The 2012 SURVIVAL TRIAL II as experienced by Team Combat Fitness Training Facility Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Last year I competed in and completed the Spartan Death Race. It was an awesome experience. Earlier this year I set my sites on a new type of adventure race being put on by a friend of mine from the Army, Jon Weiler of Professional Marksmen (also my partner from the 2011 Death Race). He created an “event” that collides an adventure race platform with a shooting competition and tumbles the entire thing into a reality based, scenario staged race at the N.R.A. Whittington Center in the “Bad Lands” of Raton, New Mexico. Just like the Death Race or any other race for that matter the first step is to take the deep breath and type in your credit card number, hit submit then say “Oh shit…” Now there is nothing left to do but train and prepare. Prepare mentally, physically and get all aspects of your life in order, to facilitate the amount of focus that is required to survive something like this.
Six months ago I set out to create the two man team. As with all things I had a team set with an alternate team in design and my main team mate pulled out for personal reasons. That threw Kinsley Dill into the prime spot. Kinsley has been an athlete at my FaciIity for almost two years. He came to me with no fitness back ground and was unable to participate in the weight lifting events. But he showed up day after day and never quit. He never became and still is not one of the better athletes in the gym…but he is one of the only ones to struggle, sweat and conquer a new challenge day in and day out. I believe he told one of the other athletes in the Facility, “I went from being on a secondary team that was attempting to finish the race to now being his partner and expected to shoot for the win.” Damn right, and at no time did I think he could not do it. The previous two years not only told me he could but it told me needed to.
Kinsley and I trained in the normal rotation of the CFTF cycles from April 2012 until June, and we would twice a week meet after hours in the Facility so that I could introduce him to the fundamentals of movement with his weapon in a tactical application versus how most people have simply “gone to the range” with their buddies. In June I had to pull away from our training and turned my focus to preparing for a Crossfit competition. Once that was over it left he and I 28 days to adjust our training to a full time “Survival Trial Prep Cycle” of which we kept a pretty good video blog. We conducted tactical styled-endurance training 5 to 6 days a week and on the 7th day we would rest by going to different places to practice our weapons skills. The 28 days flew by in an exhausting, mind boggling pace of running, rucking, lifting and dragging.
Then the time came, training was finished and we were on a plane for New Mexico. We arrived three days before the race in order to acclimate to the altitude which would range from 6,000 to 8,000+ feet above sea level. The realities are that it takes a full week to consider yourself adjusted but we only had three days. I was consuming over 150 ounces of water each day and was still fighting of the feeling of thirst and chapped lips. We planned to conduct light workouts in the mornings and then registered for three days of pistol and rifle course being put on by Professional Marksmen. These range days were the perfect way to get out in the environment, get some trigger time and in essence we shot our nerves out with the nearly 500 rounds we went through. In the evenings we went to the local Denny’s and ate as healthy as we could with the limited options of this small town in the desert. We stayed at the “competitors housing” of the NRA center which was a cabin style of dormitory housing that had a common living area then 5 wings consisting of 5 rooms sharing a kitchen and bathroom. Thats where we would sit and prepare our gear/packs for the race weekend.
Eventually I hit a point in which I could stand no more training, no more preparing, no more hypothesizing and certainly no more nervous thoughts. I needed to race, and it was time. I laid down to sleep on Friday night with that old familiar feeling of knowing it would be the last pillow my head would lay on and the last warm blanket I would feel cover my body. When next I woke my mind would regain consciousness and leave the comfortable dream state, re-entering the awareness and understanding that it was Saturday, September 29th, 2012. I was in Raton, New Mexico and the next 30 hours of my life were going to be filled with a roller coaster of physical triumph and defeats with a manic-depressant state of mind in a race that will be added to my list of life events to tell my grandchildren as a bed time adventure story.
Kinsley and myself reported at 0600(am) to a location in which we signed a physical waiver and gave a video documented waiver streamed live over the internet. “I understand that I can be severely injured or killed and I do not hold liable” blah blah, so on and so on. We then returned to our rooms, ate breakfast and I told Kinsley, “go get dressed and get your gear. Next time we see each other we are Team Combat Fitness Training Facility and we are here to race.”
At 0820(am) we boarded a shuttle van that drove us about 20 minutes out to the backside of a fairly large mountain range. I had a feeling that I would be returning to the NRA center and that it would not be a shuttle bus that got me back. I was right. We pulled over on the side of a road and were instructed to lay our gear out beside the 11 other two person teams and prepare for the “layout” of required items. One at a time the items were called out by Jon and his “evaluators” (a group of volunteers who selflessly stayed out there for the entire 24 hours grading us, protecting us and in general making the entire event possible) gave a thumbs up when they had inspected that each team member had each item that was required. If there was an infraction Jon indifferently handed them a large rock to be carried as a substitute for the item. Whines and protests were thrown his way and in a classic military fashion Jon replied, “The required items were posted on the website…Next item.” We then received the final “event brief”, were told good luck and handed our team packets which consisted of a list of 37 grid coordinates, a team grade sheet and a 1/50,000 map that turned out to be virtually useless in scale due to the fine and random dirt roads drawn on this large scale map with a line so thin that you needed a magnifying glass to see let alone be able to see in pitch black darkness under a head lamp.
All the months and hours of training came to a culmination with that….1030(am) Saturday, September 29th, 2012. The Survival Trial had just started.
Kinsley and I went of to a shady patch under a tree and began plotting the points. I wanted to invest extra time in the beginning to ensuring that our points were done correctly so for each one we verbally recited the coordinates to each other, plotted them two full times and then labeled them on the map as well as the list page. We then looked at the points on the map and designed our “attack plan” which was to sweep the points in the northern sector of the training area and then overnight and through the morning do a blitzkrieg run to the south from west to east hitting points all the way to the finish line. Well just like any good combat plan they usually go to hell when the fighting begins.
We folded up the map and went to find our fist point. It became glaringly evident that the “start point” grid was in a strange place so I stopped and replotted for the third time confirming (at least to me and my protractor) that the “S.P.” was not where it showed on the map. Oh well, onto to the north to find a known point and adjust our bearings. We walked for about 20 minutes down a tame dirt road that was approaching two large ridge lines and choking us into a Valley. As we stopped to take our first “nutrition stop” (of which I will explain in detail later) we heard the sound of gun fire that was certainly not from any of the weapon systems we were carrying. We wandered up to find out that the first point we came to was a black powder target shoot worth 200 points. Each man had one shot with a 50 caliber black powder rifle at a target 100 meters out and then 6 shots with a .44 caliber black powder revolver on a 25 meter target. I went first and straight up missed the rifle target, then hit 5 of 6 with the revolver. Kinsley hit the rifle target and missed 3 of his pistol shots. It was a really cool, unique opportunity but the missed shots cost us valuable points that became a tiny little cut on our score sheet that would ultimately bleed us to death in the end.
We left that point and decided to back track about 300 meters and go up a “jeep trail” to find a point that had a task we could perform for points. What you need to understand is the “game” that this year’s Survival Trial played (and each year promises to be different) is that each point was worth a different value but you really did not know that value and its worth until you committed the time and energy to go for it. Maybe it would pay off and maybe it wouldn’t. We walked up this jeep trail for about 25 minutes, and the terrain became steeper and more undesirable with every step. I called for a stop and made the decision to scrap that plan and retrace our route, continuing onto other targets towards the east. With every step we retraced over the kilometer distance we had covered I had the sinking feeling that we had put ourselves far behind the greedy pack of competitors that had run off to gather up points in other areas like spoiled little kids at an Easter egg hunt…and I was right. My poor choice of a navigational decision making, placed us one hour behind the power curve.
The next point was a “guestimated” 5.5 kilometer walk down the same dirt road as the start and we were pinched in by two incredibly gorgeous and intimidating rock cliffs. Right away I noticed that Kinsley was walking slowly due to the fact that he had our precision .308 rifle strapped onto his rucksack and his “primary” 5.56 rifle in his hands. I took his carbine and strapped it onto my rucksack to free his arms up to assist in the “humping”. This did two terrible things to my situation. One that was glaringly evident and repairable, pulled the weight of my pack too low down my back. Our packs were barely filled with the light but annoying packing list causing severe discomfort on my upper traps. We stopped and fashioned a bungee cord lashing to keep them up high. But the second problem caused by this carrying configuration did not reveal itself until a later and critical time.
We “terrain associated” the gorge road and at one point I pointed to an orange curve high up on a mountain peak and said, “Kinsley I think thats a road! That looks horrible.” After about an hour of hiking we came across a road sign with a letter written in spanish and a pile of tires with each team’s name spray painted on them. We pulled out our required item of a spanish-english dictionary and translated that our task (if we chose) was to take the tire to “shooting scenario #6”. We decided to go the one kilometer down a side road to perform “shooting scenario #7” and return back for our tire. It took us an eternity to find this scenario 7 which is when I realized what was happening. This place was absolutely HUGE! What on a map in Alabama takes 20 minutes to walk, out here was taking an hour. I honestly have never navigated in a place that was simply put, this expansive.
We arrived at a sign that said “Stop.Make Noise. Do not go beyond this sign. The evaluator will come out to escort you in.” So we did. Huge mistake. After 28 minutes of us banging on metal and calling out, no one had arrived so I walked in. The point sitters were talking around a fire and I informed him of our presence and that we had been waiting for 30 minutes. He said, “what sign?” I learned a that moment that I was following no more rules and I would not wait on anyone for the remainder of that night. Between my navigation error at the start and that 28 minutes, we in essence lost 90 minutes of valuable sun light that would come back to bite us in the ass over the next 10 dark hours. We got our “scenario brief”:
“You enter a mall to hear the sound of gunfire and see a few armed men. You run back out to your car to retrieve your rifle and return to the mall entrance at which point you will engage two targets from behind available cover with your side arm 9mm pistol then retreat out into the parking lot to engage remaining targets with your rifle.” We received our ammo load that always left you running out of rounds in each magazine and forced “tactical magazine reloads” on the run (a great way to test your skills).
Let me now note that these scenarios were all based in urban type of settings but were in prairie or wooded environment so they required a bit of imagination on the shooters parts. But for what we were using and racing in they were very well designed and caused you to really apply your weapons skills.
I entered the scenario and went up to my first piece of plywood wall cover, turned the corner and holy shit were the targets small! A 6 inch piece of diamond shaped steel right in the center of a silhouette where the heart would be. My pistol skills are already shady but this was requiring 100% kill shots or there was no points awarded. I hit target one, moved to target 2 and missed. Changed pistol mags and hit, turned to target three and missed, then hit. Pistol was empty. I transitioned to my primary weapons system of the 5.56(2.23) carbine rifle, ran to cover and turned to engage the far targets at about 75 meters (12inch steel plates painted red) when I discovered the second fateful occurrence of lashing our rifles together onto my ruck sack… My “safety selector switch” had broken off and I had to quickly shove my thumb nail into the slot and manually turn it to fire. I got a hit, a miss, and a final hit then ran out of ammo. Damn that threw me off. Kinsley went next and in the end we scored I believe 170 points out of a possible 200. Another case of leaving points on the table that would harm us later. We refilled our water and returned to the stack of tires to get ours and start rolling.
This tire was like a nice moment of irony because I train with tires a lot and I make my athletes drag, pull and flip them. We have even rolled them down trails in the woods but this damn tire was so small and insignificant that it caused us to lean forward with our semi-heavy packs to get our hands on it to roll. We took a route to go up and over a mountain that turned out to be the worst road of my life (and 13 hours later I learned there was a better route that Im sure a better map would have allowed me to see). This road was a logging road and would have made a roller coaster engineer excited. Up and left, right, back down then back up twice as steep. One hour turned into two then three. We took turns roll-pushing the tire with two hands, then left hand, then right hand and switched every few minutes because the steep climb in altitude was leaving us abnormally winded and feeling a stinging lactic acid burn. At one point we made a sharp right turn and Kinsley said, “Hey man look back. I think this is that road you pointed out from down in the valley.” He was right..damn this was sucking. We reached the 8 hour point in the race and it was time for us to have our protein shake in the “nutrition plan”.
I will take this moment to explain this plan in detail; I concocted the idea that the weight of carrying enough food to sustain us for the full time period would be unreasonably heavy as well as slow us down with the need to consume it. I researched a brand called “CarboPro” and with the help of their designer, created a “protocol” of hourly nutrition stops.
Calories= we used a powder called “CarboPro” and back at our lodging the day before I boiled water and poured in a carefully measured amount. I stirred it into an intensely concentrated liquid that contained 200 calories per 2 ounces of water. We created one 32oz Nalgene bottle and a second 10oz bottle that provided approximately 4,500 calories titrated out over the 24 hours.
Protein= we used a product called “Interphase Hypertrophy Matrix” every 8th hour to provide 34 grams of protein in 204 calories. (consumed by pouring water out of our camel backs and a small zip lock back of the powder into a small shaker bottle carried in our packs.
Dietary Fat= We carried packets of natural peanut butter to be consumed every second hour for long term energy usage as well as to give our stomachs something to digest and keep it occupied.
The “Pill Pack”= using little crack baggies I made an hourly pill pack that contained two MetaSalt tablets / two VO2 max tablets / three Amino Acid Recovery tablets / 1/2 serving of Juice Plus tablets (then every 4th hour we would take two Motivator tablets that contained gaurana for caffeine.
Hydration= every 5 minutes or as needed we took a mouth full of plain water out of our camel backs.
All totaled we alternated a 200 calorie hour, then a 380 calorie hour, and every 8th hour we got 404 calories.
Final calorie total over the 24 hours= consumed- 7,192 per man (calories burned estimated at 24,000).
We were consuming approximately 100 ounces of water every 3-4 hours.
This plan worked amazingly and we felt completely energized the entire time and not once did we feel dehydrated or as if a single muscle cramp was in the near future. All we had to do was reach into the outside pockets of our ruck, drink one measured gulp of our carb fluid and swallow a handful of pills and we were back on the move in an average of 3 minutes. In fact it allowed us to make a push for the finish line with full confidence in our physical ability, that I will describe in detail later. Now back to that damn tire….
We finally reached the top of this logging road and came to a Y. I looked at the map, determined where I thought we were and we set off towards what we thought would be the turn in point for the tire. I terrain associated and was identifying hill tops, saddles and the correct turns in the trail with the map…but it was the time traveled that seemed all wrong. We cached the tire for the first time and went scouting to find a definable point for location. As we crested a rise in the road we saw a truck and a camp fire. We walked towards two ladies stoking the fire and one of them said “Welcome to the Samaritan point”, Kinsley and I immediately repeated her words back to her with shock and confusion. That location on our map was a full 4 grid squares away from where we thought we were and we had no idea how we got there. The strangest thing was that I was using actual terrain features that were matching the map…Im telling you this part of the back country was almost impossible to navigate. Well at least we now had a full confirmation of our location. I went back and got the tire while Kinsley refilled our water. There was another team there, the “Zombie Response Team” and I was pleased to see them boiling water to cook their camp food of which took them a full 20 minutes to prepare and consume. I asked them one question, “how is this map working out for you?” to which they replied “It is not”. The ladies manning the Samaritan point were just as nice as you could ask for at first dark, lost in the mountains. In fact they reminded me of my mother. They were gentle yet self relying women that loved the outdoors, guns and the freedom of being American. They were kind enough to show me a map they had that was much more “zoomed in” to the training area and I confirmed that many of the roads we were walking on were not depicted on the map we were issued.
I created my new attack plan for the night. We would cache the damn tire there and base ourselves out of this point, take the off shooting roads down into the two valleys from that mountain top then returning back at sun rise to get the damn tire and make a second attempt at finding “shooting scenario #6” to turn it in for 300 points.. We would hit a total of 3 points that were down there, but first I wanted to take a small trail on the top ridge line to get “point of interest #19” for some supplementary points. The Samaritan volunteer told me she thought that trail was closed but I replotted the point and it showed to be down there so off we went. Sure enough after the exactly right amount of walking time and distance we came to a trail intersection that was taped off as closed. I for the third time replotted the grid and it was certainly down there… Son of a bitch! Back up to samaritan. The moon light was (for the moment) full and provided plenty of illumination so we turned off our headlamps and pacingly trudged back up the rocky trail to the hill top. Jon made an awesome strategical call to coordinate this event with a full moon and for the hours that there weren’t intense lightening storms it was a great help and advantage.
We returned and walked past the samaritan ladies smiling and saying hi, acknowledging that we were literally wandering around this mountain top. There was another team there called some greek word for “Come and Take Them” made up of two financial advisors from the bank USAA which I love. The two guys were also in our lodging and there were really cool. I noticed that they were looking at their own map, the same one the samaritan ladies had so I asked them where they got it. They said at the NRA main store. Part of me wants to call bullshit on being able to bring in your own maps. Yes I could have also. But I arrived to this race under the intentions of racing with what ever the race organizer gave me, especially since we were told no phones or any device with mapping or GPS navigating abilities. But it is what it is.
We took a lower road down into “Plambago Canyon” to go after “shooting scenario #4” then wind over into McDougal Canyon and pick up “shooting scenario #3” on the way back up to the Samaritan point at sunrise. As we walked Plumbago Canyon road it was a very steep down hill descent consisting of thick muddy clay that happened as a result of an afternoon storm that hit some of the competitors with torrential rain and even hail. We slipped and squished on down passing a couple of small bear prints and some eery bones from some type of predator’s kill whether it be animal or human hunter. That sent us into a semi delirious stage of laughing and making jokes about wandering pointlessly down a road in the back country of New Mexico that had bears and mountain lions in it. At one point Kinsley bumped the rifle on his pack into mine and he spun around saying, “what the fuck was that!?” I explained to him that it was far to early to be freaking out and hallucinating then started mocking him. We laughed on down this mountain road. Along the way we had heard of these “golden baskets” that were worth a very valuable reward to who ever brought it into the finish line. Kinsley became obsessed with finding one and spent hours feverishly traversing his head lamp nauseously from left to right hoping to see a flash gold in the woods. Damned if we didn’t walk right up on one sitting on this lonely road. Kinsley was giddy like a school child and ran up to grab it. The damn thing was a solid 35lbs of lead spray painted gold. I cautioned him that we did not need to add that type of weight to our packs but he was so happy about finding it that I couldn’t stop him from throwing his pack down in the mud to put the thing in and carry it for the remaining 13 hours of the race. We lovingly began referring to it as the golden dildo and as the race wore on we talked about who’s ass we would be shoving it up. Mostly it was going to be Jon’s. We fantasized what the reward would be and I was hoping for a bonus of 400 points because by this time I was in full awareness of how far behind we likely were in the points standings due to how many hours we walked with out doing any scenarios.
Some how the puzzle pieces all began to fall into place for me during these early morning hours and the mountain range began to make perfect sense. I no longer felt the need to use the map and a few times considered throwing it away. I don’t know if the rust had finally fallen off my navigational skills that had not been used in that manner since 2004 or what, but I now had a full scale plan that I knew would work. We titled it the “Survival Trial Hail Mary” and it was going to be a 700 point morning to the finish line for the win.
Just like clock work we arrived at the base of the canyon and took a south westerly road to find a shooting scenario. Boom, after just 30 minutes we walked right up on it. The terrain was starting to compute to me. The evaluator of this point was a guy who had been a medic in my unit in the 82nd Airborne and went to Iraq to care for us in 2003. It was really good to see him but just like professional soldiers we were all business. Standards briefed and standards adhered to. We received our next scenario brief;
“A large hurricane has struck your city. You decided not to evacuate and are present when looting breaks out. Some of the looters are using violent force to steal and you run into them on your street.”
We received our tiny load of ammunition and I let Kinsley go first. While he was shooting and I was listening for the sweet ringing “ping” of bullet hitting steel rewarding us with points. I took that moment to stretch and realized that at some point my left clavicle (collar bone) seemed semi subluxed (dislocated) and I grabbed a tree branch, hung my weight back and clunked it back into place. It felt really good. My turn to shoot. I moved to the start line in the darkness, heard the 2 minute timer buzz and begin counting down. First set of targets were within 15 feet and I engaged with pistol to get my two hits. I moved through a small depression in the prairie grass and approached a make shift wall to locate apparently three targets in the wood line. I could see one and hit it but the other two were simply not visible to me. I finally stood up and walked out with my “tac-light” to illuminate the entire area and found the second one to shoot. I never found the third one and time ran out costing me yet another set of valuable points. Oh well, I found combat to be similar. I never could really tell where the hell the bad guys were. Another awesome shooting scenario on the score card. We talked for a bit to the camera crew and loaded up to search for the next station.
By this time we were both starting to feel the accumulation of almost 13 hours of movement. Our feet were throbbing for one minute then burning for the next. My upper back was screaming at me to stop carrying the pack. But Kinsley was starting to really show the wear and tear. This was truly his first major event. He honestly has never gone to the brink of full body shut down and ignored it to carry on. I was simply drawing on experience and recognizing the signs and symptoms as they presented themselves then dealing with them. As we walked Kinsley began slightly falling back but he did an incredible job of staying with in a small distance behind me to remain at the pace I had earlier explained to him would be necessary to accomplish our goals. A trooper was in the making.
We trekked on and had another couple of “nutrition stops”. Along the way we came across Team Redbud, a husband and wife team that ultimately won the race. They looked remarkable fresh and un affected by the race unlike every other team we passed by (including us) did.
As we approached the next shooting scenario right on schedule I saw another sign that said “Stop. Make Noise. Wait for the…” bullshit, not doing that again. I walked right on in announcing myself. The point sitter was a really cool guy from Orlando, Fl. He let us refill our water then walked us up a grass hill to the start point and brief:
“Rioting has broken out in your city and two armed groups have gotten into a firefight at the end of the street. An innocent bystander has been shot and is lying in the street in between the two groups. You may choose to engage the armed people and extract the casualty, return to cover and treat the wounds”. Kinsley looked a little exhausted so I went first giving him a chance to regroup. I loaded my 8 rounds of rifle into the required two magazines and my 6 rounds of pistol into the two. Cover position one, I cant see a thing. He says that about 200 meters down the hill in the darkness are three steel plates painted red and spread out by about 50 meters each. Nope, cant see them. No problem I move to the next covered position and locate two of the three. Shot one, hit. Shot two miss. Shot three, miss. Shot four hit, then I never could find the third target. I abort it and move down to the road for the pistol engagement. Shot one hit, shot two miss..change mags. Two misses and finally a hit but all rounds have been used. I move forward to grab the casualty which was a human body made out of sections of logs put together with articulating hinged joints. An ingenuous way to make a heavy, hard to manage casualty. I maneuvered it up into a “fireman’s carry” and am informed I have 90 seconds to run him up the 200 meters to my first covered position. I do what I do,,carry weight. I laid the casualty down and begin my trauma assessment; Treat life threatening bleeds of which I see a penetrating chest trauma. I use the zip lock bag my map was in to occlude the sucking chest wound and begin searching for an exit wound on the back or sides and then conduct my blood sweeps down the remainder of the body looking for secondary wounds. I then move into the “ABC’s” (Airway, Breathing and circulation). Address all necessary interventions and taped off the occlusive chest dressing. Scenario done. Damn that was fun! Until I am informed there were no points to be awarded for rescuing the casualty. Well shit…another example of how I was not playing the “game” well. Nah I would have done it anyway. Thats why I came to the Survival Trial. To do hard objectives and test myself.
We set off to make the 5.3 mile climb up “McDougal Canyon” and return to the Samaritan point by 0400(am). We just took steps and climbed. A couple of times we paused to take our nutrition stops or to take a piss (we were extremely well hydrated). A couple of hours into it we saw headlights coming up the trail. It was Jon. He and the other race organizer Wayne, worked tirelessly all night roving around checking on teams, looking for teams that had gone missing and just generally running this huge production. I talked to Jon and told him of the “Survival Trial Hail Mary” and in typical Jon fashion he spoke only enough words to leave me wondering if I was heading the wrong way and making another huge mistake. That had become the theme of the Survival Trial; Make a decision, second guess your decision, choose to remain steadfast in your decision and see how it turned out. Sure enough about an hour later we walked right up on the backside of Samaritan point. By this time Kinsley was starting to suffer. He was feeling queazy from the overload of supplements (of which I am used to) and I think he was just learning to deal with that horrible moment in any over night endurance event when everything in your existence is telling you to stop but your determination and pride refuse to give in. The ladies of the Samaritan point had beaded down in their tents for the night and when I heard them stirring I whispered, “stay in your tents and stay warm. Its just Team Combat Fitness still wandering around in the dark.” I could hear her smile and she said in a sleepy tone, “Ok, you take care tonight”. Man those ladies were nice! We changed our socks to the dry spare pair, switched headlamps for the fresh batteries and refilled our water again. We retrieved that damn tire that I had stashed in the woods and gave each other the pep talk that our Hail Mary plan was going to work and we reconfirmed ourselves with the useless map.
We rolled the damn tire backtracking a few mistaken kilometers form earlier in the evening. I now understood where we had gone wrong in the map..We took a road that simply was not on it. Thats the beauty of a real and grueling adventure race in real and grueling back country. Sometimes things change. Deal with it sucker.
We came to a spot that the “shooting scenario #6” was supposed to be located. However our navigation was working so effectively that we arrived about one hour early. We had been told at the start of the race that scenario 6 and 2 would be closed from dusk till dawn. That let me know that they were likely the long range shots. Unfortunately we had invested so much time in this damn tire that we HAD to get the credit in points and we were to far from any other points to risk making a last minute dash for them. This left us a total of 45 minutes to stall out waiting on sunrise. Thats sucked! Make the best of it. We loaded up on nutrition, put on some warm clothes and spent a few minutes stretching out our stiff skeletons. At about 0535(am) I told Kinsley to lay down and I would set my alarm for 20 minutes later. He was in a “rucksack flop” in the tree line and just stayed there. I laid down on the side of the dirt road putting my head against the damn tire. I figured if the truck delivering the point sitter came up the road it would stir me and give me a location of where exactly the point was. I fell immediately asleep and had full scale dreams. My alarm went off and I came to the realization that I was freezing and staring at the dark sky…shit Im in the Survival Trial. Get up! Lets finish this plan! We needed about 5 minutes of pacing back and forth on the road to get our joints unfrozen. We put on the packs and headed down the road looking for the point to turn in that damn tire. Once again the actual location on the ground was not at all where our points plotted out to be. But with some common sense reckoning we wandered down a road rolling the damn tire until we came around a bend and onto a beautiful point overlooking a huge valley. There was a cabin there and I walked towards and yelled “Its morning on the mountain” and out came the evaluator. He was a gnarly looking mountain type of man with a radical mustache. He accepted that damn tire and finally after a total of 5.5 accumulated hours of rolling that thing around we received our precious 300 points. We then were briefed on “shooting scenario #6”:
“You are out hunting to survive and across a valley you see a few elk. You have 5 minutes to estimate the range and engage the targets.” I was not interested in wasting the time to honestly wing a few shots across the valley. At that time all I wanted was the 100 point credit for navigating to a location and to move on..but the view up there was incredible. I could see a set of 14 thousand foot peaks over in Colorado and I got carried away in the “life opportunity” and thought, “when the hell else am I going to be able to shoot from one mountain across to another. Plus Kinsley never has and likely never again will.” So I said screw it lets shoot. This turned out to be another fateful set of minutes that would be needed later. Kinsley laid down behind our Remington-700 precision .308 rifle and attempted to do the calculation for the range..
target height in “Mils” divided by 27.7
I was going to just use his calculation to save time and repeat or adjust from his hits or misses. I heard him take 3 shots and he had three misses. My turn. I asked him for the sheet that he did his calculations on. He handed me the funniest and most useless scribbling I could have ever expected to get. I knew at that moment that his mind had shut off and his body was on auto-pilot. It was comical. I laid down behind the scope, looked at my targets across the valley and guestimated that they were about 800 meters. I took one shot and saw the round impact on the cliff wall about 15 feet low. I took two more shots and must have been sending them just a bit high. Scenario over. The evaluator asked me what range I was shooting for. I said “Kentucky windage at 800”, to which he said its 920.. Damn that was close. Ok enough time wasted we need to boogy!
Its time to enact our final leg of the “Survival Trial Hail Mary”. This is the moment where our fitness was going to pay off and propel us. We had collected the 400 points at the very top of the most northwestern section of the training area. We now had 2.5 hours to navigate the 15 kilometers down “Willow Canyon” and out into the open desert terrain to make the finish line, worth 300 points to complete the 700 point morning and hopefully take the lead.
I told Kinsley that there was a term in the military called a “forced march”. That means there is nothing happening but speed to cover distance. It is not pleasant and you can not stop. He nodded his head and we were off. We covered the top ridge line quickly, picked up the trail to cut east and began a down hill trail that is best described as walking down a flight of stone stairs in which the stone mason did not fasten a single step. I felt the future in my right knee telling me that I can have my fun now but in about a decade I will be having major work done on it. We halted about 45 minutes in to take our final nutrition point and dump any unneeded weight. I took my last hit of CarboPro, took my last pill pack and threw the batteries out of my headlamps, dumped my water down to 32 ounces and threw out my pens, paper and chem-lights. We attacked the descent of that canyon as if it was the first and only hike we had to do. I knew at about half way we would pass a final shooting scenario and when we got to it I figured that since we had technically navigated to it I should get the evaluator to sign off on our 100 points. Kinsley had run out of water so we paused just long enough for him to grab about 30 ounces and we waved to the volunteer and took off. By this time all the distance had taken its toll on us and both of our feet were aching. The rocky terrain made it feel like the bones in our feet were cracking and my thighs had rubbed together for so long that it was like fire down there.
Any hiker, military person or I guess just fat person for that matter knows the terms “Monkey butt” “baboon balls” or simply chaffing. Terribly painful.
I had already applied GoldBond Powder to my inner thighs a couple of times over the previous night but there was not time to stop now. I had to focus hard on keeping my mind off it just as Kinsley was trying to ignore the fact that his right calve had taken enough steps and was refusing to push forward anymore. We broke out of the valley and into the wide open terrain of first the foothills prairie and then into the wide open New Mexico land. I looked back and Kinsley was finally unable to keep up with the pace and I knew it was the golden dildo weighing him down. We took a huge gamble in staying out on the course this long and would only make the finish if we maintained this pace. I stopped and took off my pack. Opened it up and threw out the required pair of spare pants and the translation dictionary. I took the golden dildo from Kinsley as well as his “drop leg” magazine pouch that was likely hindering his leg movement. Kinsley was not happy about me having to carry almost all of our weight but I reassured him that in every military movement on any given day someone can be suffering abnormally. What we did as a team that made us successful and cohesive is take up the slack for another in his time of distress or inadvertent inability to continue. Everyone has their breaking point and he had reached his. I estimated that we had 3 miles left and 50 minutes to make it. We can do this!
I set out on a “ruck run” pace that looks more like a cross country skier. Think of it as the place in between speed walking and open jogging. We ran down a dirt road and I could begin hearing gunfire so I knew that we were about to round the bend and see the Whittington Center and I knew exactly how far down the main roads I would need to run to make the finish. I was intently looking at my watch and we were set to make it with 15-20 minutes to spare. Kinsley was doing his best to stay right beside me and everything looked to be falling right into place….Until I saw a sign in the distance. It had an ominous feeling and as I approached it was like I had read my own death sentence, “Shooting match going on. Do no pass this point. Survival Trial racers stay to the right and detour.” Mother F*&er!!! I looked and there were yellow ribbons leading off into the distance of another prairie and off over the horizon. It was actually taking me away from the finish line!!!
I shook my head, turned right and started running. After about 300 meters I saw that it was guiding me to a road that ran between two large rifle ranges. F-that! I told Kinsley, “we are cutting across the range” as we approached the back side of a berm. I prayed no one was shooting and I popped my head up to look down the range. It was closed! We jumped up and ran about 500 meters to the end of the range parking lot and onto the very section of road that Kinsley and I had conducted one of our “acclimation runs” just two mornings ago. I looked at him and said, “We have 45 minutes to make it 4 miles. This will be the hardest run of your life and its going to involve intense moments of pain. You can not stop running. We need these points and one day we can tell our children about this. Keep up!” We began running down the main dirt road of the NRA Whittington center. It was awful. You have never truly experienced the term a “country mile” until you have had to run one under stress. The heavy pack now over 50lbs was crushing my shoulders, my legs burned and my eyes stung with the pouring sweat yet I knew I could make this run. We covered the first mile and I knew there was a nasty set of three hills that would cover the next half of a mile. During our training run, these three hills had winded us and that was under ideal conditions. We hit the base of the first hill and I was forced to come out of the ruck run pace and take up a power walk to summit the crest. It was an intense and powerful push. Once we hit the top, the ruck run resumed. All the while I was repeating out loud in between breaths every motivational and determined thought that came into my mind, “I am CFTF and we do hills”, “I can make this run, its what I do” on and on. There were hunters and regular people passing us on their way out to target shoot that were honking their horns and pumping their fists in the air. Not because they knew what we were doing but because they could see that something special and rare was taking place. I felt a liquid running into my nose and I went to blow a snot rocket and all that came out was a bloody mixture. Im bleeding, fuck it, I can stop it later. Hill number two conquered and hill number three was almost to much to take but we crested it and made the right hand turn onto the final long road. I looked at my watch and we had just fallen below 20 minutes until the 1030(am) cut off time and not being awarded the 300 points for navigating to the finish point. I had put us in an all or nothing situation and our backs were against the wall. My water was all gone as was Kinsley’s. We ran. I could hear Kinsley battling with himself. The old Kinsley from two years ago was begging him to take the easy way out, the lazy way out and quit. But the new Kinsley had turned into a weight lifting, gun shooting endurance maniac and had won the argument. On he ran right beside me. There were moans and even sounds of sheer pain. I yelled that we “would not stop until we hit the finish line or passed out and when we woke up, if there was time left we would try again to make it.” The finish point came into site and it had to be 1,000 meters away. We had less than 8 minutes on my watch and I knew following the road wasn’t going to work. We broke a rule and cut across an open field to shoot a straight line distance. I did not care, I was in full race mode and nothing else mattered. 6 minutes, still running, 4 minutes still running, 3 minutes. I knew I could make it if I could drop the 50lb pack but that was not an option. 3,2,1 time is up. We stood 400 meters from the finish line and all hope was gone.
That day life kicked our asses. We fought but the battle could not be won. I looked back at Kinsley and said, “Walk right beside me. We are going to cross this finish line anyway. Hold your head up. We are both in pain and we are both upset. It does not matter. We are Combat Fitness Training Facility and we will be seen finishing correctly.”
We walked into the finish as the camera crew came out to record us. It was fair that they did so. The footage will likely be raw and real. I dropped my pack and went to my knees. Kinsley began dry heaving and neither of us could effectively speak. Other people and other racers may see that footage and not understand why we looked so broken. But it doesn’t matter. We each fight our own battles in a race like the Survival Trial. Ours was a battle of making choices, living with them and fighting back from the increasing pile of missed points and minutes. We came up with a plan to not only stay alive but still try to win. It all culminated in a 5 mile run that was by all reasoning not possible. We pushed for the impossible and almost made it.
In the end we placed 5th in points. We beat some very good teams and those who placed ahead of us deserved it however they strategized to achieve it. After the award ceremony I was informed that had we made the finish point in time we would have been second place. I knew that run was worth attempting.
The Survival Trial turned out to be many things. It was fun and exciting. It was aggravating and fulfilling. It was unique and unorthodox, beautiful and ugly. It gave myself and Kinsley something to strive for and let us face the harsh realities of overcoming the odds. It was not perfect but nothing is. Jon dreamed up something that has never been done before and something that I believe is the next evolution in racing. This was only the third time the Survival Trial has been run and each time it has gotten more elaborate and the competitors have gotten more skilled. I am proud to have done it while we can still be considered the “pioneers” of what may become the next big thing. I am often asked, if I will I do the Death Race again? No I will not. But for anyone wondering if I will ever do the Survival Trial again.. I promised my wife that I would take one year off from competing in order to focus on strengthening my training facility, my marriage and caring for my first child to be born in March. One year from now is September 2013. Just in time for the 6th Survival Trial. One that is said to be all new and will be the first 36 hour version. I have already begun designing the training cycle that will begin 6 months out. I have begun recruiting some of my athletes to hopefully form 2-3 teams and I have told my friend Noah Galloway, a double amputee from the 101st Airborne that he will be my team mate.
I cant think of a better way to return from a one year retirement than to step right back into the very race that kicked my ass.
See you in one year New Mexico.
-Sean Dickson, owner and operator of Combat Fitness Training Facility,
and 1/2 of Team CFTF