Survival Run – Take 2: A tale of highs, lows and lost pants.

It has been a long standing fact, that movie sequels are never as good as there predecessors; not withstanding such rare exceptions as Godfather 2, Terminator 2, Aliens and of course, Grease 2.  So after having an epic adventure of a week, filled with reunion and race highs and luggage and travel lows until Thursday, what possibly could make this years Nicaraguan adventure more memorable?

Thursday – The Day After

As mentioned in my first report, my 2015 Survival Run ended shortly before midnight on Wednesday February 4th.  After I finished, I stayed at the sandbag station in El Zaopilote and offered to volunteer.  I was riding a high (despite pulling the plug) and decided I would clean up the station of all the garbage, pails and water bottles.  Unsure of what to do with a kilted Canadian Survival Runner at midnight in the middle of nowhere, race crew decided it was probably best to drop me off at my hotel and let me get a nights rest.  I made my way to my hotel room, hap-haphazardly showered with a large spider I named “Phil”, and washed out the sand and rock from my gear and clothing.  Phil was a good listener that night as I de-compressed after that adventure, and I appreciated his quiet confidence.

The next day when I woke up I walked back to Santo Domingo, to the race start, to see if I could find out where my fellow racers where.  I found several people who had come in at various times throughout the night and morning.  The day was a haze of weary faces and sore bodies, telling their tales of epic journeys and foolish mishaps, all wrapped up in the smell of lineament.  I never moved from the table all day.  I was in my element, I was among my friends and peers.  As iconic Survival runner Eddie Yanick said to me at the Hunter Gatherer Survival Run, while sitting around post-race: “This is home to me”.  I fully understand what he meant.

The night was filled with more stories and some well mannered frivolity amoungst the survival runners.  As the remaining three runners were making there way to the finish line, the remainder of us went down to the beach to welcome them home.  A beach party ensued while we waited.

I accepted a dance challenge

I accepted a dance challenge

Kudos to Nele Schulze, Mike Ruhlin & Team Beard™ (Chris Accord & Ben Sexton) for finishing the course, despite not being able to complete all the challenges.  It takes a special kind of mental and testicular fortitude to push on past through everything, knowing you can’t win at this point.  I respect them for their perseverance, stubbornness and resolve.  I tip my cap to you.

Then the three final racers began to show up.  First to the finish line was Paco “Raptor”Manzanares.  Not long after Paco, Chris Shanks hustled down the beach and through the finish.  Then finally, with less than an hour left in the 30 hour max, the tireless Mark Wheeler crossed the finish with a big smile on his face.  All three exceptional athletes had endured over 27 hours on this brutal course.  Congratulations to all of them for rising to the top of a very high heap of some pretty strong athletes.  I feel lucky just to share the same course with all of these people.

Photography by: Jeff Genova

from left: Chris Shanks (2nd Place in 27:24:00), Paco Raptor (1st Place in 27:01:00) and Mark Wheeler (3rd Place in 29:14:00)

Friday – Beer Mile 

Friday Morning was scheduled to be the traditional running of the “Beer Mile“.  To be honest, I was more nervous to do the beer mile, than I was to run in the survival race.  The beer for the event was sponsored by a local hotel/ hostel and the proceeds from the event were going to the rebuilding of a local school.  Ah hell, it was for charity.  A beer mile is simple.  Drink a beer, then run an 1/8 of a mile down the beach, and an 1/8 of a mile back.  Drink another beer and repeat that process 4X.  One mile, four beers.  To finish it off Survival Run style, finishers had to do a shot of a local rum.  Ugh, this can’t end well.

The contestants

The contestants

At the whistle, I downed my first warm beer (yuck) and took off.  Despite a few unpleasant belches down the beach, I felt fine.  As a matter of fact, each Tona had no real effect on me.  I must admit, Tona beer is not like Canadian beer.  I crossed the finish line and shot my rum.  Done, over, finished.  4th place.

The rest of the morning consisted of more drinking games from the survival runners.  I abstained, as my body already didn’t like me, and I didn’t want to tick off my liver too!  I chose to get close to several other runners I hadn’t got a chance to talk with.  I really enjoyed getting to associate with and share experiences with some really great people.  Phenomenal athletes and people such as Dalton Houser, Amie Booth, Scott Smuin, Mark Wheeler and Helene Dumais.

Beer Mile 18

As the night moved on, the Survival Run and its band of merry maniacs moved aside and made way for Fuego y Agua’s bigger draw, it’s ultra run and it hundreds of racers.

Mitchell Wood, Scott Smuin and I had volunteered to work for the ultra races on Saturday morning.  They were to start at 5 a.m. Saturday, so we were in for a long day tomorrow.  We went to a volunteer meeting at 8 pm to find out where we would be stationed and what our responsibilities were.  As would only be expected in a story like mine, I was going to be located at Concepcion volcano station #1.  As a matter of fact, the three survival runners were located at the three volcano stations.  I noticed that the two “cold” stations were given to the two Canadians, and the rainy station on Maderas volcano was given to Scott from Seattle.  Ha!

Concepcion #1

Saturday – Survival Run Part 2

I begrudgingly fell out of bed at 3 am, put on my pre-packed survival run pack and walked the 5 kms from my hotel to the race HQ to meet my ride to the volcano.  It took my 35 minutes in the pitch black and I made it right at 4 am.  No coffee.  Ben, Jeff and I were not happy.  I was dropped off at the base of the volcano with the talented photographer Jeff Genova.  The two of us were to make our way on foot from the jungle north of San Jose del Sur to my station located 1000 meters up, and several kilometers away.

I had packed a 2L bottle of water, but decided to grab a gallon jug of water too, just in case*.  That left me with almost 6L of water for my day atop the volcano.  I was told to expect cold temperatures up on Concepcion and to pack appropriately.  I had packed my compression tights, thin cargo pants, compression t-shit, sweatshirt and running jacket.  I was ready.

There were local “guides” who were going to carry my stations equipment bag up to the site.  Jeff and I just had to get up to the point before the first runners did.  It was 4:30 a.m.  It was blacker than black out.  We started our ascent.

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In the dark, we started with a gradual climb through an volcanic washout known as “the valley of death”.  So named because of its deep gravelly rock strewn all over the place.  Every step through this material resulted in your foot slipping slightly, thus loosing its grip.  Trekking poles would have been a good idea.

Curses! great start Jamie.  I grabbed two branch limbs and turned them into my walking shillelaghs.  They turned out to be extremely helpful. 

Jamie climbing the volcano

Reaching my station 1000m up.
– Jeff Genova Photography

After a 2.5 hours climb of wicked switch-backs and spectacular views, Jeff and I made it to the station just after 7 am.  The first runner made it to us at 7:45 am!  Holy crap on a cracker!

Side Bar: Despite how this story ends up, it needs to be said that I enjoyed my day 100%.  It was beautiful up there.  It was the windiest weather I had ever experienced, nearly toppling me over once or twice and we were hovering just at the cloud line of the volcano.

Working it

Working it

I had decided to make this station the best checkpoint any racer could expect after traveling 25 km in distance and 1000 meters in altitude.  I brought an iPod and wireless speakers and started to play some Bob Marley.  After 15 minutes of Bob, I decided I needed something with a little more spunk.  I switched over to my AC/DC playlist.  Echoing done the crater and to the upcoming runners the music was motivational, inspirational and down-right awesome!

I spent the next 6 hours greeting runners, taking pictures for them with majestic back-drops, laughing, joking and motivating those who were a little intimidated by the course.  Fuego y Agua courses are not your typical garden path jaunts.

I even got a chance to see and give some much needed hugs to fellow survival runner Mark Wheeler who was doing what’s known as the “Devil’s Double”.  The Survival Run AND the 100 km ultra!

Also running in the 50 km ultra where SR Paul Kavanagh, Harrison Lessons and my newest pal Luz Sequeira.  I promised to play Paul something great for him as he made his way up the volcano.  What’s more apt than a rousing rendition of Thunderstruck echoing down the hills as he made his way up.  What a great day.

Paul Kavanagh and I on Volcán Concepción

Paul Kavanagh and I on Volcán Concepción

And just like that. it all changed.

Paul just left my station.  Jeff had just left to head to another area of the course.  It was getting close to the time I was to be packing up and getting ready to descend.  The wind started to pick up again.  It hadn’t been windy since I had first got there 6 hours ago.  I started to gather my gear and stockpile it by the large rocks to keep it out of the wind.  My pants were still damp from the climb up the volcano, so I had decided to air them out,  while weighed down by a very large rock.

When my second last runner had started his decent, I turned around to head back to my perch.  Above me and floating high in the air were my pants!  Filled like a kite and floating on the volcanoes thermals, they flew up and up.  They went into the clouds and to the top of the crater. What else do you do when your pants fly away into a volcano?  I scrambled for my camera.

Damn! My ear buds were in the pocket.

Damn! My ear buds were in the pocket.

I was able to snap a few pictures and a video of them just before they were lost to the volcano gawds forever.  Curses.

Little did I know that that was the first sign of things to come.

Saturday – The Descent and Leaving Bread Crumbs

I was told to wait for the “sweeper” to come to my station and leave with him.  At around 1:15 pm he showed up.  He was not alone.  A sweepers responsibility is to to come up after the runners and gather stragglers who have fallen behind and are not going to make the time cut.  He had 5 ultra runners with him who had unfortunately, had missed a turn at the base of the volcano and run an extra 10 km before looping and finding the ascent path.  In the group were three Nicaraguan men, and American woman and my survival runner friend Luz!

When they came to my station, they were spent.  Most of their water was gone, and the heat had gotten to some of them.  I gave what was left of my gallon jug to the worst of them and they all split the remainder amoungst themselves.  The descent was going to be at least 2.5 hours, so they needed to be hydrated.  We packed all my gear (minus my pants of course), the emergency bag and we all set off down the volcano following the marked trail.

For about 5 minutes…

With some of the runners still weak and cramping we fell into a single file decent sliding down the steep grassy slopes on our backsides.  I

Ultra runners resting on side of volcano

Jose, Luz and Carlos

was in good spirits and my energy was high.  I decided to take the back of the line to prevent any one from lagging behind and possibly getting lost.  10 Minutes later, I came across the group arguing.  Apparently the guide had missed the markings and overshot the cutoff.  We were off course.  We were also located at a crested peak and all ways around us were a drastic slope down, some even straight down.  I found a tree with hanging roots, and we descended to the lower level from there, holding on to roots and stepping on outcrops of rock.  The drop was only about 12 feet, but nerving nonetheless.

For the next few hours we moved at a glacial pace down those steep gnarly slopes.  Several times we had to rappel, slide, and crawl through portions of the volcano.  Without a usable trail we were forced to make our own.  We used tree roots, branches and vines to lower ourselves down the nasty parts. According to Luz’s Garmin we had descended 400 meters in altitude in 3 hours.

As we moved down the volcano the group began to slowly distance itself from each other.  Going down steep slopes with loose rock forced us to go one-at-a-time and spread the group thin.  The further away from the top we got the more antsy the guide and some of the guys were to getting home. One of the runners, Niki was scared of heights and steep drop-offs and each time we came to one, she called for help.  During these events, I would either guide Niki by hand or support her as we slid down areas together.  She was a brave young lady.  She conquered some fears that day for sure.

At 4:00 p.m. we stopped in a dried out creek bed.  We had finished the steep parts and were now making our way through a beautiful section that looked like it was one a thriving water course (or lava flow).  This is when the last of the runners water supplying was tapped out.  This left only my remaining 1.5 L in my pack.  To that point I hadn’t mentioned my water supply, as Luz and I determined it would be better to conserve it in case of emergency.  We didn’t want some sort of Lord of the Flies action happening.

Runner in jungle not pleased with situation

Niki not pleased

I decided to take a picture of the scene to document it.  When I went to retrieve my phone from its case I noticed it was gone.  My phone, iPod and sunglasses were attached by carabiner in a hard case to my pack.  The carabiner was still attached but the case was gone.  In that last decent with Niki down a rock slide, my case and all its contents was torn from my pack and slide into one of the volcano’s crevasses.  They had all my photos from the trip on them. Curses!

We were forced to rappel a particularly nasty rocky slope which wasn’t really rock, but compressed ash.  When you would step on it, it would disintegrate and send a rock slide down to the climbers below.  This left us to go single file and stretch the group out quite thin.  I think after a few hours, the group was getting impatient with waiting for the latter half.  They continued on while Niki and I went down in a supported tandem and Luz covered the rear.  I realized I had not seen the guide Neftali, nor the three Nicaraguan runners (Marcos, Carlos and Jose) in over 30 minutes.  It was getting close to sundown and I was a little “disappointed” that they were so far ahead and weren’t waiting for Luz, Niki and I.

Niki had gone ahead after coming down the last rock slide to see if she could see the others, while I waited for Luz to make it safely down.  It was now 5:15 pm and the sun was beginning to set.  We had found the marked trail again and were confident that we would be getting out shortly.  I was again optimistic.

Then I heard screaming.

“We’re not lost, we’re just not found” – Jamie Boyle

Side Bar: Ometepe is home to a particularly unique type of primate called a Howler Monkey.  If you’ve never seen, or actually heard one, they are something you’ll never forget.  They come out early in the morning and when the sun sets.  They have a very guttural grunt, that when heard among dozens of its friends can be very scary and quite intimidating.

A Howler Monkey

Luz and I heard a cry for help, it could only be Niki.  We began to run towards her calls and I hollered back to stay still and not move.  About 100 yards down the trail we came across Niki who had got turned around and I think a little panicked at losing the guide, not seeing us and hearing the mounting guttural howls all around her.  Niki took a few minutes to settle.  I told her to stick to my hip and I promised that no matter what, I would get her home.  We started to walk again down the riverbed.  Unbeknownst to us, in our hast to rush to Niki’s side, we left the marked trail and again had were off course.

After 10 minutes of walking, we came across Carlos, Jose and Marcos sitting in a clearing talking loudly.  I asked Luz to translate and see what they were upset about.  “The guide has left” she said.  What?!?  What do you mean? I replied.  “He’s gone!”

As I understand it, our guide Neftali was leading the group through the trail.  He was ahead of Jose, Marcos and Carlos and apparently turned and followed the marked path not looking behind him to see that his followers were there.  The runners didn’t see the turn and kept going straight, stopping once they realized Neftali had gone.

Now our adventure had taken a turn for the serious.  At no point was I ever really concerned we wouldn’t make it back.  However, now without a local guide and with darkness upon us, my normally confident optimism was being tested.  I called Luz over and we had pow-wow.  It was time to take action.  The three guys were upset and arguing about Neftali, Niki was still a little spooked, and Luz… well Luz was like she was all day.  Calm, cool and collected.  We worked well together. #onetribe

Marcos and Luz each had a smart phone with sufficient battery and cell service.  I got Luz to call race HQ and let them know the situation.  After a conversation with them, we were asked to make our way to the closest roadway and we would get picked up.  Sure, no problem.  At this point I decided to take the lead and get us out of this place.  I asked for any objections.  I got none.

Luz called up our location on her phone.  According to Google Maps, we were 2 km from the closest roadway.  I could see it, it looked simple enough.  Except I was forgetting Survival Run Fact #4: “If it can go wrong, it will”.  The map gave us a direction, so I shared the plan and wanted to see if anyone else had any other ideas.  With no objections we headed towards a farmers field a 1,000 meters away. 

Knowing a roadway was ahead gave us a third and fourth wind.  I decided to make the conversation light and raucous.  We talked about ice cream, beer and the glorious feeling of getting a DNF at a Fuego event.  A few times Niki asked if we were lost, my response to her was the same all night: “We’re not lost, we’re just not found”.

After 60 minutes of orienteering with Google Maps and a directionally challenged Canuck, the dried creek bed eventually turned into a farmers field.  Success!  I had actually found what I was looking for.  Walking through the fields in the dark we literally walked into cows all over the place.  It was an odd site, but I didn’t care.  Luz and I had navigated this crew of wandering fools exactly where we wanted to go.  I was feeling real good.  Enter survival run fact # 3: “Never assume the worst is over”.

We came to a tree line bordered by some fence posts.  At looking at our now reliable Google Map I noticed that the distance to the road was still showing as 2KM!  How is that possible?  We just walked for an hour and we are still the same distance.  Luz and I were stumped.  How can that be?  We decided that the distance must be off, and we trusted the direction only.  I had my machete in my hand and Luz instructed the path to be to follow the fence line right to the road.  I started to walk ahead like a good boyscout with Niki at my side.

Side-bar: The following paragraphs are rated PG-13.  Reader discretion is advised.

I was about 20 feet ahead of the group, and had a “kick in my step” when Luz called out to me to stop!  I turned back to her, and she calmly told me to come back towards her.  I was confused and asked her why.  She quietly said… snake.

The next few seconds went by in super-slow motion.  I remember wondering how she could see a snake from that distance to me.  Then, Boa-constrictor on branchslowly out of the peripheral of my left eye I saw movement.  As I cocked my head to the left I saw that a snake’s head was 18 inches from my cheek and moving towards me!

I did what any hardened survival runner with steely resolve and unwavering nerve would do at a time like that…  I screamed like a frightened child, and meekly flailed my machete like a fly swatter in panicked reaction to wish it away.

Holy crap-on-a-cracker!

Luz told me not to scream, as that scares the snake.  My heart was racing as I looked back to see the “beast”.  “It’s just a baby” said Marcos.  It was a 3.5 foot long Boa Constrictor and was attached to the fence post and obviously attracted to my heat signature.  “They are not venomous señor” said Jose, “But when they bite they are very hard to get out of the skin because they have curved fangs”.  Thanks Jose, good to know.

We decided to take the wide way around and avoid any other snakes that might be along the fence line ( I saw one more full size one before the night was through).  We headed into the forested area and left the wide open field.  In hindsight, this was our biggest mistake.  After 30 minutes of walking along another dried out creek bed we came to a wall of trees.  I decided that this wasn’t going to work for us, but only slow us down.  We turned around to head back the way we came and somehow we got turned around.  It was 8 pm, I had just shared the last of my electrolyte water with everyone and it was really dark in that jungle.

Despite my best efforts, with the help of Luz and her phone, we could not figure which way was out.  We were walking in circles and our bodies were starting to shut down from dehydration and exhaustion.  One runner was even so thirsty that he resorted to peeing into a ziplock bag and drinking his urine through a filter Lifestraw.  I wasn’t that thirsty thank you.

Jose and Marcos were starting to shut down.  They were becoming light-headed and very irritable.  We had been in constant contact with HQ, Luz’s mother and Marcos’ brother (who as I found out later, was not much help and running around accusing and threatening everyone  at HQ).  I really concentrated on focusing everyone’s attention to the situation at hand and not on Neftali, HQ or family members who were driving aimlessly around the island.

I started to talk to people like we were in the cockpit of a plane and doing a systems check.  “When was the last communication?” “What did HQ says when you gave them our coordinates?” “Who’s feeling sick?” , etc, etc.  I figured getting excited over things out of our control would not help us.  Survival Run fact #1: “Anxiety is your enemy”

Our last communication stated that rescue groups were in the area and for us to keep heading towards the road.  I was struggling trying to understand why our GPS coordinates weren’t working when they were sent to HQ.  Apparently the phone’s GPS coordinates were showing us on the other side of Ometepe.  Must have been something about the volcano.  This would explain why the Google Maps was sending us in circles.

At around 9:30 pm, we were almost at a standstill.  Two runners were cramped, light-headed and moving very slow. The terrain had become rough and we were stepping onto lava rock with every step, making the risk of falling in the dark, very high.  I was certain that the direction I was leading them was going to end up back to that cattle field any minute.  Frustration amoungst the 3 guys was escalating.  I’m kinda glad I didn’t speak the language, as I might told them to shut up.  But I wasn’t about to lose my cool.  I told them to take a 5 minute break and I would head about 100 meters out and see if the treeline broke.

I trudged through the vine laden scrub growth, stopping every 5 feet to chop away vines that were ensnaring my lower body.  After the 100 meters I was disappointed to see it was still lots of trees.  But I was so sure.

When I got back I suddenly felt light-headed myself and was having a hard time maintaining my strength.  I was “bonking”, and heavily.  That little hero trek of mine just sapped me of my final bit of strength and I was now lethargic and not much help physically.

Luz told HQ that we were all in a worse way now, and making it to the road wasn’t going to happen.  We were instructed to huddle up, conserve our energy and listen for the rescue crew in the area.  We sat down on top of the lava rock and tried to rest.  I needed to lean against Niki to stay upright, but that eventually lead to me laying down over the rocks.  Luz started blowing the most irritating whistle I’ve ever heard while we sat and waited for help.

“Bonking” is a strange sensation.  While dehydrated, I was completely conscious of everything around me, my mind was still sharp.  My body however was a sack of cement.  Thirst wasn’t an issue anymore.  Just taking breaths was difficult.

Then around 10:30 we started to hear voices; the good kind.  The group would get excited and screamed frantically.  I calmed us down and had the group do one big “group yell” after hearing a voice, then wait 30 seconds.  This was working.  After another 30 minutes our saviour arrived.  It was Neftali!

That’s right.  Our erstwhile and misguided “guide” had returned 5 hours later, still carrying the emergency bag from my station.  However, he had no water.  After some choice words of frustration from some of the group, Neftali told us which way was out and to follow him.  I was tired and weak, but I told Luz I could walk, just to keep an eye on me.  Neftali led the way out (which coincidentally was the way I had forged through earlier).  I moved like a zombie from the Walking Dead.

Another 60 minutes passed.  There were some moments of directional confusion, but eventually we made it back to the field.  When I came out of the jungle, I felt weird.  I was speaking like I was drunk.  In my mind I was completely coherent and wondering what the hell I was saying, but my mouth was spewing off random rants.  Thank gawd for Luz.

She took a hold of my packs top handle and guided me through the field.  It was walking home from a bar (not that that’s ever happened Mom).  I was commenting on the funny looking cows, the bright moon, that darn snake and anything else that came to my head.  My legs were lead and I was starting to stumble.  Luz sat me down and let me lie on my pack.  The rescue party was minutes away and they had water she said.

The next thing I knew, Luz was feeding my small sips of electrolyte water.  I just wanted to chug the thing, but Luz knew what to do.  I didn’t want to take anymore unless I knew her and Niki had some too, which I was glad to see they did.  After 15 minutes of slow sips, I was feeling better.

The new guides lead us out of the field, down a roadway that was going to take us to the road and a waiting truck.  I was told it was a 20 minute walk.  20 minutes my dehydrated butt!  It took me an hour to walk out to that road.  My legs may have had fluid again, but now I was starting to feel the muscular cramps that come after re-inflating yourself with water.  I limped heavily under Luz watchful eye to the road.  Then my headlamp died.

At about 100 yards to go, I saw regional Race Director Ben Despacio come running up to Luz and I with two nurses.  The gave me the ugliest looking banana I’ve ever seen.  It was gold.  Ben took an arm and half carried me the remaining distance and put me into his truck.  When I got in, I was happy to see Niki in the back seat smiling at me.  I smiled back and said “I told you I’d get you home.  This will be the best DNF story you’ve ever had”.

I never did see Neftali, Carlos, Marcos or Jose once we left that cow field.   You’re welcome I guess.

Ben took me back to my hotel, via HQ, where we picked up my friend Mitchell who had climbed and descended Concepcion twice that day helping to look for us.  Ben drove us back to El Ecantro and drove me right up to the gates.  I shook his hands and told him that I forgot to give him something.  I reached into my back and handed him my clipboard with all the racers times and pin numbers from my station.  I had promised to return it.

As he drove off, Mitchell and I turned to head to our room.  El Encantro’s proprietor Carlos was waiting by the rooms.   “You didn’t tell me you were coming back Jamie” he said.  “What do you mean Carlos!” was my reply.  “Your email said 5 days, I checked it twice”…  After the day I had just had, my hotel had booked my room out from us.  Our stuff was still in the room when we left, Carlos had packed it up and locked it away.  Not wanting to get into it at that time, I asked if he had any beds, hammocks or rocks I could sleep on.  He let us into the hostel room and Mitchell took the last bed, while I took Scott Smuin’s bed, as he was working his shift on Maderas volcano and wouldn’t be back until 9 am.  I hit the bed hard.

It was 3:00 a.m.  I had been up for 24 straight hours.

Survival Run 2015: Second kicks at the can and howling at the moon – Part 1

Survival Run 2015: Second kicks at the can and howling at the moon – Part 1

Survival Run: Nicaragua – Pre-Race

Survival-Run-CompetitorsPrintWednesday Feb 4th, 2015 was my second Fuego y Agua Survival Run, and my 3rd Fuego event to date. With each year, it is becoming more and more apparent that like the snowflakes I left behind in Toronto, no two FYA events are the same. This year’s event only solidified that belief.

Survival Run fact #1: “Anxiety is your enemy”

I arrived the Sunday prior, figuring to give myself and first time SR racer Mitchell Wood ample time to make our way down to the Isle de Ometepe. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I had left Toronto with two checked bags, and upon arrival in Managua, only my bag with the school donations for the kids, came out of the baggage claim. The airline said that my bag (with my clothes and my race gear) would “probably” be in the next day, but to call tomorrow to follow up.

With a restless feeling, Mitchell and I headed to the friendly confines of Managua Hills B&B, the un-official hotel of Fuego racers while in Managua. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.  I woke up to find fellow Survival Runners, John Taylor, Colin Gilbertson, Dalton Houser, Chris Margrave and a few others. I had no change of clothes and Colin hooked me up with a sweet t-shirt from his company. Having no cell phone service in Nicaragua and having the worst Spanish skills there, I was in a predicament about how to find out if my luggage was even going to arrive.

Chris suggested I contact local Survival Racer, and all-around great gal, Luz Sequeria to see if she could help. After 5 short minutes, Luz had the phone number and baggage information of my gear and was talking with the airline. I had to wait for the next flight to arrive so that my baggage could be delivered to my hotel. So in the meantime, I missed out on my shuttle ride with fellow racers and Mitchell and I waited for the gear to arrive… longest day ever.

After three flights and several frustrated conversations with the airline, I had one last flight that my luggage could come in on before I had to leave for the island. A second night’s poor sleep had forced me to consider the fact that I may not race, and that if I couldn’t do that I might as well volunteer, and do something productive for the other racers. I messaged the tribe, saying that I had to consider the fact that without gear I would have to forfeit the race this year. Unbeknownst to me, fellow tribe members were on Ometepe already putting together a gear bag for me with all the required items. I was truly touched when I had heard that.

Survival Fact # 2: “One Tribe, One Family”

Within minutes of my message about having to possibly drop from the race, Luz contacted me that my luggage was on-route and on the flight of fellow SR’s Christopher ‘Beard™’ Accord, Rachelanne Gladden, Ben Sexton and the talented Survival Run documentary artist Jason Rita. Luz promptly picked Mitchell and I up in her car and took us to the airport to claim my luggage and meet up with the runners. After a few minutes of heartfelt hugs, snuggles and peckish kisses, I put down my luggage and said hello to my friends.

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Jamie, Mitchell, Luz

Rachelanne, Luz, Chris, Mitchell and I.  I have my bag!

Rachelanne, Luz, Chris, Mitchell and I. I have my bag!

Hello Beautiful

Hello Beautiful

Mitchell and I hitched a ride with Jason Rita all the way down to the San Jorge port and caught the last ferry to Ometepe. I was finally able to relax.  I arrived in perfect time to my hotel, El Ecantro, to make a fashionable entrance to the soiree that Paul Kavanaugh and I were throwing for all the racers. It was the perfect ending to a hectic and anxious ridden 2 days. I was glad to know the troubles were behind me. Party on Garth!

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2015 El Encantro Party

Survival Run fact # 3: “Never assume the worst is over”

Survival Run: Nicaragua – The Race

Like my previous year, Race day started with a healthy breakfast followed by laying out all our gear on the hotel’s dining room tables and packing for the unknown. This year was different though. We had a very specific gear list and strict instructions for there to be no more, or no less for fear of disqualification. This year’s gear list included:

  1. Adventure Travel Insurance Policy. **A Proof of Coverage Certificate is required before you begin the race.
  2. Long Sleeve shirt or Jacket **Volcanoes can get cold and windy very quickly!
  3. Plenty of Food and Water! **know your race nutrition 100%, you will have some points where you can trade with locals or buy food at small shops on the course.
  4. Electrolytes **SCaps, Endurolytes, SaltStick or what works for you
  5. Water Purifier **a recommended one is LifeStraw
  6. Two glowsticks or flashing bike lights **and method to attach to pack, MUST wear at all times during night
  7. TWO headlamps (or flashlights) with Extra Batteries **water resistant is ideal
  8. Survival Blanket 
  9. First Aid Survival Kit **contents are up to you, but be smart about it
  10. Sharp Machete *18″ minimum (with handle included) with good sheath and sharpening file, A Knife also allowed in addition but not required.
  11. ONE Large (burlap/feed) Sack **100lbs is best.
  12. Local Currency in small bills **500 cordobas minimum recommended
  13. Calf and/or Arm sleeves **recommended but not required
  14. Sunscreen and Bug Spray **recommended but not required
  15. Gloves **allowed but not required

Rookie Mitchell Wood, wily FYA veteran Paul Kavanaugh, Hunter Gatherer Survival Run finisher Scott Smuin and I went through our gear over and over. We weighed, pondered, guessed and speculated if we had everything we needed and tried foolishly to get into the mind of race and course directors Josue and Ben.

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Mitchell Wood, Scott Smuin, Paul Kavanaugh and I

It was evident that each of us had a different idea of what was ideal for a race like this. Each of us had a pack of different size, each unique in its qualities of size, storage capacity, weight and fit. I had settled with a surplus US Army “Alice” pack, known for its large capacity, easy access and light weight feel. All in all, I was happy with my choice. Later however, I’d discover that the pack also featured a “quick-release” pull tab obviously designed for soldiers who needed to drop pack in a second to take cover when fired upon. However, when trudging knee-deep through the murky rocky shores of Ometepe in the moonlight while looking for your beef jerky, this tab is not at all a great idea.

Survival Run Fact #4: “If it can go wrong, it will”

Even though I had done two of these races before, I was still nervous about the unknown that lay before me. One thing that makes these unique events awesome is the fact that beside your gear list, survival runners have no idea what lies ahead. No course map, no directions, no hand holding, nothing. How sweet is that?

Bag Check

Gear Check

10974164_10152674358802467_7714484716104286483_oAt 4:00 pm we made our way to the beach, checked in and were then instructed to empty of pack and complete a mandatory gear check. This process was strictly enforced and each item was pedantically inspected for foreign items and illegal paraphernalia. I felt really good going into this year’s event. The fear of feeling “unworthy” or “unfit to race with these people” was not present this year. At that moment, I thought of something fellow survival runner Haidar wrote and it made me realize that at that moment, right then, right there, I where I was where I was supposed to be.

“It takes a special kind of stupid to willingly out your body through an ultra. And when you find those like-minded people, they become your family. We are the black sheep of the running community, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” -Haidar Hachem

Survival Run fact #5: “Survival Runners are a breed unto their own.”

I lined up at the start line and listened to Josue talk about what we needed to know. Of course I wasn’t listening. Damn, short attention span. Something about following the instructions on a card, and something about making sure to listen to this… I was per-occupied with who I was standing around. In front of me was the heavily favoured Paco Raptor, a Mexican machine who made me look like a kilted church mouse. (Oh yeah, I wore my favourite racing kilt to this years event.) On the other side was another favourite, Chris Shanks. A man way tougher than some would give him credit for, and about as adaptable a survival runner as one could get. Completely the circle around me was the untiring Christian Griffith and the one-of-a-kind Ekaterina Solovieva. Gulp!

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We raised ours hands and swore the oath “If I get lost, hurt or die, it’s my own damn fault”. We were off. Like the previous year, the race started with a run down the beach for a few kilometers. Not being particular fleet of foot, I made my way over the sand, rocks and shoreline to a specific location where we had to strip down and prepare for a swim to 10835091_644970048962628_4573603067844140122_o“bird-shit” island. However, this year all racers had to use items from their gear bag to create a flotation device that had to be on them the whole swim. My gear bag had two empty 2L coke bottles. They were stuffed into the knotted sleeves of my jacket and tucked under my arms like water wings. I finished it off by tying it all off by wrapping one of my bike inner tubes around my chest like a belt. I entered the water and made the swim relatively easy. Once at the island, I had to retrieve a raw egg with my # 7 on it. I found out they were raw as I watched Nele Schulze drop her partners egg onto the rocks as she was wrapping it up for the swim back.

FB_IMG_1424289940234 This egg was to be shown at every checkpoint or station and was a requirement to be in one piece, if you broke it, you had to adapt and find some way of getting another, and SOON. I decided the only place with enough room to safely store my egg for the lengthy swim back was in my swimming tights. Success! Upon arrival back on the beach, I re-dressed and packed my bag for the journey to the next station. It had already got dark and I had to put on my headlamp. Nicaragua gets REAL dark at night. I arrived a short time later at a plantain plantation (say that 5 times fast!). I had showed my unbroken egg and was instructed to search the plantation for the stalk that had my bib number 7 attached to it and chop it down with my machete. Sweet! I finally get to chop something. Easier said than done.

That plantationPlantain carry was vast. It took me 10 minutes of frantic wandering before I realized I should follow an organized grid to search out my bib. After another 15 minutes, I scrapped that idea and went pack to random wandering. After 40 minutes in that forest of fruit, I finally found my plantain stalk. Of course, it was located 30 feet from the station entrance. Curses! With one fell swipe, my honed machete sliced right through the stalk and my tree went down. I loped off the plantain bushel and carried it to the station. It was weighed at 31.2 pounds. I needed to load them into my gunny sack and haul them all the way back to the start line. High Ho, High Ho, it was off to work I go.

My pack weighed almost 30 lbs filled up with water, food, clothing and gear; add another 32 lbs of plantains and this was one uncomfortably irksome load for that distance. At least that was until I found the perfect location for the sack behind my neck on over my shoulders. I was able to distribute the weight evenly and the load actually felt good. I started to jog to the next station with relative ease.

Survival Run fact #6: “Improvise, adapt, overcome”

I arrived back at the start/finish line and unloaded my plantains. I extracted my egg and showed it to the volunteer to prove it was unbroken. I had a brainwave on the way down the beach. I figured that the two empty coke bottles that were used as life preservers would no longer be needed; or at least I had bet on it. I had disposed of one bottle at the checkpoint, and cut an opening into the top of the other. I stuffed my spare socks as a nest at the bottom of the bottle and then slipped the bandana wrapped egg into the nest, nice protected by the plastic walls. Bam! 1795754_10200225684400125_7120682767512783726_nI claimed my first petrogylph rubbing and went to read the directions for my next steps.

I read that this was the last chance for food or water for a while. I decided to take advantage. I walked up to the beach bar and did what any finely honed athlete in a kilt would do 2.5 hours into a grueling race. I ordered a beer. Beside me Team Beard, Chris “Beard™” Accord and Ben Sexton, ordered a couple of Cokes and we toasted to our sanity and good fortune in the hours ahead. They are great guys and formidable competitors.

I was to head up the beach for a few kilometers and head towards the same rocky shoreline I had to navigate at last year’s event. The beach was a nice change for me as I settled into my run. The moon was out in full and I turned off my headlamp and enjoyed the run. I was reminded quickly to what I was here for. We were to navigate the shoreline, but not to head inland and somehow make our way to a concrete pier and our next directions a few kilometers down the coast.

In a survival run, there are no pretty trail markers. No big bold sign directing your way.  My instructions were on a lamented 8×10 piece of paper 5 kilometers behind me. I had to trust that I was heading in the right direction. (Man, I love these events.) I was by myself at this point of the race, but I could see the faint outlines of headlamps far ahead of me and behind. Last year, I scaled over, slipped on, fell between, and scratched myself on almost every piece of lava rock on that shoreline. This year wasn’t going to be the same. No way.

Sun Setting on the slick shoreline

Sun setting on the slick shoreline

I was wrong. They were just as slick, dangerous and ragged as last year, and traveling over them while attempting to stay dry was useless. I decided to go “against the grain”. I went into the water. I figured if I went out thigh deep, maybe I would avoid the oily slick jagged rocks. Sure, I might be slower, but my silky legs would thank me for it. For the most part I was right. I was able to cut corners easier, while wading into the water. I had a large staff I was carrying and using it like a blind man’s cane in front of me to warn me if I might step into deep water or possibly something worse.

You see, Josue, Ben and the wicked creators of this course like to “remind” racers that there are living dangers to contend with in these events as well. We were reminded often of the Bull Sharks in Lake Nicaragua, caimans/ alligators, snakes and other creatures who have a habit of sticking in the back of your mind on a dark night, walking alone thigh deep in water. Instead of looking where I needed to go, my headlamps was scanning the water’s surface hoping not to see two little eyes pop-up in the water. Damn you Josue!

Survival Run fact #7: Bask in the suck, remember you paid for this.

Chris Shanks

Chris Shanks

After almost 2.5 hours of trekking through that water and over the rock, I had fallen into deep spots, stepped on unknown slippery stones and fallen under the waves, My ankles were mangled and my patience was thin. Despite feeling like I overshot my target several times, I finally found the pier. I was to head up a steep concrete staircase (with no railing) in the volcanoes base and find the cistern full of water I had to dive into last year.

When I arrived at the cistern, I showed my egg, which was still completely intact. I was to climb 12-15 feet up, then dive into the narrow water tank and retrieve a rock at the bottom with a slingshots elastic wrapped around it. This challenge has never bothered me, and I have no fear of narrow dark tanks or confined spaces of water. I quickly stripped down, and jumped right in (not even allowing the safety scuba diver the chance to keep up). I found my rock and came up with it, and was dressed and back on the road in less than 3 minutes. It took me longer to get my socks on than anything else. My feet looked like hamburger.

I felt like I was slowly slipping and losing my distance. I was using a lot more water than I had hoped at this point and I really hadn’t seen another runner in a while. When I arrived at this station, I was extremely pumped to see a whole bunch were there. Fellow Canadian and travel companion Mitchell Wood and Kate were on their second sack, and I was just starting. This gave me a second wind.

Helene Dumais  filling her sack

Helene Dumais filling her bucket

We were instructed to fill 5 gallon pail with sand to the top, then fill our sacks with the sand and carry them up a big hill to a property where they were dumped and measured to ensure we still had a full load. This had to be repeated 5 times. These bags weighed anywhere from 65-75 lbs I figure (maybe more), but then again at this point of the race anything felt like a ton. I hoisted my first sack onto my shoulders and headed up the hill. I was feeling good and my humour had returned. I found myself joking and cavorting along the path and laughing in the misery with my colleagues. When I arrived at the top, my race took a turn south.

When I unloaded the sack off my shoulders, my oft-injured and bothersome lower back “twitched”. From prior experience, I knew that that wasn’t a good sign. I knew I had a few minutes to stretch that back and/or take a Robax pill. I did both. I didn’t want to have to use the pill if I didn’t have to, but under the circumstances. Unfortunately, it took me way too long to fish the pill outta my pack and digest it. I could feel my back starting to stiffen. The only thing left to do was keep moving, keep the lower back loose. I filled the next sack and started up the hill again… and again… and again. By my fourth trip I had conceded to the fact that this was going to be an issue and that I needed to be smart instead of stupid.

Survival Run fact #8: ”Be smart, not stupid”

My next challenge would have been to ascend Maderas volcano.  Considering my slow pace, I would have had to do it with some speed. If I got stuck up a volcano with a ceased back, I would have been a problem to me and the race crew. I decided to finish my race my way and go out with a smile on my face and finish this challenge and get my second petroglyph rubbing.  The last two times up and down that hill I was saying to myself; more for my ego than anything else. “I need two petroglyph rubbings, one for each of my girls.” It became my war cry while hating those cursed sandbags. With a few minutes to spare before a time cut-off, I finished.

Wax rubbings

I had a huge smile on my face as I walked back down to my pack. Last year, I would have been bitter and mad at myself for such “wimpery”. This year, I was content with my showing. Sure I didn’t last as long as last year, or as long as other racers, but I was comfortable enough with myself to know that if I could have, I would have made it up that volcano and still made the time cut off.

Survival Run fact #9: Race to race another race.

I passed Josue on the way down and told him that unfortunately I needed to stop, but that I enjoyed every misery-laden, suck-filled moment of this year’s race. I shook his hand and appreciated that my survival run for 2015 was abruptly over.

Or so I thought… another Survical Run #2 was 48 hours away! 10947301_10200131873495649_3697691481511668267_n

Hunter Gatherer Survival Run 2014 – Race Report

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Hunter Gatherer is the second Fuego y Agua Ultra Survival Run I have participated in 2014.  This event is geared towards bringing back participants to their most primal nature.  Stripping away modern comforts and conveniences, and replacing them with the Hunter Gatherer mentality of the bare essentials.  50 kilometers through the rocky elevations of a little west Texas place known as Rocksprings, Texas.

Friday October 3, 2014:  Arrival Day

I flew into San Antonio airport and met fellow participants and the “First Couple” of Survival Runs David & Angela Kalal at the baggage claim.  We hit our respective hotels, had a bite of local Mexican food and hit the hay, ready for an exciting next 48 hours.

David insisted that I try a local Mexican hotspot called “The Original Donut Shop” where I was introduced to the finest fresh donuts and tacos one could ask for.  The next few hours passed in enjoyment catching up and wondering what Josue was going to do to us for packet pickup this year, and what Chicory really looked like.

Upon arriving at Camp Eagle in Rocksprings Texas, who is the first soul I see as I step out into the warm west Texas sun, but the incomparable Eddie Yanick.  A born Texan and Fuego y Agua original.  Noticing that both David and I were in kilts, Eddie was soon to join the new tradition.  Along with Eddie, also soaking up the suns rays were Jeff Walters, Scott Smuin, Shawn Wood & Curtis Pote.

It was near 1:00 pm and Eddie was keen on starting the official (yet unsanctioned) Beer Mile just down the road.  For those that are unaware, the beer mile is a race whereby runners chug a beer, then run 1/4 mile, return and chug another beer and run another 1/4 mile.  This is done 4 times to complete the full mile.  While I am always up for a challenge, I decided my weak tolerance for alcohol wouldn’t do me any favors in this event.  After 15 fun-filled minutes of watching Eddie, Jeff, Mike Ruhlin, Justin Attaberry and Tim Burke consume a bunch of beer and stumble across the dusty tundra, the rest of us took to practicing our traditional sling throwing for accuracy and distance on some of the local cacti.  Congratulations to Jeff Walters for an impressive victory and kudos to Eddie for continuing even after throwing up half his beer on the third lap.

Packet Pickup 3At 4:00 pm we reported to the pavilion for “packet pick-up”.  An event which  always indicates what is to come for us over the next 48 hours.  This year’s event was a team travois event.  Two runners were made captains and a good ‘ol school yard team selection ensued.  You were either Team Red or Team White depending on which colour the previous selectee painted on your face.  I was a little nervous about possibly be picked last, and amongst these hardened bad-asses, it wouldn’t surprise me if I was.  I felt a squire amoungst seasoned knights.  As it happens, I was selected 4th by the Red team as Tim put red war paint on my face.  I have to admit, that felt really good, and I was feeling pretty stoked.  After making our teams, Josue and Corinne broke down the rules and instructions for this challenge.

Team Red

We were to run to a location nearby where each member of the teams were to build their own travois (pronounced tra-ˌvȯi).  A type of sled from nothing more than branches, paracord and our knife. From there we had to haul rocks 1/4 mile up a steep incline and pile them into each teams respective “cairn” or rock pile.  Basically the team with the tallest cairn after the next 2.5 hours got to come back and sleep in their beds, while the losing team had to sleep on that hilltop with no camping gear; the night before the race was to begin.

I had torn my bag that had all my gear in it as we began so I was late in arriving to the location and everyone was well on their way.  Crap! great start Jamie.  I grabbed the last two remaining long branches and grabbed three small branches to be used as well.  I have never made a travois, but studied the procedure before coming, so I felt comfortable in the process.  As luck had it, I made a pretty strong travois and before long, I had loaded 4 stones onto my harness and wrapped them in fabric and bundled them with cord so the would survive the trek up hill.

Jamie Travois construction

This event was harder than it looked.  After my first haul, my second and third attempt were feable as my travois started to show signs of shoddy workmanship.  I teamed up with Jeff Walters to strengthen my lashings and instead of smaller rocks, I went for the gusto and chose a few 25+ lbs rocks and placed them individually on the sled.  This allowed for less rocking and less chance of sliding off.  I think I made 6 runs up and down that cursed hill in the 87 degree weather.  Mistake #1: I forgot to bring water to this challenge.  I was parched.  Thankfully, fellow teammates Jeff Murphy and Shane McKay topped up my fluids.

Photos: Jeffrey Genova Going for more Jamie & Bee 2 JAmie 2

Nearing the end of the event I remained at the top of the hill to help teammates stack the rocks.  Team white had certainly gathered a fair number of rocks (probably more than us), but Team Red had gathered rocks that were larger thus able to stack and remain stable easier.

Photo: Jeffrey Genova Phot: Jeffrey Genova

Unfortunately, team White’s cairn fell shortly before the finish and they were unable to regain it’s original height.  A well fought and close victory for Team Red.  Phew, I didn’t have to sleep outside on the hard ground.  Back to the tent for me!

Saturday October 4th, 2014: Race Day

After a brief meeting Friday night, most runners went to bed early.  I had a hard time getting sleep the night before.  The unknown endeavors that were going to happen in the next 24 hours left my mind racing.  I finally fell asleep around 9 pm.  The alarm went off at 3:00 a.m..  Never have I ever hated getting up as I did that morning.  I really didn’t want to leave that tent.  However, I swallowed my fear and gathered my gear and headed to the start line.  Racers gathered around 3:30 a.m.  I could tell I wasn’t the only one with nerves.  Phew!

Race Start

Nineteen other racers headed out to the start line with nothing on our feat and possibly in our heads either.  We quickly posed for a photo and then we were off!  Never have I began a race where all racers walk from the start line over to the side to make their shoes for the race.  Luna Sandals donated the materials needed for each runner to make there own sandals.  I made my sandals after making my other required piece of gear, my backpack.Stiching my pack

I had an idea of what I wanted to do to create my backpack.  I took my material (listed on our gear list) and sewed up two side of the folded cloth.  I first used dental floss as stiching, but in my infinite wisdom I grabbed a floss container that was empty, so I had 2 feet of minty stitching.  I had to do the rest with artifical sinew.  Two quick slits for arm holes and voila!  I had a stylish, functional back pack that did not require me to unbundle it if I needed item from my pack.

10670140_10154731525325608_3766159012755009600_n 10625065_10154731525590608_5772500332001543242_n10711073_10154731525820608_4065822167729472901_n My sandals construction was simple and I finished that within 15 minutes.  I decided before the race that I wasn’t going to rush my pack and sandals construction.  I needed both of these items to work properly all day, so I spent the extra time making sure they were right.  I’m glad I did.  I left the pavilion at 5:07 a.m., 45 mins after Shane McKay and some of the other skilled runners.

As I set out, I was feeling great, my pack was solid, my sandals felt great and I was at Hunter Gatherer Survival Run!

That feeling of elation didn’t last long.

Not 20 minutes into my journey, as I was hunched over, going under a tree branch and stepping on some loose rock when I slipped and jarred my oft-injured back.  DAMMIT!  I quickly assessed the situation and listened to my body; a routine I have become accustomed to.  I decided to keep walking and keep the back loose.  It was a slow 30 minutes before I finished my loop and passed back through the pavilion.

Once there, I began to wage a war in my brain on what to do.  My back was stiff, but not sore.  Continue the race and I risk injuring it further and I am 1,500 km from home. Or do I “cowboy up” and keep going?

Amidst this mental turmoil, enters Colin Gilbertson.  Colin is a respected Survival Runner and volunteer in this race.  He could tell I was in distress and asked me if I was alright.  After telling him my situation and my dilemma, he smiled and simply answered “Are you still breathing?”  “Cuz if you are, then you can make it”.  That’s it.  That’s all I needed to turn the tide in adventure’s favour.  Thanks Colin, I will always remember it, cheers.

I decided if I took the first leg at a brisk walk I could loosen up the back and I would be good to go.  Well I was bang on.  As the sun rose, I began to regain my form and my motivation began to rise.  I reached the zip line station at the same time as the current leaders Shane McKay and Curtis Pote.  Albeit, then were going one direction and I was 2 hours behind them.

After spending most of my dark hours walking with newcomer Bee Yang, I began to run at this point and head towards the “swinging bridge” as instructed.  The smile was returning to my face as I ran down that path at dawn.

Day Break 2

As I was arriving at Swing bridge station I ran into fellow runner Will Rosencrans.  Will had got turned around after the zip-line and spent the last 2 hours in circles.  We arrived at the station and were instructed by Corinne Kohlen that we were to look for 4 same coloured, un-fletched arrows hidden along a 1/4 mile stretch of cliffs and brush.  The arrows were deviously hidden by Nick Hollan, who was also responsible for the hellacious trails we followed all day.  I spent approximately 40 minutes hunting all over that rock looking for 4 white tipped arrows.  Thankfully, after crawling through tight caves and high ledges, I found my quiver of arrows.

arrow find 2  Small Vest repair  Marty McFly vest 2Vest from behind

After stenciling my first few native hieroglyphs into my race medallion, I had some food, and topped up my water supply before quickly patching my stylish vest and heading back out looking for Eagle Rock and the next station.

At this point I was feeling the best I had all day.  My back stiffness had subsided, I was jogging through beautiful countryside by myself, and feeling on top of the world.  The journey towards Eagle Cave wasn’t treacherous, but I did find myself turned around and lost a few times.  I came to a fork in the road, only to find that both directions had orange markers on the trails.  I followed the right path…mistake.  Twenty minutes later I was back to the start and then took the left path.  Meeting up with Hudson Keel, Will and Jeff Murphy along this route we arrived at Eagle cave together.

I had heard about this cave from last years runners.  I have to admit this is the one “challenge” that I was nervous about.  Looking at that entrance hole I pictured a long series of 18 inch tunnels through the ground.  We were told to find three different coloured arrowheads hidden somewhere with the cave.  Seemed simple.  At which point the volunteer mentioned that a few venomous Copperhead snakes are inside the hole and to be careful when in there…

Looking for arrowheads in Eagle Cave

Being from Canada, I don’t get the privilege of seeing too many venous snakes in my everyday life.  I was imagining being in a tight hole with not much room to move and a snake might be right ahead of me.  Not wanting to sound too scared, I felt it necessary to ask out loud.  “What do I do if I have a Copperhead right in front of me?” to which Hudson replied: “Go in the other direction”.

Yet, the Hunter Gatherer Gawds were smiling on me.  The opening led to a low cavern and NOT a small tunnel that I didn’t have to crawl on my belly through.  Yes, the Copperhead was to my immediate right when I lowered myself into the hole.  He and I agreed to respect each others space, and if he stayed where he was, then I wouldn’t stay in his cave too long.  Two snakes were in that cave, but this Canuck found his three separate arrowheads with Husdon and Will and got outta there.

I quickly got my gear on and was instructed to self-navigate to the Zip-line station on the next mountain.  I headed out with Will and we made our way down the steep rocky valley to cross over to the next mountain.  It was then that I was able to met another of West Texas’s local inhabitant’s, this was a white speckled rattlesnake.

  Speckled Rattlesnake

Will and I had just started our decent among the rocks when he said casually, “oh look, there’s a rattlesnake”.  He had stepped right in front of it.  Small, white and calm this little guy simply slithered by Will’s feet and under a log to my left in a few seconds.  No harm, no foul.  Will told me that they like to hide under rocks at this time of day.  Now I spent the next 30 minutes uber-cautious of every rock I stepped on or over in my sandaled feet.

Fletching arrowsWe easily found the zip-line station, where we were instructed to “fletch” our found arrows with feathers and artificial sinew (like waxed string).  Fortunately, I had practiced this skills at home several times and quickly fletched my arrows, and not to brag, but they looked pretty darn good.  I received my next stamp on my medallion and left solo towards the archery station a few miles away.

The sun was beginning to hit the height of the day and the temperature started to hit 89 degrees.  It was a tad warm.  Believe it or not, I wasn’t that bad in my long sleeved, black dri-fit shirt.  The buff on my head was keeping the sun off my follicular challenged head and my arms were avoiding burning with the thin wicking material.

I enjoyed the long hot run to the Archery station.  Upon arrival, I discovered two things.  One, that I had caught up to Eddie Yanick, Mike Ruhlin, John Taylor and few other runners I thought were miles ahead of me.  I gotta say that made me feel great, seeing that group of runners.  Second, I discovered the scourge of the Texas.  Little devil’s spawn needles in the form of something that can be described as “sticker burrs”.  Little burrs that are found in the grass and painfully attach themselves to anything that comes into contact with them, especially survival runners with Luna clad feet.  @#$%!

sticker burrs

Jason Schwertner was volunteering at the archery station and informed me to go cut down a branch and construct a bow.  Then take the provided “bow-string” and twine and string the bow.  Sweet!  I took out my new knife (KaBar Bull-Dozier) which I used to successfully build a bow at home and quickly made work of the limb and fashioned myself a great looking bow.  Next I took the length of bow-string and decided to unravel it and spread it out length wise.  Not really knowing what I was doing, I folded the cord over on itself a few times until I had 8 strands about 6 feet in length.  Doing my best to look like I knew what I was doing, I simply split the 8 strands into two separate strands and braided them over and over like I was braiding my daughters hair.  Sure enough it worked like a charm!

My first home made bow

Next I took my 4 arrows and was told I could practice as much as I would like before having to climb 15 feet into a tree to shoot at a 3D bear located a few meters away.  I was hitting all my practice shots easily, but I was nervous to shoot at the bear.  I only had four attempts and if I missed I failed that challenge.  But I said “screw it” and climbed the tree.  I balanced myself like I was on a surfboard and notched my first arrow, canted my bow slightly, and let loose my first arrow… hit!  Right in the Bear’s groin!!  I was really happy.  I only needed to hit it once out of the four, but for posterity sake I loosed my three remaining arrows hitting one in the heart and one in the shoulder.  The last grazed the bear other shoulder and missed.  Bam!  Just like that, my first quadrant of my medallion was completed, and more inspirationally, my first “FAIL” medal achieved.

After finishing strong at archery I decided to treat myself.  So I refueled with some home made pepperettes and a Mars bar.  I refilled my spare canteen in the river and tested my Lifestraw water filter to ensure it was working.  I packed my gear adding my new bow and headed towards “Prospectors cabin” once again loving every minute of this arduous race so far.  It was about 1pm and I felt like I was on a roll.

One thing you need to know about a Survival Run is that anything can happen, and between Archery and Prospectors cabin it all happened to me.

I headed out on my own to find this cabin.  Unbeknownst to me, this leg of the race was a series of winding, steep rock strewn trails that make it difficult to see all the trail markers and very easy to get turned around and potentially lost.  The path slithered side to side and threw some pretty gnarly brush, making the runners “bushwack” for quite a while.  This didn’t bother me too much, but the sight of an endlessly circling buzzard above my head should have been an ominous sign of things to come.

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lifestraw3I reached the crest of the first mountain and hadn’t seen another human in a really long time.  I decided to stop and get something to eat and drink.  This is when my LifeStraw water filter decided to not work and clog.  I was pi$$ed to say the least.  I’m 10 hours into an Ultra event and my water filter conks out.  I couldn’t get that thing to unclog.  I had only 1/4 liter of water in my main jug and 1.5 liters of unfiltered river water in my spare pack.  What to do?  Like my water fiasco in Nicaragua (that’s another story), I decided to relax and think.  I remembered that I also packed “Aquatab” chlorine tablets for an emergency.  I sterilized the water and I was good to go.

Feeling like I was just a few minutes away from Prospectors Cabin, I got turned around on the trail and couldn’t see which way to go.  Then out of no where, Jeff Murphy shows up ahead of me.  Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the frustration of the water filter, but I couldn’t understand how he got ahead of me when I left archery long before he was even done.  This perplexed me. He stated the the trail ahead was dead and that he was lost too.

I followed him to his last location and together tried to find the trail again.  The markers just weren’t there.  This is where against my better judgement I went down the mountain instead of back up to where I last saw a trail marker.  Jeff had run out of water, and was cramping up badly.  We ended up at the base of the mountain in a dried creek bed.  The weird part was that all along the creek bed the trees that lined it had mirrors leaning up against them in what can only be described as an eerie, “deliverance” scene.  We needed to leave that spot.

I knew which way was back to Camp Eagle (sort of) and I was sure I could find the trail again.  However, I also knew that we were no longer on the trail and if we got further lost it would be hard to find us.  Nonetheless, I stuck to my gut and self-navigated us back up the mountain and found the same marked trail I had passed through 2 hours before.  This was now the moment of truth.

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I knew if I had found Prospectors cabin I would had had a chance to gather two more symbols on my medallion, but I also knew I would have missed the next time cutoff and really couldn’t have gone on.  I was with Jeff, he was without water and cramping more frequently.  I wasn’t going to leave him just for a notch on my medallion.

We hiked it back along the previously traveled trail and I found the Archery station relatively easy.  From there a short jog back to the compound and the starters pavilion found my Hunter Gatherer 2014 Survival run come to a close at almost exactly 13 hours.

Despite it all, the heat, the rocks, the terrain, the endless circling and searching, I soaked it all in.   My friend Johnny Waite and my wife Ali have taught me to appreciate the moment for the beauty that it is.  These events bring out the best in me and I feel right at home amongst the challenge and the strain.Jamie & Zack - Filming finals

After cleaning up, I wanted to get back to the race and see if I could be a part of it still.  I volunteered to help the Race organizers with anything they needed help with.  As luck would have it, I was asked to canoe the videographer Zach down the river so that he could film Shane and Curtis as they made their final push to the finish line.  I felt privileged to see my fellow Canadian Shane McKay finish strong and win the 2014 Hunter Gatherer Survival run (for the second time), while also getting to see a very strong Curtis Pote finish not far behind Shane.  These men along with Scott Smuin were the only three to finish the entire race and complete every challenge they faced.  Yes, I was perfect in my challenges up until I zigged when I should have zagged, but my hat off goes off to these guys who showed true grit and determination and finished before the 24 hour cut off.

Finish lineI look forward t the next event, and to the challenges that it brings.  These events truly are soul finding.

Thank you Josue Stephens and his team for all that you did over the weekend. To Corinne Kohlen, Zac Wessler, Brad Quinn and many others for your tireless efforts. To the volunteers who helped keep us going, to the support and film crews, Jason Rita, Zachary Herigodt as well as Jeffrey Genova for the great photography I posted here.   You were awesome and I hope we allowed you to capture all that is Survival Running. To my fellow Survival Runners, I’m proud to be a part of your tribe. Hunter Gatherer 2014 was one tough go, and I loved every sucked-filled minute. You are all warriors with a screw loose and its reassuring that I’m in the right place. 

Despite receiving my second consecutive DNF at an FYA event, I wouldn’t trade it for a 100 orange headbands or tin medals. Hey! I doubled my output from Nicaragua and got my first official “Fail” medal. These events test every fiber within us, and show us all our souls. Despite it all, we come back for more and more. I look forward to Nicaragua and those damn volcanoes. I look forward to the unknown sadistic endeavors we hurl ourselves toward. I look forward to the people and the new memories. After all, a ‪‎survivalrun‬, is a survivalrun, is a survival run, and I’m proud to call myself a Survival Runner.
Cheers, Jamie Victory Beer

Journey’s We Take

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As I do some last minute packing, I was reflecting on my last two years or so and the distances I come and still have to go.

I am about to set off on a journey that’ll take me well beyond any edges I’ve ever ventured.  Outside my proverbial “box”, so to speak.  Am I scared/ nervous/ terrified?  Sure, who wouldn’t be.  Am I excited/ pumped/ happy?  Damn right I am!  But I smile at the unknown challenge ahead of me and get excited to test myself.

Obstacle Racing, Endurance Events and the various endeavors I have put myself through in the last few years has given me a new zest.  More than half of my Facebook friends are made up of fellow maniacs who live for the challenge and punish themselves not for glory or for recognition, but for the shear desire to test their minds and bodies. “Enhance the mind, savage the body”

In 2011, I was out-of-shape, physically unmotivated, and aimlessly going through motions.  That wasn’t fair to me, my kids or my wife.  My new challenges have mad me realize I have so many more personal goals to achieve.  I can’t wait, bring it on.

None of this would be possible without the help of some people along the way.

  • First off, to Jon Randles, and Legendary Fitness, for helping my “light the fires and kick the tires”,
  • To my friends and family for their support, and for putting up with my Facebook posts,
  • To my work colleagues for being the best they can be and allowing me to go home with little to no stress,
  • To my OCR colleagues, thank you for your inspiring ways and continued passion to our love for crazy things,

And lastly, and most importantly, to my beautiful wife Ali.  For her understanding the need to explore and grow on your own, as well as a family and couple.  I have appreciated her continuous support and guidance, more now, than at anytime.  I am better and stronger because of her.

Sorry for the rant but I wanted to share.  I believe in surrounding myself with people who make me better.  I love you all.

Catch you on the flip-side!  (thumbs high)

Jamie