Friday, July 29, 2011

Now That's Trust

Imagine this scenario...
You are blind. And I mean lights out blind. Not visually impaired. Not, "I can see some shades of light, maybe a few shapes". are dark as night blind.

You are told that it's time to jump off a cliff into some water below. Initially you are unclear as to how far the jump is. Maybe it's 10 ft...perhaps 20 at the most. No big deal. Kind of like a high dive at the pool. You've done that before. You can do this.

Then your buddy tells you to follow him to the edge of said cliff. You can hear the raging water below. It sounds like it's REALLY far down there. Like REALLY far down. You can feel space all around you...below you. Your buddy scoots up to the edge of the rock to take a peek down and spurts out a "Well alrighty's like a 40 footer...but it's cool, its cool."
"It's no problem dude. You will do this. You will do this. Chances are good you're gonna live through this."

Any rational person would say "you are absolutely out of your mind". I mean come on... I can't see where I'm going to land. I might flip over and land on my back or head. 40 ft is a LOOONG way down. A lot can go wrong in 40 ft. No way man.

Well I suppose Erik IS a bit irrational. He's also got balls of steel and trusts his bro unconditionally.

I have been guiding Erik on mountains and rock faces all over the world for close to 20 years. Together, we have navigated what many folks would consider some of the most challenging and deadly terrain on the planet...much of it requiring VERY precise communication, a profound level of trust and a willingness to execute with everything we've got.

You scootch over to the edge. Stand up. Hold your buddy's hand and count it down...3. 2. 1. Launch!
Commercial break.

This was a great episode of Expedition Impossible...lots of drama, excitement and fun challenges. The production staff did a great job putting this all together (shout out to you Shooter). You can imagine the complexity of putting together such a huge operation. Quite impressive.

After the jump we moved on to a very cool zip line and straight into a very sneaky challenge where attention to detail was mandatory. Ike took this challenge on and as he headed off to retrieve the key I hollered out to him a specific detail about our symbol. Turns was a critical piece of the puzzle. Ike nailed it and we were off to the 4th class rapids.

Going in to the rapids was the only time during the entire adventure that I was actually a bit nervous. The water safety guys had come to me prior to the put in and stressed very clearly that there were MANY opportunities for folks to get hurt on the upcoming stretch of water...and more specifically, Erik could get in big trouble here. I would need to be razor sharp. I wasn't worried about me being able to navigate the water....however I was genuinely concerned whether I would be able to get Erik through it cleanly. Well...our descent wasn't particularly pretty...Erik did take a few swims...but we made it down. And we passed a few teams along the way and came in 3rd for the stage. Not bad for such a challenging stretch of racing.

As we came across the finish line, Erik's voice was still trembling with adrenaline. I had lost my voice from hollering out commands on the river for hours. Dave says that Erik is a real life action hero...and right on cue I put out a "yep...he's Superblind". Straight up.

Previews for next week show someone sustaining a significant ankle injury...speculation that it's broken. Ladies and my man Ike. He's a stud and you are about to get to know him. It's getting real now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Shedding A Tear For All To See

When I agreed to do Expedition Impossible with Erik I knew I was going to be exposing myself on national TV for better or for worse. I knew that the "redneck" that hides inside of me would surely make an appearance along the way (and it has). I also knew that my foul mouth would probably surface at some point as well (and it has).
What I didn't expect or count on was having a good solid cryfest in front of millions of people. But just to keep my pride in check, there it was... Jeff, Erik and Ike all crying like a bunch of housewives watching Oprah together.

I had been dreading this episode ever since we returned from Morocco as I knew that showing 3 tough, mountain climbing, salty guys unabashedly sobbing with the cameras rolling would make for TV gold. That being said, if I'm going to cry about anything it will only be over my beloved son, Jace. Crying over fatigue, frustration or illness is for folks that haven't spent 20 years suffering in mountain ranges all over the world...not me. But when it comes to being a father... I am a helpless little puppy and capable of welling up at the slightest thought of Jace.

So when we heard there was going to be a "reward" for the team that came 1st into the overnight camp we all knew it was going to be some sort of contact with our families and that was enough of a catalyst for No Limits to push even harder to get a chance to speak to our loved ones. At the start line I told Erik I was going to push him harder than I had up to that point and in typical Erik style, he agreed with me completely and was game to charge hard. Little did we know that the days terrain would be the absolute worst possible bit of course that could have been laid in front of us. Countless miles of rocky, bumbly riverbeds punctuated by a few more miles of rocky, bumbly riverbeds. I can get Erik across essentially any stretch of ground on the planet...but when it comes to long sections of ankle to waist high rocks...we just can't move that fast. It was what it was.

Now why did we leave the fish fossil behind and not bring it with us to trade for the fish? Because the instructions did not clearly say to do so. I was reading each of those instructions in a very literal interpretation. Only good thing that came out of that whole screw up was my consideration of just "grabbin a fish and start runnin...but that was the redneck in me". Classy.

The fact that our boys the Gypsies gifted us the reward was an absolute huge move. At the halfway point in the Expedition, we had already spent 2 weeks together suffering separately during the day and then rehashing it at camp every night. We were feeling close to several of the teams (although not all)...but primarily we were developing a strong affinity for the young Gypsy dudes as we saw a bit of ourselves in them and knew that their hearts where in the right place with regards to this crazy adventure. They weren't reality TV mongers. They weren't whining or complaining. They were just out there having fun and getting it done. We liked their style. And by giving us the chance to talk to our families it just cemented their character and as a result we will always be fans of John Post, Erik Bach and Taylor Filasky. Good guys.

Another touching moment that deserves comment is my man Akbar throwing all sorts of high praise over to Erik regarding his athleticism. Ak has played football at the highest level with some of the most extraordinary athletes in the world, so for him to say that Erik is superior to all of them is just a remarkably inspiring thing to hear. Another class act, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila.

Sorry to see our friends the Firemen go home. When you look up "real American dude" in the dictionary...these are the guys you find. They have a service approach mentality. They care for people... which was illustrated in the help they provided the Cali girls in last weeks episode. And beyond that...they are just straight up funny guys with a razor sharp, Yankee style of humor that had me belly laughing on many a Moroccan sunset. I will drink beers with them at their firehouse at some point in the future.

We are halfway now with this thing. Only 8 teams remain. Next week we will be paddling some real rapids. The last paddle section was tame...somewhat boring. Next week is real. Class 4...hard...scary. The only time over the entire expedition that I was nervous was just prior to putting in...about to guide Erik down this river section. Should be fun to watch.

Friday, July 15, 2011

If You Aint First, You're Last...

Well...clearly the past week has been full of texts, emails and calls from friends saying some iteration of "If you guys don't win this mountain stage, I'm done watching." Expedition Impossible Episode 4 took us into the Atlas Mountains of Morocco...obviously the terrain that everyone expects us to dominate. We gave it everything we had...and 2nd was as good as we could do behind those little Gypsie jackrabbits.

Erik, Ike and I knew we would be expected to do well on this stage. In fact, essentially every team approached me asking "which way are you going to take up that mountain?" and "what layers are you gonna wear for the day". Clearly the other teams knew our experience in the mountains and although it was a competition, I was happy to give them honest and sincere recommendations. Seeing folks succeed makes me happy...however in the case of this race...I just want them to find success after we do.

A strange thing occurred in the course of this race...we got very close to each of these teams. The further we got in the competition, the more mutual respect we developed for each other.
Especially our Gypsy Bros...

My favorite line of the episode is when Gypsy Eric tells me "Jeff, if you get a key on the first try, I'm gonna punch you in the face" response, "well then, you better knock me out on that first punch". The rest of that line that didn't make the edit is always, "cause I'm gonna come up swingin for the fences". At least a bit of the No Limits/Gypsies banter is making it in the finished cut. It's clear that there was a lot of love between our two teams. We genuinely like these guys and although we are in full on competition mode with them throughout...there was a lot of help and nurturing along the way. We are currently in the process of combining team forces to create some really worthwhile future projects.
That being said...I'm very competitive, so I was fairly pissed with a 2nd place finish on the mountain stage. You heard it from Erik as he's interviewed by Dave at the finish line, "We wanted first, but I guess we'll take 2nd". We were wanting better.
Next week's episode is titled "A Blind Man's Nightmare"....hmmm. Sounds tough.

Friday, July 8, 2011

If He's Willing to Push it...I'm Willing to Take Him There

Another tough stage is behind us now on Episode 3 of Expedition Impossible. Erik, Ike and I moved up to 2nd place overall once all of the camel riding, puzzle solving and dust storm forging was over. I remember this stage very vividly as it stood as the most freaked out I've ever seen my boy Erik....and I clearly have seen him in countless sketchy situations. The camels took the cake.

We were introduced to camels in Episode 1, however the creatures from Episode 3 were a whole different breed. I actually never rode a camel the first time around...just walked in front, leading the train across the dunes. So as we arrived into the "camel outpost" I was gearing up to take my first ride.

It was clear from the get go that these camels were not excited to have anyone riding them as Erik's camel was trying to get rid of him in a similar fashion as the horse did with me in last weeks episode. Erik had the look of Jesus in his eyes (yes, Jesus can occasionally be seen in a set of glass eyes) as he was getting bucked left and right. We finally decided as a team that the safest and most efficient way to travel was going to be to walk these feisty creatures to our destination...riding them was out of the question.

The barrel raft went by for us in a pretty uneventful way. We just problem solved the most efficient way to paddle and then executed. Not enough drama to make for good TV.

Lot's of folks are asking why Ike is not interviewed at all. Well, he was...just as much as Erik and I. What's clear is that it's all up to the producers what gets shown, who speaks and what gets cut. Ike's presence will be felt here soon as some rather dramatic turns will take place that will shove him front and center. It's comin!

As we cross the finish line in 2nd place they show me saying something like "Erik is pushing himself exponentially harder than anyone else on this race. And if he's willing to push himself like that...then I'm willing to take him there." I have seen Erik put it all out there over the years...pushing himself beyond what I ever thought was possible. He has an extra gear that allows him to go further than what could possibly be anticipated. I've seen it many times. On more than one occasion on this race I asked Erik if he could "give me a little bit more". Every single time...he did. That dude has more will to push it than anyone I know. As much as he inspires folks around the world... he inspired me countless times to take him further and higher.
Next week...the Atlas Mountains. I'm feeling good about our chances ;)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Leaving Erik Behind...

Yep...that's what happened.
For those of you that didn't catch it (you can follow the ABC link and watch last nights episode), I had Erik stay put while Ike and I took off to do the water challenge.
I could I go and just leave my blind buddy to wander around like a lost dog. I'd like to say it was just Hollywood editing that got us in the spot...but truth be told, I really did just leave him there.
I was so wrapped up in the competition that I simply forgot about the 20ft rule that's in place for all adventure races. The production team wasn't about to let us (even the blind dude team) get away with blowing off that rule.
The fortuitous thing that happened though was after Ike and I got back with our bucket of water and the staff told us to dump it and take Erik with us next time, we happened to select the most water tight bucket that was it still only took us 1 trip back and forth from the water source. Every other team took 2 runs. So, it was a wash.
I know when I'm with Erik that my experience will be different. I have to check my own agenda at the door. I am on shift for him. I have known that for 18 years of working with him and I have accepted that role everyday I'm with him. Yes, at times being with him requires double the effort and clearly at times I have to slow down quite a bit (which is tough for this competitive old boy to handle sometimes). However...adventuring with Erik has enhanced my experiences more than I could ever relate. When I'm with him my senses are heightened in ways that they never are when I'm not guiding him. I am acutely aware of everything around me...all of the things that could hurt him... or worse. As a result the world takes on a sharper detail. I feel threats...I sense danger...and I manage fear. I am grateful to him for enhancing my experience in ways that no one else can.
On to Episode 3. Hope you enjoy.