Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Spartan Hobble - Pain for the Whole Family

Here are things I do not like:

1. Running
2. Signing waivers that inform me that by signing the contact, I am "giving up substantial legal rights".
3. Signing waivers that also inform me that I may get "diseases from exposure to fecal contaminated water or slurry", "permanent paralysis", or "death".
4. Signing waivers that contain the phrase "drowning and other injuries are common occurrences in the event".

Here are things that will make me run:
1. Being chased by a maniac with a chainsaw.
2. Being chased by a maniac without a chainsaw.

Here are things that will make me sign that stupid waiver:
1. My daughter

Many years ago, I ran in a race called the Warrior Dash with many of my friends.
Since I did not actually die in that event, I supposed that I would never be forced to run again unless I met with one-or both-of the two conditions for running that I listed above.

I was wrong.

It appears that when I ran that race, many years ago, my daughter, Tori expressed interest in doing it someday. I smiled and patted her head and said something fatherly like, "That's nice, honey."

Naturally, she assumed that I meant, "Wow! I'd love to subject myself to that same torture over again in the future. Let's do that!"

I did not mean that at all.

I meant, "That's nice, honey."

And from that small communication breakdown, I find myself at the starting line of the Spartan Race, an event that mentions "fecal contaminated slurry" in its waiver that you must sign.

Don't believe me? Go ahead. Read it.
Tori, Alex, me. Yeah. Tights. Shut up. All the cool kids were wearing them.

The Spartan Race was held at Killington Mountain in Vermont. The word, "kill" is right in the name. Does nobody else see this as a problem?

This race was described on the website as a serious 3-5 mile course (they couldn't be more specific) with 22-30 obstacles (again, specificity is obviously not their strong suit unless they are writing contracts detailing the way you can, and likely will, die during the event. Then, they are unnervingly specific.)

Pictures on the website showed people strenuously exerting themselves and, somehow, actually appearing to enjoy themselves. The pictures showed towering pillars of fire, miles of barbed wire, ropes to climb, water to traverse, and everybody in the pictures looked exactly how nobody actually looks when exercising strenuously.

Here are some screenshots from the Spartan website:

See that smile? Those things smelled like old gym socks left in a dank basement. Nobody smiles with 40 pounds of stink on his back.

This is how people finish the race on the website.
Kerri took pictures of some people trying that at the actual race.

It didn't generally end well.

Nevertheless, my daughter wanted to do this and I am a good dad so I signed her life away on a bunch of waivers. For added fun, I signed my son, Alex's and my own away as well. Kerri had to sign her own life away, as she is an adult.

Yes, spectators had to sign waivers just to spectate.

We picked up our race packets and were greeted with another friendly reminder about just how much fun we should expect to have.

They whack you for $40 if you don't return the timing chip in the bag. Unless, you know, you're dead. Then they charge your heirs.

They helpfully suggested that we arrive about 90 minutes before our scheduled race time. Check-in took about 3 minutes, so with 87 minutes to kill, we busied ourselves freezing to death.

Tori and I also got our numbers written on our arms. Why? Because it was a distraction from the hypothermia. Plus, the girl writing the numbers had amazingly neat handwriting. I asked her to write the preamble to the Constitution on my arm. She refused.

Just as our extremities began to freeze solid, it was time to begin! The first obstacle is actually to enter the starting pen.

Tori hopped over with ease.

As did Alex.

I used the lady in front of me for traction and was able to hop right over.

We were then treated to another opportunity to wait around and have warnings and waivers read to us again!

Rather than listen to "important race safety information" delivered by a man with no pants on, we opted to pose for pictures.

 And then the race began!

We rocketed from the starting line at speeds approaching 0.0003 miles per hour.

After this point, Kerri, being the only sane member of our family, wandered around the spectator area with the camera so there is no photographic evidence of anything. You'll just have to trust me on this.

We began a slow, uphill plod up the steep face of Kill-em-all Mountain. It was sort of like being stuck in rush hour traffic, but with more sweating and wheezing and panting.

We hopped over some logs, climbed up some walls, and came to the "Memory Test" where you had to find a word/number combination based on the last few digits of your race number. You had to remember the number to avoid the dreaded "Burpees" which are an exercise maneuver doled out as punishment for failure to complete any of the obstacles.

The name "burpee" is so stupid, all I could do was laugh every time someone suggested that I do one. Or thirty.

I memorized my word/numbers (Bravo 7489689, in case you're wondering).

I chanted it to myself throughout the rest of the race, repeating it like a mantra, incorporating it into the pacing of my wheezing and panting.

Bravo 7489689


Bravo 7489689


It must be one heck of a memory test because they haven't asked for it yet. There was no check point where we were required to recite it.

I expect that some day in the far distant future, I'll receive a telephone call in the middle of the night. "This is Duane - the guy with no pants on from the Spartan Race. WHAT WAS YOUR NUMBER?" And I'll be able to tell him, by gosh. I may not remember my own name at that point, but I'll know that number.

We continued ever upward into the thinning air. Climbing hills is not Tori's strong suit so she slowed quite a bit and Alex took off without us. Tori and I wound our way up the mountain, eavesdropping on conversations like this.

"Oh god, I hate you, Kim. Why did you make me do this?"
"I'm a 38 year old, overweight alcoholic. What could possibly go wrong?"
"Gasp... Wheeze... Retch..."

Probably as a result of the many years I have spent hiking up mountains with my hiking associate, Julie, climbing the big mountain was not an unpleasant experience for me. I just had to be careful not to step on the many, many people curled up in the fetal position along the trail.

Eventually, we arrived at the summit and were handed 40 pound sandbags called "pancakes". It was then politely requested of us that we carry them down a steep, rocky trail and then bring them back up to where we had been given them. I suggested that it may be much simpler if we merely left them where they were, but that idea was dismissed quickly. The main problem with the "pancakes" was not the 40 pounds resting on your neck or shoulder as you trudge along. It was the fact that I was likely the 10,000th person to have used that pancake and the fabric it was made from had absorbed a staggering amount of other people's sweat.

The stench was really something to experience.

The rest of the race consisted of running along trails, picking things up, putting things down, climbing over things, climbing under things, and falling in the slippery mud.

As we made our way downward toward the finish line, our paths crossed those of people doing "The Beast" or "The Ultra Beast" The race were were subjecting ourselves to was called "The Sprint". It is a leisurely 5 mile jaunt for pikers, newbs, and couch potatoes. The Ultra Beast is a 26+ mile endurance test for people who like to sweat at competitive levels. We overheard several conversations between Beast runners as they passed us. They were all having exactly the same fascinating and witty conversation:

"Salt pills."
"Carb blasting."
"Liquid Amino Acids!"
"Good talk, bro. Good talk."
"Yeah, bro. Good talk. Stay strong."

Eventually, we made it to the dreaded tunnel of barbed wire where you are supposed to crawl under about 100 yards of low strung barbed wire.

Many people opted to roll the entire distance and it was entertaining to listen to them start to moan after a few yards. "Uurrrrrgh... soo... dizzy..."

Turns out that Gatorade and liquid amino acids make for festive, brightly colored vomit, puddles of which add another dimension of excitement to the barbed wire obstacle.

After the tunnel, we were on the home stretch and had only to throw a spear and jump over a towering wall of fire.

Alex threw a spear and Kerri got a great picture of it.
Tori threw a spear and Kerri got a great picture of it.
I threw a spear and Kerri got a great picture of some other guy who stepped in front of me.

Then came the fire. The towering wall of fire designed to test each runner to his physical and mental limit.

This is a screenshot of the fire, as shown on the Spartan website.
Somehow, Tori and I managed to hurdle the six inch lump of smouldering cordwood.
Tori crossed the finish line with wonderful form.
I crossed the finish line running a bit funny because of the stupid tights.
The final obstacle was to wait in line to get your picture taken and to try to eat a free energy bar without gagging.
I did it! I ate the disgusting energy bar!
The dude behind me got some excellent bunny ears on me. Well done, guy. Tori still obviously has the taste of energy bar in her mouth. I wiped my tongue on the back of some guy's shirt. Tasted better than the bar.

And with that, our day drew to an end. We limped back to the car, reeking of other people's sweat and made our way homeward.

Just before she drifted off to sleep, Tori asked, "When is registration for the next one?"

Both kids were asleep in less time than it took to eat a free energy bar.
Maybe I'll get a discount on the registration fee if I use the promotional code: Bravo 7489689.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Rockin' Out at Rockin' Horse

Drums? Check.
Harmonica? Check.
Totally rad and wildly inappropriate Iron Maiden t-shirt? Check, baby.
Let's rock.

Today I got to spend the day at Rockinghorse Studios slapping down some fat beats for my buddy, Steve Blunt. Yeah, baby. I was droppin' them like they were hot.

Every year, Steve records a new song for the library summer reading program.

Steve at the studio. He is obviously not ready to rock, as he is NOT wearing a rad Iron Maiden shirt.

 I feel obligated to whine a bit about how hard it is to be a drummer.

1. Lots of stuff to schlep around.
2. Very hard to whip out your drum set at a party and impress the ladies with your smooth music.
3. Lots of stuff to schlep around.
4. That stuff is heavy.
5. And there's a lot of it. Did I mention that?

To help with the schlepping, I conscripted my charming 14-year-old daughter, Tori, to give up her entire Saturday so she could come to the studio with me and help me schlep equipment.

"Plus," I explained, to sweeten the deal, "You'll get to see me in my totally rad Iron Maiden shirt."

Tori rolled her eyes so hard I could hear it.

She packed 2 books to bring with her because she has been to the studio before and knows firsthand that creating masterpieces of rock and roll basically involves playing the same song over and over and over and over until you want to claw chunks of your brain out just to get the song out of your head.
I swear this is true - these are the two books that Tori chose to bring with her. Anne of Green Gables and the Special Forces Survival Guide. She is one strange little cookie. But don't tell her I said that because now that she has read that survival guide, she can probably kill me and make it look like an accident.

We arrived at the studio and were met by Brian and Josh, the evil masterminds behind the mixing panels.

Brian setting up the drums. I refuse to touch microphones at his studio as most of them cost more than my house. Plus, Brian doesn't let drummers touch anything. Ever.
Brian indicates that he is through by throwing up devil horns, the universal signal for "I am through setting up microphones around these drums. Do not touch any of them, you filthy drummer, as they cost more than your house."

Joe, the fabulous bass player arrived and the party really got rolling.

Whoa, whoa, whoa... calm down there, Mr. Joe, you crazy man. This is a recording studio, not a kegger. And where is your rad Iron Maiden shirt? Doesn't anyone read my emails?

Here's how making a song works:

1. Steve writes a song
2. Steve sends us a demo version of the song that he recorded at his house.
3. We listen to the song and come up with some cool parts to go along with it.
4. We practice and practice along with the demo.
5. Two days before entering the studio to do it for real, Steve sends us a new version of the demo that he recorded at the studio. This is called a "scratch track".
 6. We realize that the "scratch track" is completely different than the song we have been practicing with.
7. We cry a little.
8. We go to the studio and completely make it up as we go along.

(Please note that when I say "We", what I actually mean is "I", because Joe is actually a really good, professional studio musician. He can fake it like a boss. I cannot.)

Before we started playing, Brian made sure that I, as a drummer and therefor prone to drooling and sweating and dragging my knuckles across the floor, was properly insulated from the rest of his studio.

Brian closing me into "The Drummer Box".

Brian closes me in even more tightly to assure that none of my drummer fumes can contaminate the studio. Please note my totally rad Iron Maiden shirt.

Once I was securely in my padded enclosure, I took careful note of my surroundings.

Tissues, conveniently located within reach for the inevitable weepy breakdown when I find out that we have to play the song "Just one more time."
Personal sound mixer so I can "unintentionally" turn the click track off and Brian won't know.
The view from behind the drums. Please note the protective glass between the studio and the booth, where the producers and engineers sit in luxurious comfort, far from the reeking drummers and their rad Iron Maiden shirts.
Little jellies stuck to drum heads to prevent ringing sounds. Brian hooked me up with one that looked like a little man and I was distracted throughout the entire recording session watching the man jump around every time I hit this drum.
Steve brings beer and tells us that we can't have any until we play the song perfectly. He cracks it open, takes a long pull off it, licks his lips and walks out of the studio and into the booth where he proceeds to smoke giant Cuban cigars, drink fine, imported beer, sit in a hot tub, and get a massage by the in-house Swedish masseuse. At least, this is what I assume is happening. I can't actually see out of my drummer cave.
Tori did manage to snap this candid picture of Brian hard at work during the recording session. I can't see the masseuse, but she's there somewhere. I know it. I just know it.

After we're all settled in, we play the song two or three thousand times and we're done!


"How about playing some harmonica?" Steve says, waving a beer in front of my sweat be-dewed face.

I knew this was coming. I was ready for it. I even went out and bought a brand-new harmonica, just for this moment.

A few weeks earlier, Steve had hinted that I might want to check out the harmonica solo in the song "What I Like About You" by The Romantics. He thought something like that might fit well into his song.

So I learned it. I played it over and over and over and over. If you have never played a harmonica, you should know that they can be played by inhaling or exhaling, each direction producing a distinctive sound. The solo Steve had asked me to play had almost no place for exhaling. But I played and played and played, risking debilitating pulmonary damage each time.

But I learned it.

I told Steve about it and suggested that he might want to start saving up for the iron lung (NOT the Iron Maiden shirt) that I was going to make him buy for me when my lungs exploded.

"Oh," he laughed lightly," I didn't mean that you should memorize the solo. I just meant something like that."

"Ha, ha," I wheezed from my perforated, tattered lungs.

But when harmonica time, I nailed that solo.

This is the view from behind a shiny gold harmonica microphone that probably costs more than all our houses combined.

Inhale more.
Carpet on the floor for when I pass out.
"Ha! Ha! We're not even recording this! Where is that masseuse? Steve, pass me another beer!"
"Sure thing, Brian! You can have Marty's beer because he's coughing up blood from his hemorrhaged lungs. Ha! Ha! Ha! That's so funny. Hey, masseuse, you want a beer, too?"
Still playing! Must be the super powers I've developed because of my rad Iron Maiden t-shirt.

When we were finally through, I staggered from the studio, gasping for air and dripping with sweat.

"Hey, man. Don't sweat on my carpets," Brian said as the masseuse massaged his feet.

I collapsed in a quivering heap on the floor, but fortunately for me, Tori had her Special Forces Survival Guide. She whacked me on the head with it a few times to revive me. That thing really works!

Then we headed home so we could start schlepping equipment back into the house.

I can't wait until it's time to record next year's song!