Here we stand with the competition now behind us and the three of us safely nestled at home.
For those readers (i.e. Zlisto) who were not there, the photos (here) and official recap (here) fail to do it justice. For what is meant to be a warm spring and summer event, Big Bear Lake weather decided to do a 180 on all of us and return to its wintry spirits that it had left behind at least 2 months ago. With the snow having melted entirely in April, Snow Valley presented sub-30 degree temperatures for the first time in a few weeks.
The problems began when almost all of the water/mud obstacles presented themselves in the first half-hour of the race. Capped off with diving into a bath of ice cubes that were supposed to have melted in the midday sun that never shone. This ensured that everyone was soaked to the bone as possible before they started ascending the ski slopes on foot. As we began climbing the truck route to one of the ponds, we observed trucks full of racers driving down the mountain. The trucks were too full and too frequent to be normal. Surely, something was amiss.
That thing was hypothermia.
Following an additional ascension, we came to one of the large ponds they hold for snowmaking. One first had to cross the pond on two thin zipwires (one for your hands and one for your feet) and then one had to jump off a ledge into the pond and swim back across it. Topping it off, nobody was holding the zipwires steady except us - so everyone but Phil fell in and had to traverse the pond twice.
The frigid water combined with the wind and subzero temperatures led to a swath of people standing around uncontrollably shivering - which was one of the scariest sights to behold. Scores of people flocked into the "heating tent," which was just a plastic tarp tent with one heat lamp inside. More people were warmed by the body heat of their fellow man. We only were able to survive thanks to our loved ones coming to us with blankets and fleeces. Thanks only to the fleeces, Phil and I were able to continue onwards.
And then at 11 AM, it began to snow. This was not so much a sign of bad weather turning severe as it was a demoralizing energy sapper laughing at your torment.
Space blankets became the new valued currency amongst the competitors. Without a way to retain body heat, you'd not only be able to progress but you'd be stuck atop a mountaintop far from medical attention. So grab as many as you can. One for your back. One for your head. One for your hands. One more for good measure. Wind or rocky terrain often meant people lost them. Were you to lose yours, it was up to you to find one on the course edge or in a trash can. It was also up to you to find a way to stuff them on your person as you traversed all the new obstacles.
And most dishearteningly, the next set of obstacles was little more than scaling a ski mountain 3 or 4 times. Crossing into the cloud layer and through frosted trees with freezing winds was bad. But hiking the same mountain twice? Can't we vary things a little bit more?
Coming down the mountain in the last 2 miles felt much simpler, even with obstacles like wall-scaling and getting snow-makers blown in your face. The final obstacle, the 10K volts, brought me down with a powerful blow to the left shoulder. Thankfully I had made enough forward progress that I could crawl forward and avoid any more shocks. Amber noticed several people who fell down only to stand up and get tazed repeatedly.
And with that, I did not want my celebratory beer. I did not want the toasty brats or the rock music or the headband and t-shirt of victory. I wanted to get in the car and crank the heat. And that was the apparent thought of some several thousand other competitors who were huddling in the baselodge. We hightailed it out of there and cranked the juice.
In all, I am happy to be part of the 63% that completed, but I'm more happy to not have lost feeling in my limbs. I am frustrated at having dropped pounds of fat for this - pounds of fat I was happy to have insulating me. I was happy to be born with a high tolerance for cold and pain. I was happy that I went hiking for a few months before this. And I was more than happy that I have a girlfriend who gives me fleeces. But I am most eager to try and refocus on something like a triathlon - which I know I can train for and I know will not take place on a frozen tundra.
So this blog must continue - until physical mastery has taken place. Stay strong and be well, fellow athletes. Photos to come.