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.
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.
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.
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?
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? 🙂
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.
To be continued…