There was some hesitation to just hang out but ultimately we knew it was best for us to keep moving.

Joe said we could leave the tire there for now and that we would be back eventually. We all headed out towards this next checkpoint together but this is where you could really see who was struggling, some people took off. Others, hung back and moved slowly. The rest fell somewhere in the middle. I was somewhere in that middle. I started off in the front but then Damien, who managed to wear that damn pink bathing cap of his the entire race, took off on a run with Joe. It was at this moment that many of us on Team Ten began to think he was a mole. He wasn’t, but for a period of time we were all questioning this decision of his to take off without any of us. Did he know something? Was this on purpose? Is he going to get us penalized? We eventually lost sight of them and came to a turn and we became uncertain which direction to continue on. I tried using my phones map but service was next to none. I was able to receive a few texts from one of my favorite Storm Chasers, Jennifer, who was arriving Saturday to be my support crew. She was still in route to Pittsfield at that time and I would continue on through the race without seeing her until Sunday morning.

After a few minutes trying to figure out if we should continue on we began heading down the road and then quickly everyone said we should just go back to where we dropped the tire. There we were again undecided. We started heading back because we desperately needed water. I think Andy came back and told us he wasn’t sure if the water in the streams we had passed was safe or not. But then again, it was better to hydrate than to die. Comforting, aye? Joe came back with Damien and we got called out for not keeping up. I believe the rest of the racers started coming up and soon we were back in the race with everyone. We had missed a swim challenge and were instructed to continue on.  We had to head back to the spot where we dropped the tire off. Once we got back it was time for another burpees set. The first group started off doing 100. When the next group arrived they did their 100. Once all of Team Ten arrived we were punished for not making it as a team to the swim….that’s right, we were back to carrying the tire. Our hopes of the other teams having to help with it were diminished. It was upsetting but time to move on it was.

We tried to organize a system again, I became annoyed. Every system we’ve tried to implement up until now has failed. What we had experienced up until now was that no matter what some people would step up more frequently to take turns on the tire while others would go to the extent of dropping back just before it was supposed to be their rotation. This happened a few times. Eventually people called each other out and the problem would be solved, temporarily. Team Ten was still strong as a bull but we had our troubles. We tried to keep up with the other racers who all had nothing to carry other than their packs now. It was a lost cause but as we made our way back to the farm we would occasionally come up on people stopped for water refills in the creeks. We would use iodine tabs to purify the water just to be safe. Then there were also a few times that we’d get passed and realize we were not the furthest back. I remember we eventually made it out of the woods after many nasty spots. By that time we had finally created a superior system. It took a while but thats how these things go sometimes. How did we achieve a better system for moving the tire? We did it by attaching multiple pull ropes to the tire.  This made it so we could have six people on it at once. We woud be pulling the tire behind  us. When we made it to the regular streets we stopped at a house on the corner as we emerged from the end of the trails. We were treated by the owner of the house to free water from his hose. It was a very exciting moment for us. Then it was back at it with that tire.  We faced another fork, undecided which way led us back to Amee Farm we began to argue our options and why this way was better than that. It didn’t help that we were given information by someone we didn’t know and immediately felt we couldn’t trust. The betrayal theme was making our judgement of what was real and what was false less distinguishable by the minute. And we still didn’t know which direction to head.

 

CHAPTER 6: HUMAN ERROR OR BETRAYAL?

Our six person Tire Dragging System we created.

Another fork in the road halts us.  We challenge the information we’ve been provided by a couple different people. A portion of us want to go one way, another group wants to go down the other path, and a few are lost as to how we got so mixed up. After a few good arguments were presented over which direction to continue, we came to an agreement. We would turn around and head back to the intersection and take the route we were hoping was fastest back to Amee Farm. There we were dragging that tire, once again. At least now we had a system. We had room to travel, minus having to move aside for cars we were doing stupendous! Thankfully a team’s crew arrived before we took off and helped us to replenish some of the many many calories and fluid loss we’ve accrued over the course of the past, almost, 24 hours. The best thing in this everyone-grab-what-you-can-for-all were the clementines. They were Oh Em Gee delicious. No really, they were. With our newly fueled bodies, and a decision made we decided no matter what we were finishing this race. Even if we had to drag that tire for another 48 hours to do so. That’s how determined and dedicated we grew to be during our time together.

We were down to about 14 members on the team. There were a few people that did not look like they’d make it much further. They had aggravated old injuries or developed new ones during their time on the course, they’ve come far but this was closing in on being the end for them.

We rounded a few corners and went up and down a few hills. Soon we were came up on the peak of this one hill. We were dragging the tire down the middle of the road. As we hit the top we could see a group of racers being led by Joe. I WISH I could have captured a picture of that entire moment, or better yet a video. Where’s the iPhone when you need it? This one image was so memorable I still see it in my dreams. It just stands out so much to this day. Joe had this look of astonishment on his face. Almost like he couldn’t believe we were still smiling after dragging this blasted tire around. The look said, “Holy shit these mofo’s won’t quit. What do I do to them?” and it was glorious. It was staggering to see that look of fear that we couldn’t be broken glimmer in Joe’s eyes. He quickly fixed his composure, so fast I’m not sure everyone else witnessed that same moment of shock that I did. Instantly Joe was firing off that we were so far behind we could never finish. We could not finish. We could not go on. We were done, according to Joe. A few of us rebuked his sentiments posthaste. We told Joe, “No, we are not finished. We are not done with this race. We will go on regardless. We’ll drag this damn tire the entire race if we have to. WE. ARE. FINISHING!” Joe collected himself, and told our crew members that we couldn’t continue dragging this tire around if we really insisted on continuing the race. He then asked them if they could see to it that the tire makes it back to Amee Farm. From here on out we were free, of the tire.

Always on the hustle from challenge to challenge

At that moment we were no longer on the same team, it was finally time for this to become a race. Here’s something interesting though, it still isn’t really a race by normal standards. There are still so many unknowns and so many times where you need to wait to do things with others. The next task we were set out on for example, we were to head over to this hill near Joe’s house. We started running with the rest of the racers that were following behind Joe and made our way towards his house. I made sure to stay near the front of the pack. I wanted to stick with people I knew and I had spotted a few familiar faces fairly quick. I said hello to them and we continued on our way back past the fork of indecision from earlier. We down the alternate path and when we arrived at Joe’s house we were to perform a plank position on the hill. We we on the decline heads facing the bottom of the hill were Joe stood. There we waited for everyone else to arrive and join us.  It didn’t pay to be in the lead, since you were now holding that plank much longer. Once everyone had made it we continued to plank it out for a bit until Joe decided it was time to move on out.

On our way to the next challenge I remember we made our way up this path next to Joe’s, it did a little fork split and of course the group divided. I second guessed my choice of path right away and made my own way back to the other path. It turned out they both led to the same location. Our next challenge was an interesting one. We were paired up into a few small teams which varied in size anywhere from two people partnered up to a group of five. This task led to some “cheating” and I quote that because its debatable what really happened.  We were put into a four person group. To be honest I was going through some crazy fatigue and began a downward spiral that would lead my mind to the dangerous thought of Q.  U.  I.  T  .T  .I  .N  .G. Yes, quitting. I’ve always known that once you start thinking negatively the thoughts can compound themselves. They will proliferate until you either give in to the notion or break the darkness and persevere.

Once we were in our groups we were assigned a quantity of buckets that were to be filled with gravel. Those buckets would then need to be brought up the mountain trail to pour out on the various bike trails. We were designated as team 32. On top of the gravel dumping we had to find a stick with our team number on it.  My shoulder was wrecked. The treacherous tractor tire did a number on me. The thought of carrying a bucket seemed impossible. I stood there for a minute and thought how could I go on without doing damage. They were checking fill heights of the buckets. I couldn’t just bring a half bucket. I looked to my teammates and explained to them what was going on with the tear in my shoulder. I told them I don’t want to be skimping out on the labor but we have to make at least two trips up the mountain, there were four of us. We could only bring one bucket at a time. I suggested that while they are carrying the buckets I could run faster and search all the different trails for the sticks. I cannot thank those guys enough for helping me out and going along with this strategy. You guys helped me so much. I didn’t get to say a proper thank you out there, but I really do appreciate everything, thank you.

Searching for numbered sticks at the top of Joe’s mountain

I took off but hit another fatigued moment as I tried to make my way up the mountain. I sat down on a rock and started scouring through my bag for something to eat. I found a bag about a quarter full of pretzels. I started eating them quick. Todd was making his way up and I offered some to him. Todd made sure I was doing alright and carried on. After about 5 minutes and my last GU packet I went back to searching for the number 32 stick. I found a bunch of them. Team 5, Team 42, 38, etc. Everywhere I looked I found sticks. Some close to where the bike trails started and others near the top of the mountain, near Joe’s cabin where we originally weighed in. I ran back to the bottom to report my status to the rest of my team. They were readying themselves to bring the next round of buckets up. I told them I’ll go continue to look. I saw Todd again and asked him what team number he was.  He hadn’t found his team’s stick and I was hoping for his sake maybe one of the ones I saw corresponded with his team number. Things got quite confusing when he responded, “I’m team 32.” I immediately responded, ” get out of here, we’re team 32 are you sure?” I ran back down to check with the race volunteers that had all our team cards with our names and bucket amounts marked off. I told him the issue and he said it was impossible.

Was this a betrayal?  Were all the sticks out there just random numbers and no one could actually find their stick? No, I did come across a few groups that found their stick. Did some racers take other teams sticks and change them to their number? Unfortunately, yes. I saw this happen a few times. So what happened to ours? Did it actually exist?

Well I went back and told my teammates and Todd the issue. I headed off to look for our stick, I believe Todd decided to make one. When I got back down I was told by someones crew member, Andy, that our situation was presented to the volunteers by both teams. They admitted they must have made a mistake and told us we were free to move on to the next challenge. Andy was kind enough to hang back to make sure I knew I could move on to the next challenge. He asked me if there was anything he could do to help me since I had not met up with Jennifer, my only crew member, still. I was out of my pain  medicine. Until I made it back to Mark’s car, I would be in a lot of pain. Andy said he would do his best to find Adam, or Mark and ultimately my medicine. Thank you so much for your help during the race Andy.

Although my shoulder was gonna suffer for a while, I was happy to hear I could stop looking for the stick. You could tell the sun was making its way down into the mountains and soon it would be dark. I would not want to search for a stick in the dark. I made my way back down the hill to where all these massive logs were lined up along the outsides of the road. I was instructed to find a log and join the rest of the racers. We were to split our log in half and then both halves into sixths. Finally, relief from carrying my pack, relief from running up and down hills. The idea of chopping wood for awhile made me happy. Time to rip off my compression shirt and get out my beloved Fiskars x27 splitting axe.

What rolls down stairs
alone or in pairs,
and over your neighbor’s dog?
What’s great for a snack,
And fits on your back?
It’s log, log, log
It’s log, it’s log,
It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood.
It’s log, it’s log, it’s better than bad, it’s good.”
Everyone wants a log
You’re gonna love it, log
Come on and get your log
Everyone needs a log
log log log – Ren & Stimpy

 

 

CHAPTER 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?”

 

CHAPTER 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.

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

 

CHAPTER 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.

 

CHAPTER 10: SLEEPYHEAD

Happily waiting for us at Death Race HQ was Joe, and a few others. You could see they were surprised with our perseverance. Initially, they didn’t want to give us another task but they gave in soon enough. We just missed participating in the Origami, so next on their list of challenges required us to head over to the nearby barn.  There, a half full flatbed trailer of hay bales awaited our bodies.  We were allowed to put our packs down for this challenge.  Perfect.  My shoulder was feeling some crazy fatigue.  This reminded me that I was overdue for another dose of pain medicine.

Hay Bail Challenge
Two Death Racers grab their hay bales. Photo Credit: TBD

Morgan and I set out immediately to begin slinging our 15 bales of hay, each.  We were required to take them from the trailer, however many we could handle at a time, and neatly stack them.  Much of the second floor had already been covered floor to ceiling by the other racers who already encountered this obstacle.  Starting out I took one bale at a time.  After a couple trips, I decided to attempt speeding things up by bringing two bales.  It wasn’t difficult weight wise, but I quickly found that taking two at a time meant being more cautious.  Too cautious.  Once I had those two bales piled on I went back to just carrying one at a time. I didn’t want to deal with the consequence of a bale falling apart.

Shortly after Morgan and I begun bringing our bales of hay into the barn a few more racers arrived and joined us.  After their arrival and a few trips to the second floor, I discovered the bales of hay that acted as stairs to the trailer had shifted.  I went to step off the trailer; my foot never found the hay staircase. TIMMMMMBER! Luckily, I caught myself with the bale of hay I was holding.  I moaned and groaned a bit about how uncool it was that the stairs moved, but it was likely an accident. Definitely not betrayal.  Regardless, before heading back up for my next bundle I made sure there was a safer makeshift staircase in place.  We continued to bring our bales of hay up one at a time.  This was one of the shorter, less demanding tasks thus far at the Death Race.  After completing this challenge we gathered our gear and went back for our next task.

Stack Hay in the Barn House

Morgan became side tracked and began helping a couple other racers take care of their feet before continuing on.  Many racers were suffering from the nastiest cases of wet feet I’ve ever been exposed to.  Morgan had a huge heart, and didn’t want to let our fellow racers suffer. I found myself stunned at how much Morgan cared about the other racers.  That’s one of the things about the Death Race, though you compete you come together.  There is a mutual effort to defeat the race that aims for an 80%, or higher, failure rate. She finished tending a racer’s foot and provided him with some extra Gold Bond foot powder.  I encouraged her to speed things up so we could continue on to the next part of the race.  Helping other racers was great, but we were many, many hours behind.  I feared for falling further and further behind.

The heart that Morgan had for helping others was tremendous.  I was proud to be teamed up with such an fantastic woman.  We made our short trek from the hay bales back to where HQ was set up.  We checked in with our makers.  Our next task was supposed to be the carrying of a cement mix bag up to the top of the mountain.  Joe explained to us that not only were we disqualified but also we would never finish.  If we chose to go on we would be unofficially in the race.  We could not be swayed.  Our minds had been made up, and as with all the other attempts to get us to quit, we just rushed him to get to the point. All we wanted was for him to move us on to the next obstacle we needed to conquer.  Joe didn’t let up though; he kept on about how we could never finish, officially.  I refused to believe a word he said.

The back and fourth went on for a short while. We asked him if we could just have our cement bags.  Morgan and I wanted to continue on, that’s all we wanted to do, move forward.  Surprisingly we were informed there were no cement bags for us and to just move on. I still don’t understand why this happened, and would have loved to take on that challenge.  It irks me that we were kind of brushed off from this challenge. My shoulder was dead sure, but the endorphins were firing at full force.  I’m certain that determination and persistence alone would have been enough to get us to the top of that mountain with whatever weight they gave us.

Caution Betrayal Lurks Everywhere
Example of the hints and signs we saw on the trails. Photo Credit: Matt Davis.

Just before leaving I remember seeing Jennifer and crew one last time.  I ran the idea of joining us by Jennifer but she had just returned from quite the hike herself and was not ready to back up again.  Our timing was nothing but off this entire race.  It did not bother me though; fortunately, I had an awesome partner to race with me.  I knew it’d be all good moving forward.  As we tried to make our way toward the suggested we found ourselves blocked off by one of the animal pens.  Instead of taking the street back like we were instructed to we used this opportunity to just go back up the trail we had taken every other time.

This was one of the toughest ascents for us.  We were becoming extremely delusional.  It felt as though I was rambling nonsense. Even I had a hard time understanding half the words that came out of my mouth.  Sleep deprivation was certainly taking its toll on us and the results were hysterical.  Moments like these would have been great to have recorded.  It became necessary for us to take a break just to close our eyes.  Our levels of sleep deprivation were dangerous, especially given the environment.  You may be asking how the hell we took a nap out on the mountain in the middle of a trail.  Quite simple really, we dropped pack, took out my iPhone, and set the alarm for ten minutes.  Voilà!  Nap. Time.

The most challenging part of nap-time was the fear of other racers seeing us.  After that fear came the fear of some unknown animal for us.  The same issues we faced before, but for some reason our senses were heightened.  The wind blowing would freak me out and wake me up within two minutes of closing my eyes.  We clearly never actually slept, but just closing our eyes for those few minutes was what we needed to continue on.

Approaching the last obstacle
Morgan and I captured by her parent’s just before our next obstacle. Photo Credit: Derek Mckay 

During our trek through the mountain passes we saw a lot printouts of the same images from the hints we saw prior to race start.  At first I didn’t think much of it, but as we kept seeing more I started to wonder if this was the last obstacle coming up.  We came to a clearing and out of nowhere came Morgan’s mother and father running to us from where the next challenge took place.  Beyond seeing their daughter again, there was purpose to them coming toward us with such haste.  It turned out they had done some recon work and had some intel for us.  Sweeeet.  They shared with us two of the questions and answers being asked as part of the next challenge.

Q. What sense is most connected to memory? A. Smell

Q. Which athlete does the most squats during their sport? A. Catcher

Very odd questions I thought to myself.  Morgan’s parents gave us a run down of the upcoming challenge and explained to us that they were not allowed to help Morgan but they could help me. I didn’t understand why but this is the Death Race, sometimes you just gotta go with it.  Morgan and I made our way over to the challenge and Jack began to explain to us the most intense obstacle we would face yet.  Mark was there also, it was good to see him smiling.  When the task was first presented to us I underestimated how difficult the challenge would be.  To finish this obstacle we were to perform a log roll, lying on your side and rolling your body…like a log, through a quarter mile loop.   At the halfway point they had strategically placed a bucket.  Inside the bucket?  Rotting intestines, and other internal organs from a bull.  That had been out in the hot sun rotting for the past two months.  We were to stir the contents of said bucket ten times during each lap of the course using a stick they left in the bucket.

Navy SEALS Training Obstacle
Jack’s Navy SEALS based Secret Weapon. The Log Roll Challenge. Photo Credit: TBD

We were to do this for a total of six laps.

 

CHAPTER 11: NEVER QUIT, NEVER SURRENDER

Here we were back at Riverside Farm for the last challenge.  To begin you needed to have a ticket, if you wanted to “ride.”  If you did not have a ticket you could earn one by doing 120 pushups.  Thanks to a tip from Morgan’s parents, I quickly grabbed a note card out of my bag.  I tore the card in half and wrote “ticket” on both cards.  I told them, “Of course I ‘bought’ the tickets for our first date.”  We gained our admission.  Jack further instructed us that at the end of each lap we had to answer a question of his choosing.  A correct answer made the lap count, a wrong answer meant you were re-rolling.  So that’s why we needed to know the questions and answers Morgan’s parents provided.  This made for a very interesting obstacle.  Before setting off on our first lap I made some adjustments to the gear I was wearing.  We would be able to set our bags aside too.  Jack made sure to insist countless times about how toxic that contents of that bucket were.  I wasn’t sure what we were up against and for fear of anything being on the course I took every precaution possible.  From my pack I took out a long sleeve compression shirt.  For my legs I was already wearing my long compression socks.  In addition, I put on a pair of construction gloves, made myself a bandit style face mask from my bandana and finally I was ready to rock.  Jack made a comment that I was the first to think of covering my face, and that it was probably a really smart idea.

Death Race "Roller" Coaster
A gentleman always pays for the tickets on a first date. Image Credit: Joei Harrison

Over confidence in my abilities led to brutal test of everything I had to give.  In large part because of my background in gymnastics I assumed I was capable of handling more speed. I threw myself into the fastest log roll I’ve ever performed.  For some reason I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe I had a chance to pass some people up for once.  My competitive edge was kickin’ in during the final hours.  The average time up until then for completing a single lap was somewhere around 20-30 minutes.  I knew I could destroy that time at the pace I was going.  Now I am not one hundred percent positive exactly how fast I finished that first lap but the looks I was given when I finished said it all.  I dominated it.  It was somewhere under fifteen minutes but who knows how long it was exactly, they were not timing us.  Jack asked me the smell question, I of course got it right and other racers finishing their lap with me were allowed to group up with my answer.  We were congratulated and our first lap was marked on a white board next to our name.

Enter Exit if you want to ride.
Death Race “Roller” Coaster Entrance and Exit. Photo Credit: Karl Allsop

That first lap went very well. The only trying parts were the few pins we had to avoid while rolling through some mulch and stirring the bucket of guts.  I waited for Morgan and we went back for more.  My second lap would be a huge reality check for me.  About half way through the lap I started to feel nauseous.  Was it the rolling? Was it the smell?  It didn’t matter…I had to get up and, and….BLARGHHH. Vomit number one.  Morgan’s dad passed me  some water; I sucked it down and continued.  Shortly after stirring the bucket I met captain vomit again.  It felt awful. Morgan’s parents continued to encourage me to go on.  I correctly answered the question about smell and prepared myself for the next lap.  Facing the third lap wasn’t too bad but I definitely slowed down more each round.  Throughout the lap Morgan’s parents would provide me with water and Gatorade.  They’re the best.  Thankfully, I only found it necessary to puke once during that lap.  Regardless of the vomiting, Morgan and I were still in high spirits.  Lucky her, she had no need to spew her guts out.  All of us, randomly sang every song we could think of with a verse about rolling.   When I got to Jack,  I answered the question about smell, it turned out Jack was rotating between just a few questions.  The smell one being the most frequent, of course.  After the fourth lap, which I completed puke free thank you very much, I needed to just lie down for a second.

Mark Demonstrates How to Log Roll
Mark demonstrating how to do a proper Log Roll. Photo Credit: Karl Allsop

Morgan’s mother, Dian, agreed to give me five minutes.  She made sure to get me back up to keep going.  Five minutes wasn’t enough.  I was feeling awful.  I shot up; I needed to go take care of business out in the woods.  This was one of the most awkward moments I’ve experienced in my life. At the time it was out of necessity, with a touch of absent mindedness on top.  I knew Morgan had baby wipes, but forgot to grab one before heading out into the woods.  She was close enough to make sure I was okay.  Before I even pulled down my pants I found myself puking.  Once all the toxins expelled, I turned around and dropped trou.  Sans baby wipes.  Oh, no!  “Morgan!!!” I shouted.  I need baby wipes.  Poor girl. Desperate times.  She came up quickly, handed me a couple and ran off.  Never in my life.  This wasn’t a time to be shy though and thankfully Morgan was such a team player.

The moments following my bathroom break were harsh.  My body was shutting down.  It was collapsing on me.  Snot was clogging up my nose and pouring out all at once.  Suddenly, I found myself shivering.  Instead of going back to where the rolling was happening I went back to the clearing.  Back where we saw Morgan’s parents earlier.  I curled up in a ball and tried to get myself back together.  What’s happening to me?  Completely depleted of food and water I still refused to give in.  Morgan came over and made a fire.  She’s damn good at it too.  Her mother cut up a pair of Morgan’s grandfather’s socks.  She helped me cover the only uncovered part of my body, my knees.  Derek, Morgan’s father, provided me with a vest to increase my body warmth.  With the snot spewing of course came a waterfall of tears. Uncontrollable, pain-felt tears.  It was as if every body part that had a releasable fluid wanted to join in on the fun.  I stumbled my words, “I. Am. Not. Giving. Up. I have come to damn far to quit this damn race.”  Morgan felt differently.  She couldn’t stand seeing me like this and thought maybe we should call it quits.  Quit? Hell, no!  Not now. We’ve come to far.  I told her that wasn’t an option. We had to finish. We had a pact.

Spartan Race Hurricane Heat Dog Tags
Warrior Ethos

My Warrior Ethos dog tag pressed against my chest.  A reminder.

“I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.  

I will never quit.  

I will never leave a fallen comrade.” 

I remember how great I felt when Todd gave me those tags just a six months prior to this experience on my 26th birthday.  A birthday I’ll always remember.  Thank you for everything, Todd.  In such a short amount of time he has taught me so much.  Todd played an enormous in my success.

Feeling miserable after the rolling
Morgan and Stacie nursing me to life. I’m in the middle, the orange is the end of the fire we had going for a bit. Photo Credit: Derek Mckay

From the direction of the Death Race “roller” coaster came another racer, Stacie. She had already stopped racing for a while now and was helping out; she came over to check on me.  I remember asking her for a hug.  It was one of the most comforting hugs, I have experienced.  Sometimes, all you need is love.  The love that comes from a hug can go a long way.  Stacie and Morgan spent time cheering me up, they switched over to encouraging me and telling me that I was awesome for coming so far.  The whole group helped bring me back to life.  They revitalized me with food, water, fire, and clothing.  It’s all about the essentials.  The simple things in life.

Before heading back out Morgan wanted to lie down to get some rest.  I was anxious to get back out there, but figured, what was another couple of minutes after racing for over 50 something hours.  Morgan laid herself down in front of me by the fire.  I cuddled up next to her.  Sharing our body warmth was pleasant.  I couldn’t rest long.  Within ten minutes I woke her up.  It was time to finish what we started.  Feeling invigorated, I had a new found determination to conquer this infernal race.

Just keep rollin' rollin' rollin' ah!
Ready to go back and get my roll on! Photo Credit: Derek Mckay

Morgan had pulled off an extra lap between my vomiting slowdown during laps two and three.  That left her with only one lap to go, I had two.  She insisted that she would complete both with me, regardless of what I told her. This girl is crazy awesome!  By the time we went back to Jack for the last laps, the sun had already set.  Everything was completely black.  The darkness would play to our advantage for the next two laps.  After clocking in my fifth lap and Morgan’s sixth, she revealed her plan to Jack about doing another lap with me.  He was stunned.  A racer was volunteering to do another lap of misery to help another racer finish?!  Preposterous, read the look on his face.  He radioed the news to Joe and Andy.   They too seemed taken a back at this announcement.  With the guidance of Morgan’s father, Morgan and I set out on my final lap, together.

We finished the lap at a nice pace, and answered the final question.  One last attempt to trigger our sense of smell.  You’re a sick man, Jack.  He was clearly trying to use the memory trigger from the question to upset our stomachs.  It seemed to be the only question he asked, as time went on.  It had 100% failure rate, thankfully.  Jack went on to inform us that when we were ready and we had our gear gathered, to let him know.  We didn’t need long. “Where to next Jack, we’re ready” we asked.  When Jack radioed Joe, he received an unexpected response.  Previously Joe had been directing racers to go meet at the top of the mountain, but this time he told Jack to hold us there.  Hold us here?  Are we really unable to finish? Are we really unofficial?  Concern overwhelmed me, if only briefly.

There we were, waiting.  Other racers were constantly coming through the rolling section. Answering that same memory sense question over and over. Seriously, Jack, you’re twisted.  It was getting to me even.  I ended up throwing a pair of gloves and my bandana into the woods because I thought they were making me nauseous. Eff that damn smell. 

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting we spotted Andy approaching us.  He lurked from the darkness but I quickly noticed he was in very high spirits.  Andy went around asking a few racers how they were doing.   He gathered an idea of everyone’s thoughts and feeling regarding the challenge.  Then Andy came up to us and asked us how we felt about it.  He looked over to Jack and confirmed that we had finished our laps.  Jack made sure to point out how Morgan was the only racer to voluntarily complete seven total laps.  Andy was pumped; he loved it.  He looked at both of us and said six words. Six word that meant more to me than, well, words could ever possibly describe.

“Congratulations, you finished the Death Race.”

No way!!! We shouted. We were completely shocked. We did it. We finished. We finished the Death Race. We finished the Death Race.  WE. FINISHED. THE. DEATH. RACE!  Overcome by excitement, we quickly calmed ourselves to listen to the last of his instructions.  All we needed to do was walk across the field and over to the pool house to claim our trophy.  Really?!  I couldn’t believe it. Is this real life?!

We finished the Death Race
Death Race. Vanquished.

We made our way over to the small shack.  We were greeted by Margaret and Chris.  They had relocated the HQ that was set up down at Amee Farm to this new location near Riverside Farm.  The red LED lights of the clock displayed over 58 hours.  Morgan didn’t know what our true status was.  She questioned it and told us we had to await confirmation. Seriously?!  The mind games never ended!  Andy came in and confirmed it. He congratulated us, and in his delusional state awarded Morgan second place female.  We were shocked and completely pumped.  Later we discovered his sleep deprivation got the best of him.  He too had not slept much.  Fellow Illinoisan, Amelia, placed second.  In mine and Morgan’s case we finished the race.

Albiet a few challenges were incomplete we still fought through everything we  were told to.  We conquered every obstacle presented.  Went from each destination we were told to the next.   We battled through feelings of defeat. We overcame the trials of the human mind’s ability to persevere, even when all odds are against you.  Morgan and I went through the transformation from being acquaintances to being able to trust and rely on each other in moments that would crush most people and swallow them whole.  The quest to finish the Death Race had come to an end.  We finished the Death Race.  I finished the Death Race.  Sure, the Death Race is an individual event but having someone, especially as wonderful, uplifting, and positive as Morgan. Oh yeah, and pretty.  😉  There is just no better secret weapon.  The power of human camaraderie can conquer anything.

Morgan’s parents snapped a photo of our finish.  We did it. I’ve never been happier. We hung out for a while and saw the top two male finishers come in.  In first place was Olof, a fellow Storm Chaser, and in second place, Junyong.  Those two guys are some of the most incredible athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure of racing with.  Junyong, it was awesome running side by side with you during one of the mountain ascents.  A few people shared some Death Race beers, courtesy of another racer, Mark.  I still want to try it!  The reviews were so good I heard they will be brewing more of it.  Margaret went around with her iPhone and live streamed the reactions of racers after finishing.  While she did this, I was on the phone with my dad, it was so cool.  My father actually logged on and watched me say hi to him after finishing.  Sometimes, technology is magical.  Being able to share that moment with my dad.  It was the caramel drizzled on top.

Morgan’s parents asked me where I was headed.  I never booked a hotel, there seemed to be no need since the race was expected to conclude Monday.  It was now Monday.  Just after midnight.  They offered the only thing they could, which was more than I needed, a hard wood floor inside a hotel.   We went back to the Trailside Inn.  Morgan showered first, then I had my turn.  I did my best to clean off the three days of stink. Once we were both cleaned up we threw on our Death Race hoodies and we all shared a glass of wine together.  I took a look at how gnarly my feet were, snapped a great photo. Enjoy.  Before I passed out I made plans to meet up with Mark in the early morning.

My Death Race savior
Morgan and I sharing one last moment together celebrating our finish. It’s a wonderful life.

The next morning Morgan’s parents dropped me off by Mark back at Amee Farm. He had already gotten most of my things packed for me.  We said our goodbyes and that was it. The Death Race was over. It ended so fast. but the memories are forever.  Mark and I drove from Vermont back to his place in New Hampshire.   After another shower, sharing a couple beers, and icing our poor poor feet it was time to head to the airport. Mark brought me there we hugged it out and I was off. Headed back to Chicago.

I was a Death Race finisher. The Year of Betrayal, vanquished.

To Be Continued… Next Year. The Year of the Gambler.

UStream of some post race stories, reactions, and me phoning my father.

Video streaming by Ustream

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