Friday, February 22, 2013

Fuego y Agua - Part Two (Final Chapter)

Post tree chop ;)
After chopping down the tree we were given a bag of coffee beans and told we needed to keep it dry, and that it had the third piece of the medal in it.  We were then led to what became the third aid station which primarily consisted of coconuts.  I drank the milk from two coconuts and scooped some of the meat out.  One of the volunteers refilled my camelbak with electrolyte drink and I wanted to take off back up the volcano.  It was now Jeff, Jason, Dennis and I and just before 5pm.  Out of nowhere Shannon came running towards us toward the final obstacle.  He was literally racing the clock and had been fortunate to come down the right trail.  As he flew towards the tree chop I put on my Camelbak and started back up the volcano.  Although Jason said he would hike with me  I wanted to get a head start because I knew I would be slow.  Hills are not my strength and I was actually really dreading the second ascent of the volcano.  In obstacle races the known is often a lot more difficult than the unknown, and knowing what I already did about the volcano did not fill me with confidence.  Within about a minute Jason had already caught up to me and we hiked up the hill chanting out the colors from the last memorization task: "Black - Green - Yellow, Purple - Red - Blue, Black - Green - Yellow, Purple - Red - Blue, Black - Green - Yellow, Purple - Red - Blue"
Shannon post tree chop
My hiking buddies Jason and Jeff loading up their bags.
It was easy to see that Jason was a much faster hiker than me and I urged him to go ahead.  We were both trying to make a time cutoff and I didn't want to hold him back.  Jason wanted to keep his word to my mom that he would stay with me but I begged him to go ahead.   Eventually Jeff came up the trail and passed me, and a little later Shannon.  I was just really slow. 
Not me but an example of the steep trail. Imagine this in the dark!
When the guys took breaks I was sometimes able to catch them for a minute or two but after about an hour was hiking alone.  It was now totally dark and although I had a good headlamp it was hard to see.  The trail was covered in rocks, vines, and squishy mud sink holes and to say it was slippery and steep would be a complete understatement. 
Finally about 8:30pm?? I came to the intersection I had seen when I had run up the volcano previously.  One way led to the top, and one way led down but this time there were no volunteers to point you in the right direction.  I thought I should take the route to the very top as previously I was directed to take the route I had just ascended but I really didn't know.  The goal was to get to the top of the volcano where we would swim across the lagoon in the middle of the volcano to retrieve an egg which we would then carry on our heads (without breaking it) back down the volcano.  We had been told at the coconut aid station that at the top of the volcano we would also find our final aid station.  
This is none of us but gives a good idea of "the trail"
The "trail leading to the top" was an interesting one as it seemed to take me down 30 or so feet, then send me back up, then send me down another 30 or so feet, then up over and over again.  It felt like I was making no progress towards the top and it felt like I was walking in circles.  Like previous sections of the trail, blue or orange ribbon markers were rarely seen. Finally after about 20 minutes on this roller coaster of a trail I saw two headlamps ahead and was so happy to find Jeff and Jason.  They had paused for a minute and were second guessing that we were on the right trail and I was so happy to be able to catch up.  We decided together that we were on the "right" trail and that there weren't really any other options.  At this point I believe it was at least 9pm and we had been ascending the volcano for 4 hours.  I think they thought it was earlier but I'm pretty sure it was getting late.  We continued on and eventually the trail began heading straight up hill.  At this point I could no longer keep up with the boys and I began to get tired, nervous, and frustrated.  I know they could hear the struggle in my voice and they yelled encouraging words for me and shined their lamps down at me but I just couldn't keep the pace and told them to go ahead.   They asked if I had water and I did and they yelled for me to take a left when I got to the top.  I yelled back for them to send someone after me when they got to the aid station and they said they would.  At this point in my game I wasn't really thinking straight about finishing within the time cutoffs anymore, I think I had been racing for 18 hours, exhaustion and fear were getting the best of me and I just wanted off the mountain. 
Again, not us but pics of the trail.  It was too dark to see us.
As I had been ascending the volcano the wind had been picking up and it had really turned into a true rain forest.  The wind was so loud that the only thing you could hear was the sound of tree branches cracking and I worried one would fall.  There was a thick fog and the rain drops grew larger and larger.  With my headlamp I could only see about 4 feet ahead of me and I actually began to get cold.  I had stayed soaking wet from the combination of swimming and sweat and I now began to understand why we had brought an emergency blanket.  This was a different world up here.  The volcano was pissed! 
I pulled out my emergency blanket and tied it around my shoulders and began to climb in the direction I had last seen the guys.  It was impossible to see anything and I really had no idea where I was going.  I feared taking a wrong step and falling into ? or slipping and sliding down.  I got more scared, colder, and more frustrated and wondered how long it would take for someone to find me if I just stayed put.  Afraid to move I leaned against the side of the hill, shivering, and whimpering.   I began yelling to see if anyone could hear me.  From below came a voice and I swore it was my echo.  I yelled "hello!!!???"  It yelled back "HELLLLLLLLLLOOOO"  I felt the mountain was playing tricks on me.  I finally yelled "This is Corinne, who is there" to test my echo theory and I was surprised to hear Dennis answer back "Where are you???"  "I'm up here!!!!"  I screamed and shined my headlamp down the slope.  I used my hand to make SOS flashes.  I yelled at him to shine his headlamp up at me.   For a few minutes I tried shining my light in all directions in hope we would find each other.  Nothing.  We could hear each other but not see a thing.  Frustration!
This picture was taken during the day but this is a good "jungle" pic.  Walking through this at night in the fog and rain was quite a challenge.
Eventually his voice faded, I continued to shiver, it continued to rain, and I knew I had to move.  I knew if I at least moved down the volcano, whether on a trail or not, I would get warmer.  The fog must have parted for a split second and to my right I saw what looked like a trail going horizontal across the slope. I followed it and within about 10 minutes saw a blue ribbon!   OK, this is good.  I figured this was the 100K trail down the mountain and it might not have been what I was supposed to be on but at least it would get me somewhere.  The "trail" was one of the roughest trails I have ever been on.  Branches leaned across the trail, the base was covered in mud, and there were many times where I had to scoot on my butt or crawl to get under fallen trees.  Surprisingly this section of the trail had more blue ribbons than I had seen on the entire rest of the race.  Every time I began to get worried I would see a blue ribbon.  Had it not been for the blue ribbons I would have never recognised this as a trail and would have never followed its twisting dangerous path down the volcano.  I would later find out this section was nicknamed "The Jungle Gym"!  At one point I found a whistle in the mud and began blowing furiously on it hoping someone would hear me but there was no one to hear. 
Eventually the air became less thick, the rain stopped, and I began to warm up with each step down the mountain.  I knew as long as I was warm and heading down I would be OK.  I hadn't seen the guys for hours now and I continued down the trail alone blowing my whistle every few minutes just in case.  On the steep sections my legs were like Jello and I sat on my feet and slid, grabbing vines to slow me down.  At this point I was tired but my spirits were good.  I was warm again, I was descending from the volcano and I was following blue ribbons.  I had never found the aid station at the top of the mountain, never seen into the volcano where the egg swim obstacle would have been and because of these things as well as the approaching midnight hour the competitive part of my race was completely over. 

At this point I kinda lost track of time and I can't remember exact details but I'm guessing sometime after midnight I saw lights!  House lights!  I felt saved!  I knew my mother must be worrying about me but at this point I knew I would be 100% OK.  I could get to one of the houses and ask for help.  I continued down the trail and it cooperated with me becoming less and less steep and then I saw more lights!  Head lights!  I yelled "Hello,  Its Corinne"  and I heard a familiar voice!  Adam yelled back at me.  Adam and Bryce (sorry if I messed up your name my mind was fuzzy) had headed up the trail to look for me!  I was so happy and jumped at both of them giving them huge hugs and thanking them for coming to get me!   This was now the second time Adam had come to my rescue and to him I will be forever thankful.  He first helped me at World's Toughest Mudder 2011 after my wetsuit had frozen into a solid pancake and now he had completed the race himself and hiked back up to get me.
Adam - the most selfliss, caring person I have ever met.
Completed his 70K of the race, drank Tona's and had the energy
to do at least another 10K between looking for me and coming
back down :)
I had been "found" and the word was radio'd in.  I told them to let my mom know I was OK and that she didn't have to wait, I imagined she too must be exhausted.  Dennis was still missing and I was the last person who had heard from him so I tried as best I could to describe where that had been.  Bryce continued up the mountain to look for Dennis and Adam and I headed down.  
Although I had seen the lights and met with Adam and Bryce the race "end" was still so much farther away than I had imagined.  Adam assured me that it was close but I think he was just being nice.  We hiked for at least another hour and a half down hill until we finally came to a road where we met up with a guide (sorry my mind isn't working), waited about 15 minutes and were picked up and taken to "monkey island". 
There I saw my mom for the first time in about 23 hours!  She was so happy to see me and I was so happy to be done.  I re-united with Shannon and Jason, sat my butt down, and drank a cold coca cola.  The search for Dennis was still on and rumors came in that he may have turned around and headed down the mountain after I saw him, and eventually he was found at a cafe.

By the time my mom and I got back to the hotel it was 5:15am and we were pooped but I was happy.  The next morning came too quick with an 8am knock on the door followed by a 9am ferry ride.  Walking out of the hotel I was so tired I couldn't even speak and when I tried only tears came.  They were not tears of fear or embarrassment or shame this time though.  They were happy tired tears. 
Finishers Pak and Johnson
Only two people finished the race in the 20 hour cutoff and I wasn't one of them.  I eventually learned that there was not an aid station at the top of the volcano and that the volunteers who had been up there were told no one else was coming and had left much before I got there.  In the night I had been searching for a top that wasn't there, for a lagoon I couldn't see, for a mystery egg obstacle and for aid that had shut down hours before.  In the end it was frustrating but really didn't matter.  Although I only received three pieces of my medal which spelled out "I - DID - FAIL" I do not feel I failed.  I was on my feet for nearly 24 hours.  I had moments of meltdown but never gave up.  Counting all my "lost" mileage I probably had covered 50 miles and ascended and descended the volcano twice.  In the end my only injuries were scrapes and bruises.  I had carried a chicken, chopped down a tree, swam across the lake.  I was proud of what I had done.
  "I - DID - NOT -FAIL"

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