Really, I thought it’d be worse - I swore I was going to sleep long before I endured the hell that I assumed you had to go thru before you hallucinated. I feared and dreaded what I presumed was the worst thing about expedition racing – sleep deprivation to the point of hallucinating. But it wasn’t bad – in fact, it was pretty cool in a weird sort of way.
The Adventure Xstream Expedition race in Moab was meant to be 3 days (and 3 nights) long, and as expedition racing goes that is considered short! But it was the first time ever going that long for Tom, Vic, and I, (our 4th teammate Emily had done a few of these and was on the winning team – with her own broken wrist – a few years ago). We had no idea what we were in for, except we knew it would be epic, and long, and hard, and that we would be deprived of sleep and food and water – ay carumba - what the hell were we thinking? Lack of brain cells for sure! I won’t bore you with the entire blow by blow - or maybe I will!
Go here for the short story:
or here for the short video:
Our plan was to start fast and open a gap so that when everyone went into survival mode (after about 24 hours) we would have a lead and then everyone would be pretty much going the same pace (slow as hell). Our plan worked to perfection except for those crazy Crusted Butters (Emily came up with nicknames for everyone somewhere into the second night) – they killed us right off the gun in the first kayak leg and never looked back, going on to just plain blow us away. Wow – very impressive they are! Well, our plan worked on everyone else, and for most of 3 days and nights our job was to hang onto second place – easier said than done that’s for sure! After surviving the rappel (it wasn’t bad this time, no Tourettes) we were on our bikes. Into the first night we biked – uh, walked/crashed/barely rode - Gold Spike/Poison Spider, if you’ve ever been on that particular piece of broken up rock you know it is hard to find in the daylight – try it at night especially after your $400 Nite Rider fails on you (Dave, are you sure you won’t sell me one of those fancy lights of yours?). After a few long cuts (read: getting lost) and many flat tires and crashes, we finally made it to the next transition area (ta). Next up, a short kayak, and a 30 mile run – still in the dark. Off we went, feeling great and expecting to be back in quick fashion. Uh, wrong again Wally! Over 9 hours and much lost time searching for cairns in the night later, we finally arrived back at our boats, kayaked a little more, than ran back to the ta via a paved road – uh oh, first problem! All the training we had done had been on trails – and out of hundreds of hours of running thru sand and water and rocks, never once had I gotten a blister – never in over 30 years of racing/training had I gotten a blister – never though in all those years had I run water, sand, rocks and HOT PAVEMENT! Say goodbye to the bottoms of my feet – the entire bottom! Shit, all that training and 5 minutes of inattention (I had sand in my socks and I should’ve stopped to empty it out) and now my feet were about to hurt every step of the way for the next two days and nights. Damn! NO thought of quitting though – in a team race you have no choice but to keep on going – finishing, even second, mattered! Back at the ta our super domestique support crew (Ernst Baer) took care of feeding us (burritos and pasta yum!) and off we went, this time on the bike again. With just a broken chain and another couple of flats (it seems we had encountered some thorns somewhere along the way), and another long cut, we arrived at a new ta in the La Sals – ready for a 16 hour hike anyone?
Me neither! We were now heading into our second night and had been racing for 31 hours – no sleep yet. We tried to grab some sleep – I got about 15 minutes – before going into the dread (dreaded?) second night. Now the race was about to get interesting as we only had about a half hour lead over third place Checkpoint Zero now and we were entering unknown territory (not only had we never gone 2 nights before, we also didn’t know where we were going in the mountains either). Thanks to Healthfx’s little pills though I was feeling good and wide awake – miracle pills those! (I used Endurofx, Cardiofx and non-ephedra Thermofx – see www.health-fx.net for more on those – throughout the whole race). About 3 in the morning though – after having raced for now 39 hours – we all got a little loopy – Emily was singing to cows – at least we think there were cows, Tom was sleeping every time we stopped – he could curl up and go to sleep anywhere/anytime, and Vic for the first time actually looked tired. Me, hanging on for dear life and hating every step – so much for going for a walk in the woods! They say the second sunrise restores life –well, that and the afore mentioned magic pills! As the sun came up our spirits soared – only 24 hours or so left to race! Ay Carumba!
Well, we made it to the next ta with much carnage (all on me unfortunately – snapped but not quite broken ankle, heat stroke, and a bonk – all me). But still in second place! Survival mode right? The show must go on – a little slower, a little more pain, but - now the good stuff!
We were heading into the 3rd night – 54 hours in – and it is the third night where legend has it that the sleep monsters hit! Well, I can now say without a doubt – no legend, it is absolutely true! Having never experienced sleep monsters – nor drugs for that matter – I had no idea what to expect. But as we headed up the Kokepelli trail for our final (7-9 hour) bike leg, with darkness and a *storm closing in (we had had perfect though windy weather until then), I started seeing things. No, not kinda seeing things, like shadows and stuff – really seeing things. First I started hearing voices in the trees – and it just frustrated the hell out me that I couldn’t understand what they were saying (they weren’t speaking English). Then, my cell phone kept ringing (the ESPN theme song) – except I didn’t have my phone with me! And then I saw buffalo in the road, except as we rode up they weren’t there! And then we saw a roadrunner – like in Wiley Coyote style – only we all saw it so was it real? And then I saw 3 old pioneer people hoeing corn, complete with old fashioned hoodies and one bladed tools ( it didn’t occur to me until after that they were dressed like the Grim Reaper) - I so looked forward to talking with them and asking them what the hell they were doing out there in the dark in a rainstorm. About then Emily and Tom said they were also hallucinating, I think – and we had a very funny moment exchanging stories (good, it wasn’t just me loosing my mind)! (Let me explain a little – these things were real – and really happening – and not just my imagination, at least as far as I could tell. Hard to explain really, but real. Freaky! And kinda cool!)
*The storm – with a perfect weather forecast, and being in Moab, the last thing we expected or were prepared for was a blizzard! That’s right, a blizzard. But that’s what we got – 50 mph winds, rain/snow/lightning and finally all snow and temps. Below 32 – what the hell – another hallucination? Nope real all right, and we were about to enter Fischer Mesa and the mud and clay made the road impassable. A 4 wheeler came out and told us no way – he had gotten stuck in his truck. Well, we may be crazy ass adventure racers, but we ain’t stupid, so we turned around. And so did everyone else behind us – and we all froze our butts off as we rode back to the start/finish – relieved but feeling guilty that we had to skip that leg – but happy that we got to sleep for 6 hours before the race resumed. Best… sleep…ever!
In the morning we resumed racing, with all but Crested Butte having turned around in the storm. A short kayak leg to the end and we had made it, nearly 72 hours after we had started. That’s an epic – that’s an adventure race!
And I hope I never do it again….