6:00 am – Perry, GA: The open air corridors of the Days Inn smell like fucking horse manure. As I stumble down the stairs, I have to dodge bits of straw flecked horseshit.
6:02 am – Perry, GA: The vast majority of vehicles in the parking lot are huge honkin’ dualies. Even in my pre-coffee haze, it’s obvious these may be the source of all the equine crap nuggets.
6:05 am – Waffle House: A few of the Grey Berets: Mr. Pink, Patriarch, Dirty, myself, and Angel, kick off the first official 2016 pre-race fuel up ritual. With each successive sip of the black gold, I become more amped. The GBC gave birth to the Grey Berets last summer, and we are eager to see what momma has got cookin’ in the kitchen this time.
6:55 am – Guardian Center: In the gloom of pre-dawn, we pass quickly through the perimeter gate after paying our $10 parking fee and start to drive by a building that seems to have no end. And it just keeps going. And going. Seriously, this is a really fucking long building. We finally make a turn and pass by a flooded “residential neighborhood” and a collapsed bridge. What is going on?! We park in the vast gravel lot, and through the windshield, I see a cityscape of buildings, both standing and collapsed. What is this place?! THIS is the Guardian Center, a disaster preparedness and tactical training validation center. I shall call it Disasterville and for today only, Mark Ballas is its Mayor.
7:03 am – Guardian Center: It’s cold out, but the day is scheduled to be a sunny one.
7:05 am – Guardian Center: Registration is indoors! And there is a bathroom….indoors! It’s the little things that make me happy just before the hammer falls.
7:30 am – Guardian Center: I’ve now had to run back to the car 2 times. I’m getting a good warm up, but where the hell did I leave my brain!?
OBSERVATIONS ON THE RUN
- The Sun has come out as we tow the starting line. It’s going be a blue bell day for some legendary pain.
- The start has us running through the streets of Disasterville.
- As we round a bend, I can see two “wrecked” cars kissing grills and blocking our path. I see the people ahead of us climbing over them….climbing?! I say Nay Nay Nay!!! Every episode of Starsky and Hutch, and the Dukes of Hazzard I saw as a kid flashes through my mind. There is but only one thing to do in this moment – the classic fucking hood slide. YES! Oh sweet baby Jesus thank you! (I know what you’re thinking, oh faithful followers of mine….”this is not gonna end well….and there’s pavement involved!”). As I near the cars, I kick up the speed, fill my mind with a pleasant, but Deadpool rated, image of Daisy Duke, and launch towards the left car. I glide across that beautiful product of American automotive might, as slick as snot and smashed bananas, whooping it up the whole way! I land in full stride and camera dude is right there! “Did you get that?” I ask as I run by. “No”. “Want me to do it again?!” “No”. Harshin’ my mellow man….
- Running by a simulated collapsed building and parking deck is fucking cool.
- We arrive at the first challenge, and it’s bedlam. A volunteer is yelling for teams to take one each of five different items: A Ruck, a 5-gallon bucket of rocks and dirt, an ammo crate with sandbag(s) in it, a cinder block with a rope handle, and an 8’ long 4×4 with a sandbag hanging at each end. We’ve made a critical mistake and dived into this scrum without taking a few seconds to huddle together and come up with a fucking plan. We are scattered throughout the crowd as I grab the 4×4 and heave it up on my shoulders. I turn and see Dirty pacing around looking for something to pick up, and Mr. Pink lifting a 4x to HIS shoulders. He’s not pleased when he sees me with one already on my shoulders.
- I start down the trail and immediately feel the effects of weighted pendulums hanging from each end of a long beam. Physics is such a bitch sometimes! The bags pull me from side to side forcing me to stagger like an E-3 on a shore leave drinking bender. This is going to fucking suck! Somehow our minds sync and we remember this is a team event. We make the necessary adjustments and carry on. At some point we make a trade; Dirty and I get the ruck, ammo box and block, and Patriarch and Mr. Pink get the 4×4 and bucket.
- Pink and Patty start pulling ahead of us. Patty is carrying the bucket in the crook of his elbow like some sort of OCR handbag. This makes me chuckle. After a few stops – why is this killing us so badly?! – we lose sight of Patty and Pink. What is the deal?! It shouldn’t be this taxing this early? Dark thoughts of my lack of training motivation during the winter start to tickle the edges of my consciousness. Dirty is weezing and grunting like a pug in heat, so I take the ruck. It’s a fucking beast.
- At least it’s not a coffin filled with fucking sandbags!
- I can see one of the outermost buildings through the scrubby, low trees. We must be close! We finally make the turn back towards the beginning, straight into a severe cross slope gully. I loathe cross slope running, hiking, stumbling with a 100 pound ruck, etc…!! We go a couple of hundred yards in this miserable fucking ditch when Mr. Pink and Patriarch appear from around the corner, angelically backlit and free of encumbrances, and relieve us of our ammo crate. We hustle to the pick-up/drop off point and shed our miserable burdens. Well that fucking sucked, but now it was time to run. Dirty expresses some concern about how all that went down. I know this man though. He is a tough fucking dude. He’ll cowboy up.
- We run along the perimeter fencing and see some of the leaders on the other side carrying sand bags. “Well that answers the question of what’s next”, I mumble. We arrive at a huge pile of sand and proceed to each fill up a brand new sandbag. I heave mine to my shoulders and proceed to lose half my sand and bury my shoes. Fuck! “Scribe! You gotta learn to tie a knot!”, says Mr. Pink. He gets down with me to assist in refilling the bag. Time’s a-wastin’! The boys head on out while I tie up, annnnnd…….my string breaks. Motherfucker! I mentally throw up my hands, give the bag a few more twists and haul ass. I slog through a muddy squelchy “dry” retention pond, climb up a steep embankment, and settle into a trot along the perimeter fencing. All my boys are ahead of me while I deal with how to carry an untied sandbag. My thoughts go dark as I think about the inauspicious start to this race. Realizing I’m not going to be able to run with this bag of pain across my shoulders in its current state, I reluctantly stop to try to tie it up with the anemic bit of string that’s left.
- I am successful.
- After a couple of hundred more yards, I drop off the grass track and straight into an absolutely gorgeous pecan orchard. I finally catch up to the lads and we oooh and ahhh over the obviously old trees laid out in a rigorous grid. I can feel the tension of the first challenge and the sand bag clusterfuck fade away as the bucolic setting works its magic on my nerves. The pace is good and we soon arrive at the next challenge set up on the periphery of the orchard. A plastic body sled laden with 3 very full sandbags and a nylon litter – with 2 lengths of pipes adjacent – and three fucking sand bags were going to be our next traveling “companions”.
- The spray painted arrows on the ground take us on a circuitous route through the orchard. As the weight settled in on the shoulders and started to grind us down, the orchard lost its charm and quickly became a bunch of fucking trees we had to avoid. I don’t even like fucking pecan pie!
- We took turns carrying and dragging, each of us sucking up the fucking misery. Hey, but the sun was shining and the temperature was perfect, and at least we weren’t carrying a coffin filled with fucking sandbags! We cleared the orchard and dropped down onto a full scale replica of a divided 4 lane interstate highway, labeled I-70. We trudged along the shoulder looking like a strange group of hitchhikers, with no possibility of a ride.
- The shoulders are starting to really complain.
- Dragging the sled became much easier on the asphalt so we went to 3 men on the litter. It was gloriously flat until we were forced to cross the road and drag our asses and those damnable sandbags up a short but fucking steep and rutted hill. Once we arrived at the top, we were rewarded with a view back towards the start of this miserable loop. A few more rounds of this GBC Chinese fire drill and we were breaking down the sled and litter and saying goodbye to O-Yama’s orchard of pain and suffering.
- Back over the “highway”, we headed into the woods via a long crawl under barbless wire. Visions of almost being garroted at OCRWC went racing through my melon.
- As we headed deeper into the woods, I was sure this was going to be one of the few pure running portions of the race, so I settled into a nice pace with my boys. And then I felt it. Fuck! The unmistakable flickering electrical impulses of my calves getting ready to tell me to “fuck the hell off, we are outta here!”
- I had forgotten those precious little yellow packets of liquid gold, so I called out to Mr. Pink to drop a couple on the trail for me. No Stopping! The vinegary bite feels good.
- That’s a mighty fine tree stand.
- That’s a creepy random plywood shack.
- We pop out of the woods and get back on the “highway”. The ruins in Disasterville are visible in the distance.
- We are back to running along the perimeter fence and quickly come up on our next challenge.
- TIRES! Big fucking tires! Tires that hold up trucks that move mountains. Tires that should stay on the ground and be beaten with sledgehammers. But nooooooo! With 4 steel posts (2 long 2 short……love me some hardcore 90s rap) sitting next to each tire, it was obvious we were going to be taking these fuckers on walk about.
- At least it’s not a coffin filled with fucking sandbags.
- Pink and Patty commence to wrapping and frapping, minus the backbeat, while Patty and I get in a little extra PT getting the 40 pounds of water out of the tire, flipping the to and fro. Heave Ho and off we go. Pink gets us all walking in sync, after some awkward stutter stepping.
- Compared to last year’s coffin carry, this carry is working out to be the easiest task of the day. We yuck it up, tell stories, and discuss Grey Berets “business” (nicknames, future old dudes, doing math on our team’s average age [55, by the way] etc..); Just a merry band of old farts taking a fuck ton of rubber for a Saturday stroll through the fields and woods of Georgia. Pink gets the pace quickened, and we start to close in on the team ahead of us.
- It’s just a grand old time, said my shoulders never.
- Patty is hurting. But he soldiers on like the beast he is.
- Shit! We have to set the litter down to adjust the pipes that have gone all wonky. “Oh look! The creepy plywood shed again. We’ve crossed the halfway point methinks”
- I’m switching shoulders so many times it looks like I’m doing walking shoulder presses.
- We make a move and overtake the team ahead of us. Before we know it, we’re back at the ravine separating the woods from the “highway”. It’s fucking sketchy, but with some good communication, we are able to avoid snapping a leg, twisting an ankle, or disappointing Matt B. Davis, who is yelling words of “encouragement” at us.
- We complete the loop and almost kill a volunteer when our rubber friend falls off the litter while lifting it off our shoulders. “Oopsie! Sorry!”
- Spirits are high and I have definitely shaken off all the dark thoughts from the beginning. Not that it’s all fucking sunshine and unicorns, rainbows and fluegelhorns, but I will not die today.
- A short run gets us to the fifth challenge, annnnnnd there are the coffins filled with fucking sandbags.
- I’m gonna die today.
- What the fuck am I looking at? A coffin, 3 banged up pipes (2 long, 1 short), several lengths of rope, and two used tires?! And I see a team ahead of us pulling away with all of this built into some kind of contraption that looks like Red Foxx had a three way with Mad Max and an undertaker. We choose a pile after Dirty gets all smart and points to the tires with no tread; “they’ll be lighter!” Our mission is to get all these pieces of junk into some type of Burning Man meets the Addams family assemblage, without the benefits of mind altering drugs, extreme heat, and naked chicks riding unicycles. “Tires must touch the ground at all times!” yells the volunteer.
- It takes us awhile to get our “vehicle” constructed. Shit! the team we passed has caught up! It’s now a race to see who can McGyver the shit out of this problem faster.
- We lose.
- We finally are ready for the road and get a whopping 10 yards and come to a screeching halt. Our rope tying has bound up the wheels. We get our shit in order but have lost serious ground.
- As we move down the road, the tires are flopping around like blown out flip flops on a beach bum. Speed is the key to keep them rolling and vertical. And just as we get into a groove, a STEEP fucking hill shows up. But it’s not a hill, it’s some sort of bunker buried under dirt and weeds. The slope must be greater than 45 degrees if it’s a degree! There’s nothing to do but power up that fucker, dragging our piece of shit-pine box derby car from hell, flaccid tires be damned.
- Pink and Patty are on point, while Dirty and I are dragging the rear. I have my free hand firmly planted on Patty’s ass giving him a push while my feet dig in for purchase. There’s more grunting and groaning than nickel night down at the whorehouse.
- We reach the top with everything intact. We are immediately struck by two things: We came close to impaling ourselves on the lightning rods poking up through the dirt and we have to go down the other side and then repeat the same fucking process on a second bunker!
- We place a clod of dirt on the sharp pointy business end of the rod and then make our way down. Dirty and I are human brakes. I’m leaning so far back, I’m almost parallel with the slope. Weeds and vines grab at my feet threatening to trip me up. We’ll be ass over elbows if even one of us slips. The transition between the two bunkers is barely longer than our coffinbarrow. We grind up and down the second bunker without incident.
- Going along a paved service rode lets us pick up the pace. Well, as much as one can, dragging two tires not following the laws of round things, and a coffin with fucking sandbags in it tied to stupid fucking poles lashed together with rope, hope and a prayer.
- The calves are burning!!! All of us are switching from running forward to running backwards and back. It’s a bizarre pas de quatre, but without the tights and toe shoes. Well, except Pink, he is wearing pecker pants.
- We come around the bend and can see the team who passed us! They have gotten about a quarter of a mile ahead. And then we blow out an axle! Mr. Pink comes to the rescue with some quick wrapping and frapping, and it’s back to the fucking grind. We have lost sight of the team ahead of us.
- We finally arrive at the top of the hill where the tire carry drop was and make the left for home. That miserable dragging-coffinbarrow-fuckall had to be a mile if a foot!
- There’s now more people around as the people at the tail end of our wave finish up the tire carry and some young guns from a later wave have caught up.
- As we pull our chariot from Dante’s 9th circle of hell into the staging area, the team we are chasing is just leaving. We’ve managed to make some gains! But we still have to break down our contraption.
- We’ve done one long run so far, so by my calculations and Patty’s GPS watch, we should be due for another. I’m feeling pretty beat down.
- We head in a direction that takes us directly back towards DisasterVille. We make a left at the flooded neighborhood and run along the perimeter berm. It’s warmed up considerably and I remark how nice that water is going to feel, because I know Ballas ain’t gonna let such a nice, accessible, and stagnant pool of water go to waste. But alas, we veer away from it and are taken on a route that hugs the side of a building. It quickly becomes apparent this is the building we drove by earlier in the morning that went on forevvvvvvvver.
- And we run alongside it. And we make a 90-degree turn, and we continue to run alongside it.
- Pink seems to have gotten a second wind, and I have to rein him in, ‘cuz I’m fucking dying over here!
- And then another turn, and it just keeps fucking going and going and going.
- We come up on a horrific scene of dead bodies everywhere. Oh, those are just dummies.
- We have arrived at the (I’m confident about this) last challenge. We increased our gain on the other team! We enter the building to find more dummies. They are just finishing their setup as we roll in…..the team not the dummies. Wait, the team are not the dummies. Shit! nevermind.
- The volunteer – “grab a dummy. (So I hug Dirty) They all weigh 185# (fuck me!!)! choose a sled or a sling.”
- We choose the sled, because we want to drag not carry.
- We are directed to go through turnstiles. Turnstiles? What the hell? And all of a sudden we are in a subway tunnel. Holy shit, how cool is this?! We are then instructed to enter the former DC metro cars and traverse down to the last car and then hop down to the tracks on the opposite side.
- There are no lights in the cars and the going is dark. The dummy gets hung up a couple of times on the center poles. Nothing a well-placed foot does not take care of. Our poor dummy would be dead by now if he was a critically injured human. But we are racing not rescuing. And that is why, when we reach the end of the train, he gets tossed onto to the tracks and not gently lowered. Sorry dude!
- The scenery is just amazing as we run down this never ending tunnel. We pass a train car that is ripped apart as if by a bomb; we have to negotiate under a flipped train car leaning against the wall; we have to go back and forth over the tracks, all the while dragging our battered dummy.
- When the fuck is this going to end!
- We finally make a turn, have to crawl over broken slabs of concrete, twisted rebar and a wrecked car, and yet we are still not finished!
- We can just see the team ahead!
- We have arrived in the car tunnel disaster simulator. We weave around wrecked cars, flipped cars, stacked cars, a car in the back of a bread truck, flipped school bus, cop cars, squashed cars. It’s just fucking amazing. I’m just glad we didn’t have to haul Dingle-fucking-Dorfmeister the dummy over any cars.
- I can’t resist writing “Grey Berets” in the dust on a couple of windshields. The lads aren’t happy with me when they lose 25% of the help.
- We finally exit the building and head straight down into the flooded neighborhood. OH SWEET JESUS! That is cold water! It quickly gets waist deep and Winky the milk spitting tunnel ferret and his tetlies immediately vacate the area and snuggle up next to my pancreas.
- We pass the two houses on the short axis and then turn left to travel the long axis. For some reason, I am really struggling with the coldness, breathing like a living room full of future mommies taking a Lamanze class. I look at Pink and say “remember when I said the water would feel refreshing? You need to fucking smack me for that stupid shit!”
- We turn left on MLK Dr. (I shit you not. That was on the street sign) and head towards the exit ramp. We have closed the gap on the team to 50 yards.
- We grind up the small hill and try to turn on the gas as we hit the asphalt streets.
- We head into DisasterVille hot on their heels. They make a right turn. We make the right turn. SHIT! The finish line is there 100 yards away!!! We can’t close the gap.
- And just like that – we are done.
- THAT was fucking brutal and awesome with some seriously heinous and diabolical shit!!!!! Mark Ballas, you glorious sick fuck; I love to hate you, I hate to love you. I am still deciding on which.
- Tretsch says do it! (or at the very least ANY event that comes to the Guardian Centers)
After some picture taking, we load Dingle Dorfmeister onto the luggage cart (yeah, we had to do that. A nice little post-race stab in the back!) and get to the serious business of relaxing and hanging out with the other Grey Berets, GORMRs, and all manners of other people who are there. Beers magically appear (there is no official post-race beer) from Pink’s truck. Hundreds of bags of Frito-Lays products courtesy of our Grey Beret brother Chips, are poured out onto a luggage cart. We have the honor to cheer on the other teams, fellow Grey Berets, and individuals as they cross the finish line. I get in a few Dubsmashes, because the backdrops are creatively inspiring. The BBQ sandwiches and smoothies for sale are fantastic. The sun is shining, the temperature is perfection and the 2016 race season has been kicked off in grand and painful style. All is well, albeit fucking sore.
photos by Jack Goras (via GBC), Mariano Oliveti, Mike Bravo Charlie