Veronica’s First Scramble on Mount Temple
Summertime evokes strong emotions of excitement and nostalgia. As the snow disappears and brings forth longer days we trade our winter coats for shorts, fire up the barbecue and head outside. And no matter who you are, a roadtrip will always symbolize freedom and adventure. But being confided in a small space can be trying, even for the strongest of couples. This is a guide of how to survive a roadtrip with your girlfriend.
There is a difference between research and planning. Research involves the concious collection of intel with the intent to prepare for all possible contingencies. Planning denotes adherence to a rigid schedule. Instead of planning each stop, research the attractions en route and have a hardcopy handy for the navigator/co-pilot to consult. If you see something of interest, a photo op, a scrumptious roadside food option, a nearby rock climbing crag (because your significant other is super cool and a great belay partner) or an opportunity to explore, take it! Fortune favours the bold and you’ll never know what amazingness lies just around the next corner. A willingness to explore is what makes for great experiences and even better tales.
Hotels get overbooks, roads get closed, people get lost and honestly, destinations lose their appeal. When embarking on a roadtrip accept that the image you have in your head will not be exactly what happens. Maintain an easy going attitude under any and all circumstances. Drowning each other in a sea of complains won’t add anyone in that situation and if you only plant crab apples, guess what you’re going to harvest? If something goes wrong just remember that adventure is adverse circumstances recalled in tranquillity. Just think about how good that story is going to be later.
Remain vigilant for potential rest stops. On long stretches of northern highways they may be few and far between. It is important to note the hygenic standards of many truck stops may be subpar and it would be wise to come armed with an arsonel of sanitation solutions. Expect a Purell bath should you desire physical contact with your significant other post-Manitoba roadside Husky gas station restroom stop.
Should emergency strike, plan ahead with the clever GoGirl solution, enabling your classy lady to pee like a dude.
Roadtrips are about freedom. Casting off the shackles of the everyday in search of adventure and escape. You simply can’t live in the moment when you’re burdened with stuff. Here is a helpful packing guide:
Country music and classic rock will forever remain the staples of the roadtrip but include a variety. Podcasts on a common interest can pass the time when conversation has dwindled the Saskatchewan wheat fields have lost their allure. Language tapes (I suggest Pimsleur or Michel Thomas) are great as they help the practising driver remain alert and its pretty much the easiest thing to drown out if you’re trying to sleep as the passenger. When you stop make sure you have a few entertainment items to play with. A frisbee, football or soccer ball make an otherwise dull situation infinitely more pleasant.
Include a couple of highly satiating snacks, some drinks, a few magazines, a blanket in case disagreements in ideal temperature arise and my personal favorite: Oxypads. There is something magical about wiping that soothing cotton pad laden with chemicals across your dirty face and then looking at it afterwards to see how disgusting you were. Nothing makes you feel as good and as terrible about yourself at the same time.
Adverse weather strikes, cars break, zombies rise, English come collecting back taxes from Colonial days. It is crucial that your vehicle include food, water, clothing and sleeping provisions for at least three days. Have a flashlight, tarp, multi-tool, first aid kit and cash on hand. Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained but supplement this with a properly inflated spare tire, pump with gauge, jumper cables, a basic tool kit, coolant, oil and a small jerry can of gasoline. Just do it. Don’t be that 21st century guy that can’t fulfil his manly duties because your emasculating skinny jeans and diligently quaffed hair inhibit his potential as the role of protector.
Regardless of your destination, a roadtrip is about the journey. For those of us lucky enough to have the opportunity to share this journey with someone important to us and have the chance to build memories that will last a lifetime, cherish it. Slow down and take time to share the fleeting moments that pass us by as the odometer clicks around. Take in a sunset from a spectacular vantage point, fall asleep under the stars, laugh and be silly. Remember that this is really about the person you’re sharing it with and don’t ever take that for granted.
I hope this has provided a good overview for the information required as to how to to survive a roadtrip with your girlfriend. I welcome your feedback in the comments below. Your input is invaluable as we’re all in this together.
With more snowfall on the ground than I can recall from recent years I was finally afforded the opportunity to try something that has been on my mind for five years: Downhill Kayaking. I waxed up my Pyranha Inazone 230 with cross country ski wax, carted it up to a decommissioned ski hill near my house, affixed my plethora of GoPro’s and much to the delight of the grade seven class cross country skiing on a field trip began my first glorious attempt.
The first observation of note was the effort required for steering. Without a rudder I needed to lean hard into the turns and drag with the turn-side paddle blade. But this wasn’t enough. Not only did I have to lean, I had to actively kick my legs into the desired turn direction. A constant worry was pivoting the craft without redirecting, initiating the crocodile death roll which would probably result in some spine damage. This will take a number of attempts to perfect the carving techniques required for maximal performance.
I documented these two runs with a combination of two GoPro’s (Hero 3 Black and Original Hero) and a variety of mounts. The curved adhesive mount was used on the boat and helmet, a seat post mount was used on the neck of the paddle and I wore a Chestie. Its always a learning experience when utilizing these versatile cameras in new elements but nevertheless always exciting. This is my first time editing using the GoPro software so please reserve criticism. But it sure gave me a lot more appreciation for my editors and production team over at Inspired-ONE.
Note: This post is several months overdue. In the past six months I’ve climbed in seven different countries for SummitsTV and am finally getting around to posting this content. I hope you enjoy this trip report of climbing via ferrata in the Italian Dolomites.
Following my time in Morocco, France and Switzerland I boarded a train into Italy to experience culture and the beautiful rock spires while climbing via ferrata in the Dolomites. As a child weaned on classical music I couldn’t resist brief stop overs in Milan and Venice.
Entering Italy I was immediately greeted with a language barrier. They say you develop a distinctly new personality with each new language you learn and after about one day of Italian language course study I felt like such a greaseball New Jersey construction worker dirtbag that I had to stop. But this left me with no means of communicating with the locals shy of pointing and grunting, which ironically enough is how I’m used to conversing with the Affliction-clad, Imaginary Lat Syndrome, mouth breathing Italians of Sault Ste Marie so the culture shock wasn’t bad.
As a solo climber I couldn’t (safely) take advantage of the world class walls of the Dolomites (one day soon I’ll be back) so I came for one thing: Via Ferrata.
During the world wars Italy sought a means to transport troops quickly over harsh terrain. Their solution was to bolt iron rungs to the granite to create ladders. These lead to a series of pillboxes and machine gun bunkers, complete with escape routes. They were decommissioned postwar and later equipped with a safety cable and combined with rock faces and trails to make graded loops. A veritable jungle gym for big kids.
I arrived in the town of Cortina, site of the TK winter Olympics late in the afternoon with little information and no direction. Once again I found a quiet town sandwiched between the tourist seasons of summer cycling and climbing until the lifts opened for skiing. Many store fronts appeared to be observing a two month siesta but I had no difficulty finding a quaint little hotel with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains.
My first intention was to source local information pertaining to the nearby via ferrata and I sought out the English speaking hotel owner.
“No. The mountains is closed. No guides.” Was his curt answer. Patiently I explained that I was not looking to procure the services of a guide, rather I only wanted directions to the hiking trails. He responded by speaking slower and raising his voice, as we all do hoping that 20 decibels circumvent a language barrier.
“THE MOUNTAIN IS CLOSED. THERE ARE NO GUIDES.”
Well, no. Earth doesn’t close. I knew this to be government owned land and freely open to hikers and climbers so I wrote this dude off and was relegated to poor wifi signals and a phone for Internet research. Soon I found ferrata Strobel located a few short kilometres away.
I was greeted with morning weather that could not have been fairer. I eagerly donned my previously packed day pack (opting for my 18L) and consulted my hand drawn map amidst my field notes and started a seven kilometer road walk. Apparently there was a bus that ran frequently but it was so nice out and my knee felt great that I couldn’t resist the walk.
Internet forums were strikingly accurate and presented no difficulty in locating the trailhead. I was soon clamoring upwards on a moraine of spree towards the towering cliff face. The angle was steep and elevation was gained quickly. Soon the trailed hugged the cliff edge and the first iron came into play. The trail was not difficult and the cable merely served as a sense of security as the iron rungs, as intended, gave the ability to scale smooth rock quickly. The same sections placing trad pro may have been an all day climb but I was now able to experience the much sought after exhilaration of a cliff edge without three anchors and a belay partner.
With limited altitude and an easy but enjoyable climb it didn’t take long to crest the summit and enjoy a lunch of farm fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses and bread from a local farmers market and Nutella, a now dietary staple while reading past posts in the summit log as far back as 1976.
The trail descended down the northeast side of the mountain and the temperature immediately dropped ten degrees once in the shade. Thirty minutes later and back in the sun the trail returned to sandy spree and in efforts to shave time I laced up the boots and awoke the long dormant footwork drills.
This was successful at shaving a lot of time of the return trip but I paid for that with a lost hat, camera extender and arm skin. Meh.
One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered with adventure travel is finding like-minded individuals willing to monopolize their leisure time for the inevitable suffering that accompanies time in the mountains.
“Hey, do you want to take 2/3’s of your employer mandated vacation time to travel to remote corners of the planet essentially void of any creature comforts and trek through perilous landscapes in search of an unquantifiable personal sense of accomplishment?”
It’s been a tough sell so far but I know there are people out there that wish they could experience these types of adventures and its my hopes that I can help facilitate that.
To learn more about SummitsTV and how we’re striving to empower children with physical impairments through adventures, please visit www.summitsTV.com or click the link below to watch a quick video.
On September 27th, 2013 I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I quit my job in finance to create opportunities for children with physical impairments to have adventures. My method for accomplishing this is to create a newfound level of empathy for family members by simulating physical hardship through the challenges of high altitude mountaineering and learn the unique stories of these families before, during and after the voyage. These stories will be shared documentary style and more information can be found at SummitsTV. Although currently working with a wonderful production team (details to follow), until we’re picked up by a broadcaster the expeditions are entirely self-funded and managed. While always well intended, the mountain climbing has not always proved smooth in application. Here is my tutorial on how not to climb Mount Toubkal.
The first summit scheduled for this expedition was Mount Toubkal in Morocco. Standing at an impressive 4167m, Mount Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountain range and the tallest in Northern Africa. As an introductory mountain, this peak offered a number of benefits. It is non-technical, requiring no ropes or glacial travel, the path is well-trodden eliminating (or reducing) the need for navigation and route finding and being situated in Africa it would not be as cold as comparable peaks further north.
I was joined by my father who accepted the challenge to join me on the first climb and share the story of our own family and our experiences. Skip, who celebrated his 60th birthday on the voyage, is no stranger to physical mobility constraints. Twenty years ago an accident shattered his heel and has been a source of chronic pain since. While he remains active and could certainly exhibit physical dominance over nearly everyone his age we remained cognizant of this condition and agreed to closely monitor and make a judgement call should pain prevent him from making the ascent.
Originally slated for weeks end after a period of acclimatization, an overbooked bus altered our travel plans. With an open agenda and new contacts within the country we called in a favour, procured a vehicle and embarked on the two hour trek to the small mountain town of Imlil.
Mount Toubkal is a frequently climbed “touristy” mountain that is achievable by nearly any healthy person under the right circumstances and upon arrival we were immediately swarmed by guides attempting to solicit our business. Just as my previous research had alluded to, they offered the traditional package. We were to spend the night in a hotel in the town and leave at 9am the following morning for a ten hour hike to the Nelter Refuge, covering 12km and 1500m of elevation gain. My pack would be carried on a mule and Skip and I would trudge slowly behind a non-English speaking Berber. After spending the night in the hut to slowly acclimatize we would awake at 5am to begin the four hour summit push and finishing the last vertical kilometer, to arrive at the summit as the sun rose. We would stay briefly and then walk down and back to Imlil, taking about ten hours.
The route began with a 4km hike up to the small mountain town of Aroumd, gaining a few hundred feet of elevation and taking roughly an hour. At this point, my father made the painful decision that the strain of a this trek would be too great for his aforementioned injury and opted out. While this saddened me greatly, it now meant the hike could be approached differently. As it was 5pm and we were rather rushed in preparation a new game plan was formulated. The locals and our driver were quite insistent upon the traditional schedule. Because it was late in the afternoon they suggested that I shave off an hour of the trek that night and stay in the nearby village of Aroumd. I had done extensive research on these options and the normal costs associated with them and knew that a guide with a mule and two nights stay on the mountain should cost approximately $100 Canadian. The price they quoted? About $1000.
To me, this was quite ridiculous and unnecessary and I had never felt my abilities necessitated a guide or porter. Furthermore, although only briefly in Morocco, I’ve grown quite tired of the overly aggressive sales tactics of the locals and knew this to be nothing more than an up-sell. Although I was ignorant to my personal capacity for altitude I was confident in my mountain craft and properly equipped for this excursion so elected to embark without a guide (For a detailed guide of how Summit Toubkal without a guide, click here). I removed bulk in the form of down warmth jackets and extra mitts and substituted my emergency bivy sack for a synthetic sleeping bag. By 5:45pm I was off.
The locals who were quite insistent I would get lost without a guide were clearly employing deceptive sales tactics because it was a turnless mule path with a thousand foot cliff on one side and a deep ravine with a river at the bottom. If anyone has ever gotten lost on this section of the trail we should allow natural selection to unapologetically weed their genes from existence.
Early evening fog and eerily imposing mountain shadows cast darkness by 8pm. This was uncharted territory for me as each step higher was a new lifetime high for altitude for me. Adorned with head torch and several additional layers I passed two Berber refuges but no fellow climbers. At shortly before 10:30pm I arrived at the final refuge. As I had not previously reserved a spot, my arrival was met with surprise. True to the Berber hospitality I was immediately ushered in and offered their traditional mint tea and accommodation for the evening. And they were much dismayed at my cordial refusal. Our conversation was simple, as their English was worse than my French but they understood enough to laugh in my face when I presented my intention to continue climbing that night.
“No one climbs Toubkal at night! You’ll never find the piste!” They proclaimed.
This time there may have been a grain of truth to their warnings. Despite their insistence and my overwhelming desire for more of that tea, I donned my warmth layers, recorded coordinates and route features in my Field Notes and began a solo night attempt of the summit.
The weather was fickle and conditions quickly worsened. A fierce wind howled and nipped at any exposed skin. I shivered as a narrow swath of light barely illuminated the poorly marked path. It was soon apparent that I was off route and scrambling over loose scree. With each step up I slid down almost to where I started. As rocks bounced a seemingly endless distance into the dark abyss I grew concerned and traversed to a precipice in search of solid footing. The holds were positive and the footing drastically improved yet I depended on step counting, a digital wrist compass and a looming behemoth of a mountain shadow for guidance lest I stray further from the established route through the car-sized boulders.
As the slope gave way to a gully the well trodden path once again became visible which I followed with a new-found vigor. At 3600m I remained cautions as I had never been at this altitude prior. Fatigue and shortness of breath necessitated frequent and increasingly longer pauses and eventually I was stopping briefly every three steps. Ever mindful of a headache or drowsiness, I was always prepared emotionally should the effects of altitude sickness strike. After what felt like hours I once again found myself off route and clamoring amongst the loose rock sliding like sheets of ice beneath my every step. To mitigate the risk of a rock slide I deliberately wandered off path to solid rock which was probably a 5.5 scramble. With each step I grew evermore thankful for my new Scarpa Triolet Pro GTX mountaineering boots.
Eventually my improvised path came to a halt as I arrived at a towering expanse of solid vertical rock. Perhaps out of frustration, perhaps early onset mountain delirium, I recognized this as the base of the summit and concluded “when in doubt, go up.” I began to free climb. The holds were ample and positive and I made easy progress yet without the vision to properly route select I soon found myself at an impasse. I looked up at another hundred feet of rock wall above me and another fifty to the base. Not wanting to down climb, I traversed a great expanse until the scree once again met the face. It was now that I realized I was being dumb.
Cutting straight across the valley and away from what I knew to be Mount Toubkal I hoped to once again intersect the trail. It wasn’t long before this proved fruitful and my optimism returned. Yet much to my dismay the trail led right, away from the shadowy mass I had landmarked. Shrugging with hopeless indifference I trudged along the established trail and continued upward. It was soon after 1:00am and becoming abundantly clear that I had, in fact, summitted Mount Toubkal’s neighbor. I was putting on a clinic on how not to climb Mount Toubkal in Morocco.
At well over 4000m I was still pleased with this feat. But as the weather worsened and my fatigue grew, I abandon hope of reaching the apex of Mount Toubkal that night. I found a flat(ish) piece of ground surrounded on three sides by rocks. Quickly I set about leveling the ground as best I could and building up barriers to the fierce wind. Shivering, I unrolled my sleeping bag and tucked the feet into my now empty rucksack, removed my shell layers and cinched the mummy hood shut. I fell asleep almost instantly and had the best sleep of my life.
I woke at 6:30am to the rising sun and the sound of the first climbers of the day.
In the distance I could see the telltale metal pyramid signifying the top of Toubkal. I could also see the rock climb I’d attempted and, sure enough, it lead directly to the summit. With daylight and a belay partner it would have been easily accomplished. Shivering as I sped to get dressed and quickly disassemble my campsite, I laughed to myself at how easy the path was to see in the day light. It looked like a freagin highway from above. I power slide my way back down and quickly climbed the last 400m to reach the summit of Toubkal.
Note: For an informative post on the actual route up Jbel Toubkal you can go here.
As ill equipped tourists struggled to the top, having slept a four hour walk away and with a team of Berber porters lugging their ipads and tripods, I couldn’t help but feel a greater connection to this mountain. Her and I now shared a special bond. I had respected her magnitude and in return she has kept me safe through the night.
As I gazed across the seemingly infinite landscape, its red rocks glowing like fire in the morning sun, I felt a slight warmth in my right knee. Not pain, rather awareness. It was almost exactly seven months ago that I lay on the operating table having my ACL replaced with a piece of my already damaged hamstring tendon. The doctors had told me that a return to sport was unlikely and I should prepare for the prospect of rehabilitating the limb for over a year for a reasonable possibility of performing activities of daily living. Yet here I stood. At the peak of the tallest mountain in Northern Africa. Being told I may never again enjoy the activities that had shaped who I was was the most difficult conversation I’d ever had. It truly felt like an instrumental component of my existence had been stripped from me and without it, I didn’t know who I was.
I spent nearly two hours on the summit. I didn’t want to leave. Group after group of guided climbers came and left as I sat and gazed pensively over the horizon.
Eventually I begrudgingly trudged downward, my mind racing. This experience will remain forever as one of the most empowering moments of my life. And if I could share this feeling with just one other person, I would consider myself a success. To rid one other person of that cloud of hopelessness would be the greatest gift one could ever hope for.
Is it possible? Sure.
Easy? Probably not.
Worth trying for? Absolutely.
To learn more about how we’re trying to provide adventure opportunities for children with physical impairments, please take a moment and visit SummitsTV.com
With a car in the shop and a day to kill what do two late twenty-somethings do to pass the day? Rent lobster costumes and gallivant about Toronto.
Naturally we fielded a lot of questions but our succinct answer was simply that it was Lobster Tuesday and we were seeking to raise awareness for Lobster Causes. Few people had a follow up question.
Spending a day in a lobster costumes makes you acutely aware of a number of lobster-realities:
Go visit Thunder Thighs Costumes on 16 Busy Street in Toronto, ON. Tell them the lobsters sent you.
For those who’ve heard the story, I completed the Tough Mudder held in Barrie, Ontario in August, 2012. Despite the fact that I had completed the course in a respectable time I vowed never to do that nonsense again, stating that once was enough. Until I found out I had qualified for the World Championships. Begrudgingly I knew I had no choice but to compete in the 2012 World’s Toughest Mudder.
The World’s Toughest Mudder is a step up from its predecessor. By invite only, the race attempts to find the toughest participant from all races held across the globe over the past season. Nearly identical to the Tough Mudder, the World’s Toughest Mudder differs in that rather than completing a single lap you have 24 hours to complete as many laps as you possible and the winner is the athlete who completes the most complete laps in that time span.
I was joined by Bryan Gauer of Inspired One Media who agreed to document the event. I’ve worked with him several times in the past and his company always does tremendous work.
The course is designed in all respects to make people quit. All race efforts must be on a self sufficient basis. Each participant is permitted to set up a camp site to serve as home base but once you begin a lap you must complete it in its entirety without any assistance whatsoever. The pit area was abuzz with excitement and tents stretched as far as the eye could see as racers nervously prepared, not knowing what was to come. Should you forget something from the pit area and walk across the electronic timer you must complete 10 miles before you’re allowed back inside. Medical checkpoints at various points ensure participants are of sound body and mind and should their discretion rule, you’re eliminated from competition.
Shortly before 10:00am the 1,500 participants, representing the top 5% of the 450,000 people who completed a Tough Mudder worldwide in 2012 lined up at the start gate for the somewhat different introduction from Startline Shawn. We were informed that although the spirit of camaraderie remained and we should look out for our fellow competitors this was, in fact, a race and we were choosing a quantifiable winner to be awarded $15,000.
As the start gun went racers jostled for position near the front of the pack. Before long we’d established our temporary hierarchy of abilities and I found myself towards the rear of the pack. Knowing I have the cardio capacity of an asthmatic geriatric I had literally no desire to push tempo.
The obstacles were a strong point and aside from a brief funnel at initial challenges they were much quicker than the Toronto event. I rarely pushed my pace beyond a comfortable talking pace and stressed this by stopping frequently to speak with Bryan on camera. The first half was relatively easy and despite my confirmed torn meniscus and ruptured ACL I didn’t really exhibit any boo boos.
On the tail end of the course we were required to swim across a 100m lake and exit by climbing a cargo net. While I was wearing a wetsuit and the sun was shining, the lake was frigid and made even worse upon learning that we had to swim back across immediately upon exiting.
The first lap was completed in almost exactly three hours, twenty-five minutes longer than my single lap in Toronto. After resting forty-five minutes or so and throwing on a few extra layers I ventured back out with a similarly paced friend I’d made on the previous lap and we left out meager creature comforts once again in lieu of muddy misery.
Our pace was slow and the obstacles slowly becoming emptier. On the aggregate the course was significantly more desolate and as darkness arrived we truly felt like we were on a solo mission. When the sun dropped below the horizon the temperature fell from from a tolerable 15 degrees to a nearly unbearable 2. As I entered the lake for the dreaded crossing I felt my finger tips break through a thin layer of newly formed ice on the surface. Upon reaching the cargo net I stayed in the water a few minutes longer to hold the net steady for my teammate to climb with less sway, lest he be unsuccessful and eliminated. The second crossing, however, killed me.
On the second crossing we were required to fully submerge and dunk our heads under water to swim under a series of floating barrels. The moment my head hit the water I felt like all life was sucked from my soul. I felt my body slowing and began to feel eerily calm when a hand grabbed my arm and forcefully dragged me onto shore. Fortunately a warming station awaited us but my teammate informed me that when he looked over I’d stopped moving and had a blank look on my face. Worried I was hypothermic he’d ventured in after me. At the time, ego prevailed and of course I wasn’t. Now? I can bashfully say it may have been possible.
We gingerly stepped our frozen feet back across the finish line fifteen minutes slower at 3:15 and attempted to warm up. I wrapped myself in a series of wool blankets and those silver tin foil ones search and rescue gives out and crawled inside a down filled sleeping bag. I shivered for a few hours, unable to stop.
At midnight, our agreed meeting time to debate the possibility of attempting a night lap, I ventured from my tent. What awaited me was a barren wasteland. The once bustling tent city was now a ghost town with only a countable number remaining. It appeared the majority of participants had succumbed to the cold and quit.
I reached for my wetsuit to start the awful process of squeezing into it and realized a terrible truth: my wetsuit had frozen solid. I picked up the leg and held it perfectly horizontal like a plank of wood. There was no way I was getting into this thing. I crawled back into my cocoon and slept sporadically until morning.
At dawn the scene was noticeably emptier but the warm glow of the suns rays were revitalizing. I found a cold shower trailer and held my still frozen wetsuit under a hose and soaked it until a minimum level of pliability was achieved. Squeezing in we ventured off and barely more than a walking pace.
As rules indicated, all competitors must complete a lap after midnight to be considered a finisher and we had little over four hours to complete this requirement. With a watchful eye on the clock we trudged along and suffered through each obstacle for the last time, each step potentially our last. By now all accumulated injuries were exacerbated by the night of cold and each pace hurt. But we were enthralled in our sense of completion.
We paused frequently to assist the last competitors over obstacles to ensure each person who had suffered as we had could revel in their accomplishment. Most people looked worse than us but having raced for over twenty four hours we would be morally remiss to allow someone not to finish.
At the 4:15 mark we crossed the line to a chorus of cheers and successfully completed the Worlds Toughest Mudder. Adorned in our new headbands we left the course standing just a little bit taller that day. Later we learned that of the 1,500 initial competitors less than 250 successfully completed the course.
I’m proud to be one of the 2012 World’s Toughest Mudders.
I’m always looking for a new challenge to briefly stem my adventure ADHD. With the recent rise in popularity, no doubt everyone has either participated in (or knows someone who has) a muddy adventure race. The past two summers my friends and I participated in the Warrior Dash, a 5km adventure race designed to be “the craziest freaking day of your life.” While the event fell well short of this claim it provided an excellent medium for a great party and a new event to cross off the bucket list. As usual, as soon as this was finished it opened the creative brainstorming for the next viable option and progression along the difficulty ladder.
Enter the Tough Mudder.
The Tough Mudder is a 17km adventure race designed by the British Special Forces to physically and mentally test the participants. The racers crawl under barbed wire, swim through ice water, swing across greased up monkey bars and conclude with the “Electro Shock Therapy” which is a truss system from which hundreds of live wires dangle and deliver an electric shock of 10,000 volts to the unsuspecting victims. 17,000 participants attempted the course over two days and the spirit of teamwork and camaraderie was encouraged throughout as several obstacles required two or more fellow murders to complete.
It is a exhausting event but an exciting challenge nonetheless and all proceeds from the event go to Wounded Warriors, a charity supporting injured soldiers returning from foreign wars. We were extremely impressed with the level of professionalism that went into organizing and executing an event of this caliber.
I had been registered for several months when race day arrived but had no idea how to run a Tough Mudder. Nursing a terribly injured knee later to be confirmed as a torn medial meniscus, I awoke and seriously contemplated not participating. I hadn’t’ run once (no, really, not once) for over six months and was now faced with the prospect of completing a 3 hour obstacle. But foolish pride begot me and I velcroed up the trusty Vibram Five Fingers and arrived at the start line with my usual adventure race crew, albeit with very low expectations.
Not being a cardiovascular aficionado of any sorts prior I decided to lollygag my way through and focused more on completion than results.
Our initial intentions were to remain together as a team but as the first of six complete summits of the ski hill would have it, fatigue set in and some elected to remain behind at a slower pace while those able to forged ahead.
To put it bluntly, this was not an enjoyable endeavor. I didn’t have fun nor can I fathom how anyone can pretend to enjoy themselves as they submerge into ice water and then immediately walk up a ski hill to crawl over gravel and then electrocute themselves. But not to be quitters, we trudged on.
With those running at a pace comfortable alongside myself we managed to complete the course in a surprisingly brisk time of 2:35. I had no idea how this stacked up but I knew my knee didn’t hurt and that everything about the afternoon sucked. A cold beer on this hot day never tasted better but walking was laboured for days afterward.
I openly expressed my disdain for anything cardio related and vowed never to participate in this nonsense again. But a few days later I received an email from the organizers informing me that my time had placed me in the top 5% of participants that day and as such I had qualified for the World’s Toughest Mudder to be held in November. Much to my chagrin I knew I had no choice but to do more of this Tough Mudder crap.
Long story short, I registered for this ridiculous event. A string of profanities escaped my mouth as I entered my credit card information. I guess more of this nonsense is ahead…
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In perpetual pursuit of fullfiling my insatiable thirt for adventure, I have just returned from a life-changing voyage to experience Running With The Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
The festival of San Fermin occurs annually on the seventh day of the seventh month (July 7th for the bunglers among us), most famously known for their daily bullfights and the fabled “Running With The Bulls.” Each morning at 8am a dozen two tonne bulls, along with a dozen or so steers, are released from their enclosure and directed through empty cobblestone streets to the arena in which the evening’s bullfights will occur. Since the 14th century , brave men have donned the traditional garb of white pants and shirts with a red sash and neckerchief and attempt to prove their manhood by running along side the oversized beasts.
Initially popularized to the western world by Ernest Hemingway in his legendary novel Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (highly recommended), the festival now attracts participants and spectators from all corners of the world. The majority of information I have after this point consists of drunk youtube accounts from Australian vagabonds and animal rights activists seeking the end of the festival. Regardless, I had no doubt we’d make it a memorable event and cross one more item off the bucket list.
All participants line up in front of the corral as the policia erect iron barricades on the sides of the street and clear the path of bystanders before they, themselves vacate as well. After the course is clear, the men sing a chant to the patron saint of the festival asking him to protect them.
A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición”
(“We ask Saint Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the encierro and give us his blessing”)
Spectators line the barricades, perch from balcony vantage points above and pack the giant stadium for an up close and personal view of the spectacle. We elected to begin our run near the start of the course to ensure we had the opportunity to run through “Deadman’s Curve,” a sharp hairpin turn notorious for cloven hoofs to slip and carnage to ensue. At this point it basically becomes a shit show of taunting giant monsters. This is where the last death occur when a bull gored an American participant three times and basically ripped him a new asshole.
Minutes prior the run the streets were abuzz with cocky banter and inebriated highfives. But as the seconds ticked by the tone become noticeable more somber. We stood still awaiting the commencement and occasionally a lone runner would sprint past, prompting all others to quickly evaluate their surroundings. A few runners decidedly exited the course moments prior. I watched as one man trembled in fear as a urinated himself before jumping the barrier and leaving.
A single rocket is fired to signify the corral door is opened and a second is fired alerting the runners that all animals have exited. At that point it becomes a 900m foot race between tourists (affectionately referred to as Gambereos, meaning Stupid Drunks, by the locals), the Spanish, many of whom have participated annually and a dozen unstoppable battering rams equipped with razor-sharp horns, cloven hooves and an attitude problem. You watch as wave after wave sprint past as you crane your next in hopes to see the animals yet several times it is a false alarm.
The ground shakes as the thundering herd of bovine monsters race past, effortlessly parting the sea of white clad participants like a hot knife slicing through butter. Elbows from jostling participants as a means of self preservation fly and the roar of the audience fills the air as the participants begin running with the bulls.
We began our first run from the very start but in our efforts to complete the entire course we were caught in a backlog of people. The police closed a backflow gate immediately after Deadman’s Curve to prevent disoriented bulls from running in the wrong direction. We waited impatiently until we were cleared to continue but at this point we would not reach the stadium in time
Not satisfied with our GoPro footage from the previous day we began on Day Two from slightly past the barricade. Unfortunately there was a zero tolerance policy for cameras on the course and Sarkis was caught trying to use his resulting in a forceful ejection. In an effort to hide mine until the last possible moment I accidentally switched the GoPro to Picture mode and missed the first half of my run. I was able to get into a good run stride and place a hand on the bull’s flank before they sped past me. The run continues until all the bulls and a capped number of participants enter the Plaza Del Toros, where the bullfights will occur later that night. A third and fourth rocket a fired to alert the runners that the run is over and all bulls are now in the stadium.
A long, narrow and dark tunnel become a funnel as runners pack in. This can be seen on any number of “Why the Running of the Bulls is stupid” videos on youtube. If unimpeded by fellow runners you pass through the darkness and triumphantly emerge, initially blinded by the light, into a perfectly round sand floored stadium to the cheers of 30,000 spectators.
Rejoicement is short lived as the fight bulls from the run are ushered through to a separate holding pen and “baby bulls” are released one at a time for a total of six waves.
These juvenile bulls are around two years old and weigh well over 1000 lbs. With their horns capped there is little chance of impalement but a near certainty of getting messed up if they catch you. It is a point of pride amongst the participants to ride alongside and attempted to touch the beasts without the predictable outcome of death by trampling and impalement.
The crowd rewards bravery and openly mocks cowardliness. Should one successfully execute an amateur bullfighting maneuver they are met with cheers and admiration. However, should someone in any way disrespect the animals by striking them, pulling a tail or otherwise, they are beaten relentlessly by the locals. It is an interesting dynamic. The creatures are highly revered.
This was easily one of the greatest experiences of my short life thus far. I always say that this world is too big to repeat an experience too soon while there is still so much else to experience but I will absolutely return to this festival one day. I hope I can maintain a level of athleticism to permit me to bring my future son on his eighteenth birthday. But until then, the world is too vast to dream small.
The weeks and months of hard work paid off and i found myself victorious by knockout in the second round.
logistically, the event was less than sound with wildly off time weigh ins, inadequate warm ups and a distracting ambiance. However the venue was beautiful, the crowd was borderline uncontrollable and the excitement in the atmosphere was palatable.
I came in lighter than I hoped at exactly 175lb, probably due to inappropriate nutrition in the weeks prior and putting my opponent and I at exactly the same weight.
I entered the ring as confidently could be expected with my crutch of a knee and felt great about my chances. And from my observations, Burke had the same mentality.
The initial strategy discussed between Mario and myself was to walk into range immediately, throw two or three wildly aggressive blows (positive outcome not required) to demonstrate power and then step out, control the ring and pick opportunities to get inside and work body. While great in theory, I misstepped in the initial confrontation, ate a few punches and instead of stepping out and trying again I involuntarily elected to stand stationary and see how many bombs I could eat with my face. The first two punches that hit me knocked out both of my contacts so now I was completely blind and swinging aimlessly at colours in front of me.
There was a moment early where I asked myself what I’d gotten into. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of losing and certainly not immediately. So I wisely decided to keep standing there and taking punch after punch directly in the face. Despite this, I’m sure I was the aggressor and controlled the center of the ring. Burke clearly didn’t like fighting close.
We had a brief pause when my chin strap came over my face and as I walked to my corner, it struck me that even though I’d probably been hit about 15 times at this point, none of them had hurt my in any way and I wasn’t even out of breath. Mario, ever the eloquent songbird of a coach, imparted me with this gem of church-worthy wisdom:
“You fuckin’ mook. You donut. Why don’t you stand there and get hit more, you c$^%. Go ahead, you boob. Don’t throw any punches. Just keep getting hit, you fuckin’ idiot. ”
As we got called back in he called that if I didn’t get busy, I’d lose the round, and slapped me in the head.
15 seconds later I got inside, landed three body shots and followed up with a straight right to the jaw that dropped him with what looks like a vicious throat punch.
He made the count but the round was finished. Fortunately I’m sure I hurt his knuckles with my face and hadn’t thrown more than 5 punches so as soon as we entered the second round I dropped him again quickly.After he once again made the count it took about 10 more seconds to drop him with a flurry and, the best part, watched him do the jiggly-leg-stand-up-fall-down; my to date life time highlight. The ref, judge and coach called the fight. He was done.
Mario and Counterpunch Promotions put on a terrific event and his training was incredible. I can’t thank my support crew enough. The boys from Sault Ste Marie, the McMaster crew, everyone at TD Waterhouse(London, Hamilton, Toronto, St Catharines), my trainers from No Excuse Fitness and their guests and my fantastic family for making the trip down.