Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Archiving The Dream

What do you get when you cross a masseuse, a trainer, a communications director, a college student, a state trooper, three lobbyists, and a political hack? The Archivers, of course…

The big day was upon us; we would soon see if the two months of training paid off or if we were going to be left up on the mountain side to rot, patiently awaiting the Donner Party to put an end to our misery. Incidentally, I had worked myself into such a frenzy that by the time Tough Mudder Eve approached, I was keeled over my carbo load pasta bowl with the worst gas pains known to human kind.

With my fellow Mudder team members’ coaxing, I took regular trips to the bathroom and downed antacid pills like they were candy. And it wasn’t just me who was falling apart..

My buddy Vince, the crackpipe who got us all into this horrid race in the first place, was out due to a pulled groin (insert lame marriage joke here). My husband, Pants, was nowhere to be found during our debrief the night before, and most of our team was half bagged on homemade sangria and Negro Modelos before dinner was even served. I sensed trouble.

We had made a nice little plan to convene at my cabin up in Arnold (18 miles from the race sight) the night before to talk strategy, iron our Archivers decals onto our black shirts (see previous blog entry on team name origination), and load up on the requisite intake of strength and endurance food that inevitably lead to chocolate covered coffee beans, blocks of cheese and alcohol.

Pants and I drove separately because he was saving our household a few bucks by pouring cement into our now gutted hole in the ground we used to call a pool. By the way, let me publically thank you for all of the work you have done, Pants. You make an excellent assistant to cement pourer.

When 8 p.m. Friday rolled around, I began to get a little nervous when Pants was still nowhere to be found. Our team was coming apart at the seams, literally. (Apparently, when you iron white decals onto black wick-away shirts, they burn the material and can’t be seen on the black background). At approximately 8:27, Pants burst through the front door Cramer-style donning a shirt that read: I Make Good Babies, along with a tie died Speedo and his trail shoes.

When everyone settled down over the excitement, we went over our strategy: we didn’t have one. The only team members who seemed pretty well rounded and knew what they were doing was the State Trooper, the Trainer, and the Stunt Coordinator for Bring it On. That’s right, Jordan mentioned that she used to coordinate efforts on those cheesy B movie cheerleading commercials. This bit of information, evidently, made me feel a lot better and my gas pains began to dissipate, but only for a while. I imagined her talking us through how we brace one another to hoist over the 12 foot walls. She then poured me another Sangria as she explained this.

Meanwhile, Vince was getting the royal treatment from the Masseuse who was strategically rubbing out the weakness in his groin. Would he be joining us or not? The constant haranguing coupled with the rub down were just the ingredients needed to pull Vince out of Weaksauceville.

The next morning, I woke up to Pants yelling profanities in the dark. It just so happened that he forgot his shorts at home, and realizing that his only option was the Speedo put him into a little bit of a panic. (I truly believe, however that he wanted to wear said Speedo because he didn’t ask any of his fellow Archivers if they had any extra shorts in tow.. just my opinion. Just sayin’.)

We arrived on the mountain an hour and thirty minutes before our start time all taped up and ready to face our destiny. And some more than others. Vince was in all right, but he was wrapped up so tight, he looked like something out of a zombie flick. Apparently, wrapping up one’s entire body in athletic tape doesn’t allow for a lot of movement.

As I looked at each one of our team members, juxtaposed to the Tough Mudder demographic, I couldn’t help but think of the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity on the movie Revenge of the Nerds. I just hoped it ended the same way.

As we lined up at the start, Pants began to do downward dog stretches to the chagrin of fellow Mudders who apparently were appalled when asked to join in. We positioned ourselves in the back of the pack, knowing full well that we could get clobbered by the second wave of participants behind us.

We then raised our hands in the Tough Mudder salute and chanted the following:

As a Tough Mudder I pledge that…
I understand that Tough Mudders is not a race but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I don’t whine. Kids whine. I help my fellow mudders complete the course. I overcome all fears.

Saying it is one thing, but doing it?

While waiting for the start gun, there was one more announcement: “mystery” obstacle number 18 involves doing a shot of hot sauce.

Then the gun went off and we began running like gazelles... wounded, tired gazelles. Scratch that. More like maimed gorillas.

Our first stop was called the Kiss of Mud where we were to army crawl our way under only eight inches of space below wire and above that barbed wire. The description in the Tough Mudder guide was a little misleading. It indicated that we would be wiggling our way through mud. Nowhere did it specify that the mud was actually tiny gravel which dug into our knees and found its way into our shoes.

It was after this obstacle that I began to think that I could do this, that I and my teammates were well, Tough Mudders.

The Death March was next and it was grueling. Our thighs began to catch fire as we attempted to robble (half hobble half run) our way to the top of the first ridge. Body builder types sans shirts were whizzing by us, running outside of our pathway. I hated them but only for a little while. Actual military officers were standing on either side of the Death March trail supporting us with their “thank you for supporting us” and “you’re almost to the top (this turned out to be a lie)” and “at least you don’t have bullets flying over your head”. This last bit of encouragement had the most influence on whether I was going to quit or not. They were right. These young men in uniform did what I am doing on a daily basis while the enemy was shooting at them. Get out of your own head, Brown. Come on and do this thing. (My words of encouragement were similar to soft drink slogans and cheesy H.R. team building mission statements). Nothing like the military.

Next up, the Boa Constrictor. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t bother me. I did a test run in the sewer pipes a couple of weeks prior to the race. But this was slightly different. First off, they put two long sewer pipes end to end and covered the entry and exit with black burlap sacks. And to add to the claustrophobic effect, they threw in a little dirt and told you to climb fast because there were people at your heels. Being in those tubes reminded me of the New York sewer system. I began scratching at the side, chewing my way out.

At this point, one may be wondering if our entire team was still intact. That can be answered in a number of ways. Yes, we were all still together, supporting one another, making the best of our surroundings. But were we of strong body and mind? Not really. Vince’s groin was starting to ache. The three women (present company included) were starting to feel the altitude creep into our brains, and the pep talks became less frequent.

One exception: The Trainer (of course) who was running around, slapping our hands, telling us how great we were doing. He would even run up and then back down the hill to make sure we were all together. Kind of like a Border Collie, and we were his sheep. Old, broken down sheep. Alas, only fifteen more obstacles to tackle. Fifteen. Fifteen. Fifteen.

We ran up the mountain side after the Boa Constrictor and ran into the Dragon Wheels. These things were not as bad as I originally thought, although, one could not attempt to get over these alone. This is where teamwork really started to kick in. One team member stood at the base of the large spool with his hands clasped while the rest were hoisted over. The strategy here was to turn over on the belly and slide down the other side. Some didn’t do that and ended up face first in the feebly placed hay below. We had to do this twice.

And then we got a photo op, because really, that’s the only reason why we were all doing this.. is to get good pictures. Wait, let me fix my hair..

After hoofing it down hill (I called this part of the race the knee wrecker), we were upon a small muddy lake, which we had to wade through before being soaked by a high pressure hose into the face and midsection. At least the mud was off. But let me just elaborate here: running straight up hill while getting pummeled by a hose was hard. We wanted to walk, but then the torture would last that much longer. So we ran as The Trainer yelled “Archivers” through the pelting.

The next obstacle had to be my favorite (insert sarcastic tone here). It was aptly named the Cliffhanger. We grabbed on to anything we can find – shrubs, plants, rocks – and bear crawled up the side of the mountain. This went on way too long and made me want to yell profanities into the air. But based on gym experience when I yell profanities, the Trainer just says that the energy it takes to yell is more than enough to do the exercise. And the last thing I wanted to hear come out of anyone’s mouth as I Spiderman’ed my way up the Cliffhanger was, “This mountain must be too easy for you.”

At the top of the Cliffhanger we were greeted with water and head rushes. No air at 8,000 feet. I felt buzzed and not in a two glass of Cab happy chit chatty way; rather a double vodka on an empty stomach way.

Next up was the Swamp Stomp. This was a waste-high mud pit that looked more like a sewage facility and smelled like one too. The mud was thick and clay like. In fact, one of our Archivers plunged in, fell over and lost both of his shoes. As I watched from the sidelines, I thought of the Trash Compactor scene in Star Wars.

Obstacle number ten was one of the most challenging for our team. The Kentucky Derby was crafted out of these eight feet high beams resting on pillars, and they were difficult to navigate. In fact, it took The Masseuse four times to finally make it over. This man is 220 pounds of pure muscle, so it took our entire team to hoist him over. And being completely caked with the smelly clay mud didn’t help. He kept sliding down backwards. He even yelled a few profanities. Must have been too easy for him.

I had heard later that the Stunt Coordinator broke her finger on this particular obstacle but I have yet to confirm this information, as she has a tendency to stray from the truth. More on this later.

Following the Kentucky Derby came the School of Tough Knocks. This appeared the easiest out of all the challenges, yet it didn’t turn out that way for me. Most of my fellow Archivers mastered this one. I, however, had some troubles. There in the middle of the forest was a parked school bus which was draped with cargo netting. We had to climb over the bus. Sounds easy, but when everyone is climbing on the cargo netting at the same time, keeping balance becomes a challenge. I almost lost my footing a couple of times so this one took me awhile. Meanwhile, my fellow Archivers were already racing to the next stop.

We were met by a long rolling downhill coming off the school bus, but after making a sharp left, we realized that we had to scale up another vertical climb. The Archivers collectively exhaled, ah, another hill.

About half way up, my head started pounding. I feared altitude sickness the most (aside from hypothermia, anxiety attacks, exhaustion), and I was now developing symptoms which included headaches, dizziness, fatigue. And trust me, I read up on what can happen: It can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema which are potentially fatal. Alas, we trudged ahead and were met by the Berlin Wall – a pyramid of large tree trunks and a plastic and quite slippery board which was affixed to the side. Getting up to the top on one’s own proved difficult and impossible if you were under six feet tall. We had teammates at the top and bottom helping us scale the wall. Some fellow Mudders who were not a member of the Archivers took it upon themselves to help us.. pity? Perhaps. Nevertheless, we made it over. Thanks, orange team.

The most difficult challenge was by far the Underwater Tunnels. We had to hoist ourselves down by a rope into a 40 degree lake and then bob underneath the floating tubes. My fellow Archivers and I lost our breath as we acclimated to the temp. In fact, the college student and I stood frozen gasping for air. The sweet Tough Mudder staff who was beside us in a canoe told us that this loss of breath (and mind and bodily function) happens to most people and to just wait it out before going underneath the tunnels. Great advice, but the 40 degree water was not pleasant and hanging around while my body adapted was counterintuitive.

As I came up from out of the water, all I hear is Pants’ proclaiming to the rather attractive Tough Mudder female staff, “I have shrinkage here. This isn’t me normally.” And after watching him and the Masseuse and Stunt Coordinator do a head first plunge into the water, I followed.. swallowing a mouth full of murky pee water, we swam around a buoy and again, lifted ourselves out by a rope.

Obstacle number fifteen (four more to go, four more to go, four more to go) Grab Your Wood involved lugging a log down and back up a hill. The Stunt Coordinator and I decided to do a two person – big log, either shoulder. This proved difficult due to the required strategy and communication. I was so spent, that when I was going too slow or she was going too fast, I couldn’t tell her. Or when I needed to switch sides, I just did it, causing some imbalance.

Obstacle number sixteen Fenced Off was down a rolling hill (another knee wrecker) and involved crossing back and forth over a 12 foot high fence. The Tough Mudder map indicated that we would only be doing this four times. Well, that wasn’t quite accurate. We did it eight times. Dear Tough Mudder team, please correct that error.

Between obstacles sixteen and seventeen the Stunt Coordinator let me in on a clarification. She was never a Stunt Coordinator nor did she ever work on those cheesy cheerleading movies but, she will have me know, she used to be a cheerleader.

Why the lie, I asked? She said that I was so freaked out the night before that she thought that it would calm me a little to know that various team members had the requisite skill set to handle most obstacles. And she was right. I didn’t mind that she lied, I did mind that I came across as such a lame wimpy chick.

Obstacle number seventeen, the Devils Beard. I felt like a damn fly caught in a spiders web in this one, ready to be torn apart. We had to yet again, get on our bellies and navigate our way through knotty rope that was secured on either side of a sand pit. My head kept getting caught up in the rope so I strategically lodged my booty up in the air to catch any free falling rope – it worked. The woman next to me started doing the same and whispered, “nice call.” I knew what she meant. We both wanted out of there.

As we made our decent to the finish line, my fellow college student Archiver rolled her ankle. What luck to have this happen during the last half mile. Just like any Tough Mudder, she unquestionably hobbled her way to the eighteenth obstacle where we were gulping down a horrid mix of Tabasco and lemon. All of us winced, but seeing the finish line made us forget that we were shooting future heart burn. It was the burning ring of fire. We hopped over the two sets of flaming crates and threw our hands up as we crossed the finish. Cameras were to our right, a table full of bananas were on our left. We were done, finished, toast, cooked.

I had heard later that a woman did a face plant in the fire and had burned most of the front part of her body. I also heard that she had to be helicoptered to the ER. But I cannot verify this information as hearing it made me feel like a complete bad mamma jamma. So, I will go with the fact that this did happen, and she is okay.

One would think I would be on a cloud after said torrid event. Truth is, after my beer and the Stunt Coordinator’s medicinal aid, I was rather numb. I performed the token jig with my teammates, my Speedo wearin’ Pants. But the euphoria just wasn’t there. Perhaps I was too exhausted to relish in what we had just accomplished. Who knows? There are a couple of things I do know, however.

One, we will be doing this again next year. We had too much fun bonding and hoofing and plotting for us not to do it again.

And two, the workout I did today at the Torture Chamber two days after the blessed event was more difficult, more strenuous and tiresome than anything thrown my way during the Tough Mudders event. Perhaps I will stick with the gym and find my next challenge. Anyone want to join me…?

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