Sunday, August 28, 2011

2nd Place Never Felt So Good...

The night before the final stage of Expedition Impossible I remember still feeling a bit of a tingle from our come from behind victory on Episode 9. Racing to the finish to beat the Cops had both invigorated and inspired us but clearly it sapped a bit of energy from us as we poured everything we had into surviving that near defeat.
Now it was time to push that aside and focus on the all or nothing stage that was right in front of us...put up or shut up. The four remaining teams were in it to win it and there wasn't a slouch left in them. Even though we had cut Ike's pointless cast off, we still knew that we would be beat in a footrace and had to hope we could over take the other teams on water and perhaps the ever present cerebral challenge.

Our Final Four Last Supper was a wonderful "calm before the storm" event that we all sincerely enjoyed....both the honest fellowship that was felt as well as the ridiculously tasty Moroccan meal that was prepared for us were a welcome respite prior to the hurricane of competition that awaited us the following day. The best meal we had had in over a month left plenty of speechless moments as we slurped and gobbled the amazing locally prepared dishes.

The air that morning was thick with tension as we prepared our gear and our heads for the big day in front of us...even between us and the Gypsies. Everyone was tense. Not many words spoken. The production helicopter made at least a dozen passes over our camp which just added to the surreal energy of the scene. With camp sitting on the edge of a fairly massive lake, it was no mystery that we would be hitting the water pretty quick of the start. Once we lined up with Dave to get our "Never Give Up" speech, we hear that one team will get the boot "at some point during the day".
I could sense the overall group heart rate go up by several beats a minute. If possible, it got even more tense. I'm quite sure I glanced over at Akbar as he clenched his jaw with the look of an NFL lineman and you could almost hear him say, "I'm about to tear some shit up". Alright we go.

We got the go from Dave and down the hill we bounded...Team No Limits hobbling as best we could with a blind dude and a guy with a sprained ankle. Although we got in the boat dead last, we knew from spending the past month with them, our friends the Footballers were not going to perform well on the water.

Initially Ike took control of the oars of our Moroccan tin boat...however, after a few minutes of spinning and lack of smooth movement, I took over and started pounding the crappy little oars with all I had. Ike manned the back of the boat and provided micro adjustments and distance alerts as Erik sat behind me (in the front of the boat) and made sure I drank a ton of water and fed me energy gu packets every 1o minutes or so.
As I was hammering the oars with a frenetic pace, I remember thinking "This is the last day. I can dump everything I have into this. Save nothing", and I did exactly that. My teammates hollering words of encouragement over and over as we fought against the wind towards the next checkpoint on the far away river bank.

About an hour or so later we hit ground and started to move up the hill to the next check point. As I climbed out of the boat I realized my back was in full spasm from all the heavy rowing. For the first time in our month long odyssey, I was leaning on Ike and Erik as they assisted me up the hill while I was bent over in pain. We were a motley sight I'm sure....Ike limping on his ankle, Erik navigating blindly, and me...holding on to both of them as we struggled up the hill.
The only good thing to note here was the fact that the Footballers were not even in sight on the lake behind us. In fact they were so far back we were convinced they had run into some sort of problem with their boat.
No time to think about them...we had to move.

Our next challenge was to sift through a massive pile of gravel with a shovel to locate 2 different geodes. Now, I have built enough snow caves and igloos with Erik over the years to know that he can't shovel worth a shit. That being said, my back was in full lock down and Ike couldn't be expected to do all the shoveling himself, so we needed to empower Erik to at least throw some gravel around while Ike and I rested. The editing made it look like Erik just spewed his shovel fulls in chaotic fashion and although this is essentially the truth, he did get the hang of it at one point and provided several dozen effective shovels. Best blind shoveler the world has ever seen.

We found our amethyst geodes and motored off to the "horse corral" to secure our undoubtedly scary, stubborn and powerful Arabian Stallions. It was here that we were informed that once done with the horses at the next check point, the last team to arrive would be eliminated and it would be down to 3. With a healthy lead over the Footballers I reminded my team that we had to stay cool here and not get injured. A runaway horse or another horse throw and we would lose our lead and be hoppin in the red bird.

Ike lead us out with his horse experience...too fast at some points for the two non horse riding dudes of the group. He is so comfortable on horses. We were in full gallop for much of the 5 miles we had to cover on the horses. I enjoyed very little of this section. Horses kind of freak me out. Riding them at full gallop across sketchy terrain is very intense and I knew the whole race could be lost with one mistake. Fortunately we pulled into the horse finish in 3rd place and remained alive. The Footballers were out and it was down to three now for all the marbles.

Our Football friends were extraordinary athletes all of them. There were several occasions we thought we could just "burn them out" by running at full speed for miles straight. No such luck. You don't play American football at the highest level by being a sissy. Even though these guys, Rob, Ricky and Akbar had essentially zero experience in the wilds of the world, they performed like champions. I am proud to have raced beside them.

At the restart we had to sprint up a hill about 3/4 mile to the Explorers and drive for 22 miles to the edge of Marrakech. This was awesome...we got to rest for about an hour in the truck (all but Ike as he drove the SUV quickly in line with Fab and Gypsies in front). Once we arrived at our parking point, we came up on 9 camels ready for action. Awesome. Camels. Hate camels.

The 20 minute camel ride into the Djamaa El Fna - Square never made it to the final cut simply because there was no change in the order of the team standings. It was just a bunch of white folks bouncing on camels around the city streets of Marrakech. I was actually glad to see this segment didn't make the cut as I remember constantly groaning with each lope of the camel. It was uncomfortable as hell and we were essentially at the mercy of the camels throughout the ride. Hanging on and waiting for it to end.

And then it was....dismount the beasts and charge in to the chaos of the most famous market in all of northern Africa. After being in the mountains, rivers and dunes of Morocco for almost a month now, entering into the frenetic craziness of the market was a bit overwhelming and we all became rabid.

No Limits fell behind as the Gyps lead out with Fab close on their heels. We ran and we ran hard...ducking, bobbing and weaving through the throngs of merchants and tourists trying to step on as few people as possible. At one point I could see up ahead that Ike had caught up to the other two teams. At first I thought this was a good thing...we are still in it. But my adventure racing experience told me that "blindly" following teams in front without being confident in your own directions was a recipe for failure. At one point during the chase I looked for confirmation from a security guard that we were on the right path. Although there was a lot lost in language, he looked at my directions and clearly said in Arabic, "you don't want to go the way those other teams are going. You want to go this way" with a point of his finger. At that point I tried in vain to get Ike to come back sensing this was a turning point...who better to know the area and where we needed to go than a security guard. Ike was obsessed and unwilling to let go of the teams in front of him so we blazed ahead...following the teams in front unclear of our own directions. It all became clear a few minutes later when I approached Gypsy John and he confirmed that we had in fact not reached a previous checkpoint and were missing a critical map.

In retrospect, it's easy to question my actions as I sit comfortably in front of my computer and remember that crazy day. Ike was laser focused and I didn't process clearly enough the need to stop us from our blind chase and recalibrate. I know now that if we had gone back the way the security guard said, we would have found that map and been heading towards the last challenge potentially 15 minutes faster and most likely changed the final finishing order.

But in the heat of it all we kept firing. Once I got us back on track and had the map in my hand, I continued to ask directions as time ticked by unaware of the position of the other teams. It finally occurred to me to ask the demographic that knew those streets better than anyone...the kids. Magically enough, a cute little girl in an orange shirt quickly identified the specific door frame pattern and began leading us through the maze of streets, alleys and dead ends. It was all coming together and we were running hard to find our last challenge.

Through the designated door, onto the roof and a look down on to the garden area below proved that the only team to have arrived were our Gypsy bros. No sign of Fab 3. We were in second and they weren't that far in front. I strained to look at what it was they were working on and I finally got a glimpse...a traditional Moroccan Puzzle Box. Haaa!

Just before departing for Morocco I had googled "Moroccan puzzles" and guess what came up on youtube? A video showing how to open the box. Ike and I watched it a few times....guessing that we would most likely be confronted with one at some point on the journey. Little did we know it would be the final challenge of the entire Expedition.

The 3 of us blasted down the steps below and came up to the surface with our nice little puzzle box, ready to put our skills to work. Since we weren't allowed to start opening the box until we surfaced back on the patio level I watched with a sense of disappointment and pride as my young pals unlocked their box, retrieved the key inside and began moving their ladder over to the other wall to win first place as the sun was setting.

Ike and I finally solved the puzzle right around the same time we heard the massive cheer go up on the other side of the wall from us. They had won it. The Gypsies had one the inaugural year of Expedition Impossible. I was so happy for them. They had dominated the adventure, winning every stage but one. They deserved to win. Strong. Smart. Kind. Intuitive. I think they represent the spirit of this journey so well.

We crossed the line in proud fashion. Happy for our friends and proud of our effort. Folks had counted us out from the beginning and we surely had to deal with a fairly tough set of additional challenges that no other team had to even consider. We just kept charging... staying focused and determined. Supporting each other and believing that if we put good energy out there it would circle back and lift us up when things got dark.

The most amazing part of this experience has absolutely been the wonderful feedback the 3 of us have received via Facebook, Twitter and email. Countless (and I mean thousands) of notes from folks about how our efforts on the show have inspired them to be better, stronger and more excited to embrace challenge. The parents that have told us that they have been able to have very meaningful conversations with their children about surrounding themselves with friends that will never let them down...those are powerful.

It's not over folks. We are in development right now with some very creative and influential folks that want to showcase us taking on challenges and adventures around the world for a new show next year. Stay tuned and thanks for your support.
Be Strong. Work Together. And Never Give Up!!!!