Starting this post was super hard. Not that I don’t have a lot to say, but where to begin is the hardest part. I’ve already written a “Before” post so I guess I don’t need to get into all of that. So I will start at the beginning of the days journey, on January 16th, to Pittsfield, VT.
My wife and I drove up to my good friend Pete’s house who was going to crew for me over the weekend and provide moral support. Pete and I have one of those friendships where you may not see one another for a couple years but when you hang out again, you start right where you left off. I couldn’t have chosen a better guy to travel and share the weekend with, and surprisingly, he was just as pumped about it as I was.
We got into Pittsfield at around 2:30 and didn’t need to be anywhere until 9pm that night. At 9pm there was a mandatory meeting at Riverside Farm, most of the racers and crew believed the race was on at that point. We shot over to the Trailside Inn where some racers were chilling out. I had been chatting via Facebook with a guy names Josh Dyck, from Winnipeg, and he was there so we finally got to meet. He introduced us to his rubber ducky that had made the trip from Canada with him and would be accompanying him on his WDR journey. What? Yeah, Josh was an interesting dude.
Other racers came and went (Jeff, Taylor, John, Raymond), others hung for a while then chose to nap or eat or do whatever else it is they thought would help them come 9pm. I tried to hydrate as much as possible and snack where I could. I also worked on practicing the proper swiss seat technique, one of the things we were told to know before the race.
It got rather dry hanging around, and we were itching to do something, so Pete and I headed into town to see the infamous General Store. I grabbed a tasty veggie burger, hands down one of the best I ever had. A few of the race organizers were hanging around with some of the medical crew. I could overhear them talking about the water immersions to come and how concerned they were with the temperature. Friday night alone was supposed to dip to -20F, possibly worse on the mountaintop. So, there was debate going on whether or not the medical team would even stand behind that decision.
We drove back to Trailside and the racers that were still there were getting ready, time was ticking away and we were getting closer to the 9pm meeting. Better safe than sorry, I got all my gear on, repacked the best I could and off we went.
Everyone had trickled into the brown barn, the lower section, and started dumping gear. Crew started setting up stations. We were told to all be up top, completely registered, for the meeting. Well something happened and all of us failed the first task. We would have to do burpees/ PT with Joe for that. We were given instructions as to how the race was going to go, we were told that over a 100 registered. 29 of us were at the meeting. That lessened the odds of finishing right off the bat. As most of you know, roughly 10% finish this race. The 29 that did show were divided into three teams, as the first part of the race would be team based.
We grabbed our packs, went outside and banged out 50 burpees, synchronized with Joe. After that it was up the hill to the first task, as a team. We got to a spot where multiple logs, mini-telephone poles, were buried under snow. The underside of the logs were also in the dirt, which you could imagine, was frozen. We had to dig two logs out per team, and without our hands, carry them up the mountain. So, using rope and tying multiple “bite” handles we could carry the logs, well, move them at least. We were told to deliver them to Shreks Cabin. Easy enough right? Yeah, not the case. We could not use any trails, we had to bushwhack up the mountain.
This took hours to do. Crampons and micro-spikes were put on as parts of the woods were pure ice, or just straight up slippery with all the snow on top of all the leaves. Multiple times the rope had to be re-adjusted as it would slip off. This took hours, but eventually we made it to the top, dropped the log and meandered back down. Somewhere on the way down I lost my ax. I had asked a fellow team member to see if my ax was still on my back as it felt light(er). Sure enough, it was gone. I said thanks and turned to go find it, I thought he had followed but I guess I was on my own in this team event.
As I walked I realized I was on the stone stairs. I had seen pictures of Death Racers in the past building them, and then more Death Racers repairing them the year after. A while back there was a woman who was painting peoples names onto the stones that had been affected by Cancer in one way or another. My fathers name was on one of those stones as we lost him to Cancer. I didn’t know where his rock was, heck there was so much snow I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to find it. But, at that moment, I felt like he was with me and he remained with me for the rest of my time on that mountain.
I got back to the brown barn feeling down. I believed that I had bitten off more than I could chew. This race was so huge, epic can’t even describe the immense nature of this race. How in the hell did I think I even had the slightest bit of wherewithal to compete? Some of these guys were 10-15 years younger than me and were running laps around me.
My crew (Pete, Hannah and Adrianne) got me squared away though, helped me get my mind right and basically pushed me out the door for my second lap. This one was just as brutal as the first, but they added a twist. Not only did we have to carry another frozen log, but we had to fill our buckets with un-chopped firewood and carry that too. I was burning out fast and it took everything I had in me to keep pushing. The team really got it done though this time and we got up the mountain again. We dropped the log and split what was in our buckets, then stacked it. We raced back down to check in at the brown barn once more.
At this point they were assessing penalties as the solo race was now beginning. Based on your placement, you had to do that amount times 10 of burpees. I was 27th, yeah I was doing great, so that was 270 burpees. I started taking layers off and banged out what I could, 5 at a time. It was when I hit 135 burpees that we were offered a reprieve. They had run out of diesel for the heater downstairs and someone had gone and bought some. I could either finish my burpees or go to the car, grab a jug of diesel and bring it downstairs. There were no shoes involved in this and yes, it was night time and snow was on the ground. The decision was made, diesel it is.
Again, my crew got me back in the game. These guys were an efficient bunch and I even said to them how I felt like a driver in a car on the Nascar circuit. They had my wheels off (boots and socks), were pumping me full of fuel (water, food, etc) and were encouraging me to get back in the game, take it lap by lap. Again, I was out the door and this was a penalty lap as I was supposed to hike up to the half done shack (Miguels) and check in. Once I checked in they sent me back up to Shreks cabin. From there I was told to go back to the brown barn and find out my next task.
Needless to say I was starting to break down. My nutrition was spot on, that was not an issue. My head, even though it played with me a bit, was in the game. My body was not excited to be going and going though and it took everything to push it past the limits it had set for itself.
I got back to the brown barn and was told I needed to carry two 2×8 boards back to the half done shack. It didn’t matter how I got them there, they just needed to get there. I tried carrying them on my shoulders and that didn’t work. I tried dragging them behind me, and that seemed ok. So I took them and off I went.
It wasn’t too much longer that I realized my idea on how to carry them was stupid and my forearms made sure to let me know by completely quitting on me. I dropped the boards and sat there for a second…
I was furious with myself. I was disappointed that I knew I could not continue on and that this was all for naught, I had let everyone down.
I had been talking about this race for so long I had it set in my head that I was going to finish. That if my father could fight Cancer for 7 years after being told he only had 6 months than I could finish this fucking race!!! Though I know the skull is not what the journey is about, not having it to dedicate to him crushed me. I was deliriously out of it and started talking to him again. Whether it was him though, or my rational side, I knew I had given it my all and he would be proud of what I was able to do.
I grabbed the boards and headed back to the brown barn and turned in my bib, #485, after 19hours and 4 minutes of racing….
I was very disappointed… Even now after thinking about all of it, I know I could have carried those boards another way. I could have tied a rope around them and created a horse harness and dragged the damned things. I could have done this, and I could have done that. Those boards will haunt me. The shameful thing is, my father was a builder and was good at it. It beats me up that I couldn’t figure out a way to get this particular task done.
FAST FORWARD a few days… I am still a bit down on myself but I have had tons of folks reach out and settle me down. You know what? I competed in a Death Race! At time it was -20 degrees outside, with wind it dipped further than that. It was snowy. There was nothing out there that should have created a sense of enjoyment. But you want to know what, I would do it all again in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity. I tested myself and I believe I came out on top. There is so much I learned about myself on that mountain and lessons are being taught to me by the hour based on my experience there.
I’ve grown because of it, and skull or not, my father is surely proud that I gave it all I did. My wife is proud of me, my sons are proud of me and all of my friends have supported me and said the same. Finally, I feel proud too. This was out of my comfort zone but I did it with every bit of me.
Thank you to everyone for everything a long the way. To my crew, I couldn’t have asked for a better one. Not only did you help me, but you selflessly helped ALL of the other racers when they needed it. You guys are awesome, and when I said I loved you, I really meant it.
To the volunteers and Death Race crew, thank you. You afforded me the chance of a lifetime that I will never forget.
Thank you to my wife who put up with everything leading up to this. I can be so laser focused on something that I forget those around me, WDR was nothing short of taking all my attention away from everything else. So thank you, Leah. Thank you also for standing behind me no matter what stupid decisions I make! 🙂
Lastly, congrats to every racer who started the race. Regardless of whether you DNF’d or finished, you are a Death Racer and no one can take that away. You stand amongst many great athletes, hold your head high. You are all stepped out of your comfort zones and took on a challenge much larger than yourself. Again, whether you finished or not, you did something that only a small fraction of the world’s population would even think about. You are a Death Racer, wear that with honor and dignity!!
4 thoughts on “Winter Death Race 2015: After”
[…] I’ve already spoken at length about the race, and exactly what on during my 19 hours at the race. If you haven’t read it, you can here: https://www.newenglandspahtens.com/winter-death-race-2015-after/ […]
You went further then me & tried the summer DR.
You are epic! Your father is smiling blessings to you Nate. Truth!
Nate. You did it. Everytime we walk out our door we have no idea what life has in store for us. As you now know there's no way to tell what the race has in store for you till you are in it. You're a Death Racer now. There's no asterisks after it. When you show up is the definitive moment. The journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step. You're on a different path now, same journey new path. Good luck my friend.