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S.E.R.E. Urban Challenge – New York City Weekend – Part 4

Gather round, children… the tale continues.

Last time I left you just as we were about to receive a life-changing lesson on getting out of zip tie handcuffs. For those interested, you may just have to suffer through S.E.R.E. to learn that (or you know… Google it), but as a hint – it does involve a shoelace. And a gag. No, wait… that’s something else.

After the instruction, everyone was handcuffed, and left to find a way to escape. At least one person per team managed to hold their wrists just tight enough, so they could loosen the ties, and slip out, and then help the rest of the teammates.

At this point we were presented with a box of random items (e.g. scissors, Sharpie market, wallet) that we had to memorize, and directions to a city block in Chinatown, which we had to examine in as much detail as possible (for possible testing later).

This particular trek was actually quite pleasant. We were dodging runners as we made it across the Manhattan Bridge. “Where were you 8 hours ago?”, I catch myself thinking gloomily, as they prance past our group in their colorful outfits.

It is now close to noon, and the sun is high up. In fact, now we are more in danger of sunburn than hypothermia. I insist that a couple of our teammates delayer at this point – we do this on foot, while I hold their backpack. After doing plenty of running in the sun, I know how quickly you can become overheated. I also randomly come up to people on our team, and start smearing sunscreen on their face. To my surprise, most are thankful, rather than resistant. Yay for preventing skin cancer.

After gathering all intel we can on the city block in Chinatown, we make way towards Battery Park (the southern tip of Manhattan Island, facing New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty).

We are the first team to make it to Battery Park, and are happy to finally sit down, while we wait for other teams. The instructors are not impressed with our rest break, so PT (physical training) for us. I perform planks and push-ups, while chewing a Cliff bar.

As one of our team members walks away from the rest of the team to throw away some trash, we get more punishment. At this point, it definitely seems that instructors are picking on our seemingly still fresh team.

When all the teams finally arrive, each team leader has to report on the intel they have collected as well as recall the list of items presented to us after the water drill. There are a few minutes of down time, when I try to stretch out my muscles, which are rapidly tightening up. I know we have to start moving again soon…

Instead of taking off for another challenge, however, a fairly detailed first aid / emergency session follows. I am all for first aid, and our instructor is very knowledgeable, however, I find myself doubting the utility of this particular en devour. I have my basic first aid certification, and that takes two full days of classroom time (after eating and sleeping normally). Without physical movement, I am so sleepy, I can barely stand. I don’t know how much of the information relayed, I actually retain.

The challenge is a relay where each of the team members had to describe treating a sucking chest wound and an amputation, and then buddy drag the team leader.

For a severe case of bleeding, we were shown how to apply a tourniquet, using any object, like a utility tool or a stick nearby. Something new that I learned is that you HAVE to make sure to write down the time when the tourniquet was applied on person’s forehead, so when help finally arrives, they know how long it has been on.

I think I would do ok with stopping the bleeding, but God help you if you actually have a sucking chest wound. I do remember that you have to use anything around you, like a ziplock bag to close the wound on three sides with tape, with the side close to the armpit open, so any blood can drain. I think…

Most of the information given to us applied to having to deal with an emergency in battle field, and using anything you have on you and around you. The instructor also described how to prepare a Go-Bag, bag with items you may need in case of emergency, that you can keep ready to go. I really liked the idea of carrying an eye dropper with a little bit of chlorine in it, as in an emergency it can be used to purify water for drinking.

Next challenge: we have to make our way over to the Times Square and make contact with one of the instructors via a land line. This is our longest trek yet – spanning over 50 blocks. We really push the pace. It is now middle of Saturday in New York City, and we have to dodge crowds of tourists.

Numbers of streets flash, one after another. We arrive to Times Square – out of breath and tired. Part of the team heads out to McDonald’s to get some food for the rest – if I have to eat another gel, I will scream.

As we make contact with the instructors, next mission is to trade the Rubik’s cube we received at the beginning of the event (which seems oh-so-long-ago now) for any New York related item. Few minutes later we secure a tuke with New York City logo, and are ready to keep going.

Washington Park is the next destination. However, it is over 2 miles away and we have ten minutes until the deadline. the next challenge is to reach Washington Park, a distance of two miles. Right… subway it is… we head down, stuffing our faces with cheeseburgers and passing around a huge cup of Coke. About the only time when a McDonald’s cheeseburger tastes good in my mind is when I’ve been eating nothing but energy gels for ten hours. It’s nice to actually chew on something.

We are the second team to reach Washington Park… It turns out the other team took the subway. Hmmm… well, that would definitely save us some time on trekking 50 blocks on foot. All other teams arrived on foot, and we protest whether the win was indeed legitimate, after which one point is taken away from the team that arrived first.

At this point, I have long given up on watching the clock. I find the nature of the event itself somewhat frustrating… In a race, no matter how long, I know that if I go faster, and push harder, it will be over faster. This is a completely different animal. No matter what I do as an individual, does not contribute to the end approaching any sooner. We will keep going until… instructors decide that we are done. I find this lack of control challenging mentally.

I have also given up on trying to figure out who wins in what challenge and how. The points are given and taken away with no seeming rhyme or reason. This is a survival trek. Put one foot in front of the other.

The park is really busy – filled with teenagers, and parents with children. At one point, a young woman appears. Her hair is blonde and curly. Full make-up. Flowing clothes. She leaps and bounces through our mini-camp of backpacks and bodies. She has a tiny Dachshund on a leash. The dog is wearing a purple dress. “Come on, baby!”, the woman exclaims, prancing around. “Run, little one!” The whole sight is so mismatched with our dirty shirts, and exhausted faces, that I’m pretty sure I’m hallucinating.

Finally, all groups arrive. We have to “climb mountain Subiachi”, another PT session. Yay. Not sure why we need a fancy name for more push-ups, but ok…

Stacked buddy push-ups:

Leg wrap sit-ups:

At some point, two girls appear out of nowhere, and join the instructors at the front, screaming orders and insults at us. I’m usually quite friendly, I swear… but at this point, the very last pinch of Ghandi in me dies, and I embrace a deep burning desire to get up and punch them in the face. The girls continue to scream, completely oblivious to very real danger. Just a practical life suggestion – if you see 50 individuals covered in dirt, with heavy backpacks and hungry eyes, you may not want to piss them off. Just sayin’.

Caterpillar plank/push-up:

The words “Top Team competition” come up few times, but at this point, the tasks are simply too random for me to care.

During one of the drills, we do a quick circuit, going from burpees to push-ups to ranger kicks. Once again, I realize how much more weight I have to put on my wrist every single time I have to get up from the ground, given the backpack. Few times, I feel stuck after ranger kicks – helplessly trying to kick up like a half-dead turtle. It’s a disheartening experience.

The group challenge here including pairing up to drag a buddy across the wet grass, and then somersault back. We win this challenge. Another point for us. Yay? It’s actually starting to get dark. And cold. Again.

Last mission: a two mile trek / death march to Fire House #10. We have to carry three “dead” teammates. Two of our team members are “killed” by instructors – the tallest, strongest, and therefore, heaviest men. And we get to pick another member to kill – thankfully, one of us, Angela is light as a feather. We have to carry 3 people and 11 backpacks among the eight of us for two miles. Freaking yay?

I may not be very good with cold water, but this I can do all day. At some point, I piggyback one of my teammates who is well over 200 pounds – that is 1.5 times my body weight. I think my “dead” victim is shell-shocked, because he proceeds to ask me out. Speaking of unusual places to be asked on a date… ladies, beat that. In his defense, I think this is fairly typical for him, as he admits asking someone to marry him during the last year’s Spartan Ultra Beast.

As we trudge along, my lower back is starting to protest. Unequal distribution of weight, constant stopping, and changing of backpacks is not helping. Most of the team suffers in silence. Some dispense marriage proposals. I sing. Joke. Strike up conversations with pedestrians. If I was any more obnoxious, I’d be arrested for public disturbance. Whatever helps. My sincere apologies to my team. Humour is my pain killer.

The cohesiveness of the team deteriorates rapidly, as we are dead tired and hungry. One of instructors (Hi, Happy!) sticks with the team, and pushes the pace the whole time. We snap at each other. We roll our eyes. We purse our lips. Where the heck is this Fire House #10?

Many torturous minutes and few blow-outs later, we finish at the FDNY (Fire Department New York) Ten House, across the street from the World Trade Center site. The memorial wall honors the 343 members of the New York City Fire department who died on September 11, 2001.

Many are crying, as we crowd around the memorial. We take off the backpacks, and hug each other. When the last team finishes, we line up to receive our patches and dog tags.

The tags are handmade by one of the instructors, Todd Sedlak, third-generation firefighter. They took hours to make. There are two tags on each chain – one for the finisher, and one for those fallen. This is probably my coolest medal yet…

Over 16 hours, and over 18 miles covered on foot – rucking, running, walking, crawling, jumping, squatting, pushing, pulling…

We have survived.

*Correction: In my previous post, I mentioned that we lost two women who were struggling with the cold. In fact, one of those women came back, and finished with the support of her team.

Here’s a note from Jenn: “I was one of the women who got hypothermic. Not only had I been shivering (and doing squats like a determined crazy person) but eventually I stopped shivering and lost consciousness. I was fortunate that my teammate Jeff was next to me trying to warm me up because he caught me as I fell. I made my way with one of the John’s to the cafe and had some hot chocolate and tried to warm up. I made it out for the last leg of the relay and completed that. After the hypothermic episode my blood sugar was completely out of whack and I never fully recovered and I was having an extremely hard time staying conscious, but my team (thankfully) helped me through since I didn’t want to quit. I even made it through the dive bomber push-ups in the east river. Team Delta battled through my hypothermia and another members bronchitis. We were slow, and didn’t “win” on many challenges, but all 12 of us eventually made it to the end.”

Now THAT’S a true team spirit.

Signing off, Solo


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