Before the race even began we had to start off with a challenge. Sorry, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Allow me to back up a bit. Corinne and I arrived at Camp Eagle on Thursday evening after getting lost. Thanks, Siri. We wound up at the backdoor entrance to Camp Eagle. This inconvenience forced us to follow a random person up their driveway as the arrived home so we could figure out where the hell we had to go. Thankfully they were very nice and helpful. Apparently they helped another group earlier as well. As we began to turn around to head back down their driveway all we could see in the distance were hundreds of glowing eyes staring back at us. There must have been more than on hundred deer out in those fields. I don’t watch scary movies much, but all of this combined was definitely the making for one of those horror films, that’s for certain. So, we drove back down all the rocky roads and finally arrived at the eight mile stretch of dirt road that lead to Camp Eagle. The terrain was very rocky and filled with rolling hills. Of course, we were in the Hill Country of Texas. There was no way this could be anywhere near as difficult in terms of terrain compared to Vermont I recall thinking to myself as we arrived.

The creepy road we drove along went winding back and forth for a while and we saw plenty of animals that would make you jump every time they’d pop up out of the darkness.  Either they would eerily stare back at us or run off and jump away from the roadway. At one point we saw what had to have been a Moose or something ridiculous and hooved.. It was HUUUGE! It turned out that the surrounding area was filled with Exotic African Game, basically we were in an area where rich dudes come to hunt exotic animals from their helicopters. Talk about making you feel uneasy – and hunted. We finally arrived at the check-in spot and went to our dorm. Staying in a dorm was a bad idea for us lighter sleepers. After a night of no rest, we switched to an individual room because sleep is one of the most important things before a race of this magnitude and skipping out on another night of rest would not be a good idea.

Fire Making Practice

tony fire making
Photo Taken by: Corinne Kohlen

After that first rough nights rest in the dorm Corinne and I headed out to get in some more bow drill fire making practice. One thing I’ve always known that I need to work on is my patience, I like fast results. My haste led to a few finger slices, don’t worry nothing a little paracord can’t fix. No worries, I eventually put a bandaid on. Actually a bunch of other Survival Runners walked by as we were deciding to head back to bandage my fingers up and suggested we practice further away from civilization…which made me laugh given how far from real civilization we really were. The idea was to get further from camp since there were still some campers left.

We spent a couple hours working to perfect our bow drill techniques. I don’t recall anyone successfully making fire but there was a lot of smoke. I spent a lot of time trying to find the best materials. From all my studies I knew juniper and sotol stalks were what I should be looking for. I made a solid bow from a juniper branch I found and some paracord. I found that it is really important to have an evenly smooth and cylindrical spindle to achieve the right friction and speed needed to even generate a subtle hint of smoke. It’s also very helpful to have a good stone with a groove in it to apply the necessary pressure on the spindle. After a lot of frustration and some close successes we decided to head back and get some food and rest before packet pick-up. Even though I hadn’t made fire from the bow drill method yet I wasn’t worried because each attempt brought me closer and provided me with more understanding of what to do and what not to do. In my head I kept thinking, “That spindle is key.”

Packet Pick-up

So back to the race challenge. We had to be at bib check-in at 6pm and I was ready for bedtime. I came out in my comfortable ABB Performance pants and an OCR Freaks t-shirt, I was wearing all black, Mistake #1. I did make sure to wear my Inov-8 Trail Roc shoes just in case race director Josue Stephens had something physical in store for us. As expected, he did. I wasn’t very smart about this whole situation, arriving with both my Canon DSLR and iPhone in hand, Mistake #2.  Josue began to explain the instructions to us and we were to grab a log based on our weight/sex, Men 160lbs and under had one pile to choose from, those who were over 160lbs had another to choose from and the females had their own pile.

Photo Credit: Dirt in Your Skirt
Photo Credit: Dirt in Your Skirt

After quickly leaving my phone and camera on a table, I jumped the fence and grabbed my log as fast as I could. I took the lead in a short matter of time, but I could already feel my pants were starting to slip and I did not want to put my log down if I didn’t have to with it weighing in at 80lbs or so. We had to run up the road then up and down a few hills before finally arriving at the top of this one hill. There we would have to carve our bib numbers into the log with our knife. While descending one of the hills on my way to the log drop area I could feel the bottom of my pants sliding down underneath my shoe. I did the only thing I could do, I threw my log as far in front of me as possible and stripped down to my Hanes boxers briefs. Safety was all I cared about, plus I had hoped the pants could serve as additional padding to the shirt that I now had draped around my neck. By the time I recouped and got into a rhythm again, I arrived at the bib carving and retrieval as the fifth or sixth person or so. From there, we were to descend the hill, cross the river, and then  I was instructed follow the trail markers. When I came up and caught up to two other racers we discussed if we should just go back to the check-in area or continue following the markers. Based on my Death Race experience and the blogs I had read about Fuego y Agua I wouldn’t have been surprised if Josue marked a short 5K as part of the bib pick-up so I decided to continue on and so did Shannon Hulme. This was, Mistake #3. (Following the markers).

IMG_9610smAfter running around for quite a bit, feeling lost and uncertain of our decision we finally decided we’d gone too far and should turn back before the sun set. We did not need to find ourselves stuck on one of these rocky cliffs without our headlamps, water, food or anything else. Instead of taking the same route back we tried to skip the trails to make our own path. After some rock climbing near the wooden cable suspension bridge to get back on the marked route we were finally on our way back to base camp. We were greeted warmly and confusedly as to why we didn’t just go straight back to the check-in place as instructed. I explained how I was misdirected to just keep following the markers and I took that one instruction too far. I tried to brush it off so I could enjoy the dinner the camp staff had prepared for us. I figured at least I was warmed up, though I couldn’t shake off some of the frustration. It didn’t help that during all this I had also left my KaBar behind at the log bib number carving. That left me worried the entire time Shannon and I were out running our little 5K. For whatever reason I was completely scatterbrained. Thankfully, Josue had found it and brought it back for me. Not only was I concerned because I needed a knife to do this race, but more so because my father gave me this knife last year.  I didn’t realize it until I had thought I’d lost it, but this knife really means a lot to me.

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer

abb performance speed stack After a good, short night’s rest we were ready to take on the Survival Run. Wake up call came at 3:00 in the morning. Race began at 3:45AM and I started off with a beer and war paint. Because why the hell not? Ahead of me lied 15-20 hours of who knows what before returning to the start-line and drop bag spot. I had my drop bag loaded with all kinds of food, jerky, trail mix, Cliff Bars, 2 bottles off Dos Equis beer, my ABB Performance Carbo Force drink with 100g of carbs to refuel after the first 50K. I had everything I needed to finish this 100K Ultra Obstacle Endurance Race.

At 4:30AM Josue finally said, “Go.”  The race began with us quickly running over to a table set up by the guys at Luna Sandals with all our laces (3 strips each racer) and the option for either one large sole or two smaller foot sized soles. I choose the two and went to work making my sandal with my trusty KaBar. It wasn’t as great at cutting through the rubber as I had hoped. In fact it was awful. Not only did it cut through easily but my haste and tired state failed me and I cut out two left foot sandals before realizing it. I ran over grabbed another foot bed and went to town trying to make this one faster to catch up to everyone else who was mostly moving on to punching their holes for the laces. Shane McKay was the first out and Corinne and Gabi both left shortly after. I fell behind and told Corinne I’d catch up. I quickly finished my sandals tied up my Spartan Race finishers shirt custom made backpack by Tony. As I took off out down the road my pack exploded all over the road. This happened two more times before I added extra para-cord knots on every possible place that the pack could come undone. From here on I took off and made my way up to my log finding it right where I left it.

The descent in these sandals forced you to take extraordinary caution with each rock nearly slipping out from under you. Add in the darkness, prickly pear cactus and the heavy weight of the log and you’ve got yourself one of the most challenging combinations of misery you can imagine in a race. Well played, Josue. Half way down my lead toe knot pulled through the foot bed and I had to sit on my log and re-lace my entire sandal. Of course I was right next to a prickly pear cactus and had to remove a half dozen needles – they would not be the last that I removed from my feet. At the bottom of the wicked descent we were greeted by volunteers and instructed to attach a PFD (personal floatation device, aka a life vest) to our log. I took two life vests for mine as I was already a nervous wreck about swimming through this seaweed infested waters at night. I’m okay during the day, Corinne and I took a swim the day before, but in the darkness and over an extended distance. Anxious feelings and something my father told me about seaweed long ago crept into my mind and stirred a panic within me. “I can’t fuckin’ do this shit” was all I could think. That thought crossed my mind multiple times throughout this swim, but I fought my weak minded thoughts and pushed myself, and with the help of my fellow racers, continued moving into the water.

To Be Continued…

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