Saw a Woodpecker in downtown Port of Spain this morning. Nature always facinates me in it ability to survive and adapt to our contanstant attempts to wipe it out. Yet still we find more creative and destructive ways to eradicate nature
October 17th 2010 and I am paddling along Trinidad's North Coast on the second day of of a 2 day adventure race across the island. To say that I am about to puke does not give the full range and depth of what is happening to me as my body is in full on revolt against what I have done to it over the last two days. I am 100% sure I will make it to the finish line, yet I’m 110% sure I am going to quit, just give up, the Coast Guard is right there ready to rescue me, I can just roll, take a swim, relax and the abhorrent misery will stop! I do the unthinkable; dip my paddle in and rotate through the stroke and repeat the process of dip, rotate, dip, rotate again, again and again. I have no clue what keeps me going, but I am going. The majesty of the North Coast that usually fascinates me no longer exists; while trying not to puke I zone in on the waves around me so I don’t fall in. Every minute I focus on where the rescue boat is and the next point I am paddling to, which currently is through the First Bocas. I motivate myself by thinking of all I have been through to get to this point.
Training started in January 2010, my feet had finally healed from Planter Faciaitis, a sprained ankle and knee issues were sorted out; I finally start to jog. I have long had the desire to do the Coast 2 Coast, the Caribbean’s toughest adventure race, but normally I have a clash between attending the Adventure Travel World Summit, which is a must do for my business and the C2C, but in 2010 there is no clash. I turn 45 the week after C2C so that’s my birthday goal. While understanding fully the amount of training it will require just finish I still forge ahead with training. It is a 5 stage race where competitors cycle, trail run and ocean kayak from Toco to Chaguaramas across Trinidad’s North Coast. One has to be incredibly fit just to finish the course, the top competitors are aliens disguised as people with names like Clarence, Usher, Jason, Ryan, Chris and Robert just to blend in with the human race.
With October 16th and 17th 2010 in sight I weight in at a portly 180 pounds, can jog a savannah, am enthusiastic mountain biker and can paddle fairly well. I set the goal of 155 to 160 pounds, ability to run a marathon and ride like Lance by race day! In retrospect this was the first clue of my insanity!!! But as John Kennedy said about going to the moon “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard!” Since I was worst at running I concentrated on that using the Monday Ladies Run as my anchor – THANKS ladies and gents! In March I purchased a second hand road bike and started to get fitness up, and in July I started paddling a surf ski under the single lesson tutelage of Nina Chaves. I chose to paddle the surf ski because it is a very fast kayak but to say its unstable would be euphemistic, chalk up my second insanity plea. Paddling a surf ski is like trying to run fast on a balance ball floating on waves. Nina asked me if I was using my core, well Nina girl its impossible to sit in a surf ski and not use your core! The abilities to hold your breath while underwater after falling out and climbing back into the ski are also necessary to survival.
As time progresses my skill and fitness levels improve slowly from long hours spent riding, kayaking and running. It’s funny the looks I get when I tell people I’ve worked out for 8 hours that day and find its not enough. “You enjoy this???” is the question that accompanies the look. While my fitness has progressed, my weight has encountered too many birthday parties, cookies, snacks, and the grand evil of all – chocolate!! I’m down to fluctuating between 175 and 170 but not moving lower, dam! Training when you’re a dad, husband, and employed person suffers many setbacks, it would be nice to be professional! I do everything humanly possible and still remain married at the end of it all.
Friday October 15th – day before the race find me in a strange state, while I usually do get butterflies and some nervous peeing before any race I have never experienced anything like this: my body is throwing a full on hissy fit, cold sweating, nearly puking several times, peeing like a fire hose and other less tasteful bodily functions. With Pepto in hand and sheer determination I keep it all down and in control! I’m in Toco with the Jumbies’ Possie led by Phil, fellow solo racer Louise, and relay racers Natalie, Gareth, Pete, Carroll, and crucial support from Nats and Garnet! They supply me with food, a bed, transport and much needed encouragement. I knock out for the night by 8pm, then electricity goes at 3:31am, 30 minutes before alarm. So I’m up getting food that I can actually swallow, then pee and poop 20 times more than usual and head to race start. It’s my body’s freakish attempt to get from my actual weight of 167 to the goal of 155, which aint gonna happen unless I start to poop fat!
Dawn breaks as we walk to the start line at the Toco Light house on North East Trinidad; my body does not enjoy the beauty of the moment as cold sweat and nerves streak through me. My fight of will vs. body has entered the final stage! Encouragements that mean far more than the words stated can ever relay are uttered. The horn goes and we start running, well the real athletes run, I jog. Chris who will later come in 3rd relaxes with me as I assume my position of close to last or last. We switch to the bike and I find a rhythm, Chris is long gone and I am alone. To achieve my goal of simply finishing I must remain steady, solid and strong through the correct combination of focus, the right speed, hydration and food. Well food here is oats, energy bars and gels and hydration is Gatorade, not what I would choose for a meal but it does the job. Over the entire race I consume 14 energy bars, 12 energy gels, 8 single servings of oats, and a whopping 19 litres of Gatorade.
The first ride is easier yet slower than I hoped and included being bitten by a dog, which is better that Louise’s chicken attack last year as mine did not include falling or blood. Sweat gets rid of my nerves on my first big climb out of Sans Souci and I keep a steady rhythm to cover the 58km and hills to get to the end of the first leg in Matelot. After the encouragements at transition I start the long, lonely “run” from Matelot to Blanchisseuse. At 38km this leg is just short of a marathon in distance with much bigger hills than any marathon ever has and is trail not smooth road, hence it’s always very tough. To maintain my steady progress I power-walk the climbs and jog the down and flat parts. The trail is one of opposites in that you push hard and suffer, my body is racked with pain and my toes are the worst off, then I cross a stunningly beautiful river whose sheer magnificence so grand that it barges its way through the pain into my consciousness and I am forced to enjoy its exquisiteness. Madamas beach stands out with its raw stunning nature that is the same now as it was before any man’s eyes ever gazed on it.
I now start to pass racers suffering more than I am, guttural screams echo pain through the forests and the smell of Tiger Balm or Icy Hot being applied punctuates the air. Everyone’s’ face has a strong look of determination through the pain stamped and I guess I am no different. Each milestone brings back memories of my youth spent on the beaches tagging turtles, catching crayfish, camping, looking at shooting stars, discovering the Milky Way. Grand Tacaribe, Pettite Tacaribe, Paria all urge me on through the insanity towards the finish line at Blanchisseuse.
7 hours after starting I emerge from the forests onto a boiling hot dirt road that will not deter me from completing my task. The orange bridge emerges as a mirage into reality and I jog the last bit over the finish line. Day 1 is down, 5am start tomorrow and it will be longer, tougher and miserable, but I remain focused. I head home to wonderful food cook with love by Lizy (wifey) and my kids, Gabby and CJ massaging my feet and happily pestering me.
3:10am and my long time friend and ex adventure racing partner, David Lee, greets me at home and we head back to Blanchisseuse for the 5am start. Red and white lights dance along a black road rapidly emerging on a dark night as cyclists race from Blanchisseuse through La Filette as we pursue our first target to cover 58km to Diego Martin. Dawn emerges as we climb towards Las Cuevas, which is also where I am dropped to resume my place in close to last. David zips ahead of me, stops and cheers me on as I pass him. My first “nutrition” is a Cliff energy gel, now a rule of racing is NEVER try something new during a race; here is another point of insanity, I try this new gel that has double caffeine, which I am assured is not coffee but just caffeine. Yeah right, it is of course coffee and that has an immediate laxative effect on me, oh joy just what I needed. Ever heard the expression shit storm? I manage my bowels and lower back pain as my legs pump steadily over big climbs. I scream the down hills as going down is always my favourite thing to do. Up, well that’s another matter! The climb out of Maracas takes me just over an hour while the down on the opposite side takes less than 5 minutes to down into Maraval. Richard Changur meets me at the summit of Morne Cocoa and accompanies me through Diego Martin to Patna, the conversation makes this like a normal Sunday ride; just what I needed. I feel sorry Richard as my farts now have somewhat of a flame thrower effect to them and he is riding behind me. At transition I hit the port-a-potty hard and thankfully.
What follows is a walking/hiking/running section past North Post to Macquripe. The course is only 8km, easy you may think but the first 2/3s is a series of long, steep, hard climbs into the clouds that I overcome one step at a time. I start to talk to myself here; “Don’t put you hands on your hips!” “Move Courtenay, next step, keep moving, I can and will finish this!” Soon I start to shout “Get those FREAKIN hands off the hips, MOVE, MOVE!” Momentum gains on the down hill and I start to write this blog in my head, narrating and scrapping several versions. The road jog to Macquripe beach is boring, painful and hot. I would happily blow up this road! KAABOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!!!!
Transition to kayaking at Macquripe is happy encouragement and nutrition, it has no bearing or relation to what happens next. The kayak leg at 30km is possibly the most miserable thing I have ever done and I’ve been lost in the forest at night, been in a flooded cold tent and spent ridiculous hours dealing with Government offices trying to get Passports, Drivers Licenses and US Visas, AND I have done the paddle before in training and as part of a relay team. None of which prepared me for the abject misery of this paddle as the sun fries my brains and sanity. My sheer exhaustion, days of crazy bodily functions and a complete tank up of Gatorade, oats and energy bars at transition makes me feel to puke 2 minutes into the paddle.
I am the last to enter the water as others behind decided to skip the misery. Back to real time and I enter the bay at the end of the First Bocas called Lanse Power. I flop out the ski and take a swim, rejuvenating! I gulp Gatorade and a gel down not because I want to but in order to finish I must give my body the energy it will need. The last thing I want is food and liquid in my stomach that is dying to puke. I give Coast Guard thumbs up and forge on with no clue why or how I am moving at all. Dip, rotate, dip, rotate, dip, rotate and repeat ad nausea - literally. I am desperate to give up, it would be sooooo easy, just get out and swim, make friends with Coast Guard. I have done Coast to Coast, I did make it under human power from Trinidad’s East Coast to the West Coast, no-one will blame me, just give up Courtenay. Yet I dip, rotate, dip, rotate, dip, rotate and repeat. I become fascinated with the fact that I am still going but dying to just give up when 2 things rescue me: An idiot is a massive pleasure craft passes Point Baline on Gasparee Island at full throttle producing a massive wave. This makes me abort my planned abandonment of the race at this point as I cannot land. Then magic happens, Gasparee’s southern coast is dead clam, bathed with twinkling ripples, favourable winds and tides I ease my paddle yet I move with pace past majestic limestone cliffs with strangler trees working their mystery as they produce abundance from nothingness. I reflect on this and produce paddle strength where none existed. Another massive pleasure boat approaches, this one slows to no-wake speed and smiles at me, emotion rises in me and I must finish now. The simplest of kindnesses can produce massive ripples.
I emerge from Gasparee into strong head winds, chop and pelting rain; I push on through the pain past Careera to 5 Islands which is a long ways away and I am back to misery and desperation to give up. One of the advantages of a ski, which is a sit-on-top kayak, compared to a sit-inside ocean kayak is that you can pee at will. You do pee on yourself but it is refreshing and two waves later you are washed clean, do this in a sit-inside and, well it ain’t so pretty. Hence every 10 minutes I kick off the afternoon’s entertainment with “wisssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhing” and “pisssshhhhhhhhhhhhhing” noises that are my Ali Baba secret passwords to open the flood gate in my urinary tract and “AAAAHHHHHHHHHH” sweet relief! It’s not exactly a classic Bond movie but entertaining none the less.
At 5 Islands I bail and take another swim. Floating in my life vest I marvel at evolution as I see pelicans fishing. OK, let’s get going! I paddle like a zombie to the buoy at Yacht Club, and debate if to skip it, no body is close, the marshals will never know, but an unseen force drives me to finish the full course. At the buoy I turn and the wind and waves are now behind me, picking up speed and instability I desperately survive to the end. Dip, rotate, steady, dip, rotate steady and I somehow I round the point and finish the course.
I get out the ski to cheers and jog to the finish line claiming a combined time of 17hrs, 34 minutes. I did it. I DID IT!! I DID IT?????? How did I do that?? I have no freakin clue, but I did!!! WOW!! I see my family, Lizy, Gabby, CJ, support, friends and other competitors and a rush of emotions flow over me washing away the misery replacing it with relief, pride, joy and love! Wait, hang on a moment!!! I didn’t puke!!! How the crap I didn’t puke? I must have puked??? Actually I did not puke; now that’s something to boast about! Well maybe next time I’ll puke just to boast about that.