The last day of camp every summer is a very important day: Adventure Race Day. Think of The Amazing Race on TV, but only 4 hours and in one big forest. There are 10-15 markers along a map, and when you and your partner find them, you stamp your map before moving on to the next marker. Collect all 15, run to the finish line, drink a celebratory beer.
Now, I never participate in the Adventure Race. First of all, it always includes water. I don’t care for water unless it’s to skinny dip at the end of a very long and hot hike or if I’m listening to an ocean while laying on the warm sand. Second, it’s a competition. And I’m not competitive, in that I don’t compete because I get so freaking competitive that my camp friends become arch enemies and I will break any and all rules in order to win. And I also get mean.
So this year, when one of my camp friends asked if I was running the race and I said no, she said, “Oh. Why? You afraid you’re gonna lose?”
Keeping my ego in check. “No, no. I just don’t like kayaks.”
“You mean you don’t like losing in a kayak race?”
Again. I can keep a handle on this. “I just don’t like the water. And I’m not competitive.”
Another camp friend jumped in. He said, “Oh. You’re not doing it because you know you can’t win.”
Swallowing another gulp of ego. “I do like to win. But I don’t think I would win this race.”
“Oh I think you could win it. I just don’t think you will,” another person baited.
“I don’t have a partner,” David interrupted. “If you want to run it, I’ll run it with you.”
“Don’t worry,” camp friend #2 said. “I’ll keep the finish line nice and warm for you.”
Aaaand I signed up for the race 5 minutes later.
The morning of the race, we stood at the starting line psyching each other out.
“Pants, huh? It’s gonna be hot.”
“Not bringing any water? Hope you don’t get thirsty.”
“CamelBak? That’s gonna get heavy around mile 4.”
We all got to look at the map for about 3 minutes before taking off. I studied the map while inching closer to the starting line. I watched a few other people out of the group of 25 teams begin to do the same. And as soon as our guide shouted, “3-2-1…” we took off.
So, maps (unless they’re topographical, and this wasn’t) don’t really show uphill versus downhill. Well, the first mile was uphill. Running. I ran uphill for a mile. Within about 6 minutes, I already thought I was going to die and all my friends passed me. “See you later!” they shouted.
I forced myself to continue running, despite feeling as though the imaginary screws that hold my body together were beginning to come loose. Up and over that first hill, we stamped our map twice. David immediately took off while I began talking to myself like a crazy person. “Your body is made to move. Running will not hurt you. My body is a machine. I am strong. I can do this.”
After another mile, I’d caught up with a few of the groups, some who’d missed a stamp in the woods and some who were getting tired. I tried to psych them out, but with barely enough breath to run, I didn’t have many juicy insults. I think at one point I shouted, “I hate England!” at my new british friend.
His response? “I’m getting awfully tired of straining to hear what you’re saying so far behind me…”
We came upon a section of the map that offered two routes to the next stamp: a direct route through the woods or a less direct route taking an old, paved carriage road. We decided to take the carriage road, as everyone else was pouncing into the woods. It was a bold move, and one that paid off. We quickly moved from 6th place to 2nd place.
Of course, the next mile required nothing but straight running, so we were back to 3rd and nearly 4th place by the time we made it to the kayaks.
I became a beast in the kayak. I shouted out orders and insisted Dave row as hard and as fast as he could without ever stopping to take a break. “I just need to look at the map, Erin…”
“No, Dave. ROW. ROW. ROW.” I never stopped rowing, either. Then, of course, I broke out into a beautiful version of Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
In order to get the next stamp, I had to jump out of the kayak and into woods. Some teams took off their shoes, which proved to be a really bad choice as the stamp was hidden deep in the woods off the path. I, on the other hand, donned pants and shoes. Totally safe and scratch-free by the time I got back to the kayak.
Also, completely soaking wet.
By the time we rowed to our stopping point, I realized I had 3 more miles to run in lake-soaked shoes. I began slogging along behind Dave, trying to keep our second place status after the kayaks. As we jogged another mile, uphill, other teams, teams with actual running experience, began to catch up. Pass us. Smack my bottom. It was humiliating.
We retrieved our second to last stamp, the one before the finish line, and we were in a group with about 5 other teams. As we began following the other teams, David stopped me. “Wait. What if we skipped this part of the trail and just ran down the embankment to the road?”
“My body is strong. My body is a machine. I can do this…”
“What do you think?”
“My body is strong. My body is a machine. I can do this…”
“Ok. Fine. Follow me.” He took off.
We scaled down the embankment, sliding and running into trees until we popped out on the road. We must have looked very lost to the traffic passing by. We began to run and, shortly thereafter, another team popped out from the woods. Someone else had our same idea. It was now a foot race to the end, and in case you hadn’t gotten this yet, I don’t run. So, I knew our chances at coming in first were gone. But, I knew we could possibly still be ahead of all of our other friends, maybe even the first boy/girl team to make it to the finish. That last quarter mile was the longest mile I’d ever run in my entire life. And as we came up over the last hill to see about 20 kids cheering us on, creating a tunnel with their bodies, high-fiving us all the way in. I scanned, looking for other finishers, and I didn’t see any right away.
“Are we first?” I panted.
“No,” Dave panted back.
“Third,” he smiled.
We raised our arms and ran through the kids, high-fived the two teams who made it before we did, and realized we’d beaten all of our friends. We did it. I did it. I couldn’t believe it. I ran almost 7 miles. And I survived. And came in third place.
Several minutes later our friends began coming up over the hill. First one couple, then another, then another. We cheered and high-fived them all the way in. We laughed and shouted and fell on the ground in exhaustion. It turned out to be my favorite thing I did during my entire week at camp.
As we dusted ourselves off and headed to the jacuzzi for a celebratory beer, I pulled my friend’s arm and stopped him.
“Hey. Congrats. I hope I kept the finish line warm enough for you…”
Nope. I was wrong. Saying THAT was my favorite thing I did during my entire week at camp.