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!!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No Limits T Shirts

Here they are...No Limits T shirts. Proceeds go to our Project MountainVision Foundation which assists with our community service projects on each of the MVX adventures.
we expect to be shipping at the beginning of next week.
In the meantime, see you on Thursday for the Finale.
Never Give Up!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

And Then There Were 4....

And No Limits is one of them!

As much as Erik, Ike and I wanted to provide an exciting finish for Episode 9, we didn't expect it to be quite the nail biter that it all out sprint to the finish line against the Cops.

Episode 9 began the following day after our dramatic finish to oust the Cali Girls at the conclusion of Episode 8. So our excitement and sense of disbelief in how it all went down left us a bit drained, I believe. That being said, we were still committed to give it our all in Episode 9 and finish like men.

Paddling for hours in fast, large rapids was a ton of fun for us as well as ground we didn't have to run/hike on Ike's sprained ankle. We made up some time on the Footballers and found ourselves heading up the hill to the first challenge in 3rd place behind the Gyps and the Fabulous Crew. At this point it was clear to everyone on board that there was a split in the camp based on general disposition and approach towards the entire adventure experience. The Footballers and Fabulous Crew were cuddling up with each other and then of course we were very tight with our Gypsy bros. This was the way we broke down at the end of each day at camp as well as how the "hook a brother up" moments were distributed. We saw this illustrated clearly during the challenge that took place at the top of the hill with the word decoder. The Fab Crew straight up told the Footballers the answer (banks) and Taylor from the Gyps gave me a huge hint (where do you put your $). So...even though we weren't in to the "alliance" aspect of the game, it was taking place organically simply because we truly respected and enjoyed spending time with the Gyps...slightly less with Football and honestly, not at all with the Fabulous Crew. That being said, I did respect them for the job they were doing out on the course and actually mentioned this in my best Fab imitation on this episode. Some thought it was funny. Some not. I don't care either way.

Once we hit land...just as in Episode 8, No Limits was not willing to concede, however we were hobbled by Ike's ankle sprain and knew that it was going to take another colossal mistake from one of the other teams to keep us in it and our will to charge hard at all cost was not reasonable to ask of Ike. We watched again as all the teams passed us and we accepted our fate as best we could.

Then comes the caves and tunnels. Super fun and very Indian Jonesish. While scrounging around in the cave in search for one of the last remaining pottery jars, I watched as Rob from the Cops scooped the appropriate pot and jetted past me on his way to seal up the last remaining spot for the Final 4.

It was what it was though...

I continued my search, found the last pot and rallied my team out of the cave, across the water and overland towards the finish and probable showers and beers that night.

As we were loping towards the finish line I caught a glimpse of the strangest thing...the Cops, coming back towards us. Unexplainable. They should have crossed the finish line by now. They had at least a 15 minute lead on us. Why would they be coming back the other way...away from the finish. Well...something strange was taking place and I was going to gather my team and high tail it to the finish. See what happens.

As we picked up our pace we noticed the Cops were right on our asses...running as hard as they could. Which in turn made us fall into a full on sprint (as much as a blind dude and a guy with a cast on can possible sprint). Ike was like Forest Gump charging towards the line...bumbling along with his cast splitting into pieces as he ran.

Our finish in 4th that afternoon was one of the top 5 most exciting moments of my life. Pure joy and satisfaction...rolled in to a Jeffery victory dance inclusive of GPS spike on to the ground (much to the chagrin of the production staff at the loss of their $400 piece of equipment that I used like a football). It was intense and I have received countless emails, messages and tweets about how cool it was to watch a grown man do a celebration dance on national TV. My happiness was uncontrollable. We had done it again...pulled off the unlikeliest of all "victories" and were moving on to the Final 4.

And now we have come down to the final episode. An odyssey that began months ago has now come full circle. We will battle it out this Thursday with the remaining 3 teams to see who will take the prize.
So here comes the exciting part...
We will be hosting a Finale extravaganza with our Gypsy brothers here in Boulder to celebrate both teams making it to the finale. We could think of no other way to spend this exciting night than with 500 of our closest friends, family and Gypsy Bros. Executive Producer Lisa Hennessy will be joining us. Multiple bands, lots of beer, food, silent auction items and 6 dudes telling all sorts of EI stories...most of them true. And the best part about all of this...ALL proceeds go to our Soldiers To The Summit project as well as the Gypsies non profit of choice, Feed the Children. We are fired up to funnel all of this finale energy into efforts that are bigger than us as individuals and perpetuate the goodness that has brought us to this point in the adventure.
Please find all the info necessary to purchase tickets on our Finale Party link or if you are unable to come, simply make a donation.

Thanks for all of your support over our journey this summer. It has been such a hoot to watch it play out with all of you.
This will be one for the ages. I can't wait to see what happens!!!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Never GIve Up...

I guess we all hear that growing up...

“Come on Son...Don’t give up....Keep pushing.”

And I have clearly had to use this phrase as a mantra MANY, MANY times during some of my more miserable and lengthy climbs over the years.

But never has that phrase ever played out so clearly than during last night’s Episode 8.

The last episode had us in the hospital dealing with Ike’s sprained ankle and receiving the news that they were going to require that he be placed in a cast for the rest of the race. I assumed this would be a death blow for our chances to continue as there would be no way we could keep up the established frenetic pace of the remaining 6 teams. But hey, we would at least go out proud and holding our heads high with the way we performed.

Then we got the gear list for the first day of the stage and on it was pfds...this meant that we would encounter water at some point during the day...which translated to time OFF of Ike’s ankle. Our host/pal Dave Salmoni took me to the side and said “Listen, this stage will suit you. Don’t give up. Trust me on this...just hammer at it and you can stay alive”. Good advice Dave. We took it to heart.

After a very cool rappel down the ancient walls of a weathered kasbah, we hobbled down to the shore of Lake Bin el Ouidane where we saw the inflatable rafts and I immediately realized that this would be our daily salvation....water = ankle rest.

By the way...2 dudes (one of them blind) in a ‘duckie’ is not easy to paddle in a straight line. Even though it looked the Football Players where the only ones spinning in circles, in fact all of the 2 person ‘duckies’ were struggling to hold a straight line.

About an hour later we arrived at the island and found the fixings to build this supposed catamaran. I love Akbars comment “First....what IS a catamaran?” Seriously. I have done a lot of adventurous things in my day, but sailing is not one of them. And to really emphasize that point, all of the directions where written in sailing terms...”Booms”, Jibs”, “Masts”, etc. Huh?

I just looked at the pictures and Ike, Erik and I seemed to get it together pretty quickly.

Our maiden voyage was not pretty...our sitting configuration was awkward and inefficient. And I distinctly remember Ike having a HUGE rip down the back of his shorts so that his ass cheek was right in my face. I immediately suggested we make a strategy change. Erik moved to the left and paddled. Ike moved to the right and manned the sail. I moved to the back and used the paddle as a prop. This made all the difference in the world. We actually started sailing. Pretty cool. Another bonus...I didn’t have to look at Ike’s ass cheek anymore.

Approaching the next island a couple miles away we were neck and neck with the Cops, as the Gypsies uncharacteristically drifted off in the wrong direction. Rob, Danni and Jim from the Cops were straight up gamers. Even though this was just an overnight camp we all wanted that win somethin fierce. They would not be denied.

Both teams hit the beach simultaneously and the race up the bank was on. Ike took off. Erik grabbed my pack and we ran. I looked to my left in time to see Rob trip and stumble sprinting up the hill and suddenly the absurdity of this scene struck me and I started laughing hysterically in the midst of a heated race. We were all going for it with all we up a scrabbly hill to win a mere 3 minute head start the next day. Now in reality we all know it had nothing to do with that puny lead out the following morning. It was all about being a hard charging winner... putting everything out there in the spirit of competition. As we pulled in and Danni drew very close to Erik and I, I’m embarrassed to say I actually elbowed her right in the nose. Uncalled dirty redneck! Sorry Danni. She graciously accepted my apologies, understanding that in the heat of battle...shit goes down. Plus, she is a tough as nails Boston cop. That helps.

So there it was...we won a “stage”...albeit an overnight camp stage. We were psyched. Blind dude....busted ankle with a cast on...and we come in 1st. Awesome!

Off camera....that night we experienced a fairly significant storm filled with high winds (around 70mph) and violent lightening. It lasted for a solid hour and there was actually talk of evacuating us off the island...which seemed a bit over the top. But just as quickly as it started, the storm passed. Many of the teams had not constructed their Berber tents in a bomb proof fashion that afternoon and the wind toppled them down like toothpicks...with our sweet Cali Girls being one of the homeless groups. We offered them some tent space and they took us up on it. Was nice having someone other than stinky dudes in our tent for once. They are a class act those gals...each one of them. All destined for greatness.

The next day’s stage proved to be a hard one to swallow as we watched the excitement from the previous days win get washed away within 20 mins of the starting line. Every team passed us with ease as we were limited to Ike’s hobbled cast. Although we were not “giving up”, we knew that we would be unable to keep up with the pace that we watched fly by us. Erik and I tried to comfort Ike in the fact that later that day we would be drinkin beers and showering our stinky bodies. Ike would have nothing of it. “we are not giving up”, he kept saying....surrounded by hours of silence. It left Erik and I to listen, feel and taste the hills of Morocco like we had not yet experienced up to that point. Everything slowed down for the first time. It was beautiful and bitter sweet at the same time.

Hours later as we were rounding a corner towards what we knew would be close to the finish line we walked right next to the lake. I remember Erik saying, “Hey, since we’ve lost, why don’t we take a dip and just enjoy this last hour”. I replied, “let’s just round this corner and see if there is anyone at the challenge area”. Sure enough we rounded the corner and there were 3 pink figures in the far distance. Holy shit are you kidding! How could that be? They had to have been there for over an hour. Well surely they will figure it out any minute and be on their way. Let’s go have a look.

Once we arrived at the challenge point we read over the instructions and they just made sense to me...unlike the Moroccan rope lock...unlike counting the cobras. I just got this one. Give me a map and a compass and I am generally gonna be OK.

Much to the chagrin of our recent tent mates, we rolled in and just nailed it...ran up the hill and came in 5th for the day to send them home.


It was ridiculously exciting for Erik and I to watch the finish last night with our friends here in Boulder. We were there and knew what happened, but I couldn’t sit down, it was so tense.

We know the idea of Never Give Up is something that should exist in all of us. We know that you are never really out of it if you just give yourself a chance. Well....last night proved that to me in a way that I never thought possible.

Friday, August 5, 2011

This Is Loyalty

Episode 7 was a tough one to watch.

I knew this was where we would see Ike go down and I remember the anxiety we all had for him as, in spite of his injury, we continued to put dozens of rugged miles behind us....potentially exacerbating a previous injury and causing Ike life long repercussions.

It started out simple to the other side of the Kasbah (foreshadowing!) and locate a symbol “hidden in plain view” somewhere in the chaotic yet beautiful city landscape. After about 10 minutes of looking around with the binoculars I finally catch a glimpse of it on the side of an ancient looking stone structure and we are off to the trucks and down into the hustle and bustle of the city.

Arriving at the souk (Arabic for market) we hop out and begin to navigate through the sweet sounds and smells of an enchanting Moroccan flea market...the kind of place I would have loved to have spent a morning strolling and perusing. Instead we are at a half trot, trying hard not to bang into the Moroccans and their wares. This was one of the many times during the Expedition where I desperately wish we could have just called a “time out”. Let’s all just put the race on hold for an hour and enjoy this magical place....see it... smell it....taste it. Although we had been charging through the dynamic northern African countryside for weeks at this point, we had not had much of an opportunity to really “feel” Moroccan culture from the inside and I know from many years of travel to far away places that a flea market...a place of trade and barter... is exactly the kind of place where you can see how a culture truly engages with itself.

But alas...this is a competition and we have to keep the pace at a high level if we expect to stay alive. So we weave and bob...cutting around piles of herbs and antique metal features trying to be as respectful as a bunch of Americans charging through a market can possibly be.

“Sorry....excuse me...whoops...Shukran (Arabic for thank you)”.

I have to say, it’s not exactly easy to guide Erik through such chaos without occasionally bumping or stepping on something or someone. Throughout the market jog we were met with a variety of smiles, looks of curiosity as well as a few Moroccan phrases which were clearly along the lines of “Quit stepping on my shit!”

Check point cleared, one-way “airline” ticket secured and we were back through it again and over to the waiting Explorers... and here is where the game a big way.

As I got in the backseat of the SUV I saw Ike disappear from view as he was getting in the passenger side door and I thought nothing of it. Once we rolled out I could see that Ike was grimacing and clearly in pain. We had been charging through countless miles of super rocky and bumbly terrain for weeks now...where an ankle or knee injury was a high possibility as evidenced by Gypsy John’s twister 2 episodes ago as well as several others. But in the most unlikeliest of places, Ike rolls his ankle getting into the car. And it’s the same ankle that he fractured while serving in Afghanistan a few years previous. Well....this sucks. Ike’s a tough guy and he seemed to be in a lot of pain. Erik and I probed Ike with questions and I took a look with the eyes of an ER physician assistant and it sure didn’t look good. He seemed to have laxity in the joint with lots of swelling and tenderness throughout. Game changer.

The timing was good however as the next challenge was to put me up in an airplane and get saddled up to my good friend Rashid and spill out the door and fall to the ground. Ike had about an hour to rest and be evaluated by the medical staff.

Time out....

one of my favorite lines of the show so far, “I’m skydiving in Morocco. Sick!!”

Back to Ike... once I’m on the ground I am informed by the medical staff (who are all quite aware of my Emergency Medicine experience) that his ankle stability is questionable and he will need to be pulled from the race to obtain an Xray. I have recently discovered that Executive Producer Lisa Hennessy trumped the med staff decision and allowed Ike to make the call himself.

At this point we all know what kind of man Ike is. He is a man that has structured his professional life around “doing it all for his team”. This is the kind of guy that you want on your team. He will not let you down. He has served in combat zones that would make a brave man retreat in a hole. He has committed himself to always being there for the men and women around him. He surely wasn’t going to let some ankle injury keep him from staying up with his boys. At one point I’m quoted “You would have to literally cut Ike’s leg off to stop this guy”. Once Lisa gave him the go (thanks Lisa!), there was no question we were gonna fire and see how it played out.

Miles of rocky terrain, cliff faces and one perplexing challenge later (another Kasbah), we rolled into camp in 2nd place. Amazing effort on Ike’s part. Erik became the 2nd most inspiring person on Team No Limits that day. I was surrounded by 2 men that are as tough as they come. A true honor. Ike is the perfect embodiment of a soldier...brave, committed and tough as nails. We are lucky to have men like him protecting our country.

We all stood nervously near the finish line waiting to see who was going to by taking the flight out that afternoon. I’m not gonna lie to you, I was so hoping to see my Country Boys round that corner. All 3 of these men are stand up, strong, considerate southern gentlemen that I will call friends for the rest of my life. Good ole boys that are a great example of considerate, mature and genuine young men. I was very sad to see them go. That being said...there will be other Country Boys appearances in the world of MountainVision at some point in the future.

Next week will push us beyond what we thought was possible. We are hanging on for dear life at this point. Join us for the rest of the journey.