Its 1 am and I am dragging my pale ass out of bed to go run in a jungle! Ok I am strange that way and fortunately the world is full of strange people just like me. 2am, I am on the road and met Kerlon - triathlete and cameraman by 2:30am, an awful hour, then we met Ricky and Jenny Tang - long time adventure friends, at a less awful hour. Now we are Team Earth Alert on the prowl heading to Mon La Croix to participate in Fusion 2009 which is an adventure race set by the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago. We were the second team on site and soon enough others started arriving, some are the usual suspects of eclectic over fit weirdos that always cut my ass and many new faces of which I quickly made friends as we were all about to both race against each other and support each other in racing against each other - get it? Being new friends I will now and throughout this blog blatantly steal from their emails and blogs comments made after the race.
Where is Mon La Croix? It is bang in the middle of the Northern Range and is an area I know well but for the newbee its FAAAAR, as Sophia of Mountain Cats put it "I kept asking my Mountain Cats team members, like kids on a road trip..."are we there yet?"..."you sure we still in Trinidad?"" A lovely cloud blankets the rich rainforest draped mountains, the clouds quickly become "dam blasted clouds" as rain pours forth. Thankfully the rain clears as teams arrive and the start is imminent, at which time many asked why the hell they get up this morning. Many looks resembled Staci's crimpled expression seen in the photo of Team Mountain Cats. Charles, the Race Director and minister of pain Charles splits the teams into two - one for brains and one for brawn. As Jenny was our only brain and Ricky is married to her they take the brain course while Kerlon and I are brawn, which is the only time I have been called brawn in a non-condescending way.
We split and jogged along the road while others run past, soon we're on a trail descending to what has to be the Yara river as we are all given life-jackets, which surprises many but makes me happy. This is where we start to pass teams as contestants bump, slide and grind down the hill, that is until we encounter two women; one in front, one behind (of each other that is). The one in front is DRAGGING the other down the hill most unceremoniously, she looks like a freaked out cat running full tilt on terrazzo! I later found out their team name was Chaotic Balance, which does not begin to describe them. The dragger refused to let us pass while the dragged cut such a wide swath it was impossible to pass. The river was cool, refreshing, tough and fun, we passed the draggers, we stopped and filmed for Earth Alert and they passed us, then we passed them and rinse and repeat until we got to the swimming part where the dragged nearly drowned as she could not swim. Thankfully she had on her life vest which kept her afloat while she was... you guessed it... dragged! The water by now was brown with churning feet drumming, stumbling and crawling their way along the river. The river scene was similar to Jouvert as Sophia explains "The river thing was a good warm up. I lost all my dignity, slipping and sliding, with one foot gone one way, and the other a next!" Sounds to me like wining and a lack of dignity - Jouvert!!!
On the return we pick a rivalry with my friends Nats and Phill of Jumbies, I am giving gun talk scrambling up the river when there is a shout of "Snake" while that is like the mating call of my lover to me Sophia described it a bit differently: "one of the officials showed me a snake on the river bed..... I nearly did walk on water. If I didn't have my mouth closed to avoid swallowing the dutti wata (jamaican style), I wooda let out one scream!!!" Of course we had to stop and film it. It was a beautiful Mapipire Balsin (Fer-de-Lance or Lance Head Viper) of about 7 feet and is a deadly venomous snake in the rattle snake or pit viper family. I retrieved the life vest for the official who found the snake resting next to him and did a superman flight from the rock next to the snake, however he left his cape (life jacket) behind. I retrieved it and got some nice film of the mapipire but did get any photos, so the photo above is a Mapipire I photographed a while ago and is much smaller than the one we saw. We return to the swim / scramble and Jumbies are long gone and so are parts of Kerlon's shoes.
The return up the hill was tough, slippery and my back hurt, once on the road we jogged back to the finish line inwhat felt like reverse gear as other teams ran past us with long antelope like strides. We were cheered on as we crossed the finish line then we quickly cheered others on, especially doing the same for Jenny and Ricky as they finished stage 1. The conversation was animated as recent adventures were retold and we found out about Jenny's and Ricky's adventure in the Brain stage, which included a math problem, thank God I was'nt involved in that! The air was filled with the smell of adventure, literally. So there was a resulting washing lineup at the local standpipe. It was more than a bit entertaining to see these town office women in their sexy muddy, water, sweat soaked adventure outfits washing like country bookie Tantee under a standpipe, giggles and teasing abounded so smiles got bigger.
We depart heading for Rincon, Las Cuevas, which is a small coastal community on the North Coast. We have to wait on all teams so the nervous chatter grows. Nervous! Why you may ask, well looming in plain sight south of us is El Tucuche, Trinidad's second highest mountain and some seriously steep trails to get to it. To prepare for the imminent grueling adventure there is lots of drinking and eating of high energy sports drinks and foods. Of course there is the resultant high energy peeing and ... well the other thing... going on in various bushes. A couple times I saw bushes shaking to curious noises which only created more laughing and teasing.
Charles - the minister of pain gives the call: we have a road run in midday heat up to a trail that takes UP us to a waterfall, then its UP, UP, UP to the "Rest House" on the El Tuuche trail then to Caurita. I don't know the route to the waterfall but everything else I know well. Its gonna be tough! Ricky, Kerlon and I will be doing this stage while Jenny will drive to Caurita to meet us. Kerlon borrowed a pair of shoes from me or he would have started with two half shoes.
We're off!! Trotting the down hills and flats power walking the up hills. Strong power walking turns into a grunting / moaning slow one foot at a time trekking as road becomes trail and steep is an understatement. The sounds are that of a strange porn show on the wrong speed or just wrong. This leads to a hill top farmer's house with a hose that as Sophia puts it: "Not to mention the near porn scenes of wetting each other down in any river, stream or garden hose that we passed...." Please note that these are lovely women in white tops hosing each other down, did someone say wet tee shirt competition!! Of course everyone is too beat and too happy to get soaked to care. We hit my home in the rainforest and I feel well climbing steadily, Kerlon and Ricky are just behind me. Once again we pass Chaotic Balance and catch up to Mountain Cats with whom I slow to chill with as I am not seeing Ricky who was stuck in traffic behind. The ladies are vocal, encouraging and entertaining with occasional screams and regular Jamaican cuss, especially to the call of "Snake". I encourage Staci on as I think she only met her mountain Cats compatriots that morning and was asked to race the night before, I think she is in a bit of shock!!! She is a trooper and rocks onward.
We emerge at a gorgeous waterfall and wait for Ricky to emerge out from the traffic. Once he arrives a quiz to fill out is handed to us, we flounder about the quiz trying to figure out if Johny or Marcus is older, who de hell came first and how old is Pablo, OH GORM our singular thought was "What the hell is THIS??!!!" Then we realize we're really not at all good at this and we would really prefer to be hiking, so the unfinished form is returned and we push on. As we climb Ricky states that his legs are wobbly and Kerlon says he is cramping, so we slow but keep a steady climb. I check my altimeter and check on the altitude gain giving a countdown 500, 400, 300.. feet of elevation to go. As we climb and muscles scream for relief I am reminded of my quote on twitter only a week before, I said "Adventure racing is the most miserably happy I ever am. Everything else makes me miserable or happy." Sophia decided it was all a trick and we were actually hiking to Tobago! Where is the joy in all this madness? I think of the river swim, waterfall, amazing views, the exceptional people, yeah its TRUE! With 100 feet to go it starts to flatten off and I get a sense of urgency as we approach an old arch nemesis; the Rest House that I love.
Starting in the late 70s when I spent the coldest wettest night of my life with the T&T Field Naturalists Club in the actual Rest House, which is long gone. Then there was the sada roti saga which was a serious drama unto itself and included the army being called out for me and a couple hundred thorns in my legs and razor grass to face. I have had many a grand adventure and misadventure in these hallowed mountain forests; much of what makes me a bushman emanates from this area. I am elated as we arrive and pass the Rest House. I am eager to make our final leg, so I encourage to start running; big mistake! Kerlon cramps badly and we have to stop. I massage his leg and can feel his muscles hard, tensed and spasming, we give him a pain reliever, energy gels and gatorade to hydrate him properly and to get salts etc back into his system.
Soon we are walking mostly and jogging sometimes down the Caurita trail where I have spent years clearing for mountain biking and it remains my favourite mountain biking trail. When its clear its just a blast. Every time I do this trail whether it be mountain bikikng, hiking or trail running it is tremendous fun punctuated with ancient forests and amazing views, but it ALWAYS seems to be longer than I think its going to be and now its stretching out longer and longer. Eventually we hit landmarks; the bamboo corner, the farms, jeep trail and finally to the finish line which we run through and Kerlon immediately falls on the ground in serious pain. Medics are quickly helping as I get water to poor over his head to cool him off. Lots of teasing ensues about how the 40+ gents are the ones helping the 23 year old! As soon as Kerlon recovers he joins in on the fun.
Next we head down to the Savannah for a 5K run to the Port for the final finish. This turned a bit sour as some very abusive and unreasonable police wanted to tow our vehicles without listening to us. At any rate the race had to end here for me as time was late and had to get home for the evenings family activities. Jenny and Ricky performed admirably in the final run and kept Team Earth Alert alive to the end.
In the end Fusion 2009 was a huge success and in closing I stole two final thoughts: The first from Sophia "I laid down on the floor, pee in the grass, ask strangers to use their toilet, begged team mates food, begged shoulder and leg rubs, stopped caring how I looked, and longed for my bed. I still cant get all the dirt out from under my finger nails, lost 3 toe nails, and from the looks of the others, may loose another 3 more. I am going to put all my clothing and shoes in a bag, and label them FUSION 2010!!!! Because unno better believe that I'll be back."
The second is from Staci and is more environmentally minded: "if more people in Trinidad could have the experiences which we had last Saturday and which all other challenges and competitions like this bring there would be less fear and more trust on our island. We would not be singing bring back the ole time days and our present days would be encouraging ones to live in.
On another note for all of us who enjoyed what “the bush” has to offer please let us make every effort to ensure that it is still around in years to come. Let us not allow all of it to become commercialized."
Thanks a million to Sophia and Staci for the words and positive energy and to Charles, Thomas and Everyone at the Port and Fusion (organizers and participants alike) thanks for the photos, energy, love and madness!!
'Till 2010 when I expect to be Fused again!!!!!!!