Barbarian Challenge – 2016

6:55 AM, Noccalula Falls park– Abs and I eschew the fleet of Barbarian Challenge shuttles (buses, golf carts,  ATV pulled wagons) and  take a brisk walk the ¾ of mile from the free parking (a real parking lot. Paved and all) to the festival area

7:05 AM, Festival area – The festival area sits on a wide open plateau. I can see the children’s course off to the left of the main festival area. Spectator tents are lining up along the last couple of obstacles before the finish line. There is a huge blow up Ronald McDonald at the McDonald’s sponsored VIP tent. There are a few food and product vendors scattered about.

7:55 AM, Starting Corral – The rules are explained. This is a MOC race (mandatory obstacle completion) for the competitive hordes (BC’s version of “waves”) except with a twist. You can burpee out (25) of the following obstacles: Monkey Bars, Weaver (40 burpees) Rope climb, and the Rig. Interesting. That ain’t gonna happen.

8:00 AM, Starting Corral – The speech is going a tad long and the barbarians are getting restless. Some are getting ill-tempered and being rude, but I hold my tongue; I gotta concentrate on me, and not falling flat on my face at the first obstacle.

1:00 PM (ha! Just kidding!) 8:05 AM, Starting Corral – The National Anthem is sung, we take the Barbarian oath, and then a chest rattling report of a real 200-pound canon signals the start.


  1. It’s a blistering pace out of the blocks as we hit the first row of High Hay Hurdles. These huge rolls of cattle crunchies take a huge leap and a scramble/vault hybrid to get over. I get into a rhythm by the fourth and final row.
  2. Down and around and it’s the Over/Under logs. Under, tall over, under, tall over. I almost bite it on the last over.
  3. My nemesis appears around the bend after a quick downhill. Just Tires is a carpet of used tires laid flat on the grass. Each rubber ring ready to render racers (especially this clumsy guy) reeling. Running on the side walls helps, except when the occasional low profile tire shows up. Fucking Kumhos!
  4. The heart is getting good and jacked now! So much for starting at a moderate pace.
  5. With a hill in the background and three walls ahead in the middleground, I’m going full tilt on a steep downhill in the foreground trying not to have a fucking yard sale and kill myself.
  6. Raising The Bar is back to back to back 4, 6, and 8-foot walls. I basically use the 4-foot wall as a crash pad.
  7. The heart is at eleven when I hit the base of Kneebow Heartbuster. Good lord! This is a hill a mountain goat would say “fuck no! I’ll find some grass down here!”
  8. A line of people are trudging up the narrow and precipitous trail. Twice I have to bear crawl lest gravity pull me to earth’s sweet bosom 100-feet below.Barbarian Challenge Kneebow Heartbuster
  9. I get to the top as my heart and lungs tell me, well that was a good few miles but my watch mocks me with a mileage count of 1.
  10. We have circled around to the extreme end of the festival plateau and I can see a gauntlet of obstacles off in the distance.
  11. A quick cup of water on the move and it’s off to the Sandbag Carry.
  12. Unlike last year it appears this will be just a simple loop and not an insane carry through obstacles.
  13. As I pick up my +/-30# bag I hear someone admonishing the volunteers; “Make sure you tell the people where to go! You just let your leader go with one over there <pointing to the gauntlet>!” I chuckle to myself. “Oh Yuri, you’ve done it again.”
  14. My heart decides to give me a second chance and I jog my bag (wait, that sounds naughty) down the slight decline.
  15. I get to the turn, I’ve got my heartrate finally down below 1,000 and there ahead is a barb wire crawl. “Ain’t that some shit!” 
  16. Back Scratcher has a slight incline, but it’s fresh dry dirt under all that pointy goodness. Nothing to do but hug it out with my sandbag buddy and roll, roll, roll; roll in zee hay 
  17. Back to the flat plateau and it’s time for a gauntlet.
  18. I jump to the second rung of Cold Flush and make the short climb up to some corrugated culvert pipes (this stuff is ubiquitous in the OCR world, can we all agree from here on out and forever more, that I can shorten the description to just “tubes”. Thank you) that are angled down to a shallow pool. There is a guy already in the tube I’ve chosen and he’s having a hard time scootchin’ down feet first. Head first is the only way to go when the exit is close to the ground/water (unless the water is deep and thus allows you to sink far enough to clear your head on exiting)
  19. The tube is sticky with the humidity and I have to actually pull my way down.
  20. 50 yards gets me to the Big A-Frame, a monstrous 20-foot assemblage of horizontal 2Xs. The roll over technique at the top saves a bit of time, but it does not allow for lingering over the great view to the South.
  21. A quick dash over a very bouncy Teeter Totter (think giant see-saw) and I’m back in the dirt at Low Crawl. There were some OCR love taps given and received as legs and arms flopped around whilst rolling under the barbed wire. Better a shoe to the head than a barb in the butt.
  22. I grab another water on the fly at the first water station (I have no camel in my genes. I never forsake a water station), turn left and bomb down a rocky downhill trail.
  23. I slam on the brakes and let the Icebugs dig in as a volunteer in the middle of the trail directs me to a hard right turn.
  24. Oh sure, Cal’s Cliff starts off with a manila cargo net draped over a gentle slope, but it quickly transitions to a sheer faced, ass-puckering, stomach churning, manila cargo net draped cliff.
  25. I got a girl above me yelling at me to hurry the fuck up while I’m raining down dirt clods onto the dude below me. ”Easy there she-goat!”Barbarian Challenge Cals Cliff
  26. I untangle my foot at the bottom, turn and go down what these Alabama folk call a trail, and what the rest of us call terrifying. Out of fucking control, I let gravity throw me into a guardrail made from three lengths of rope stacked horizontally and strung between two trees. I bounce off like Hulk Hogan about to deliver a clothesline and regain my balance.
  27. The insanely steep “trail” is suddenly made scarier by a huge treefall blocking the way. “Crawl under and waste valuable time, or vault over and drop 4-feet onto a 45-degree slope?” Aww, fuck it! There are downslope trees that will stop me from plummeting down into Black Creek……I think”. I manage to stay upright and not kill myself.Barbarian Challenge Cals Cliff trail
  28. Some nice single track running in the woods along Black Creek gets me into a groove.
  29. As I turn away from the creek the trail turns into a long steady hill up through sparse and scruffy pines. Finger Wall shows up just when I’m starting to have the hill climb grumbles. This is a replica of the middle portion of BattleFrog’s tip of the spear, except without those evil plastic panels, and only half as long.
  30. The sun remains hidden behind clouds. This pleases me.
  31. The trail takes a hard right back on the firebreak. Gravity again shows no mercy as I go careening down a hill even steeper than the hill with the walls. The toe lugs dig in deep, with every footfall a badly placed pebble away from an ass-over-elbows disaster.
  32. I’m dumped straight into the Black Creek and it is fucking glorious! 50 yards of waist deep refreshment!
  33. GAAAAACK! Something is brushing against my leg! I manage not to squeal (out loud at least) like a 7 year-old girl as I realize I’m hung up on a submerged stick or vine. It leaves a parting scratch across my thigh. Disgust is none too pleased.
  34. The exit at the riverbank is covered in barbed wire. The ground is dry and the wire high so it’s an easy uphill bear crawl.
  35. Great! Soaking wet dirt covered hands. Why it’s a perfect time for fucking monkey bars. This is the first burpee option obstacle.
  36. At Monkey’s Choice you can choose between traditional monkey bars or fixed bars that are parallel with the direction of travel. Both far above a pit of muddy water.
  37. I’m cruising through the monkey bars in my typical alternating hand/bar technique when that fucking little idiot in my brain, Fear, hits the panic button on the cerebral control panel. I can feel the confidence flowing out of my hands as the klaxons in my head warn of impending slippage. This is a new and alien feeling. I immediately switch to the two hands on each bar technique for the last three bars.
  38. As I’m standing on the wall at the end of the bars I think “what the hell was that about?! That feeling has never happened before. Joy where you at girl?!”
  39. As I jump down into the water pit I hear the guy in front of me ask the volunteer, “Do I go over or under the wall?” “Whatever you want” says the volunteer. Well color me confused, because though the bottom of the wall is about 10 inches above the surface of the waterline it’s clear it’s a Dunk Wall.
  40. I’m still moving forward while the idiots in my head are running around looking for a white board to run some calculations on the stupidity of that question, when WHAM! OWWWW!!  Motherfucker! I’ve nailed my forehead full blast against the bottom of the wall. “That’s gonna leave a mark!”  (writer’s note; It did. In fact, two marks)
  41. “It’s gonna be that kind of day is it? Man, this race could get ugly” Sadness pretty much has taken over the control board.
  42. Karma is a bitch.
  43. I make my way back into the woods, albeit a bit woozily.
  44. “Another bared wired crawl?!” Gadsden must have gotten one hell of a deal on spools of barbed wire. It’s over sand, and the wire is high enough to do a fast all-fours shuffle without zinging my bubble butt.
  45. As I stand up I can see a creek ahead. At least I won’t get sand chafe on the ol’ clockweights.
  46. Moccasin Crossing is straight across Black Creek. Last year I absolutely crushed my shin against a submerged log, so I’m moving as slow as a pig through an anaconda to avoid the same disaster.
  47. I scramble up the steep boulder strewn bank and head back onto some beautiful and flat single track running alongside the creek.
  48. A Tire Wall appears out of nowhere and it’s an easy, but awkward up and over the three tire columns. Even more awkward on the way down, when a dude is on the way up on the same column, and there’s incidental inappropriate contact. “Hey shouldn’t have been slower, guy. You wouldn’t have had your bawbags brushed.”
  49. The legs aren’t feeling half bad.
  50. Shit! A Weaver made from rectangular aluminum tubes! That’s definitely going to leave some OCR kisses.
  51. I take no pleasure in seeing the confused looks on the racers who have arrived before me and the long line of people doing the optional 40 burpees. Ok……maybe a little.
  52. The weaver is barely wide enough for two people, but I make it work with the guy joining me on this over, under, bruise inducing journey. (tip: if you are on a weaver with someone else, make sure you are feet to feet, unless you want to get kicked in the head and hands….a lot)
  53. The metal is greasy and wet from those before me. Slow and steady is the name of this game. At least you don’t need the wingspan of a condor like BattleFrog’s weaver requires.Barbarian Challenge Weaver
  54. I come off the single track onto a wide gravel path, it’s like a paved 6 lane super highway compared to the technical joys I’ve just been through. (caution: Ironic foreshadowing)
  55. I open the legs up just a skosh and make it a goal to close in on the two guys ahead of me.
  56. I catch them and pass them.
  57. “You’ve just been Greyed young’ns!”
  58. A bend in the path allows me to see the three Reverse Walls Fuck! Three. In. A. Row.
  59. Having 2x cross pieces on the underside of the invert keeps me from having to employ the heel/calf hook method. This pleases me. That methodology tends to send my calves into spasms of annoyance.
  60. A quick water stop, choke down some GU, and it’s back into the woods
  61. What. The. Fuck?! Another barbed wire crawl?! Snake Pit makes for the fifth crawl today. Gadsden must have got this shit for free!
  62. The trail running is beautiful. The weather is fantastic. The breeze? Nothing short of glorious. And those ridiculous firebreak hills are long behind me.
  63. And then I feel it before I see it; a subtle shift in the terrain towards an upward trajectory. I come around a bend and see the trail just disappearing upwards into the woods. Motherfrazzleratsafratzfricka!…Fuck! I drop down to powerwalking gear.
  64. And the hill just keeps going. I try to dial the running number.
  65. “We’re sorry this number has been disconnected and is no longer in service”.
  66. Stupid fucking Cumberland Plateau! Should have eroded faster!
  67. Of course what goes up must come down (as evidenced by the many races I have fallen flat on my face). The woods are back to being beautiful again. All is right with the world.
  68. Sternum Checker comes into view at a clearing in the woods and I have it all to myself. I won’t even have to break stride. With the 2x frame on the ground and the extra log at the bottom, it’s an awkward 1-2-3-vault maneuver. But success is with me today as I clear the top log with my legs never touching the top log. The soft pile of hay makes for a comfortable superhero landing.Barbarian Challenge Sternum Checker
  69. I’m feeling quite ninja like.
  70. Back in the deep woods I hear the distinct twang of a banjo. “Yes!” I was hoping they would do this again. That boy last year cracked me up, with his hootin’ and hollerin’, and lunging out at me, all wrapped up in stereotypical sartorial splendor of overalls, a white T, and a straw hat. This year not so much. The dude is sitting in a tailgating chair twenty feet off the trail, just chillin’ and pickin’. I still smile though. The spirit of it is still the same; we play in the mud and climb things. There’s no reason to be so serious all the time.
  71. My smile quickly fades as the terrain changes once again to an upward tack.
  72. I’m just trying to stay on this dude’s heels I’ve caught up to, but the mental game is flagging.
  73. I come out of the woods and smack into another firebreak, or the same one. Who knows?! “OOO boy! This could go either way!”
  74. Annnnnnd of course it’s up a fucking hill.
  75. Jeep Hill is scorched earth, rock and loose dirt. Visions of post-apocalyptic landscapes swirl in my head as I try to drown out the voice of a girl who has suddenly come up behind me. “I’m not a runner!” she says. “I shouldn’t have done squat day yesterday!” she says.
  76. Anger lies across the ENTIRE control board. “Oh for the love of God, will you shut up!” I think to myself. “Sheesh! Mountain goat level hills certainly bring out the testiness in me. You gots to chill Tretsch!”
  77. My attitude immediately changes when she passes me. Thank you my dear for those pink booty shorts and having squat days.
  78. This hill will never. Fucking. End.
  79. I finally reach the top. The dude I’ve been pacing drops back to say hi to chatty Cathy. I’m able to get a good enough kick to start down the wooded trail first and get some distance between me and the talkative twosome.
  80. I open it up on the smooth downward trail.
  81. The weather really is fantastic.
  82. Holy Shit! Thems some tall ropes! They’re thick and knotless so it’s an easy climb to the bell. It’s a bit nerve racking though with the lack of crash padding. There are a couple of people taking the burpee option. Ain’t no judgment here. It’s really high up.
  83. Another water stop to cool my head off and then it’s across a wide gravel path to drop into the woods again.
  84. The makeup of the trail immediately changes; It’s tighter. More rocks. More roots. More tretscherous.
  85. A volunteer in the trails slows me down while pointing to my right, and next thing I know there is a tall wooden ladder leading down into The Gorge.
  86. Damn! This is some technical running! Not a good place for a spaz like me.
  87. It’s not long before I’m going up again, and then climbing some rocks. I love climbing rocks. I hate climbing rocks when my legs feel like two fucking ingots of lead.
  88. The “trail”, or as I call it, this-fucking-miserable-boulder strewn-not suitable for anything with less than four legs-gnat width gap in the trees, is getting harder and harder on tired legs.
  89. I stumble but catch myself just before I could bash my brain against a boulder.
  90. I hear someone behind me suck in their breath. Obviously impressed with my feline like grace.
  91. A couple of people pass me.
  92. And then the brain shifts. The idiots in my head are off reading manuals or something. I can feel my entire body wanting to downshift. Fucking mental game! I suck at it! I just rolled snake eyes and all I want to do now is lay down with my woobie and just take a nap.
  93. And then chatty Cathy passes me.
  94. Like a gift from the OCR gods, that bright pink just glows against the backdrop of trees and rocks. At that moment I decide I need to follow that amazing a(hey don’t hate me. One has to embrace motivation when one is presented with it. As my friend Rick says, It don’t matter where you get your appetite from as long as you come home to eat)ss. Mother nature and a gym have provided.
  95. This not only keeps me moving, but I actually have to increase my pace. GROAN!
  96. The trail is fucking torturous. These Alabama boys (now don’t get in a tizzy. I know there’s fast Alabama girls. Hell, I got passed by a few. “Alabama Boys” just rolls off the tongue better. Ok, wait….that didn’t come out right. Oh shit! Neither did that. Aw fuck it! You know what I mean!) certainly have a home court advantage.
  97. I make the tretscherous descent down to Black Creek and reach Burpee Beach.
  98. Is that a tiki hut?
  99. I fucking hate burpees. I don’t do them. I don’t incorporate them into my “training”. I think people who like them are spectacularly weird. (Love you. Mean it) But in beautiful surroundings, and some nice sand, I knock out the required 5 flawlessly.
  100. I’m feeling pretty full of myself.
  101. We cross Black Creek for the 600th time. Again I go slowly lest I rack any important bits. I take a few precious seconds and submerge myself completely underwater to cool the engines.
  102. And as I go up another fucking miserable hill climb I realize I forgot to partake in the natural beauty of Noccalula Falls. Again! For the second year in a row!
  103. Oh god does this hill suck!
  104. Just keep the pretty pink in view.
  105. We’re now on a miserable ledge about 50-feet down from the rim of the gorge.
  106. So many beautiful rock faces to play on. Bet there would be some great boulder problems here. “Focus Tretsch, you witless shitgibbon!” well I guess the idiots are back to paying attention.
  107. Another water station comes in view and all I can think about is how in the hell did they get all that down here?! Bless you Barbarian Race.
  108. And the misery just keeps going. But my motivation keeps moving, so I do as well.
  109. I finally break free of a trail more suited for an Alpine Ibex and only have to contend with dirt and roots.
  110. In my exhausted haze and with other, ahem, distractions, I never really realized we had been losing elevation. So here we are pretty much at creek level and I just know the finish line is up. There. Somewhere. Oh the humanity!
  111. Annnnnnnd there it is – A miserable hill of weeds, and roots, and vines, and stubs of saplings. A coronary conflagration that leads right to Kudzu Tire Climb.Barbarian Challenge Kudzu Tire Climb
  112. The tires are like a giant Bridgestone blanket draped across the face of the hill. I’m able to step on the sidewalls until the pitch gets so steep I have to use the bottom inside rims as ladder rungs.
  113. PANIC! My center of gravity gets a bit negative in relation to the slope of the hill and I’m windmilling like Pete Townshend on a solo tear.
  114. Sir Isaac Newton does not win today.
  115. I want to love the small cheering crowd at the top of the hill. I really do. But right now I just want this to be fucking over.
  116. Pink starts to pull away. I long passed her friend. She did the job she didn’t even know she had, admirably. She shaved at least a couple of minutes off my time. Saved me from stopping due to a weak mind. Bon voyage Pink. You keep doing those squats.
  117. I slog through the grassy cross slope on the flanks of the festival plateau. I really hate cross slope running.
  118. The Destroyer is a climber’s jam. It’s just a big fat campus move to the top lip. The soft hay landing is much appreciated.Barbarian Challenge Destroyer
  119. The last hill appears and it’s got Uphill Slide on it.
  120. The black plastic on the ground is being sprayed with water, but it doesn’t seem to be as slippery as last year. I’m able to “hustle” on hands and knees under the barbed wire (that’s six wire crawls for you all not counting at home) without using the ropes.
  121. I can smell the barn!
  122. It’s a quick 75 yard “dash” to the Village Rig
  123. I step up to the raised bar and quickly assess the situation. 4 rings, big gap to rope, ring, rope, ring, big gap to rope, ring, rope, ring, bell. Easy Peasy. I formulate a plan.
  124. Somehow I get across not even remotely following my plan, as if over here was plan A, the original, and I ended up doing Plan Z which I wasn’t even privy to. Fucking idiots in my head.
  125. Ugly still gets me past a few people slower on the rig and the folks doing the burpee option.
  126. It’s even a shorter sprint to the last obstacle.
  127. Barbarian Tower is 4 vertical tubes with aluminum extension ladders on the inside. “I’m so fucking tired”, I think to myself as I look up to the sky, framed by a circle. “That’s a long way up.”
  128. Twenty-feet in the air and I’m looking straight down through a square hole in the platform. A thick manila rope is hung through the hole leading down to a pit with yellow and blue block thingys.
  129. Ain’t nothing but a reverse rope climb. I lock in with the feet and slide on down.Barbarian Challenge Barbarian Tower
  130. The blocks prove to be 12” square squishy foam like the kind you see in gymnastics pits. I struggle to work my way out of the pit. There are two other dudes with me; I’m slightly ahead of one, and on the heels of the other. Fuck, he looks like he may be in my age group! I gotta pass him!
  131. The finish line is only 30-feet away.
  132. I lunge for the lip of the wooden box that contains all this madness. My fingers just graze the edge as I sink even deeper into the stygian depths of this foam nightmare. NOOOO!
  133. I’m floundering. Flapping. Flailing. This fucking flagitious foam has got me flabbergasted.
  134. I finally extricate myself from Dante’s foam pit of hell, having lost two places, and sprint through the finish line.
  135. And just like last year, I am handed a medal, an ice cold bottle of water, and an ice cold and wet golf towel. That towel on my steaming head is decadent luxury of epic proportions.
  136. That was fucking awesome! The BC team somehow beat the awesomeness of last year! I’m proud to say fellow Grey Beret Thumbs (aka Cal Burr) had something to do with that. If you live within 0-5 hours of Gadsden you NEED to do this race. This is an OCRWC qualifying worthy type of race (hello! OCRWC are you listening?). If you decide not to do this race next year, don’t tell me. I just don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.
  137. Tretsch says DO IT!

There is the usual healthy doses of comradery and post-race adult sodas. We cheer on the racers as they make their way through the rig and we even get on the rig ourselves (when it’s clear) and muck about. The Grey Berets and friends do very well reaching AG podium several times. BC gives out some great extra bling for AG winners, but the real goods go to the overall winners: A sword. A fucking full-on-Conan-like barbarian sword, a beautiful wooden shield, and a cool metal helmet. ‘Twas a good day.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): Kathy Cole, Kathy Cole, Kathy Cole, Kevin Hunt, Kevin Hunt, Michelle Kiefer Phillips, Michelle Kiefer Phillips, Kevin Hunt

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Robert A. Tretsch, III, aka “Tretsch”, is a gentleman architect and founder of the Grey Berets who revels in the pursuit of mud, obstacles and the occasional podium step.
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