|Andy feeling about done - Liwa Desert, the Empty Quarter|
In the days ahead, we will begin to process the race a bit more, and try to write a full report, detailing some of the highlights, low points, fights and triumphs that come along with such an intense undertaking. But right now we just want to take a moment to be humble. Or maybe to say that we were completely humbled here.
We came back to the challenge this year after our best domestic race season ever. We were crowned the champions of the California ARA series and in the US this year, we beat many of the best teams from around the country, and those races that we did finish first, we finished a close second. An entire year of racing without a single finish lower than 2nd place. Even when the controversy of the Checkpoint tracker National Championships turned out against us, it was clear to us that we had become one of the fastest teams in the American adventure racing scene.
We went to Abu Dhabi, assuming that this dominance of the domestic circuits would translate to success overseas. Oh boy were we wrong. To put it bluntly, we got our asses handed to us. I'd love to say that we had some equipment malfunctions that slowed us down, or made some bad navigation decision that slowed us down. Not so. We raced fast and hard. And compared to the other US teams that were there (including this year's National Champions - Wedali) we did quite well.
It was not, however, nearly enough. After the first day we were sitting in 30th place. Dumbstruck. I think it was emotionally harder than it was physically, and Daniel and Chelsey struggled to stay motivated. I felt almost as if we were about to give up because we were not doing as well as we'd expected to. But instead we made the tough decision to suck it up and use the remaining days as a litmus test of sorts - to expose our weaknesses, in hopes of learning a bit more of the truth about where we stand in the world of elite adventure athletes.
By then end of the second day we'd climbed to 21st. And then came the epic desert crossing. We suffered in the unseasonable heat (38 degrees celcius/100 Farenheit), but our penchant for pain and endurance led us further up the rankings to 14th. The final 120km paddle was canceled due to high winds, and replaced with a much shorter 33km kayak sprint to the finish, where we were able to hold on to our position, but not gain enough ground to move up.
As we crossed reflected the day after the race, we realized that we'd discovered another tier of elite athletes out there - a level of endurance adventurer that is as inspiring as they are scary. And it turns out that it wasn't just one mutant superman, nor just one team of them...there were lots of them - a whole tribe of these super athletes. I almost felt like I'd spent the last year somehow masquerading as one of them, only to show up at the Grand Ball Event and be wearing the wrong sort of costume.
We hesitated there in the aftermath for a moment, unsure of how to proceed. Scurry home to the US and pretend it had all been a bad dream, or stand there awkwardly and admit that we didn't quite measure up.
I'm not sure exactly how the other Slackers feel, but I'm pretty sure none of us want to pretend that we are something we are not. We've got some work to do if we are going back next year, but I for one am excited by the prospect.
|running across the ridge of Jebel Hafeet|