Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas

Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas

I would like to preface this review by saying that, due to unforeseen flooding the Savage Race in Dallas was canceled. This led to a unique hybrid type event the following Sunday. Rather than a Blitz– Sunday’s Race was a hybrid form of both the Savage Race and the Blitz resulting in a 4 and ¼ mile course packed with a lot of mud and obstacles. It was certainly the toughest and muddiest Savage that I personally have ever run. It was far different than the usual fare.

Savage did what they could to ensure as many people as possible got to enjoy a race even if it wasn’t what was originally planned. Therefore this review will be quite unique in that I will not only take note of the course with consideration to the events leading up to it. I saw a dedicated act of care for not only Savage participants, but for OCR as a whole.

The Race that Almost Wasn’t

As I was about to head out of the door Saturday morning, I knew that it had rained a lot the night before. I was prepared for a muddy course. However, I did not expect to receive the message from a fellow athlete saying “Race is canceled, whole festival area and course are flooded.” I sat on my hotel bed contemplating what this meant. I received a link to the video of a very disappointed and very apologetic Sam Abbitt.

Sam explained what had happened and noted that the river on the venue had risen far greater than they had thought it would. Much of their equipment was floating or submerged. They were attempting to salvage what they could, and Sam said “I am sorry” several times noting that Savage Race would do everything they could to make it up to competitors.

Around lunch, Sam released another update video. The river had receded and the Savage Crew and volunteers were working hard and non-stop on putting together a “hybrid course” for anyone who didn’t race on Saturday or who had originally planned to race on Sunday. It would certainly be unique, but they were doing what they could. I personally found this extremely respectable considering the amount of devastation that had befallen the course. The crew could have scrapped the entire weekend.  Instead, they harnessed the spirit of what it means to be an obstacle course racer. When presented with an obstacle, even from nature, we think quickly and do all we can to overcome it. I find this extremely respectable and heartening.

Race Day


I didn’t expect anything out of the coming course. I don’t mean that in the sense of that I thought it would be bad.  I was happy to be able to race. Showing up to an extremely soggy and muddy venue wasn’t promising either. After a slightly late registration, the venue seemed somewhat empty.   The final turnout was nowhere near a normal Savage event, but far more participants showed up than I expected.

The pre-race rules were easily understandable. The pre-race speech given by the one and only Coach Pain. It was a great way to get us all pumped up and remind us how hard the crew had worked to put this course together after the weather had taken out the course on the previous day. He inspired racers as well as spectators.

Everything felt more “mom and pop” for a Savage Race, but it wasn’t a detriment. The competitors were just as fired up as usual if not more so, and we had one heck of a course in front of us to face down. The river flooded the entire course the day before.

The Course

As we charged out of the starting corral through a mostly flat course it didn’t take long to find plenty of mud and water. Even the pros had to be careful not to slip and slide. The first obstacle was one of the muddiest barbed wire crawls in my recent memory. Next came Shriveled Richard which is always a good start to wake everyone up. As we pressed on through a few 4 foot walls, on to “The Great Wall” and over an A-Frame, we came up to one of the new obstacles for the year “Pedal for the Medal.”  I’ll have to admit, this took a bit for other competitors and I to figure out. A rope connects a giant wooden spool and a tire.

The object of the obstacle is to use ONLY your feet to roll the spool thereby wrapping the rope around it and pulling the tire to you. This becomes hardest at the initial point at which the spool begins to pull the tire towards you. The key is to keep momentum on the wheel. Otherwise, you could lose some of the rope you worked so hard for. This really is a quad and hamstring burner. It presented far more difficulty than I originally imagined.

One of the only problems is that you almost have to rely on a volunteer to let you know when your tire hits the designated pole. Once it does, you must then carry your tire back out to the starting portion which is clearly marked by a mat. I found it inventive, yet I feel a couple of kinks could be worked out especially for competitive waves.

Upper Body Savagery

Next was a combo of 6 foot walls and barbed wire crawls. I found these  both fun and brilliantly placed as a taxation on the cardio system before “Big Cheese” and “Sawtooth.”  The wet obstacles proved very challenging. We barreled through a lot of mud to a mud-covered “Kiss the Walls.”

I do not remember “Kiss the Walls” having such small rock climbing grips on it or footholds. I also don’t remember it being as slanted. The mud and rain made it nearly impossible for most competitors. It was here that in spite of being in the lead pack after MANY tries for over an hour I finally gave up my elite band. All of the caked on slick Texas mud made this the hardest rock wall obstacle I’ve ever encountered.

Competitors were bombarded with a series of wet grip and upper body killers. Wheel world was lots of fun as always. After a  very muddy Colossus came “Twirly Bird,” “Holy Sheet,” and “Battering Ram.” I find “Holy Sheet” to be a nice new addition that provides a lot of technical challenge and forces competitors to utilize technique and body control. Most of my commentary is on “Battering Ram.” Unlike what you see on Savage Race’s website, the sliders had heavy iron with a type of handle that hung down for competitors to grab, a transition to a trust, and then grab hold of another handle and scoot along to a bell.

While doable, the rams did not slide as well as they should have and the handles allowed for less usage of momentum in sliding. Essentially, the only way to move the ram was to sling it forward using pure muscular shoulder and arm strength. I am not sure if it is intentional. I feel the more traditional larger pipe on a smaller pipe would  be a smoother obstacle.  It would also allow more fun for open competitors.

The End of a Tumultuous Journey

The festival area didn’t have much going on afterwards.  However, high hopes and good spirits filled the festival area. Top finishers received their awards, but far fewer finishers came out with bands than normal. Some of this could have been due to the placement of obstacles because of the weather. The highlight of the festival was seeing off the volunteer wave with Coach Pain. He commended them on their hard work.


What OCR is All About

I am proud of that volunteer crew. I am proud of Savage Race’s crew. I am proud of the understanding and concern from all competitors. Yes, many were disappointed, but at the end of it all, we are a family. This past weekend showed me again why I enjoy Savage Race so much. Most everyone acted like a big family who wanted to help one another and do all they could to help.

Everyone came together with love, logic, and understanding and overcame a problem the best way they could. This embodies the spirit of OCR. In spite of all these adversities, Savage put on a great, well organized, well manned by volunteers event. I’ve seen races in perfect weather with months to prepare that couldn’t hold a candle to this “thrown together” event.  I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Spartan Super Austin: A Sticker filled Rocky Good Time

 Super Good Time

The Spartan Super Austin took place on May 19th, 2018.  While Sprint competitors would sadly be forced to experience a literal storm on the following Sunday, participants for the Super were able to experience a perfect storm of a much different type.  From time to time venues are not utilized to their utmost potential.  Spartan did not disappoint this year by creating a near perfect blend of sights, obstacles, and terrain.

Super Venue:

On Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, Texas much more than the expected elevation can be found.  With beautiful Rocky hills scattered all about the ranch offered up nearly 1,300 feet of elevation gain throughout the race.  All the while beautiful views were a sight to behold both on and off course.  Terrain for this quintessential Texas venue ranged from sand to rocks to the occasional push through scrubby barb covered bushes.

Every step didn’t feel like “well this is a neat little trail” but more like “wow what a unique adventure.”  This is exactly what a racer should feel at such a destination venue.  Spartan showed that they knew how to utilize the beauty, size, and challenge of the Ranch to their utmost advantage.  Allowing their racers to truly soak in where they were will ensure return competitors next year.

Reveille Ranch

The Super Course:

Spartan had a lot of land to utilize to their advantage for this course and boy did they make the most of it.  Starting the course with a few walls as a warm-up we moved into one prickly barbed wire crawl. The elite males went over batches of thorns, stickers, and fire ants.  It wasn’t a long barbed wire crawl, but man was it tough.  I heard later that for elite women it wasn’t bad, and experienced a smooth ride during my second run of an open wave. All I can say is you are welcome for the elite men being so gracious as to use their bodies as pin cushions.  Check the arms and back of anyone who got there first and what they went through was pretty clear.

Bucket Brigade, Bender, Stairway to Sparta, the sandbag carry and many other favorites were spread out over the next few miles.  The expanses of running and climbing over rocky terrain and dirt trails between obstacles were nearly perfect.  Hitting these few simpler obstacles and wearing racers down with hills led to the first big challenge: Twister.  By this point, the dry Texas heat had begun to get to many.  Spartan did a superb job ensuring no one became dehydrated (unless by choice) offering up eight water stations (one for each mile.)  After twister came a great downhill portion that allowed runners to open up.

This then led into a nice little pick your poison culvert crawl in which competitors could choose a route, but it was hard to tell which was easiest.  After we made the culvert crawls we completed some actual climbing using both arms and legs.  This was a welcome challenge.

More obstacles and water crossings were spread out perfectly over more wicked, fun terrain.  Spartan had a great finishing portion for both racers and spectators.  After mud mounds, a dunk wall, slip wall, A-frame and cargo net competitors had one more good climb to the spectator area.  With the finish line in sight, success seemed so close, but at the same time could be so far away.  After jumping a trio of four-foot walls, competitors still stared down a wicked grip gauntlet that could cost them lots of burpees.  No one wants to wuss out on burpees in front of thousands of spectators and fellow competitors.

The first monster ready to take out your grip and shoulder strength was the Herc Hoist.  The multi-rig and Olympus followed.  This created not only one of the more challenging final portions I’ve personally experienced at the end of a Spartan (or any) race but created a great atmosphere for the festival.  Sometimes, finish lines can feel like a place where we are all just waiting for people to come in.  This felt less like a waiting area and more like a sporting event.  The goal of making OCR a legitimate respected sport needs finishes like this.  They rile the spectators.  You can only see someone go through a rig so many times.  However, the announcer and DJ did a GREAT job of keeping both the racers and crowd involved and fired up.

The festival:

The announcer and DJ did a great job of keeping a good vibe going throughout each wave.  Everyone seemed to be having fun and had a few reasons to stick around even after completing their run.  With conveniently located booths, Amstel light, and festival contests to compete in it wasn’t just a race but was an experience. I’ve personally seen Spartan drop the ball here before, so it was nice to see them creating the experience I know they are capable of.

Final Words

All in all, this was probably THE BEST Spartan race I have ever run.  With beautiful sights aplenty, great challenge, superb course design, and a great experience this event reminded me why Spartan was one of my first OCRs.  I will definitely be back. I would certainly recommend this to any Spartan to add to their race calendar next year.

The obstacle variety was great and everything seemed to click for Spartan Super in Austin.  I hope they continue to put this much effort into venues and bring a great experience to Texas for Dallas as well.  When you take it for what it is.  You accept Spartan for what they are and what they are about.  There isn’t much improvement they could have made.  Directors could innovate obstacles a bit more.  However, I think that fine-tuning of obstacles like Twister and Olympus have helped improve the experience.  Grading it for what it is and at what Spartan does (rather than in comparison to other events) I give this race 5 AROOS out of 5.

Savage Race Dallas

Getting Savage Again

Every Savage is a unique experience.  On a hot day in October at the Beaumont Guest Ranch in Grandview, Savage Race Dallas began in great weather. Everyone was having a great time with a smile on their face.  Savage brings a unique feeling to the OCR community which allows serious athletes to compete and test one another, but to joke and share a hug at the same time.

Savage Race Venue

The Beaumont Ranch is a quintessential Texas venue.  I enjoyed the “Texas” feeling this venue offered more than anything.  Savage did a great job utilizing what little elevation and technical terrain they had access to on the ranch to provide some challenge.  Occasional hills, dried creek beds, and patches of brambly grass provided a technical challenge in a state not known for running elevation.

The scenery in the creek beds and the occasional tight spot through some trees was a sight to behold.  These routes gave me the feeling of fleeing outlaws in the old west. The winding path of the race course was well thought out and utilized every natural obstacle around.  Despite its lack of extreme elevation, the scenic Texas venue made up the difficulty with a good bit of heat.   The lack of any foliage to block the sun can take its toll on runners and hydration was a must.  Savage did a great job providing a total of three water stations spaced out quite well and before key obstacles.

Beaumont Ranch Savage Race Dallas 2017 venue

Beaumont Ranch Facebook

Volunteer Performance

Well-informed volunteers did a great job of being sure the pros were aware of all the rules.  They were also quick to call out any pro who did not follow them.  The volunteers also did a superb job of being sure to repeat safety concerns to competitors at each obstacle such as Davy Jones Locker and Sawtooth.


Designers placed “warm-up” obstacles over the first mile of the course quite well.  A good mix of crawls, under overs, and climbing walls lead you into the second mile which also upped the ante in the terrain.

In the extreme heat Shriveled Richard (Savage’s always super cold ice bath) was almost a welcome sight.  Shriveled Richard immediately led into Squeeze Play which wasn’t under water this time around.  After a bit more running and a water break, we moved through Back Scratcher, Big Cheese, and Big Ass Cargo before hitting the third mile-marker.

Savage did a superb job at keeping rhythm with the obstacles. There were about three obstacles per mile.  All of the difficult obstacles were not placed at the end of the course.  Savages “spectators are allowed anywhere on the course” stance can benefit in the course design in this way.


Savage Dallas Anthem

Summon your Inner Savage

Next came the upper-body grinder with three obstacles in succession: Tree Hugger, Wheel World, and Kiss My Walls.  These well thought out designs can annoy, challenge, and push competitors to the brink.  We train even harder to be ready for the challenge the next time around.

Each bit of terrain traversal leading to well-placed obstacles felt like a pleasant progression in difficulty to the finish line rather than a slog.  Nearing the end of the 6.5 miles, competitors encountered the new obstacle: Hang-a-rang.  This balance obstacle consisting of two logs suspended from chains is a welcome break up to the usual OCR fare.  Competitors were not allowed to touch the chains but only the tiny rope midway through each log.

Savage Hang-a-rang Savage Facebook

Savage Hang-a-rang

The adventure ended with Davy Jone’s Locker, the time consuming Mad Ladders, the infamous Twirly Bird, and Blazed.  Many competitors speed through until the end: shoulders worn out, forearms burning only to see Twirly Bird standing between them and the finish.  Nothing compares to seeing the smile on racers’ faces as they conquer a well-designed, just difficult enough obstacle like Twirly Bird.  They then jump over the flames with gusto to the cheers of a crowd able to comfortably witness it all from the festival area.

Final Thoughts

Other than one skimmed-over piece of stray barbed wire in a creek bed that could have caused an injury, Savage Race Dallas had no other detriments.  Designers utilized the venue to their utmost and created a hella good experience for racers and spectators alike.  Savage Race Dallas succeeded in cementing my love for the race series and showing me that they continue to improve as a company in providing both challenge and experience for the money.  I would also like to note that upgrading to Pro from Open on-site was quick and simple.  I have never had such an easy time with a company in modifying a registration.


I will say the new syndicate medals and state pins are a welcome adage to my collection.  These medals are high quality.  You don’t have to buy something extra to put them on OR pay extra money to get one.  Savage seems to have continued to grow and excel while still maintaining that care for their customers and appreciating what they do. Just like the words from amazingly talented Emcee Matty T, “Savages are a family.”  We are all there for one another, and that sense of family is something that is truly felt from the festival area to the course, to the finish.


Savage Race Syndicate Medal

My second Savage Race Syndicate Medal

Survival Race: Hunter Gatherer Review

Survival Race: Hunter Gatherer race report and review

Sitting in a rooftop jacuzzi, at the plush Mokara Hotel in downtown San Antonio, with Survival Race winner Shane McKay, soothing my aching muscles, bruised feet, and lacerated body, felt strangely foreign to me.

Twenty-four hours previously, I was navigating my way through ridiculously rocky terrain, in the dark, with bleeding feet, oozing cuts, and an overwhelming feeling of fatigue. I was 17 hours and 30 miles into the race, and my footwear had become pretty much nonexistent. When I could run, I looked more like an extra for the Walking Dead, stumbling after warm blood, than I did an endurance athlete.

During these low points in races, I used to ask myself why I do these things.

Am I just trying to look tough, or perhaps trying to convince myself that I am tough? What draws me to self-induced suffering?

But now I’m pretty clear what’s going on. I make myself suffer because I learn more about me, the real me, and how I handle adverse conditions. I’m on a quest to be the strongest man that I can possibly be – physically, mentally, emotionally – and every episode of weakness is frustrating failure.

Survival Race: Hunter Gatherer was yet another test in this quest. This race was much more than I ever expected. The course was gnarlier than I could have ever imagined. The challenges were more dramatic, more physically demanding, and many times took every ounce of my strength and determination just to get through them.

I hope you enjoy learning about the experience as much as I am going to enjoy reliving it.

Unlike Any Packet Pickup You’ve Ever Seen

At 5:00 p.m., the night be fore the race, Race Director [RD] Josue Stephens began blurting out some basic rules and instructions for us, but I don’t think I heard any of it. I was way too concerned with what we were going to have to do for ‘packet pickup’.

“There are stacks of logs behind me,” and I woke up. “…if you are over 160 lbs, you will choose a log from the far stack.”

ok, ok, ok, I get this.

“Then, you will carry your log, to the top of that hill, off in the distance.” He continued, “then, at the top of mountain, you will drop the log, carve your number into it, and run down the other side, cross the river, and run back to camp.”

Oh shi…

I raced over to get a log, but chose the wrong way around the pavilion, and by the time I got to the stack there were only 3 logs left, and they all looked fat, covered in bark, and hella’ heavy. I power-cleaned a log to my right shoulder, and started out, leaving the camp with John Taylor and Tyler Tomasello, destined to just take it slow.

Christian Griffith carrying his log to packet pickup to get his race number at Survival Race

Carrying the 95 lb log just to get my number

This was merely a preliminary challenge to get my race number – not the actual race – and with no time limit, I tried to force myself to not get caught up with everyone else.

Yea, right. Like my ego can manage such responsibility. Of course, I went out waaay too fast and way too hard.

The “trail” was really just a punishing, steep climb on a giant bed of large, loose rocks. You could hear logs falling all over the place as athletes were dropping them in an effort to rest; but like CrossFit WODS, this can actually work against you because of the energy needed to again power-clean the log back up to your shoulders every time you set it down.

By the time I got to the top, I was trashed.

Race Director says my log was ~95 lbs, and that we carried them 2.3 miles up that “little mountain”. I’m glad I found that out afterwards, because had I known how heavy, and how far, I had to go with it when I picked it up, I may have just quit right then and there.

Of course, my race number was #5, which is probably one of the hardest numbers to carve into a fat, bark-covered log, especially fatigued, but I did a half-ass job, got my race number from the RD, and headed back down the mountain, crossed the river, and eventually ran back to the camp. {after getting lost because of beer-swilling John Sharp purposely ‘redirecting’ us}

Race number in hand, I sat around with the other runners cussing the log, John Sharp, and trying to figure out why we had to carve our numbers in it, and if that meant we’d be seeing that log again.

Naturally, we would.

Sleep is Overrated

I got zero sleep the night before.

I was in a ‘dorm’ with bunk beds, and the mattresses were plastic. We were supposed to bring our own bedding, but I missed that memo, so my sticky, sweaty body stuck to the mattress and made tons of noises as I flip-flopped to find some kind of comfort. Add in some snoring from peeps around me, and a race volunteer emergency rukus, and I heard alarms going off without getting a wink of sleep.

One runner noticed that everyone had that “1000 yard stare”, and we did. All of us anxious to get started, buzzing around checking our gear, sipping on water and coffee, and getting ready to make our running sandals and gear packs.

@4:30 a.m., the RD said go, and racers hurried to begin shoe construction.

Building sandals for Survival Race

Shoe cobbler, I am not. Clearly the worst sandals ever. Sorry Luna…

Clearly, as you will see, I am the self-proclaimed WORST shoe cobbler ever born. When I practiced this in Atlanta, I broke the shoes every time. Now, I was just trying to not break them, AND get finished relatively quickly so I could get started moving along. Nervously, I watched runner after runner finish their shoes, make their packs out of t-shirts, and head out towards the “little” mountain, all while I was still struggling with trying to poke holes and lace my silly sandals.

My finished Luna Sandal product

Can you imagine running huge miles in these? on rocks and cactus and in water?

This stressed me out, and instead of taking my time, I “rednecked” the process, making the most ridiculous looking running sandals known to man.

I finally got a version of sandal put together, and went straight to making my backpack. For my pack, I used an old, but quality, Across the Years long-sleeved technical shirt, tied off the bottom with paracord, put all of my supplies down the neck of the shirt, and tied the arms off with more paracord and used them as the shoulder straps. This actually worked out really well.

Lastly, I made a quick belt for my 6-inch SOG knife and sheath, out of plain old paracord, and then dashed out of the pavilion, headed back up to the top of the “little” mountain in the pitch black Texas night.

My race was on!

Slow Your Roll, Sparky

But, no more than 100 yards into my start, my sandal ties came undone, my shoes started flapping, and I realized I was in for a VERY long day. I stopped every 200 yards, all the way up the rocky mountain, just to fix and re-tie my ridiculous sandals.

At the top of the mountain we were told to find our log with our number on it, and carry it down the other side, eventually to the river.

This was an incredible challenge, much more so than the day before, because:

  • It’s only 4:45 a.m.
  • A pitch black sky (other than my headlamp)
  • With the log being 95 lbs, this made me 300 lbs of mass, going downhill
  • Add in the sandals, and poor ones at that, and my balance was awful
  • Plus, the nasty, round, rolling rocks that would slide out from underneath
  • And the lovely prickly pear cactus punishing you for miscalculated foot placement
  • And the shoulder skin is already sensitive from previously carrying them up

Other than all that, it wasn’t too bad {wink}.

A Swim in the High Grass?

At the bottom, near the river, volunteers were checking us in, and I was elated because I would finally be rid of this stupid log.


Pointing to a stack of PFDs (personal flotation devices), the volunteers instructed us to wrap a PFD around our log, and get in the river, following the river until told to do otherwise.

Now remember, its still dark outside, and we really have no idea how far we have to go, or for how long. We are simply told to swim down the river with our log and whatever comes next is a complete mystery.

Swimming through the tall grass

The creepy swim. All 1.2 miles of it.

Some people really had a rough time with this and I applaud those athletes who conquered that fear. The water started out knee-deep, but after 100 yards or so, we were swimming, and not just swimming, but trudging through really thick, high grass. This is where people became really uncomfortable because the thick marsh grass would wrap around your legs, arms, and anything hanging off of you, and many times gave you the sensation that it might pull you underwater – all this while swimming with that damn log.

I ended up swimming 1.2 miles with that log, crossing two dams, and finally getting to the very end of it just as the sun was coming up.

First reward collected.

A Symphony of Shoelaces

Ok, so that subtitle is a stretch, but it makes me feel like a real writer, so just go with it, please.

Seriously, though, I spent the next ~3 miles stopping and re-tying my shoes over and over and over again. The swimming left me slipping and sliding around the footbed, on already loose and goofy sandals anyway, and I was getting really frustrated. I watched a lot of people run by – all with nicely cobbled sandals, I might add, and I felt dumb.

The Bat Caves

Somehow, I finagled a way to keep the sandals tighter on my feet, and although my heels were still hanging out the back, at least I was not flapping, and could kinda-sorta run.

I ran up on a really cool dude from Las Cruces, New Mexico, and together we rolled up on the next challenge – the cave crawl – which clearly demonstrated that the course designers did not expect any athletes over 200 lbs.

Volunteers pointed to 2-foot diameter hole in the rock, and told us to “drop into that hole.”

Survival Race caves

We have to go down THERE???

Once in the “cave”, if you went to the right, you were forced to squeeze between this very tight slit between two rock beds, and drop yet deeper into the caves; and once down that deep, I was forced to slither, like a snake, because many times the vertical space was as tight as 12 inches. This was really freaky and if you were claustrophobic, you would not have passed this challenge. You would not even have dropped into that hole.

Some of the sections were so tight for me, that I had to wedge myself in between two rocks, with my arms out-stretched in front of me, expelling all of the air I had in my lungs and flattening my body as much as I could. I’d then reach for some rock, and pull myself through. I got stuck once, had to back-out of the crevice, re-evaluate, find some loose rock section, and dig a bigger hole for me to squeeze through.

cave entrance

It’s a tight fit for a lean dude, so you can imagine what it was like for a 205 lb chiller.

I gotta be the only runner who has belly-button scabs from Survival Race.

Inside the caves, we were expected to find six petroglyphs, memorize them, and point them out for the volunteers once we got out.

Naturally, it’s me, remember? So, I somehow misunderstood this, only found four of the petroglyphs, and upon failure in front of the volunteers once I finally crawled out, was told I’d have to go back down, find the other two, and come back repeating all six.

I cannot express to you how bummed I was, and there is probably only one person who really knows just how upset I was… that cool volunteer, who kept repeating, “I don’t know how you made it through there.”

But I did it. Sucked it up, put on my big boy panties, and dove back down in the hole.

I think some other athletes down there felt bad for me and started giving me hints where to find the other two so that I wasn’t stuck down there another long time, navigating multiple tight squeezes over and over and over again.

Thanks dudes.

I came back out, pointed out all six, and got my first amulet; but the mental damage had been done. I was freaked out, wobbling down the rocky terrain, headed to who in the Hell knows where… I just knew wherever it was, it was 4.8 miles away.

A New Definition of Bushwhacking

Bushwhacking in SW Texas

The Texas Hill Country terrain is gnarly. Period.

Bushwhacking on the Appalachian Trail, or even in the wildernesses of Washington, Tennessee or California, is one thing, but bushwhacking in Southwestern Texas is a whole ‘nother ballgame. The course was flagged right up the gut of a series of climbs that pretty much went like this:

  1. climb steeply up very rocky, cactus-filled terrain
  2. get about 3/4 of the way up, then traverse a ridge-less ridge
  3. go back down to the very bottom
  4. stumble a few hundred yards in a rocky, dried creek bed
  5. repeat #1

But what made this series of never-ending climbing and descending so maddening and slow was the millions of stabbings one must avoid throughout the process. If you looked down the whole time to avoid the loose rocks and cactus, you got stabbed in the face by hundreds of packed-in-tight dry branches, which by the way, were also so brittle, they’d break in your hand if used to catch yourself during one of the thousands of stumbles.

Yet, if you looked out for all the branches, trying to somehow navigate without getting lacerated, you’d lose sight of footing and end up with prickly pear cactus spikes in your heels.

This is no exaggeration. I’ve done a loop of Barkley, and I’ve crawled through the jungles of Nicaragua, both of which are known for being flat-out gnarly and bushwhacky – and aside from the briars in the “Rat Jaw” section of Barkley, SW Texas is by far the worst. And I’m 100% convinced my race brethren and sisters are nodding and laughing as they read this right now.

After two hours of this mess, I felt I was probably getting close, and knowing I needed a pad of prickly pear cactus for the next checkpoint, I cut one off in the woods, rubbed all the spears off of it with a rock, and stuck it in my pack.

By this point my shoes were floppin’ around again, and my bare feet were taking a beating, but I just didn’t care anymore.

Only 10 Miles In?

The next challenge was somewhere around the 10-mile mark and I had already been going for hours and hours. The early afternoon sun was overhead now, strong and bright, and the temps were pretty much what you’d expect in southwest Texas.

At the checkpoint, we had to pull out our prickly pear pad, do all the necessary things for making a cup out of it, fill it with water, and drink. Then, we had to take a short quiz on the some of the edible plants indigenous to the area, before finally throwing a spear at some targets. I found a decent stick, but I was too tired to carve the stick, or practice my throws. You were allowed 7 throws, having to hit the target 3 times. I hit it twice, so I didn’t get that reward …but I did get a bead for passing the quiz and creating a very sexy cactus cup.

Hanging my head in failure at the spear throw, I was told to carry my spear another 5 miles to the next checkpoint – Fire-making.

And off I went, again, through another ridiculous series of miles and miles of steep bushwacking and dried, rocky riverbed traversing.

I was so shot-out by this point, I just didn’t know how a finish was even possible.

Fire For Hours

After what felt like nine years, I rolled into the fire checkpoint to see a whole handful of athletes that had been waaaay ahead of  me, and they were all struggling with making fire.

I gathered all the necessary materials, made my bow, my spindle, all out of soltol plant wood, and gathered my nest, hoping to get really lucky and nail my fire. I stayed there for close to an hour – no fire.

Some people stayed for as long as 3 or 4 hours, and some finally got it after such perseverance, but not me.

I realized by not getting fire, I was now putting myself in that lonely hole of “sure, you can finish, but you will still be a failure.” But, truth be told, I expected that coming into this race, so I was OK with it. To add insult to injury, we also had another spear throw challenge here and again I came up ONE short. Dammit!

I would keep fighting until I was told otherwise.

A Conference with the Race Directors

Sad and dejected and frustrated with yet another ridiculous, technical descent, I found myself just kinda standing on a grassy jeep road as a white Subaru approached. It was RDs Brad Quinn, and Josue & Paula Stephens, as well as an athlete or two who dropped at the fire checkpoint.

I tried to complain, but they didn’t show much mercy, and the vehicle was full, so all I got was a, “just get to prospector’s and you’ll be fine,” and away they drove. My first chance to easily give up, gone, in a puff of kicked-up Texas dirt.

I didn’t even know what “prospector’s” meant, but I had a really gnarly, steep climb ahead of me to find out.

Cool Dude in a Cabin

We actually got to do a small bit of easy rock climbing to actually get to the cabin, also referred to as “prospector’s”, and I really enjoyed that little tidbit of upper body and balance testing.

Sitting on the porch of the cabin was a funny, interesting guy who seemed to know everything about everything , and by the time I was getting to him, he had his script down:

“You are going to take a test on the local plants and their uses. Then, you will make some cordage out of wheat grass. And last, you will make a bow that you need to carry with you 6 miles to the next checkpoint.

By the way, nice shoes.” {smart ass}

This was all fine and dandy, but all I wanted to do was drink some water and sit down for a second, …or an hour; but, I took my test, and passed it proudly with a 9/10.

I, then, made some poor attempt at cordage which got a huge laugh from my new friend. He showed me how to first crush the plant, tear it into tiny fibers, and then braid it into cordage.

I did it. Kind of… but I got my bead anyway.

I then got busy on my bow. I could picture badasses like Shane McKay or John Taylor, sitting here for hours, whittling away on the perfect bow, but me? Oh hell no. I grabbed a stick, tied some cord to it, filled up my water bottles, and left the cabin humming weird show tunes. I actually found myself doing the Laverne and Shirley, up the hill, leading away from the cabin.

Yes, I’m that lame when I’m completely exhausted.

Really? A Trail?

Shockingly, two miles after leaving the cabin, and descending more terrain that had me cussing Josue’s name (and his mama’s name), we were actually dumped onto a real trail. Honest. No kidding. A real, honest-to-goodness, blazed trail.

I was so surprised that my first reaction was to NOT believe it.

“This is a trick, and I ain’t fallin’ for it”

The arrow pointed down the trail, and there weren’t any flags anywhere else, but I found myself asking myself, “self, why would Josue put us on this perfectly good trail when he could take us down this ravine and into another one of those gnarly dried creek beds?”

To make matters worse, I ran down the trail tentatively, and there were no markers. Up until now, the race was marked really well, but had to be because we were always bushwhacking.

I was tired, confused and cussing Josue again (but this time left Ms. Stephens out of it), and ran back to the arrow TWICE out of fear that I was going the wrong way.

I finally committed, kept on going down the trail, eventually found a marker, got passed by Gabi and Isiah, and after moving past the creepy cross, found myself at the “shooting range” just as it got dark.

I didn’t climb the tree and retrieve arrows for my bow.

I didn’t shoot my bow.

I didn’t make a travois.

Instead, I accepted that my bow was crap, and when they said we’d have to carry the travois 2.5 miles, mostly uphill, I collapsed internally. I barely had the strength left to complete the loop, let alone build a travois and pull it 2.5 miles.

This is a travois.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

As I made my way to the last checkpoint, it looked like a travois graveyard – everyone ditched their travois somewhere close to leaving the checkpoint, including the winner; BUT, as I shuffled down the trail with a cool dude named Paul, we rolled up Corinne Kohlen. If you are in the Obstacle Racing community, ’nuff said, but if not, Corinne is a true elite athlete in the sport and one I admire greatly. While the rest of us “studs” ditched the whole travois idea, Corinne was busy struggling with hers, having pulled it well over 1/2 mile.

I felt lame.

But, I was stoked for her, and amazed at her tenacity and grit. I’m a fan for life.

An Evil RD, or The Finish That Never Comes

True to character, the race director ran us right up close to camp, but still with 3 miles to go. You could hear and smell the finish, but all you could do was catch a glimpse of lights through the trees before the arrows pointed you back uphill again, away from camp, and seemingly back into the dark, nighttime wilderness.

And not once, but again, and again, and again …until I found myself telling anyone who’d listen (I think is was Scott from Luna Sandals who was now the lucky victim of my whining) that Josue was a mean, evil, RD who wanted nothing more than to make things so hard that no one could really ever finish.

Either Scott got sick of listening to me, or he smelled the barn, or both, but before I could finish my whine-fest, he took off down a rocky hill at full speed.

I followed, …minus the whole “take-off” part.

More of a controlled stumble.

And like that, I heard the cheering of friends, crossed the finish line, stopped and pointed at my shoes, and endured 15 minutes of laughing, jokes, photographs, and the constant, “you ran all the way in those?”

I still don't know how I was able to go this far in these monsters.

Yup, I did.

And while none of us completed the race exactly as Josue had designed it, Shane McKay, a rancher from Canada, nailed all the challenges, and was considered the much-deserved victor.

The rest of us were just glad we “survived”.

You have to be a special kind of knucklehead to want to train and race this kind of stuff. It’s designed for you to fail. Josue is not in this to coddle runners. He doesn’t care if anyone finishes his race. He is a race director who wants to challenge athletes beyond anything they have ever experienced, or could even imagine experiencing.

Lastly, one cannot express the joy and satisfaction from these kind of events without a nod to the other athletes, and volunteers. Whether it was your day or not. Whether you dropped at 10 miles or 5 miles from the finish line, it doesn’t matter, because there’s a brotherhood that develops, between all of us, male and female, that lasts long, long after the event is over.

I feel part of an extended family that knows me. Knows how I think. Knows what drives me, excites me, and challenges me.

I live a fantastic life and I’m thankful beyond words.

That’s all. Thank you for reading.