“Slippers on Ice” – An Interpretive Winter Death Racing Production
It was not my intention to participate the Winter Death Race this year. In fact, I had only planned to do Summer DR. There is something about Andy Weinberg saying you should check it out that takes away all common sense, but who needs common sense anyway. Perhaps this is how we keep getting in trouble with our significant others, our inability to tell Weinberg no. In retrospect, I will say this was one of the best decisions I have made in quite a long time, either that or I have gone completely off the deep end, which is a distinct possibility.
Weeks of preparation, which I say lightly, as I had only 4 weeks post signing up to prepare for this event. There was travel, lodging, nutrition, oh and GEAR, lots and lots of GEAR. We don’t have too much snow here in the south, so that made things interesting as I stared long and hard at my Wardrobe. Thank goodness we had The Backpacker, this place is the only reason I survived the cold. A wee bit of panic did set in, as I realized the packs that Osprey sent me, would not arrive (along with a pair of sealskinz I ordered) due to the snowpacolypse of SC. Death Race began with the night I left for the airport and the task of waiting for UPS, who lied to me. I grabbed my old North Face Terra 55, with the fear that sucker would just die on me during the DR. Instead it held up, with the exception of not having that great of a hydration chamber. My fellow DR buddy, Ben, thankfully pointed out that my bladder had leaked all over the pack, its contents and the floor just as I was ready to head to wood splitting, but more on that later.
Pittsfield, VT does something to people. Maybe it is the bonds made with crews and racers, or the great things accomplished there, but when you arrive, it feels like you are coming home. My crew member, run/climb coach, and amazing friend, Mellisa, got to see this first hand as we arrived at the Original General Store. Describing it is not enough, you have to see it to understand. Random DR people gathered around the best food, laughing, joking, trading stories, strategizing, contemplating what lies ahead. These bonds that grow with every race, as well all take in the company, because the adventure begins the next day. The unspoken thrill, nervousness, excitement, and sometimes dread creeping into our minds.
Not going to lie, anticipation is the death of all rest. It really sucks. You want your brain to shut down, especially as you listen to the members of your crew sleep like babies with their musical snoring – to which I may or may not have created a drum line beat session - and you just stare at the ceiling mentally checking gear. Food prep, how much will I need and how often will be regroup in the barn, etc. Freaking torture, like a kid that cannot wait for Santa to arrive. I had packed my osprey hydration systems, Joyce (Swiss Farm Inn) let me borrow sealskinz, gear buckets labeled and stocked, required gear readily available, and clothes laid out. Thankful that Minna was able to stop and get the very last minute required gear (sent at 9 pm)…an Altoids tin, also finding we women were only required to have 35 pounds of sand, rather than 70. Even the monster size tub of aquaphor to lube every part of the body, yep, death race is sexy…lube.
Breakfast at the OGS brought the masses, our last real relaxed meal together – stuffing my face with the world’s most amazing French toast – just chatting. All this interrupted by Peter taping signs up for a job, for anyone that wanted to earn some extra cash prior to the start of the race. We could all wood split at Amee Lodge. My plan was to attend, though after the extra work tales from summer DR, I was not sure it would be fruitful. However, as I wanted to experience the whole of WDR, I prepped to go. Unfortunately, the bladder in my pack leaked all over everything, leaving me with a disaster. My crew and I scrambled to blow dry shoes, throw clothing and socks in dryers, and blow dry my pack. I made it to the barn, with others just in time to be told we would miss our time trial and possibly not be able to start because we needed to be at Amee splitting wood to earn our “registration fees”. Mellisa stayed, while Minna, me, Ashley, Dan, and Ben jump in a car with axes ready.
With my Youngstown gloves and trusty ax (Sam), I set into finding a base and a log to split. Splitting and banter as Tony and other task masters watch us to make sure we are splitting at the rate we need to be in order to earn our $5. No guarantees we will participate in the time trial, while we have knowledge that four others are out there completing it as we split. When Joe shows up, the rate of splitting and carrying wood to the pile goes on fast forward, no one wanting to be singled out this early for burpees. Clearly, we stop making jokes about touching each others wood, and we hustle. As the pile got smaller, only the truly large logs remained. Teams of death racers converged on these large logs, being told we need only to split them so the pieces fit in a large fireplace. Ashley, Melody, Mark Harvey, Val, me and the “Shanes” all set in on splitting a few of these, taking different angles and approaches to weaken the wood.
The $5 acts as our registration fee, and we sign up, pay this cash, grab our first puzzle piece, grab swag and the coveted DR bib, and wait outside of the Riverside Farm barn. We are told we missed our time trial, we are to wait for the others to return, and to start prepping for wilderness education. We are asked to cut small strips of cloth to be used as “char cloth” for fire building. Two men are there to explain to us the proper way to make a fire with flint, steel, bundles of cedar or birch, and char cloth. Char cloth is made by placing the cloth in the tin and letting it sit over a fire until you see smoke come out of the three holes we punched in our tin. This takes several rounds of fire so that the cloth is just dark brown and easily flammable.
Post hypothermia, frost bite, and fire lectures, we are told to gather our gear and that we will all be heading over to Amee Farm. At this point during the hike I am thinking this is the part where we go exercise for hours on end to exhaust us before the race begins. We trekked through snow covered trails, over frozen river areas, and were met by Peter when we arrived. Peter tells us to put our gear down in the basement and to get our interpretive dance clothing on. As we get upstairs, there are crew members lounging and sitting on stairs, we find out that we are going to be doing ballet for the next 3-4 hours. Relief is not a strong enough word, this I could do, and I was smart enough to keep my socks on – Thank you Prosok. I was looking forward to seeing how some people did with the “class”, as ballet is a lot harder than most think. Though it was hard, we got at good stretch out of the moves, and we laughed and joked. Andy asked if we had expected this to be part of the race, and we could honestly say they shocked the hell out of us. Move after move, Ilene (our instructor) kept us constantly learning, until Joe arrived. He set right in on making sure we had to stand on one leg with our arms in proper form…if our foot touched the floor, he added a minute. This lasted 14 minutes, then it was 20 minutes of plié squat holds, in which we smartasses decided to start twerking while his back was turned. Meanwhile, Keith Glass starts mocking Joe’s voice until he, Pete, and Mark Webb nearly get us all in trouble. They end up doing burpees out in the duck pond and snow. During this time, we eagerly watched the battle between Joe and Ilene on how many toe touches we would have to do on each leg. Joe of course voting for 1500 + and Ilene telling him she would be vetoing that suggestion, and bless the woman we only had 500 each leg. Stretching, and then we were sent back down from our fun ballet session to get dressed. All I can think is that I need to remember the moves we worked on, in case we end WDR with having to put together some sort of sick ballet choreography and show – weirder things have happened.
Next we head out with our partners, back to riverside, where we are to make a fire using only flint, steel, and char cloth with our partners. Followed by a sand bag carry in addition to our packs, up Joe’s mountain. It is here I see the biggest flaw in my preparation…no trekking poles. Instead, Flo and I head up the mountain, and I use my ax as leverage up the snow and ice covered rocks, thankful for my microspikes. On the way back down, two things happened. First, I fell and hit my knee, while also dislocating my fourth toe in two places, which pinched a nerve in my foot (I at the time thought it was fractured). Secondly, Flo falls on the ice directly on her elbow. We shake it off and continue down. Drop our sandbags, check in, grab all puzzle pieces, and make fire again. This time it takes a few more seconds, but we can use other materials. Again, up the mountain. Those who could make the time to get three laps in, found themselves ahead in the end. If not, you had a small reprieve to change shoes and clothes before the 5 am cutoff when we were to leave for our next task. Ed helped me dry out clothing and gear, and get myself moving again. My crew, Mellisa, Minna, and Mathieu miss me by several minutes before we leave for the hike to Sable.
Andy tells us most will be gone 6 hours, and that we will be hiking roughly 14 miles. We set out using the markings laid for us. Hills, snow, roads, and finally Sable. We can choose to do 100 burpees at the bottom prior to hiking, or afterwards. I am in a great deal of pain, thinking the bone I saw sticking out was in fact a fracture, so I chose to hike first and then take my chances with the 100 burpees. I enjoyed hiking with Val, Keith, Matt, and Jellybean mostly. The part we love, the time with other racers. Sable was quite the challenge. The terrain was straight up hill, many portions of the trail requiring us to climb up. Those of us without trek poles have found sticks that get the job done, and we are trying to cover as much ground as we can quickly. When you arrive to the top, you have to climb a rock to sign your name, then you head back to Riverside. On the way back, we crossed some treacherous spots, but were also able to see the perfect penis sculpted in snow and resting on leaves. It is at this point you wonder if you are hallucinating things in the snow. Jellybean was quick to point out that it was in fact this shape I was seeing, therefore saving my mental mindset just a bit. Once we get to the bottom, I choose to do one legged burpees. My crew made sure to have eggs and bacon, Zico coconut water and medical supplies in case the toe fractured through the skin. On the trip back, I was certain I was done, and Keith kept encouraging me to move forward, even when we all started seeing things in the snow that were not there. Like me asking how the hell a white Cadillac got all the way to the top of a mountain…
Arriving at Riverside was rough, I was in so much pain. Andy told me he just didn’t think I would make it to getting my skull this time around with as slow as I was moving. He had medics look at me to determine if I could continue. At this point my crew is MIA (turns out they had been in a car accident), and I am calling my husband for advice. I tell the medics that I do not want to quit, and Maxime and Ben are telling me that I should think of what races are ahead and ask myself if I want to take the chance of serious injury, as I may have a stress fracture. Luke Gregory finally arrived and encouraged me to keep at it. That and a call from my husband with a message from Camille Adams, telling me to get my ass moving, along with some mountain dew and a Goody powder for pain, and I am off to the time trial. I am so late in the game that I am asked to carry extremely long and cumbersome lumber up toward Sable to Miguel’s cabin. Miguel saves my life with a VPX bar, just what I needed to eat to keep going, and I find myself determined to finish this race.
I take my sandbag to the next task at Amee Lodge…holding it over our heads for 45 minutes. Luke provided me with Trekking poles, which may have saved my ass and my race. We fashion a system from webbing to my pack that allows me to use the Trek poles and my body weight to pull my sandbag to Amee. I am able to place the sand bag on my head with a pulley like system using the webbing, this allows me to keep the bag in place, but also to elevate my foot while we complete the task. We were only told we had to keep the bag on our head, no one said anything about the methods to do so.
Next task had us rushing back to Riverside to make the time cutoff for Peter’s house, where we were to find 30 pennies in the snow. My crew is hiking back with me, and the Shanes and I are running to make sure we can get there to head out in time. Mellisa and I check in at Riverside and I set out for Peter’s with a second wind, moving faster than I had since we started. When we arrived at Peter’s, our left wrist was zip tied to our left leg shoe lace, only made difficult by my inov8 Roclite 286 GTX boot laces (small and tight). Of course I make a joke about the kinky nature of this venture while Peter is binding hand and foot. We had to find 30 pennies in a 1/4 acre radius. I went to the left side of the property first, finding no luck there. Wearing goretex pants, in case we were put in the water, saved my butt literally as I scooted across the driveway. As I was moving toward the center of the area, I noticed penny wrappings from rolled coins. These led me to a spot that was untouched, and as I cleared away the first bit of snow, there were so many copper goodies waiting for me. I drained my cup of mountain dew, and started filling it with pennies. Ben, who had been there for a while, stared as I gathered them all to be counted, and then headed back out to Riverside with time to spare.
The rest of the night is a blur of emotion, exhaustion, and pain. I have yelled at my crew and everyone around me. I am hallucinating things in the snow and woods and am near hysteria. We are to build a fire, go up Joe’s mountain, come back down, check in, and repeat. We had to complete our required laps by 12 am to continue, and were then given a 2 am cutoff. Fire, up, down, fire, up, down. Anna Bella and Mischa joined us and stayed with me during the fire making challenges. Then more checking in to receive our puzzle pieces. At this point, I realize some of the pieces I had laid out, are missing. I am coming close to the time hack, and Andy tells me that I have an hour to get up and down the mountain. Mellisa had taken me up for the last several laps, bribing me with coke and the soup that Roger and Joyce had made me, as I could no longer eat any other type of food. In my fastest time ever, I make it to the barn in 45 minutes and let Andy know. However, I still have another lap. Mat Lo takes the last laps with me and encourages me to suck it up and get the job done, telling me how close it is to being over. When I have but one lap to go, I get to the barn, check in and am crying hysterically as I realize that I have one last lap on this horrible foot, and my puzzle is MISSING. Not pieces, but the entire puzzle has disappeared. At this point, I am the last one left to finish. Andy hands me a puzzle for bib 158, I am 193. This is not the puzzle I had memorized and built most of the way, it is new. This was a brutal hike to the top, where for 8 minutes I spent in agony and near hypothermia, trying to put this simple toddler puzzle together. Norm and Mat waited patiently for me to finally finish this task. Once complete, I proceeded to jog/run down Joe’s mountain. Though I wanted to slow, I began to hear people cheering as they saw our headlamps. When I arrived, I was given my skull and hugged by friends, crew, and the rest is a blur. The knowledge that so many waited there for me to finish, when they were cold and exhausted, reminded me why I love this community. My crew, best backbone a girl could have. My sponsors (Prosok,Osprey, The Backpacker, inov8, Grab the Gold, Fleet Feet Columbia, Youngstown Gloves), the gear performed beautifully! I look forward to the races ahead, and of course, I signed up for 2015. Andy knew just what to say to motivate me, he told me I could not finish. Damn I hate that. :)
So many things and moments that were left out of this blog, if you want to experience what it is like to be a Death Racer, sign up. http://www.youmaydie.com
Photos: Anthony Matesi
About the Author
I currently own a fitness business, AIM Fitness & Nutrition, in Irmo, SC and partner in a venture called Renegade Athletics. Formerly, I was a middle school German and Science teacher, as well as a coach (track & field, cross country) for Timmerman private school. Aside from being a wife and the mother of two elementary age children, my passion lies in the area of fitness, health, and of course pushing myself to the limits in races. I have been competing in OCR (obstacle course racing) for several years, and I find it to be a great way to challenge the entire body while having a great time. I have done Spartans, Tough Mudders, and various other OCR. I use these as training, to know where I stand among other athletes, and also to help others. In addition I entered the world of ultra marathons in the past several months as a way to train for the endurance I would need in the upcoming death races.