I didn’t actually make it to all 50Ks. I had a DNF at mile ten so it was more like “Survival
Run Walk Hunter Gatherer 16.09344K”
When packet pickup started, I thought it was kind of a big production to just pick up a damned bib and then go drink beer but I was mistaken. They don’t do regular “here you go, thanks for the money” and hand you a bag of stuff like most races, instead they got two guys (1st and 2nd from last year?) to pick teams school-yard style and being the FNG that nobody knew and least in shape person, I was picked last. No hurt feelings here, that’s just how things go. So we have two teams and they say to take off towards our objective. Our objective is to run to the bottom of a hill, build a travois (seriously, if you do this race practice the skills. Watching youtube videos and thinking you’ve got it down is not the smartest move), and carry as many rocks as you can up to the top of this trail a 1/4 mile away and build a cairn. Highest cairn wins and the team that loses gets to sleep on the hill instead of in their room they rented or in my case, my tent. WTF is this race about?
Back it up a month and my friend Kurt (I’m pretty sure we’ve never met) posts a link to quite possibly the dumbest race I’ve ever seen – Fuego y Agua Survival Run Hunter Gatherer. The premise is you show up, make some sandals out of rubber and ribbon (see: Born To Run), make a bag and then your race starts. I’ve never run in sandals, don’t own a pair of sandals and hell, I haven’t trained for a 50K (I still have to walk on a damned 5K) so of course that means I have to sign up. What’s the worst that could happen? I could fall off the hill and die.
Sign me up.
So fast forward a few weeks and I haven’t practiced any of the skills, only watched youtube videos and again, that’s what you don’t do. It’s the day of the race so I’ve got all my gear loaded into my car and head down to Camp Eagle in Southwest Texas. Normally when I do one of these races I will know someone there but not this time. Just get on the road, blast some Adele and six hours later you’re driving down a rocky ass road hoping you don’t blow out a tire. I check in to camp, or try but nobody is there to let you in. I meet a couple of guys doing the event this weekend. One is doing the FYAHG and the other is doing the regular 50K. I eventually get checked in and go set up my tent then head over to packet pickup.
After 2.5 hours of rock moving, our team loses (my fault for making a shitty travois and not carrying enough rocks) and we are told we have to be on the hill by 22:30 or else we can’t start the race that day. After a nice camp cafeteria dinner, we have a couple of hours and a time hack to be on the hilltop. I am kind of tired from the long drive and manage to sleep for an hour. Alarm goes off and I walk from my car over to the hill top with my 3′ x 6.5′ of canvas, windbreaker, an emergency blanket, headlamp and water bottle. I get to the top of the hill huffing and puffing, lay my canvas down and try to sleep but I’ll be damned if ranger panties are any warm so I have to use the emergency blanket (the shiny aluminum ones) and try to sleep on the ground. Tossing and turning doesn’t help because you quickly realize that all you are doing is sleeping on some damned rocks. I spend about 20 minutes digging out all the rocks underneath my makeshift bed and try to sleep. It’s around midnight before I manage to fall asleep only to wake up due to snoring (me – I snore really loudly). Then I wake up again and it’s 2:45 and I’m freezing. It’s about 60 degrees and windy and I never warm up until I’m back in my car making a final gear check.
After peeing five times in 30 minutes, I’m at the start point. We take some nice shoeless pictures and then the race starts. Most people are scrambling toward the sandal making materials and I see a couple head back to their gear to make their bag first. I wander over and get my sandal making supplies – a large rectangular piece of rubber and some ribbon to tie it on your feet. Since you’re barefoot and walking on dirt, your feet are nice and powdery so that when you stand on the rubber to get an outline of your feet, you basically just step on it and stand and it’s a footprint you can just cut it out with your survival knife. This takes me 40 minutes but the leader has his sandals and bag made and is out the door in about 15 minutes.
Instead of bringing a pre-made ruck/bag you have to use the canvas (or whatever textile you bring) you have to make one to carry all your gear you’ve brought – water bottles, water filter(s), food and knife. Oh yeah, you have bring a giant knife and there are no aid stations so you have to filter water from various taps around the camp or hop into the creek and filter that water to drink. No aid stations on this trip, no sir.
Eventually I make the second most terrible sandals the world did ever see (there’s a picture of a dude using 2-liter coke bottles for shoes so he wins) and the worst bag of all time ever and take off on the race. This takes me a whole hour and 100 yards out of the gate my bag busts open and I have to figure out how to re-tie the damned thing. Instead of learning to tie knots in the weeks leading up to this event, I learned how to drink beer. This comes back to bite me in the ass but eventually I figure out that the more times you knot something the better chance it has of staying together. It still shakes loose but more knots, more better.
I get it bundled, walk a half mile, re-tie the bag, walk, tie, walk, tie and get to the end of the out-and-back, turn around and head back. I slip on some rocks and bust my ass and laugh because I’m hiking in sandals on the side of a mountain/hill in Southwest Texas, way out of my comfort zone and I hear coyotes or some animal howling. I was like “this is fucking cool” and proceed back to the start. At some point I ended up kicking a cactus because as I was crossing the river, i felt the spines being tugged by the water and that hurt like hell. I think it was a cactus. Either way, it left things for me to pull out of my feet later.
Being that this is my first trail run, I learn that someone has hiked the trail already and set up markers/flags/reflective tape to mark the trail. This is cool as hell but you get nervous because you can walk for a while and not see a marker and when you think you’re lost BOOM marker time. After linking up with a dude I just walk behind him and pick his brain while he tries to see if he can make it without his back seizing up on him again. This goes on until the sun comes up and we reach the next checkpoint. Here we see the leaders of the race (they’ve done a ton of other stuff and we are catching them here at their second time here). We get our next mission and my friend leaves me ’cause I’m tying my bag up again.
Next mission is to move our travois we left on the hill the night before and move it to another checkpoint. Here I cheat and just carry it over my head because that’s how we GORUCK shit (on our backs) but I am dumb and was supposed to drag it. Oh well. At the next checkpoint we’re doing some light bouldering to find arrows they’ve hidden in nooks and crannies and I don’t find my arrows but conveniently have found some left out by others who were also searching for their own set of arrows. All of the arrows were a colored set of four so you had to find four matching arrows before you could move on.
I have 3 arrows and that’ll have to do so I mosey on out to the next check point which is a small cave that me and a bunch of other people got lost trying to find. You go down into this small um….cave that seems like it’s 10′ x 12′ wide and 3′ – 7′ tall in the main room with a smaller room connected and you have to look for some arrowheads they’ve stashed down here. I hop in and see another guy down there and damn is it humid in this cave. They manage to stash some of the arrowheads on the other side of this narrow passageway, about 6′ long, 1.5′ wide and 3′ tall so you have to lay on your side and shimmy your way through. I thought of every damned monster story and creepy get-stuck-in-a-cave story I’d ever read (TED THE CAVER) since I was down there by myself at this point and couldn’t find the damned thing but I did a walk through again and found it then got the hell out because I’m not keen on staying in a cave where there are frogs and snakes and creepy crawlies.
After that it’s pretty much a lot of rocking, slipping and sliding on rocks and questioning your existence because why would you pay money to come out and do these types of things to yourself you idiot. Ah, because it’s an experience. I get to what would turn out to be my last checkpoint and I have to make a bow and use the arrows I’d found earlier. I called upon my youtube video watching to make a bow and watching another guy making his bow so I make a sorry excuse for a bow and bowstring. They’ve set up a wooden bear as a target and you have to climb up into a tree and shoot down at it. I climb up, get my Kevin Costner Robin Hood game face on and fire! My first arrow glances off of the damned target! The rest of my arrows are unimpressed with the user so they don’t even bother getting near target and so ends my FYAHG experience.
By this point I had decided to drop. I wasn’t mad or angry with myself because when I signed up I knew I wasn’t going to finish the race (probably not a good way to approach things but that was the reality of it) but the next checkpoint was 5 miles away, the one after that (and first cutoff time) was another 4 miles and I had 3 hours to get there. They said you could go through and skip the skills part to save on time but that’s not I wanted to run the race so it was an easy decision to withdraw/DNF.
Overall, it was a great event. I met some good people and learned that I enjoy running around lost, searching for a flag and keeping on moving. I’d definitely try it again next year with hopefully some practice underneath my belt on the skills.