Thursday, June 21, 2012

Death Race

I had the opportunity to volunteer for two days this past weekend at the Spartan Death Race. Last March, I had followed the Winter Death Race and thought, I HAVE to be involved in the summer race. I emailed  Race Director Andy Weinberg to let him know my interest and all of a sudden the day was here.

First off, let me tell you the theme of this year's race: Betrayal. Anyone could betray anyone. The race directors, volunteer race staff, etc. Thing is, we volunteers had no idea what the hell was going on moment to moment like the racers. We were told to show up and it evolved moment to moment. I had no idea what was going on until the two volunteer coordinators got a call from one of the race directors and told them what was next. One minute, "get ready, there is going to be an influx of racers" to "get ready, support crews will be coming back" or "sorry, they are 12 hours behind so we have to sit here all day". It was intense not knowing what was going on. Personally, I wanted to be out in the woods with the racers, watching them.

So, I did not realize how much the theme of Betrayal was going to affect  me personally, especially not really knowing what types of betrayal was going to happen. See, my personality type is ESFJ. Click on the link and you will see "The Caregiver." Yeah, this was going  to be tough for me. Here are some attributes of ESFJs:

  1. ESFJs are people persons - they love people. They are warmly interested in others.
  2. ESFJs at their best are warm, sympathetic, helpful, cooperative, tactful, down-to-earth, practical, thorough, consistent, organized, enthusiastic, and energetic. They enjoy tradition and security, and will seek stable lives that are rich in contact with friends and family.
  3. strong value system that is ethical and centered around genuine goodness will most likely be the kindest, most generous souls who will gladly give you the shirt off of their back without a second thought.
So, betraying these racers who have trained all year for one of the toughest races in the world turned out to be TOUGH for me. I sat in my car after day two and cried my eyes out. At that moment, I was feeling like a dork thinking "why the hell was I crying!?!!?" I did not figure this out until a couple days after the race that it is not who I am to tell people they were disqualified or have them go in the opposite direction of succeeding. This was my own death race!

On Friday, I showed up at noon to get the low down on the weekend from Andy and the two volunteer coordinators. Pretty much they said we need to stay sharp because this is life or death. Okay, here we go...stay focused! And, that was it! Nothing else. I went out with one of the three race designers (and death racer finisher from past years), Jack Cary, and a group of high school students to post pictures on trees on the trail and also off trail between Amee Farm and Riverside Farm. Again, I had no idea what they meant or why. "Make sure you have a ticket." A Confucius quote. Picture of someone stabbing someone in the back. A picture of Judas (I thought it was Jesus. Ha!). Anyway, right away, I was bushwhacking in the woods and loving it. We saw a few racers trying to find the scale on top of the mountain to weigh in. Then, we went back to Amee Farm and waited for the next tasks. 

Jack Cary, Andy Weinberg and Chris Davis
at the volunteer check in
Volunteer check in at the pool house

Racers were told to sew their number on there shirts. So, I got to chat with a few of them and take some pictures. Then, the racers were told to crawl through a culvert which was super small and gross. Then, they had to do a swim test in a literally shitty duck pond and then chop crap loads of wood and  haul it across the street. Spirits were high and people were trucking along. Then, they were were told to pass in there ID and keys. I was so glad to be doing this task because I got to know names with faces!! Johnny Waite! Ameila Boone! Olaf Dallner! And, several others that I could list. Holy smokes, these people are tough and it was so nice to see them although things were moving so fast I could not say hi or chat. But, I feel privileged to have seen these people before they started their 60+ hours of hell.

Margaret "Dirt in Your Skirt" Schlachter

After they passed in their IDs, they were told to get to a kayak and lift it over there heads. One group actually had a massive tractor tire. Ugh. They trudged these items across the road to the duck pond, ran back to get their packs, axes, buckets, etc, that they would be carrying for the remainder of the weekend, and then were told to drop the stuff and jump into the duck pond. 250 people in the pond and then Andy dumps a bucket of ping pong balls in and each had a number. The racers had to find their groups and then after Andy's safety talk and telling them they would all most likely quit, they got out of the pond, assembled in their groups, picked up a kayak or tire or water tube and then they were off. This was 6pm and they would be carrying these items over there heads all night to Chittenden Reservoir over hellish territory (which we did not know at that time). I was due back the next day at 7:30am. I could not wait to see them back at the farm and see what was in store for them.

safety talk, ironically in a pond of duck shit

two of the race directors, Andy Weinberg and Joe Desena

Find a ping pong ball and find your group!

trying to find groups

"get your stuff back on now!"

"100 burpees now and don't drop the kayak!"

holy shit, the tire guys...heading out to carry that sucker
for 12+hours in the woods all night and then some

going to be along night
Joe Desena sweeping, walkie in hand and getting the troops out there
Saturday, June 16. They did not come back. We were told they were still hiking and 12 hours behind and would not be seeing them until 7 or 8pm. WHAT??? My heart was broken! I wanted to see more inspiring stuff! That was my goal for the weekend, to be witnessing some crazy stuff and to grow from it. So, what was I going to do all day? Parked cars, spoke with support crew and family who were worried and wondering what was happening. "Sorry, we have no idea. All we can tell you is that your racer is still on the course or not." Peter Borden, another race coordinator, told support crew and family to go enjoy the day, go tubing, sight seeing, etc, because they would not see their racer until late evening. Then, we started seeing the first round of racers who were quitting, mostly due to injuries, trench foot, bad knees, one guy had been taken to the hospital the night before. People's bodies were breaking down. And, we volunteers had no idea why and what was going on out there! So, as racers were coming back, I chatted it up with them. They each had their own story of what happened to them and this is where my ESFJness kicked in. I wanted to help them get back to their cars, listen to their stories, get them ice for their injuries, etc. I LOVED this. This is what I wanted, to hear the stories of their experience if I was not going to be able to be out there and witness it. I witnessed both men and woman racers crying because they could not keep going because of injury. I cried with one woman as I watched her acceptance that her feet were so fucked up that she could not go on. That was tough. I was a mess. 

Peter Borden telling support crew and family to go make
a day of it. The racers are 12 hours behind
Peter reading a list of DNFs who were going to come back shortly
social media updates

The tire is coming back!

Andy is back! "I am so A.D.D. right now
and it is insane on the mountain right now!"

Later on in the day, Andy radioed in and said that some people were being disqualified and we would have to tell people the same (I don't remember why they were being DQ'd). I told the volunteer coordinator I could not tell them they were disqualified and that someone else was going to have to. Nope, could not do it. I am not that tough to be a part of that betrayal. So, I parked cars.

Towards evening on Saturday  night, my time as a volunteer was coming to and end. And, all of a sudden Andy shows up, no worse for the wear (must have been all adrenaline because he had been up just as long as the racers) and tells us soon the first place racer would be coming down the mountain with a large log. SHIT. Stuff was starting to happen after sitting around all day and it was 8pm! I had to drive home so I stayed until 9:30pm. I got back to my car and sat down and cried. And cried. I was emotionally drained. I watched people quit, get DQ'd, suffering all day and, damn, it took a toll on me! I was not expecting it but as soon as I sat down, I could not stop crying. Wow. I was absolutely moved by the events, the strength of the racers and was also crying because I wanted to see what the next 30 hours was going to bring these amazing athletes. I kept my eyes on the Spartan Death Race FB page the next day or so and was thankful for those who were keeping us updated.

this is about the time I left. Some of the racers would
continue on until hour 68. SNAP.

So, here is the list of the finishers. I am amazed at their accomplishment. I can't wait to help out again next year, and would love to help out at the winter death race as well.

Thank you, racers, for inspiring me. Also, I would like to say I am in awe of what the three race directors created. I mean really, it takes some genius to come up with that race and to maintain the vibe and safety and quick decision making for 68 hours. Hats off.

See you next year.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mt. Zealand!

Seth and I had a day off together! A miracle. It had been a year since we hiked together. WAY overdue. Our friends graciously picked up Aida after preschool so we had the whole day to hike! Our destination was Mt. Zealand, one of the 4,000 footers on my  list that I needed to complete. I only climbed one 4,000 footer last summer so I was psyched to get out there already to get another one.

The weather was perfect. Sunny and dry and the temps were in the 60s. We lucked out because the weather had been rainy and humid so this weather was a gift. We dropped Aida off at her preschool at 8am and headed to NH! It took about 1:45 to get there so we were hiking by 10am. It is so nice to hike mid week because the trails are quiet.

We started out and followed an old railroad bed for the first 2 or so miles. FLAT. It is rare to have a hike to a 4,000 footer start so flat for so long. This was a great way to warm up. I really wanted to run it! Perfect trail running trail. We were quickly rewarded with bogs and wetlands and boardwalks with stunning views in the background. AND, ladyslippers! Oh my god, I had not seen lady slippers while hiking in years. What a gift to see them!

Lady Slippers!
After 45 minutes, we heard rushing water and looked up across a small bog/pond and saw this beautiful waterfall. Then, I noticed the AMC Zealand Hut next to the waterfall. Wow! What a spot! We hiked around the little pond and start climbing up to the Hut. Zealand Falls were spectacular and the view from the hut was amazing. The hut crew were getting it ready for opening day the next day. They were washing the floors, getting the water ready, stocking the place, etc. It looked great. I have stayed in Madison Hut and Lake of the Clouds huts before...they really are a treat if you are tired and don't mind bunking with a bunch of smelly hikers (I would rather stay in a tent at a site, but it was fun to experience anyway).

We ate a snack, filled our water, and headed UP for the next 1.4 miles to the ridge line. The map made it look steeper than I thought it was going to be. It was steady but not horribly difficult. The rock work and rock staircases were amazing. But, being 5'1" tall, the steeps are ALWAYS too high for my short legs and are quite a workout! Don't they realize short people climb mountains, too!  I swear my knee hits my chin every time I climb those big stairs. Time to make those steps smaller!  ;)

We got to the ridge line and were granted one of the most spectacular views I have seen in the Whites. Our hike was just on the outskirts of the Pemigiwasset Wilderness so you know you won't be dissapointed with the views. We met a father and a son who were backpacking in the area for a few days, took some pictures, ate a snack, and headed out across the ridge for another 1.6 miles to the summit. I am a HUGE fan of the ecosystem of an alpine ridge. The bogs and wetlands and flowers are on an alpine ridge are extremely fragile and endure harsh conditions and are very old. That is why there are signs asking people to not step on takes so long for them to grow and survive in that environment.

We were treated to puncheon bridges that were lined with Rhodora, alpine rhodondendron. I have never seen rhodora before because it only comes out in May and I usually don't get above treeline until the summer time. WHAT A TREAT! We also saw Cotton Sedge. It looked like cotton balls on top of a piece of grass. Again, it was plentiful.

Rhodora lining the trail
Cotton Sedge
We saw a couple more backpackers and false summited a couple times and then after enjoying that 1.6 miles along the ridge, we came to a sign that said .1 to the summit. Alright! A quick jaunt up and there it was...A sweet Zealand sign and peak with out a view. I don't mind a summit without a view, especially when we are treated with other view points along the way. We sat and ate lunch and then headed back down around 2pm. We stopped back at the hut for a break, filled up our water, and were back at the car by 5pm.  I ran 31 miles in 10 hours 50 minutes 3 weeks ago, but these big peaks and breaks at the view points can make a 10.5 mile day take 6 hours. Worth the lingering checking out all those awesome alpine plants and views!

Here is a list of the alpine vegetation we saw (per the Field Guide to New England Apline Summits):
1. Rhodora
2. Cotton Sedge
3. Mountain Cranberry (no berries yet)
4. Low Sweet Blueberry (no berries yet)
5. Labrador Tea (not quite flowering)
6. Black Crowberry (no berries yet)
7. Big red peat moss
8. Bog haircap moss

Other wildflowers and vegetation:
1. Bunchberry
2. Clintonia/bluebead lilly
3. Lady slippers (white and pink)

I am thankful for the day with Seth, for summer time and for the next few months to get back over there and bag more of those large mountains!