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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.