Race Report: Pittsfield Peaks Death Division
June 21, 2008
3 Am Start
Why am I still alive?
The Pittsfield Peaks Death Division is designed to be a one of its kind race and perhaps the toughest race in the entire world. This weekend, 8 men showed that the race is far from as tough as we hoped it would be. I decided I would give it a try, toe the starting line and see for myself what it take to complete the event. I had no time goal, no expectations and certainly had no plans of finishing. Just have fun…
We were told to show up at The Original General Store at 9pm with all of our gear for a mandatory check in and pre-race meeting. In the months and weeks heading into the event, the race staff was sure to keep what was to take place secret from me. But I know these guys well and I had a feeling the race was going to start at 9 instead of the 3am advertised time. I had all of my gear with me in my old hiking pack which included: Tape Measure, Ball Point Pen, chisel, hammer, knife, duct tape, rope, water shoes, life preserver, bike helmet, hatchet, winter hat and arm sleeves, 3L of water, 2 hand held bottles with Gatorade in them, electrical tape, hand pruners, work gloves, first aid kit and an Egg I had wrapped in foam and placed in a small box filled with packing peanuts. My pack weighed about 30 Pounds.
I got ready to run as torrential rains and thunderstorms moved overhead. I checked in to the race, completed an interview on TV which included me waiving my rights to sue race staff in the event of death or injury and made my way to the pre-race meeting. It was here that we had to surrender our eggs which many of the racers had packaged up in many thoughtful ways to ensure the egg didn’t break. Once we rounded everyone up, Joe said, “Take your gear and follow me.” I was right.. we were heading out into the night.
As we got outside the rain had stopped by the fog had moved in. It was muggy and humid, the kind of air that soaks you just standing in it. As we made it outside, I ran to Andy Hawley’s house for a hand saw before returning to the meeting. We were told to pick up a bundle of wood. I looked around at the 30+ bundles and chose the one I thought was the smallest. Three pieces of wood.. and I was wrong. The pieces were saturated and heavy, awkward to carry and then Joe said “follow me”. Its 9:30pm and we are now going for a long walk. 29 of us follow Joe up Route 100, all of us carrying a bundle of wood. We had to carry with us all of our gear and these bundles of wood and as we made it to the Aimee Farm, we crossed the road and walked down into a ditch. The ditch was about 5 feet wide and was filled with waist deep mud and water. On the other side we bushwhacked uphill through thorns and hobble-bush stopping many times to make sure everyone stayed together. It was a long cold walk and we had a long way to go.
We walked and walked and walked and along the way, we finally got a break in the clouds as Ri and I started to laugh. We knew where we were heading.. and it was the Colton Camp. (Mile 7 and 8 Aid station in the 50+ Miler). When we finally made it to Colton Camp, we had to drop ONE of our logs and wait for instruction. Race staff stacked the wood we all gave up and told us to head up the hill. So with all of my gear still and two heavy logs which I managed to tie up with some rope with one hand, I slowly climbed the mountain at Colton Camp. The torrential rains had made the hill a slick mess. Every 3 steps up was followed by some sliding back. As I finally reached the top of the hill, I was given an egg and told to head back down. From this moment on, if we broke our egg ANYWHERE.. we needed to return to the Colton Camp hill to get a new one. We’ll just say that a few folks made 3 or 4 trips.
At the bottom of the hill Joe was waiting for us and we headed off into the woods on a bushwhack. I fell a few times but managed to keep my wood in hand and egg unharmed. Soon we reached a residency with a chilly mountain pond in the back. We were told to put our wood and egg down, empty all of our gear out and get into the pond. We had to get in the pond with all of our clothes on including headlamps. We stood in the frigid water for more than 15 minutes as I started to shiver. We all counted off to ensure our safety. Something swam in the water and it looked like a snake. It moved all over and then towards us. We then thought it was a turtle which was great because if it was a snake.. I was getting out. We found out that it was nothing more than a moth. And then… “Everyone get under!” I ducked under water as my breath was taken away. As we emerged from the frigid pond, I began to shake uncontrollably. I had a dry shirt in my bag so I took the wet shirt off and put the dry one on. We then had to quickly re-pack our gear then take our wood.. and egg.. and follow Joe again.
We walked through the woods, on trails, bushwhack.. you name it for a long time before returning to the Aimee Farm. BY the time we got back it was 12:30am. We had been repeatedly told that “this is a test.. the race starts at 3.” Some test huh! Back at Aimee Farm my arms are dead tired from carrying those logs over 6 miles through darkness.. up and down mountains. I’m tired and ready for bed.. but we’re not done. We turn in our egg, drop off our wood and are allowed to take our gear off. We are then told to line up near this barbed wire contraption and told what was next…
“You are going to crawl UNDER this barbed wire (About 1 foot off the ground) and while staying under it, you’ll crawl up that hill of rock and mud under the crucifix and down the other side.” As we crawl through the cold and soupy mud, It was hard not to get cut and pinched by the barbed wire. Everyone was moving the wire so they could get under, and as one guy moved the wire came down on someone else. This really was hell.
Up the small hill and down the other side into a steep hill side of Briars, thorn bushes and blackberry bushes.. “Stay on your hands and knees! Stay on your hands and knees!” was yelled. As I stayed on my hands and knees I could feel as the thorns ripped my flesh, stuck into my hand and broke off. It was unreal.. painful and idiotic. I knew I wasn’t going to finish “the race,” my goal was now to finish “The Test.”
Once at the bottom of the hill we had to stay on our hands and knees and crawl through a river. Over head was more thorns and more barbed wire. At times, trying to crawl under the wire was only done by me shoving my head into the muddy stream. I am covered in mud, soaked and bleeding. We then had to crawl through a 50 yard culvert, then under 9 huge logs which had been laid over the stream on the other side… then finally out from under it all… hands in knees in a stream under more barbed wire.
We then turned up hill and had to stay down as we crawled up hill through more thorns and briars. As we emerged out on top we got to see the kid who showed up late. His name was Eric and he was 18 years old. His punishment for being late was to start sawing through a 4 foot wide downed tree. They gave him a tiny hand saw and a wedge as he got to work. He had only been sawing a few hours and his progress was slow. Our next test was ahead. We broke into teams of 3. I was with a 65 year old man.. and Ri Fahnestock. Ri is the ONLY person going after the $10,000 for finishing all 6 of the Peak Races and we knew this race was the deal breaker or maker. One of us had to get the buckets… so I went and got 3 buckets. Ri went and retrieved a 95 pound bag of cement. Then, the 65 year old and I out 1/3 stone, 1/3 sand and 1/3 of the cement Ri got into two of the buckets. I then took the 3rd bucket and had to go down through the steep hill of briars and thorns to get water out of the stream.. then hike it back up. I made two of these trips. We mixed and mixed until we made concrete. As we needed more water, I found a cone and scooped muddy water into it from a puddle. We had to fill the 3rd bucket with the same mixture. When we finally got the OK from a race official, we all carried a bucket that was being used to make a foundation. Our “Test was done and it was now 1:50am. We were told, “Great job, you all passed the test… now get plenty of sleep the race starts at 3am.”
Are you kidding me?! That was JUST the test… and I barely survived. My arms are dead tired. I tried to lift that bag of cement early and I couldn’t even get it to budge. I carried all that wood 6 miles.. I’m soaked, muddy and cold. I went to the fire. A few of us talked.. well.. I mostly listened as I tried to gather myself from the biggest ass kicking I’ve ever received… and wondered what I would do. I all ready wanted to drop out of the race and I told Andy W and Joe D that I was thinking about it. I opted to skip out on the sleep and concentrate on eating and drinking something. All I could drink was water, I was all ready nauseous. There was NO eating during the test… I couldn’t put the wood down long enough to get a snack. And soon enough… the race was going to start. We found out only ONE person had dropped after the test.. and Pete convinced me to just get on the starting line and listen to what the first task was and go from there… I hated the idea.. but I did it anyway.
We were told at 2:50am to get all of our gear and retrieve our bucket we had used for the cement. Put 20% of our body weight in the bucket and go weigh in. I went to the sand pile and put 30 pounds of sand in the orange bucket and went to the scale. I stood on the scale without my gear and weighed in. “2 pounds over, dump some out if you want.” I left it thinking, “How hard can it be?” I went to the start. Andy Weinberg came over and told us what to do… “Ok.. just like before but only now WITH your gear and your bucket of sand.. go under the barbed wire, over the mound and down through the briars, get in the stream, crawl through the culvert and under the logs.. then head to the river. You’ll then go down river about 2 miles to the Marble Shop and that ends Task 1. Then while there you’ll complete task 2. Sounds like a blast…
I stood there and watched as all of these crazy fools crawled through the frigid mud… very systematically trying not to get cut while dragging their bags of gear and shimmying their bucket of sand. I wanted to quit. Pete, my buddy from home, told me to just try it. And then Ri got in the mud and yelled, “Come on Sherpa.. Sack up a little and lets go!” I got on my stomach in the mud and cringed. I hate being cold and wet… HATE IT and I’ve had enough of it this year. I got under the barbed wire and pushed my bucket forward.. I’d stop and reach for and pull up my pack of gear… wiggle under more wire and repeat until I got to the mound.
Near the top of the mound I almost dumped my sand out.. and the race would have been over.
Over the top and down through the briars using the bucket as protection. I then got in the stream with my bucket and bag. As I crawled under barbed wire my bag kept getting caught. I pushed my bucket and got onto my back and tried hugging my gear through. At the Culvert I pushed the bucket ahead and had to pull my pack through.. it was terrible.. how was THIS fun? On the other side a man told me to get out and head for the river. I put my pack on and started carrying my sand..
As I got to the river I all ready needed a rest. My hands killed from carrying the bucket of sand and I was sore all over. My arms were deflating and I waited for the two women from NY (originally Europe) to show up. Then Julian told us all.. “Ok, welcome to the river. Just head that way about 2 miles and you’re there.” We all stood there and asked… “You mean.. IN the river?” “yeah… just get in and head that way” as he pointed North. We all got into the freezing cold mountain river and headed North carrying all of our gear and our bucket. Not far in, one of the woman dropped her bucket as she stumbled on the slimy rocks and water filled it. Her sound now weighed twice as much. I kept moving. Many who have run with me know I have ankles of Steel… but what my ankles went through in that river is unlike anything they have ever been through. Every rock was covered in brown slime. I tiwsted and turned, stumbled and water splashed into my bucket. It now felt like it weighed 100 pounds. My gear pack is soaked and now weighs more as well.. this is hell. Fog rose from the water and as the sun started to rise I could see bats swooping down to eat bugs off the top.
I kept going eventually catching up to another runner who thought he was lost. I knew were were going the right way and my hands started to cramp. Finally as the river went from shin to knee deep, I discovered I could float my bucket and give my arms some rest. I could only float it for short sections as the river varied from ankle deep to knee deep to waist deep back to ankle deep etc. As the sun rose my headlamp was useless and I could barely see the bottom of the river. I fell down… I was starting to shiver as hypothermia set in. I started thinking… knowing Joe and Andy, we’ll have to chisel into the marble and then put it in our bucket… turn around and go 2 miles back up river. The I saw Joe coming up stream looking for us, “Anyone behind you? You’re taking too long and you’re going to miss the cut-off.” I didn’t know about the cut-offs.. and there were some 6-8 people behind me still. I kept moving and eventually saw the front runners coming back up stream. As I shivered and my teeth chattered.. I knew I couldn’t come back into the river. I was too cold, my ankles hurt and with the VT100 next month.. I didn’t want to get hurt.
Finally I made it to the end, struggled to carry my bucket up over the river bank as Pete laughed at me. I got out of the water and carried my bucket of sand to the marble shop. Task 1 was complete. I watched as Joe had pullled all those behind me out of the river and told them to quit. We all were still going to chisel into the marble. I got my chisel and hatchet out and was given the instruction for Task #2. Dump your sand into your garbage bag and use it to support your marble so it doesn’t break. Then, the stone master drew my race number “737” into the marble and I began to chisel away. At the very least I was learning something very cool and was going to walk away with a memento. After carving the number we had to “cross hatch” it to make it stick out. As I finally finished and got the OK to go.. I looked at the river.. then at Joe.. an I quit. It was 6am.
WOW… what an experience. I think in the future I’d like to train specifically for this event and try again. What was next was unreal and I am certain that I am not built to accomplish the many tasks that those with more upper body strength did. I also have no interest, currently, in doing so. I did come away with something though… I made it through the entire night without needing a nap or falling asleep. IN fact… I didn’t go down for a nap until 9am making it more than 26 hours without it. This is a hug accomplishment for me. I am also pretty proud of how far I did get in the race…
The rest of the race:
Take your empty bucket, your gear and your marble slab and head 2 miles back up river, back through the culvert, stream, uphill through briars and back under barbed wire.
Once at the Aimee Farm (AF), retrieved a pallet from under the barn, then head to the wood pile. Now you must cut 10 logs in half and 10 stumps into quarters and then stack them on your pallet.
Then, get your bucket and refill it with sand up to 20% of your body weight, then go back under the barbed wire, briars, culvert to the river… where you will get in and go 1 mile up to the Borden Farm.
At the Borden farm you must completely submerge yourself (except head) in the river for 3 minutes. Then, dump out our dirt onto a tarp and roll around. Then pick a number from a bowl. The number on the paper matches the number on a log. Find your log in the pile of logs and saw through it with a hand saw in three pre-marked places. (some went through knots). Then, run 1 mile up Lower Michigan Rd to the Sheep Farm.
Once at the sheep farm you will fill your bucket with sheep crap and hay, and run it to the dump truck, climb the ladder and dump it in the truck. You must do this 30 times. (thirty). Then, once that is done, run the mile back to Bordens, get back in the river and go in the river one mule back to the AF where you will do the culvert, thorns, barbed wire etc.
Once here, all of the wood you chopped earlier, plus 3 large stumps, needs to be carried to the fire pit.
Now.. refill your bucket with sand up to 20% of your body weight and get two log fence posts. Create a crucifix with your fence posts using strapping, rope or tape.. and get a new egg.
Then, crawl back under the barbed wire with your crucifix, gear egg and bucket, over the mound, down the briars.. and skip the culvert and go OVER the river onto the snow-mo trail. Head south on the snow-mo trail to the base of Joe’s hill. Once there, bring all if your gear, bucket and cross to the top of Joes (VERY STEEP). Dig a hole on the top of Joe’s and plant your crucifix on the hill.
Drop your sand, egg and gear then, head back down the mountain about 3/4 of the way to the clearing. You will then carry pieces of the stone wall equalling your body weight back up to the top of Joe’s. Take as many trips as you want, leave your gear… thanks to Chris Mitchell.. here is the rest… “After we brought our body weight in rocks up to the top of the mountain we then had to go down the back side of the mountain with our bucket and egg. There we had to traverse a second barbed wire field longer than the first. We filled our buckets and had to come back up through the barbed wire without spilling water. At the top, we emptied the water on the cross, filled our buckets with 20% of our body weight plus and additional couple of rocks from Joe and THEN returned to the start/finish line.” (chris.. please e-mail me if you can)
A few folks got to the top of Joe’s and flipped out when they heard about the stone and quit. 29 Starters. Here are the results:
1 – Stever Bartlett – 15:53
1 – Chris Mitchell – 15:53
3 – Thomas Williams – 17:16
4 – David Pope – 17:17
5 – Ri Fahnestock – 17:17 ($10,000 Man!)
6 – Scott Langlois – 18:13
7 – Spencer Eastman – 18:44
8 – Patrick Harner – 18:47