Thursday, May 17, 2012

Survival Trials 2012: Part 1: Despair

The background:

A few weeks back, I took part in an adventure race in the backcountry of New Mexico.  This event lasted 24 hours, with teams of two competitors free to choose their own paths and arrive at stations that would test first aid, shooting, physical, and mental abilities.  My appreciation of a long distance hiking competition was purely academic prior to this event.  Each competitor had a unique experience and I am exceptionally pleased to have an opportunity to compete with them.  This is my story of that evening and how I remember it...

In the pitch black darkness glimmered a small light which appeared to mark the finish line, as we hiked at full speed.  Now that we saw the finish line, we knew it would be over soon.   My feet were searing with pain.  The pack I was wearing weighed over 50 lbs, loaded with weapons, nutrition, and first aid equipment.  My partner's pack was even heavier, as he carried the sniper rifle in addition to his shorter range weaponry.  The pack tried to seduce me into quitting with every step I took.  We had been going for over 35 miles without sleep for the past 24 hours.  It was then I realized that the light wasn't like the lights I had at home in San Francisco, where lights I saw were a few blocks out. This was Raton, NM where the lights from distant objects can be seen from miles away.  We were on our last strings, yet nowhere near the finish.   I had plotted us an aggressive route, taking us miles across the course, routing us through the shooting stations, playing to our advantage.  But with all the shooting done, all I had left was the commitment to not quit.  It felt like swimming in a black hole.

To rewind a little bit, a few months ago while scrolling my Facebook newsfeed in a nice cushy chair, I saw a post about the Survival Trials.  I was curious as I had been shooting long range tactical rifle matches at the national level for the GA Precision team led by George Gardner and wanted to explore additional events that were both physical and shooting oriented.  The Survival Trials, held at arguably the best shooting facility in the country with tens of square miles of rugged backcountry, the NRA Whittington Center, told of an event that would challenge competitors athletic, shooting, lifesaving, physical, and mental abilities, all in the span of 24 hours.  "Sounded kinda pimp", thought I in my general casually interested demeanor.  I chatted with an acquaintance of mine, Cody who had done well in the prior year's Survival Trial.  He thought it would be a good idea for me to go.

Brett, a friend of mine wanted to go as well.  This would be a team event which would be ideal for us as skills required included first aid, navigation, long range shooting, short range shooting, and hiking. Brett had hiking and orienteering experience and was competent with various firearms.  I would bring the in depth expertise in first aid, and long range work.  Over the next few months, we would purchase and tune, the best available in equipment.  We would hone the latest techniques we could find instruction in.  For any other gaps, we'd make that shit up.

We arrived the night of the race kind of excited, curious to see how things would go down.  John, an esteemed instructor from Professional Marksmen Inc, the race director, came by and met with all of us.  I remembered what he had said in a class he held as trainup earlier that week.  He had reminded us that while equipment and training was important, how you held together emotionally was most important, yet the most difficult to gauge.  I wondered what I'd be like, but I realized that those thoughts would be more of a speculation, than a prediction for how I would feel.

As we drove along a road with the other competitors in a van, I joked that if one of the scenarios involved a protest, me being from San Francisco, I'd probably be ready for both the distinct stench and misspelled signs.  The SWAT officers next to me laughed, and the sniper school instuctors in front of me had even better jokes of their own.  Everyone had a cool demeanor about them.  We were in exceptional company.  Everyone we competed with had a distinctive background.  In my standard beginners mindset, I had good questions, but they had better answers.

After we disassembled our packs for inspection by the race staff, which included handguns, carbines, a sniper rifle, first aid, spare clothing, boots, compass, food, and water, we were issued maps of the area and provided our race parameters, the areas we were allowed to go.  We had 24 hours to hike through the mountains, find our way to locations or scenarios, where we would shoot, solve puzzles, do physical activities, or perform first aid.  We could do whatever we wanted for 24 hours.  Outside the firearms and safety rules, we were free to make shit up.

After plotting our first moves on the provided map, we set off by moonlight and headlamps to the first waypoint which was up a hill.  But this was not before making a wrong turn.  As we found out, when you navigate by night, you work for every inch covered.  This was how it was going to be until daylight.

More next time…