Saturday, June 22, 2013 0630 hours, 16 hours into the race
Fourth Circle of Hell – GREED
After a short hike, we stop. We are told to empty our backpacks, and fill it up with gravel. Greed is punished. Those more attached to material goods (read: those who are carrying larger packs) are suffering. I regret not showing up with a clutch.
I am mildly anxious about the task, as I have no idea how long this particular adventure will last. It’s the Death Race. We could be carrying pounds upon pounds of gravel for an hour or for ten hours. Part of me does not expect to see any of my gear until the end of the race. I dump everything on the ground, and stuff my pockets with gels. Just in case.
Joe, Andy and Peter are spearheading the fun. We carry gravel few hundred meters up the trail, and dump it on the ground in a seemingly random location. Talk about anti-climactic. This is doing nothing for my peaking boredom. I start entertaining thoughts of quitting. I heard there are really nice breweries in the area. It’s only Saturday – a whole weekend ahead.
“How are you doing?”, a fellow racer asks, coming down the trail, as I drag myself up. “Bored”, I respond, staring at the ground. I’m a real delight to talk to.
I want my damn coffee.
The pile of gravel at the bottom is disappearing, as the corresponding pile is growing at the top. It’s now spilling over onto the trail.
“Wouldn’t it be grand, if we had to bring it all back down next?”, I think to myself gloomily. I would kill for an audio book. Or an intelligent conversation.
Next to the shrinking pile of gravel, I notice a sharp drop into the creek with barbed wire stretched across. Something tells me we will be back. Just a hunch…
Someone mentions that we will have to do a mile barbed wire crawl. Five times. Again, I filter the information. A mile crawl. Ten mile crawl. Whatever. Take it as it comes.
Justice of God! Who has amassed as many strange tortures and travails as I have seen? And he to me: “O unenlightened creatures, how deep-the ignorance that hampers you!
In this case, deep ignorance helps, rather than hampers. Ignorance for the win.
We are leaving. Destination – Amee Farm. I let out a sigh of relief, not because I’m looking forward to making it to the farm. Not because of what’s there. But simply because it presents a fairly clear and meaningful goal. Get from point A to point B. Meaningful goals have been severely lacking in my life in the past dozen hours or so.
A little caveat before we leave. Obviously. Find a large rock (pre-approved by one of the race organizers). Hold the rock. Hug the rock. Fuck the rock. The rock comes with us, and is to be carried, using our hands only – no resting it on the shoulder, no putting it in the bag.
Our free labour caravan takes off on a narrow trail, one racer after another, as we shuffle around, looking for the best way to carry our rocks.
“I don’t know why you are all still dragging one after another. The race has started!”, shouts Andy.
I’m pretty sure we heard these words at least five times at various points throughout the weekend. Best approach is probably to ignore most time/race references altogether. Most pick up the pace, however, and some are starting to pass the racers in front of them. My Joe-approved rock is actually reasonable in size, and does not create too much suffering.
I pass Junyong Pak. On any other obstacle race course, not only I’d never see Pak, he’d be enjoying a beer at the finish line as I crawl up the first hill. But today, he is given a stone so large, he might as well be dragging a dead body.
“Well, this is the first and only time I will ever pass you on the race course”, I say, smiling apologetically. As I overhear another racer behind me make a similar tongue-in-cheek comment, I suddenly feel like a douche. Not really fair passing, is it? I’d rather be forever behind.
Fifth Circle of Hell – ANGER
The arbitrary nature of the event is starting to get to me. In fact, it’s starting to PISS ME OFF. I slip on a downhil, almost twist my ankle and catch myself almost with regret. “Now twisting my ankle would be a perfectly legitimate reason to quit”, I find myself thinking wistfully. That thought freaks me out. Thoughts of self-harm, and we are not even 24 hours in. What’s next? Suicidal ideation? Homicidal tendencies? [I do have an axe…]
The course marker ribbons lead us straight into the bush. It’s a pain in the ass. But kind of fun. Yay for off-road! Some of my more heavily-weighted brothers and sisters are less than thrilled with all the bushwhacking. I later find out that Matthew the UltraBeast carried a 20ft pipe through the thick of the forest. Now that would have been a bitch. UltraBeast, indeed.
For some reason, I think that we are quite close. Instead, the damn hike just wouldn’t end. I pass a lot of people on this section. Hiking with heavy shit – this I can do for hours, and do well. Don’t ask me to draw, sing or dance – good geisha I am not – but I’d make a great mule.
Saturday, June 22, 2013 1030 hours, 20 hours into the race
We ascend out of the darkness. Aimee Farm is crowded – mostly local spectators pointing fingers at the racers and laughing. Ok, maybe they are not. But they really should be. Support crews are also waiting for their husbands, girlfriends, daughters whom they have not seen for many hours to emerge from the woods.
From the sequencing perspective, the rock carry immediately prior is quite brilliant, as it tires out the upper body nicely, right before you have to start (continue?) using it. Well played.
I see Italian in the crowd, and head over to say hello. “You look good”, he says. He’s relieved to see my in one piece and is now searching my face for any further signs of distress. I’m still wearing my bored look.
“I think I’m done”, I say. “Why?” He’s desperately trying not to show any excitement at these words. I complain as I stuff my face with a breakfast sandwich and coffee (finally!).
Sixth Circle of Hell – HERESY
Huge logs are strewn around the farm. I realize that I haven’t quite practiced my woodchopping enough, as these things look like they came from a magical sequoia forest and have been watered with steroids. I could easily use any of the logs as a dining table. For six.
We have to chop thirty of these. With the sun beating down, the heat will be the biggest challenge. Still chewing, I take my shoes off to air out my feet, drag the smallest log I can find to the side, and take a swing. The axe drowns in fresh wood, and green juice oozes out. Well, that’s new… I might as well be chopping jell-o. Or pate. Or you know… other un-choppable things. This will be a long afternoon.
Racers continue to arrive. Very quickly the farm turns into a bad Fiskars commercial, as two hundred racers are swinging axes around. Few inches closer and we are on the set for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Vermont Chopping Axe Massacre?
“Teams 1-4, drop your axes!”. I’m team four, so I reluctantly put down my axe, and make my way over.
“500 penalty burpees!” Huh? Penalty for what?
I look around, trying to locate a single familiar face, and realize that my whole team is still chopping away. I’m caught in the act of trying to slink away to resume the same.
“What group are you?”, Matt barks. “Get back there!”
“I need to put my shoes on!”, I proclaim defiantly. I feel like a four-year old. And she is about to throw a tantrum. I stomp away (as much as my bare feet would allow), sit down on the grass and reach for another breakfast sandwich (all compliments of Italian).
Given the chaos, dispersing random punishment to thin out the crowd actually makes sense. [Ah, the joys of hindsight.] Right now though I’m just fucking pissed about the whole thing.
When Matt finds me about five minutes later, still barefoot and chewing on bacon, he’s livid. I’m instructed to grab all of my gear and head over to Roger’s farm immediately as punishment. Instead, I grab my axe and head over to my chopping station.
I am officially in bitch mode. I’m so done with this bullshit.
Joshua Gustin Grant, may the Spartan gods bless him, is making his way through the crowd. His whole disposition so relaxed, he could be strolling along the boardwalk in Toronto, snacking on jujubes. “Solo, how are you?”, he says as I give him one of my signature bear hugs.
“Josh, I think I’m done”, I say.
The serene expression on his face does not change. “How come?”
“I’m bored”, I explain, shrugging. “This whole thing is stupid. They have people doing burpees for no freaking reason. And now they are sending me away on some punishment hike.”
“Solo, don’t fall for it. You realize this is exactly what they are trying to do, right? Get you bored. Get you angry. Get you confused. Get you to quit.”
I feel hot tears welling up in my eyes. “Well, it’s working”, I think, still annoyed.
“Was it Joe or Andy who told you to leave?”, Josh asks. “No? So go, chop wood.”
It’s only a matter of time until Matt finds me waving my Fiskars with renewed fervor of a serial killer. This time Joe is here too.
The official verdict: I disobeyed a direct order. I either hike up to Roger’s farm, or I’m out of the race.
I’m not the only one falling apart. Chaos is getting to people. I overhear a racer quit. And another. And another. “Ah, you let the race get to you!”, states Joe calmly, shaking yet another fallen warrior’s hand.
As I hear those words I know that Joshua is right. And I hate that.
Fair or not, bored or not, if I quit, I still quit.
Damn you, Joshua, the Yoda of the Death Race.
Signing off, SOLO