*****Disclaimer: This is my account of events as best as I can remember. The nature of the race precludes the recount of things exactly as they happened without the omission of some details and the distortion of others. I only hope to convey the misery and the glory of my time in Pittsfield, Vermont, and to not misrepresent any other persons that may be named in this blog.*****
So everything up to this point has been hunky-dory. I’ve been going about half a day and everything is still feeling fine. I was mostly sure that I would be okay at this time in the race because one of our Death Race Simulations put on by Laurel had gone 12 hours and I was feeling good even at the finish. Laurel had interviewed me at our very last Death Race workout and my response to her asking what my biggest challenge going in would be was, “staying awake that long,” which will prove to come true later.
Once we are finally allowed to part from the cold water, we are walked to a house where there is a lot of woodchopping going on. Yes, this I can do. No, I’m not efficient, and from experience, it takes me twice as long to get through the same amount of wood as Ricky, but I enjoy chopping wood and am eager to do something out of the water for a change. A volunteer directs me to a pile of wood from which I am to pick out 3 logs and chop them into 7 sections each. Holy cow, this takes me forever. Most people have brought specialty spliters or mauls and are going through the logs like butter. I’m hack, hack, hacking away at my wood, sinking in a couple of good hits, rotating, repeating. My only strategy is to make a neat little perforated line around the log and exploit the hell out of the weakness. Once I get the log split into 2 halves, things go much quicker. The firewood is piled up (we stocked that family for what looks like 4 winters) and I’m off to find out what’s next.
The volunteer tells me I need to go back to the woodpile, pick out a log with a “w” on it, haul that log up the hill, memorize what’s on the paper at the top, come back and recite the saying word for word. If I miss a word, it’s back up the mountain, with the log. I see people have mostly carried logs in their arms or rigged the logs to rest on their backs for the trip. Dawn has brought me hot breakfast and I try my best to force down some bacon and eggs. The entire race, I think I have an appetite 3 times total. The rest of the time, I’m refusing food left and right or forcing it down to appease a very persistant support crew. Dawn offers up some pancakes to another racer who looks at her like she’s an angel from heaven. He is also on his way up the mountain, has little energy left and looks to have no support crew.
Since we are allowed to leave our packs on this particular task, Anita volunteers to walk beside me up the hill and carry water for me. After weighing all the remaining logs marked with “w’s,” I think I have the smallest one left which is still a monster seeing as how I’m in the rear of the racers. This will hurt me several more times before the race is over. I spend a lot of time trying to rig something up to get this monster on my back and end up using paracord to make two loops to go over my shoulders and then thread through my axe handle like a yoke. I wiggle my way into the contraption and have John help lift the log because I can not stand up with the weight. It’s immediate pain. About a dozen steps later, I lose the balance and go down. Anita tells me that it was like watching in slow motion: me falling and her unable to do anything about it. (Crew is allowed to feed us, clothe us, and tell us where we are on the course but they can’t help us with our gear at all.) No worries, I get re-rigged and another racer helps me up with the log. All this ends up working out though, because we hear a volunteer tell someone else that you are allowed to write down the required passage and recite it right off of your paper. In Death Race practices, I like to say that I excel in memorization, so this part didn’t really have me sweating (figuratively. Literally, I’m sweating buckets.) but the less I have to do, the better. And, the less time I have to spend up there memorizing lines, the better. I’m ready to get a move on this.
Anita and I head up the mountain. Every now and then we pass a racer who is resting with their log. Some are dragging, some are carrying, one guy has an ingenious set-up: he has created a wheel of his log by hammering 2 nails into either end and attaching cord via carabiners loops around the nails. As I voice my amazement to his brainpower, he simply says, “why re-invent the wheel?” Right on. I try not to rest. Slow and steady is my motto for this and the entire race.
The cord digs into my traps even though I’ve used my shirt and gloves as padding. Later, at my post-race massage, Michelle will tell me I have a knot that has dug in and refuses to budge right where the paracord had lain. There are a few obstacles but I only really remember one: an electrified wire zigzagging low between some trees. I have to take off my log and crawl under, dragging my log as I go. Coming out the other side, I touch the wire but don’t receive a shock. I don’t know if this is because it’s so far away from the battery or if the thing doesn’t work at all. I see another girl come up to the entrance and she asks me what this is. When I tell her, her face absolutely falls. She’s worried about getting her log back on her back again too. I try to encourage her and tell her I’ll wait for her and help her when she gets out. I’m only too happy to take the sit down break. Somehow we manage to help each other get our logs back up, I can’t remember that part, and we get up the hill.
When I get to the top, I run into another group of racers. I deliberate on whether or not I should set down my log. If I put it down, I won’t be able to get it back up. If I risk trying to keep it on and get the paper out of my pocket, I could tip over and fall down the hill. The other racers there see my dilemma and offer to help. We are allowed to get help from other racers. It’s a good thing everyone is so willing to come to each others’ aid. That’s one of the best things I’ll take from this race. A guy helps me set my log onto a stump so it’s already high enough for me to get into when I’m ready to leave. I write down the passage and check it twice:
Corinthians 16:13: Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong. Corinthians 16:13.
I stick around a minute and offer my pen and paper to a few more racers. Most have also brought paper up, one thanks me profusely. We start back down and go over a few more obstacles. When I get back to the house, a black lab comes trotting up to me and I smile for the first time since starting up the hill. I make my way to a guy volunteer, check with him that it’s okay to set my log down and read the verse off the paper. I almost trip myself up because my penmanship is awful and “man” nearly slips out instead of “men.” Thank my lucky stars that my brain is still with me and I think to myself, “that doesn’t make sense,” before the word gets out. My volunteer high-fives me and tells me I’m in for some more woodchopping. I’ve got to get my “w” log into 8 pieces before I can move on.
Not only was the “w” a pain to get up the hill, but she’s hardheaded and doesn’t want to split. After a million blows, an attempt with a maul, some hammering and maybe some choice words, another racer comes around and helps me get it into halves. From there, I’m able to chip away a couple of other pieces, have my wood checked by the volunteer and am now ready to join up with a group for riverwalk #2 back to Amee Farm. I say goodbye to John (he still has to chop his log), Dawn feeds me some poptarts, I pull on my pack and we plunge back into the water.
I think we are a group of 9. We have instructions to exit with the same number of people that we leave with, in other words, stick together. We quickly learn why we’ve been told this because the constant, though light, rain has seemed to have an effect on the river. Along the way, I even see a waterfall dumping a lot of water into the very passage we’re trying to navigate. There are several strong guys in our group, one who seems to know what he’s doing and where he’s going. He takes the lead, scouting out areas to cross, figuring out where it’s too deep and keeping us on course. I don’t have a walking stick this time so I’m bent over holding on to rocks, banks, trees and people almost the entire time. Can you tell I don’t trust my balance?
At all the crossings, I ask for assistance from one of the guys. Yeah, it hurts the ego to ask for help, especially since I want to believe that girls can do the same things guys can do, but let’s face it, I’m 120lbs, and my overwhelming fear of drowning is reason enough to voice up. The guys are all really kind and help me across.
Our little river merges with another river, like we are on the right upper branch of a “Y.” Since we are on the opposite side of where we should be to follow the bend around, we back up a little and decide to cross. Immediately upon getting deeper into the water, I can feel the water pulling hard at my legs. Me and my guide are right behind the leader. Suddenly, I am in the water without purchase. The only thing keeping me from being swept into the converging waters is my guide’s hand. Alvaro, the leader, sees this happening and comes back towards us. He grabs my guide (I can not remember his name!) and that’s when he goes down too. Alvaro is now the only thing keeping two people from going down, with packs, into the abyss. My guide is able to get his feet down, at least, something I am unable to do, and he swings me around. I grab Alvaro’s hand and he pulls me out. My guide gets out too, plus 2 guys behind us who were helpless to do anything as they was too far away and I’m sure the whole scene took place over 30 seconds. Once we’re all on the other side, I start thanking everyone profusely for saving my life. All I could think was that if I had gone down, by myself, with my pack on, I certainly would have died. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the river looked mighty wild and I’m mighty panicky in the water. I don’t think I would have had the mind to unbuckle my pack and try to swim with the current until the river slowed down.
The rest of the group sees all this, I’m sure, and we tell them to head back a little ways to the bridge and cross over there. They talk it over for a second and head back to the bridge. While we’re waiting for them, one of the guys notices I’m shaking pretty hard. I tell him, “yes, I’m cold, but I think it’s also from almost having died.” He tells me that he got hypothermia once and is worried about me. I’m only wearing a moisture-wicking long sleeved shirt. He takes his outer layer off and gives it to me because it’s made of a material that insulates even when wet. Man, I have come unprepared for this race. The shirt really does help and I’m blown away again by the selflessness of Death Racers.
Once the rest of the group meets back up, we learn that one woman has dropped out. They said that she sat down on the bank and said she was done. She was going to call her support to come get her. I wonder if she was scared for her life as I was for mine. Sophie tells me how awesome I am for continuing on after that and I reply with a laugh, “I don’t think I have a choice.” Later, she tells me she understood what I meant – that even if you give up, you still have to walk through the mess to declare you’re out, and by then you might as well keep going to make what you went through worth it. (Sophie is equally as awesome, by the way; she was such a ray of sunshine during a very dreary river walk.)
Once we get back, I get to tell my support crew of my near death experience. Even though they weren’t there, I know that they can appreciate it even more because they know of my preexisting water fears. Back at base camp, my awesome support crew helps me change, gets me fed and warms me up as much as they can before sending me on.