October 6, 2012

  • Adventures are messy

    Woohooo, I completed the Diablo Canyon Tough Mudder!  It's been an entire week since then, and I no longer ache or feel stiff-legged.  In a perfect world, I would have posted this update within hours of the end of the event, but this world is not perfect. It is messy, full of complications.

    The first complication of this past week is a happy one. Bill Radtke, Lance Kuhns, and their film team have been with me at Fjeldheim, experimenting with ways to use video to capture some of the character and charm of the place. If even half their ideas bear fruit, it will have been a sweetly fruitful weekend. Most of the time I tried to stay out of their way but most of Sunday (the day after my Tough Mudder) I helped them pack their esoteric gear and haul it all back to Los Angeles. Not to mention packing up my own stuff and trying to leave Fjeldheim in decent shape at our departure. I had considered writing this post during dinner along the way, but surprisingly few eateries offer wifi access along the 395. And being eager to get home to my family, I packed some leftovers from Fjeldheim into my little travel cooler and drove straight through, nibbling as I went.  So no time to post before returning home.

    The second complication was also a happy one, but more domestic. Once I got home I was swept up into family affairs, catching up with wife & kids & work & home, and had the pleasant surprise (and extra work) of connecting to two new clients! So no time to post in the first few days after returning home.

    The third complication of the past week is a very unhappy one.  During the Tough Mudder I carried water, iskiate, gloves, camera and cue cards in a hydration pack (as I mentioned earlier). When I came to an obstacle or challenge that seemed hard on a backpack (crawling under barbed wire) or harder to do with the pack (swimming thru icewater, swinging on Tarzan rings), I would take it off and set it to one side. After completing the challenge, I would duck under the barrier rope, circle back and retrieve my pack, and continue on.  Many others did the same thing: usually there was a small pile of packs to the right of the entrance to an obstacle, or an obvious place to leave and retrieve them.  

    Except on the last pair of obstacles, right at the finish line.  No pile of packs there. Hmm.

    We were approaching the edge of a small lake. Floating ropes with buoys showed us where we must swim, and we would have to swim under three rows of very large floating blue barrels.  From the way folks were making the swim, it was obviously too deep to stand, and I am normally a strong swimmer, comfortable in ocean swells and poor visibility.  But my legs were threatening to cramp up at any moment, and I wasn't sure my ziplock bag was keeping my calling cards dry anymore-- they were muddy along one edge, and the ink was running on some of them. (I miss my old Epson printer and its DuraBrite inks... c'est la vie)  I briefly considered slipping out of my shoes for the swim and leaving them with my pack, but just on the other side of the lake was the LAST OBSTACLE, a giant half-pipe we must scramble up and pull ourselves to the top, then climb down its awkward slanted ladder-back to the finish line. Most folks were failing the scramble and slipping back down.  I'd need my shoes.

    So in full view of the spectators that lined the lake, I tossed my small pack to one side of the trail and waded into the lake.

    It took about ten or fifteen minutes to swim the lake (no problem, even in my Vasques, which began to float once they had shed their ten pounds of mud!), scramble up the half-pipe (had to wait for a turn, but made it the first time, thanks to two comrades who helped pull me up at the top), crab-walk down the ladder-back (cramping painfully all the way down), and jog across the finish line into a scrum of sponsors giving away free stuff, then limp around the First Aid Tent and the makeshift showers and around the lake to where...

    ...my pack was gone.

    At first I didn't believe it. I must not be seeing it for some reason: is that really where I left it? Yes it is. No, it is not there.

    Then I thought the ToughMudder staff must have moved it out of the way; perhaps there is a "pack depot" where all our packs are being kept out of the way, or out of the camera shot. Or another ToughMudder recognized my pack and wanted to bring it to me-- at least one other Mudder was going to be looking for me at the finish line to get a calling card from me, hoping to see the edited video when it was done.

    I asked around and the staff did not know if packs were being moved somewhere "safe" (safe?). I found a row of hydration packs, but they were being watched by one team member while the rest of that team hosed themselves off nearby. And my pack was not among them.

    Next I checked at Lost and Found. No luck, but they agreed that someone might bring it to them, especially if they recognized it as mine and didn't see me nearby.

    After almost an hour of looking for my pack (and getting cleaned up, finding food and drink, and running into my Mudder friend, who had finished well after I did and had not seen my pack either) I finally reported the loss to security. They took my information and my description of the pack and its contents, but were not encouraging. Another athlete finally explained why: it's pretty safe to leave packs to one side during the course because a race official is right there in case someone gets hurt on the obstacle, or needs some coaching to get through it. And competitors develop camaraderie during something like this, even with those who are not on your team-- it's unlikely that a Mudder would steal from another Mudder, especially not in the middle of the course. But more importantly, the course runs 12 miles all over the local terrain, 99% of it far from the bandstand and the beer tent, the snack bar and the shade trees, where the spectators hang out.  Once you get back to the main camp, you keep your things where you can see them at all times. Even if that means swimming with your hydration pack, which I realized several Mudders had done... That's why mine was the only pack to be set aside at the end, in full view of 300+ spectators, any of whom might be my own friends or family, so a person casually "picking up my buddy's pack for him" would not draw attention.  I had noticed one Mudder detour over to his wife for a kiss and to leave some gear with her so he did not have to swim with it, then come back to swim across the lake and finish the course.  It was very likely that my pack had casually walked off with a helpful-looking person.

    And now that I'd learned this, I remembered that some of the spectators near me while I was looking for my pack had been ignoring me pretty hard. They were gone now.

    For the police report, I calculated my total loss to be about $500, most of which was my camera and its memory card.

    But the biggest loss was all the video and the photos I had taken during the race-- the knowledge that I could not make my fun video promoting the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, I could not write the posts about the persons and teams I had met during the Mudder, I could not share that inspiring experience with any of you. Not visually anyway.  And all those I had video-interviewed or talked with or photographed would check this blog this week and be disappointed.

    That's why this post is so late. Because of my lingering hope that someone might discover and return my pack, or camera; and because of my discouragement that this post would not be the first of several chronicling those ToughMudder adventures.

    But adventures are messy-- they mix pain and joy, gain and loss, and we are always wiser in the end. I'm glad I did it. No one can steal that achievement from me.

    Thanks for your support!

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