Continuing on the trail I eventually came to a section of single track trail. I remember catching up to Paul who had run back to make sure he was on the right path because he hadn’t seen a trail marker in a long time. I was standing directly underneath one as he approached and assured him he had to be on the right path as I pointed up to the marker. He turned around and took off with a much faster pace than I could keep up with. In that moment I started to feel lonely. There was nothing I could do to catch up. I didn’t have the motivation at this point. My feet hurt, my legs were sore, I was tired. I needed to keep moving. I kept thinking to myself that the end of this race must be near. Maybe when we get to the top of wherever all these single track switchbacks lead I thought, maybe that will be the last challenge. I hoped. These switchback went on forever slowly guiding you up the hillside. It felt like it was taking forever. The further I got the more I understood why Paul came back, there were almost no markers along this trail. It was single track, as a fellow race director I could understand why Josue didn’t put many up. But that didn’t change the fact that I wanted more confirmation that I was on the right path. I knew It was easier to just mark the places the major intersections in order to guide a racer. As I continued on, I was always hoping that I would see another trail marker soon.
I remember when I reached the top of the hill that seemed to go on forever there was a large cross, it felt very creepy to me at first because it almost seemed like it could be the location for some sort of cult gathering, but then I remembered all the religious kids that were here at Camp Eagle on retreat the day we arrived. I guess it made sense though this seemed like a very distant place (from my perspective) to have a cross. I had no clue how close or how far we were from Camp. For all I knew I was over 20 miles away from the cabins. I was hoping to find the next challenge here at the top but left the area disappointed and continued on my journey.
Arriving at the challenge location the sun had begun to set and the wind was picking up. I could feel my body temperature starting to drop. I had caught up with a one of the runners along the last stretch of single track trails and we came into this challenge together. I was greeted by the two volunteers and once again asked the same question I always asked, “How is Corinne doing and how long ago did she leave?” I was making great time I thought because she was only about 30 minutes out. Next I asked what had to be done because I simply wanted nothing more than to catch up to her.
Still holding my bow and seeing the target I knew my next challenge was to test my bow. To retrieve my arrows, I was to climb a tree and cut them down before I could discover how well made my bow really was. I walked over to the tree feeling excitement rising within me and a sudden burst of joy overcame all the pain and suffering I had been trying to keep at bay. Growing up I’ve always been a big tree climber, it wasn’t uncommon to be at a party and have someone ask where Tony went only to find me up in a tree. I looked up and at first I could not make out any arrows and then I spotted them all the way up, almost at the very top. Sweet!!!! I jumped up, wrapped my armed around the first good branch and began scaling my way up. With all my years of gymnastics it’s no surprise that I’m a human monkey. I sliced the rope holding what I declared as my set of arrows down and quickly climbed back down. As I approached the target range the wind had picked up. I laughed maniacally realizing there was no way in hell I would succeed regardless of how well made my bow was. I lined up my first shot and just laughed at myself as my arrow basically dropped not even 3 feet in front of me. There was no way I would make however many shots we were expected to make. I asked if I could just test the machine-made bow just to see if it was possible for me to hit the target with the wind, the way it was. Being fairly good at shooting a bow and arrow I figured if I couldn’t make it with a legit bow there was no way I would succeed with my homemade one. With full tension and my aim lined up to adjust for the wind I let the arrow fire and with little surprise my arrow stopped very short of the distance needed to fly far enough to pierce the target. It wasn’t meant to be. Wanting to still make the cut off I decided to be realistic, with wind picking up and my body was starting to shiver I needed to start generating body heat. Fast. After that many hours of rockin’ out my body was becoming fatigued and could not retain heat as the sun began to set.
It wasn’t the type of decision I normally would like to have made and there will be rules in place next year to prevent participants from doing this but I decided to not even waste my time building a travois. This was the last obstacle and I recalled the time I made one during my first Spartan Death Race. With a teammate it took us over 45 minutes to build our travois at the Death Race, there was no way in hell I was going to waste that much time after seeing all the ones that were left behind not even 50 yards away from where I stood. Clearly everyone before me found this task to be impossible to finish within the time cut off. I opted to skip the challenge completely, knowing what I knew this was the best option for me if I was going to finish unofficially, I was going to do it in within the time cut. I took off without even trying to make the travois.
As I ran I saw one travois after another, abandoned. There were still tracks in the gravel, however, and the further I got the more and more amazed I became. Who the hell was dragging their travois still?! I thought to myself as I began to climb the first, steep, switch back hill. As the trail began to narrow and become a very rocky, and technical single track trail I was astonished to see that someone was STILL dragging a travois through this. I wondered if they just dropped the weight or something because it seemed impossible to drag a travois through what little passage there was. Then I saw her. That’s right, it was Corinne. The only person who had the strength and determination to drag the travois through this insane terrain. This is where my race stopped. When I saw her attempting this challenge I couldn’t go any further, I had to see her, see this through. It was getting darker by the minute and there was no way I would let Corinne pull over 80lbs on a handcrafted travois through these narrow and twisting trails with steep ledges and cliffs she could fall down. No way in hell. I asked her how I could help and she was in her zone. I mostly guided her through the terrain, watch that branch, ROCK!!, you know that sort of thing. At one point there was a break down and she wanted me to just go on. I couldn’t do it. I had to make sure she finished, I could never leave her alone. I was so impressed and inspired by her perseverance. She insisted on dragging that travois all the way if it was the last thing she’d do. I couldn’t understand why she was battling this obstacle with such tenacity but I was there to support her however I could. Mostly, keeping my mouth shut.
Other racers passed us, all shocked that Corinne had gone so far with it. They continued on and that was it; we were the last two racers on the course. Dead last. No one succeeded at this obstacle, everyone quit, myself included, but Corinne pushed on. We eventually came out to a clearing and we had thought this must have been the place where this ended. There was no way Josue would have us take a travois over this brush and such. We both decided the volunteers might have left this area already and that’s when the battle with the travois finally came to an end. We were told it was a 2.5 mile trek with the travois, uncertain how far we had gone but given that it had been over 4 hours we figured this had to be the drop point. Corinne abandoned her travois and we started up a fairly steep climb. About a mile later after a lot of upward climbing we arrived at a volunteer station and discovered the real end to the travois challenge. With complete disbelief we realized how insane this challenge really was. There was no way anyone would have finished this challenge within the time cut off. It simply was not possible in that amount of time. We began our descent through more wicked terrain and we were finally on the last leg of the race.
At some point it started to rain. Already wearing Corinne’s pullover I was still shivering. Trying to keep myself warm I continued to run a little ahead of Corinne and then I would wait for her. Corinne managed to stay warm but I constantly checked on her to make sure she was okay. I forgot entirely about myself and after witnessing what she put herself through with that travois. I wanted nothing more than for her to finish this race strong. Josue has a way of getting you excited during his course, he’ll bring you just close enough to camp so you can hear the chatter, but then he swings you away to take you off into the woods uncertain of how much further you’ll have to go. This happened a few times and when we had just under a mile to go my barefoot sandal ripped completely off, the tongue part of the lacing had torn. I busted out some medical tape and strapped the entire sandal to my foot. I was really hoping this quick-fix McGuiver would last until the finish. No such luck. By the time we could finally see the lodging and START/FINISH area with under a half mile to go my sandal came dislodged again. Corinne continued running and I quickly caught up with my right barefoot sandal in my hand. We ran as fast as we could, the rain was accelerating as it came down from the dark sky above and just after we crossed that finish line, Dead F#$*ing Last, the most torrential down pour followed and we were so thankful to have finally finished. My body ached, I was cold. We had made it.
Unofficial or not I was extraordinarily proud of my FAIL. This was the most challenging event to date and if you had asked me right then and there if I’d do it again, I’d have said, “you’re nuts!” Now, I think I need to go back, better trained, better prepared. Fuego Y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer is THE primal survival test that all should experience.