Ada and Buckeye Ho Tep ( Event Blog enclosed)..pictures forthcoming. - DBCooper96
Event Blog Feb. 12th 2016
Fuego Y Agua 2016
Train and train. The dog days of self-flagellation are about to transition to a sense of prepared culmination. In my faulted ego and insanity, I had succumbed to the warped notion that I had arrived at my physical fitness apogee. I immediately started training for the 2016 version of the event following my DNF in February of 2015. In fact, I was so pissed at myself I signed up for the Cruel Jewel Ultra from the bathroom of my casita at the Villa Paraiso Hotel in Santo Domingo Nicaragua within hours of missing my cut off to start the process. I don’t think I have ever seen my wife that angry before. She said if I do this again that she was wasn’t going. She was right. To her consternation she has been trying to tame me for over 14 years. She was wrong.
I had committed myself to maximizing my training regime to include not only endurance running, but a wide disruptive mix of cross fit, weight training and a dose of the most creative and bizarre core building high intensity exercises that I could think of. There would weekends where I would run 20 miles then swing a sledge hammer or axe for an hour or so to constantly and consistently “shock” my body. I would then repeat different regimen the next morning. Integrated within this was a series of Ultra endurance races throughout the year and a few OCRs to include the Green Beret Challenge. This kept me inspired and provided divergent activities to keep from mentally plateauing. My philosophy was if I wasn’t sore then I didn’t fully disrupt the mechanics of my body. I so desperately wanted to cradle the prize that eluded me the year before and by Feb. 4th 2016 I felt I was ready.
Arrive Managua Nicaragua solo on Feb. 4th via Miami. I met some other athletes who were headed over to the Managua Hills Hotel to stay the night before making the Hajj to Ometepe Island the next day. Not me, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I had made transfer plans with Green Pathways to have a driver shuttle me from Managua to the Port of San Jorge. See the problem with waiting is if there are high winds on Lake Nicaragua the ferries will not go (more on this later). This happens often in February and there was no chance in hell I was going risk all that training etc. because the ferries would not sail to Ometepe. The 5 o’clock ferry is more reliable Gemma tells me in her exquisite British accent on the phone, but if you get there by 330PM then you can possibly get on the 4:00PM (driver “no habla”). Great! Vamos and off we go. I arrive in San Jorge two hours later at roughly 3:45PM. I get my ticket and have a quick Tona beer. I grab my gear and board the ferry to Moyogalpa Ometepe. I had flaked out to degree and made accommodations late on the island. I was to stay at a rented house with Arian another athlete friend from Austria (Don’t pronounce his name ‘Aryan” he goes crazy. I don’t know why? ). It’s Aaron. These “homes” were in the village of Sacramento which was actually between Moyogalpa and Santo Domingo ..the start location. In other words, I would have to back track at least 30 minutes after check in and then ride a rented motor cycle with my gear bags back at 4AM on the 6th in the dark. If you have ever been to Nicaragua you know why this isn’t a wise choice. You don’t drive at night there. Ox, horses and other animals roam freely. There are NO fences. Last year I ran over a 3 meter boa on my motor bike in the middle of the night and almost bit it. I appealed to the transfer driver who began making phone calls. He hooked me up at a hostel called “Estima” for $30 bucks a night. It was secure the most important thing. but it was indeed a Nicaraguan hostel with shared bathrooms and showers. It was complete with bed netting along with the proverbial Scorpion and spider dual in the shower. Who won? The effing trash can that’s who won! I have to admit, however, I did watch how the two gladiators would work it out though. Big ass scorpion had the upper hand for sure. He was no match for the tin can though.
I “turn in” the motor bike and go in for cheaper… a bicycle. I pedal the klick down the road for the check in and just made the BBQ and pre event meeting. I inhale the food. In preparing for events like this calories are not an issue. The only worry is timing as you must ensure you “evacuate” everything before start. It’s a process and not an unfamiliar one. My journey will begin in the morning. I spend time with other athlete friends and we share stories etc. about the year’s events, families. It is an international community, but an extremely fringe and close group. This is why we refer to ourselves as the tribe. Yes we are a tribe of crazies, hippies, former military and in short extremely independent whack jobs looking to test their limits within the most extreme adventure racing events in the world. I ride back to Estima with some guy originally from Germany who also didn’t schedule a room in time on the island. He was relegated to a hammock on the 2nd floor. He actually paid for this 4 days before I arrived. I didn’t tell him I got my room on the way to the hostel. I felt bad for him. Later on we sat in the lobby and talked for a while with a student in the Peace Corps from Jacksonville FL. I learned this dude now resided in Berkeley CA. Within the conversation he invoked the term “imperialist” when the student mentioned that she thought that everyone pretty much spoke English. I then told him how I got my room. Scorpions climb.
I retire to bed deftly tucking the netting under the mattresses. It’s now 2AM and I can’t sleep anticipating the event. I keep trying to go back to sleep but hear the drunk guy on the patio and the two frisky college kids in the room next door playing a loud game of slap and tickle. Damn it’s 3AM now and I have to get up at 4AM and be at the start at 5AM. Screw it I finally just get up. Awesome the most difficult event on the planet on 2 and ½ hours of “sleep”. I turn on the light. No bugs that’s pretty cool. It’s pitch dark outside. I grab my headlamp and head to the shower passing Che Guevara on the hammock. That doesn’t look comfortable. Good.
Back to my room gearing up. I dress including wearing my son’s Starr’s Mill Panther football socks as I had promised. No worries as I actually liked the padding and how they felt in my INOV-8 Trail Rocs. I snapped a picture for him. I fill a full 3 liters in my hydration pack, extra batteries for headlamps, salt stick, Leatherman multi tool, machete etc. I tied my Leki trekking poles to my pack using the leather laces you buy at the grocery store. Works perfect and thinking ahead they could make good tourniquets (Multi-Useful). All set and down the stairs to find my bike. Crap where the eff is it. They restored it! Fortunately one of the “maintenance” guys came about with a flashlight. He speaks no English so I had to physically show him what I meant about a bicycle. “Un momento” he says and comes back with the newly awakened desk clerk. He was pissed! Instead of finding the bike I had he gave me his. Off I go headlamp on pedaling through the night down to Villa Paraiso. There isn’t a soul on the road. It was a macabre setting hearing only the tires on the road, crickets and critters and me trying to hold on to my extra water bottle while trying not to take a facial on the cratered road.
I arrive at the start at about 4:20AM. Damn I need some coffee to start my “process”. It arrives late. Dammit! I get out what I can. Worst yet I realize that I left my energy bars in my bag in my room. Eff me. I immediately begin searching for food to eat so that it can hold me until the 8 mile mark where I can get some sustenance. Arian gives me a Lara bar. He asked me where I stayed. I told him. He says “good” “because I changed too”. I’m here. “That was way too far man”. In other words I would have been screwed without the heads up move in the shuttle car. I’m drinking as much water a possible right now. It’s 4:45PM and the race briefing starts ending with our oath “If I get hurt lost or die..it’s my own damn fault”.
5:00AM we are off on the beach. I am running at a comfortable pace. Enough to keep me in the top ¼ but not enough to wear myself down. This is event is all about race management. It’s still dark as we continue along the beach and begin to pick up horse trails. I am doing my best to keep my hear rate down and minimize sweating as I know once that sun comes out it’s a whole different ball game. Roosters are crowing as we move down the streets of Playa Santo Domingo as the sun slowly begins to make an appearance. This is good as my headlamp keeps flickering on an off for some reason. I run next to Helene D. a professional athlete who will ultimately become the very first female finisher of this event. I parasite her light. She is singing “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. At this very moment I knew she was going to achieve her dream of being the 1st female finisher. En Fuego Helene ..no doubt!
Sun is out and hit the first station in Sacramento Village. Eat and Eat some more. I take a salt stick and squeeze my eleyte add in into the water in my hydration pack along with powdered Tailwind. I feel great. I am not tired. Off I go again. Another two miles in I come into a tight gorge along a fire road. One of the locals is herding Oxen up in front of me. I bank to the left to go around and the Ox on the back left corner kicks back at me…missing me by a foot. Holy crap that was close. I didn’t think I would get knocked out of an event by an Ox kicking me in the jewels! The athlete behind me and I shared a laugh about what just happened. That was funny. We continue on to about 13 miles in. This was the last opportunity to fill up and prepare for the ascent of Volcan Concepcion. I filled again the full 3 liters ate and took in more electrolytes. We are at the rocky base on the volcano. I head off through a huge gorge cut out by the lava of yester year. Rocks a gray ash cover and get into my shoes. It was like running on the fine sands of Destin Florida except up hill. It was tough sledding and very slow and slippery. My trail rocs however were a good choice as they have almost cleat like grips that help me wade through the sand. The sun is hot and bearing down as I go. I try to move to the side of the gorge to pick up some shade. Again, working good race management. I and a few other athletes meet up at the first climb ocer rocks. We help each other and I throw my trekking poles up so that I can use my hands and feet to monkey up the cascading rocks. This is when I began to learn that this was going to as much mountaineering as running. It was all climb.
I began to feel a little metallic taste in my mouth. I didn’t think anything of it as I felt good, although I was a little worried that I had not urinated since the start of the race. I had been drinking all day. This is never a good sign. I had to up my intake and began to do so. We continue up climbing another 4 or 5 miles. It is all rocks and ash. Surely at some point I will get out of this quick sand. About 500 meters I start to reach jungle brush and more of a step trail. It was really hard to find the markers and we helped each other out several times locating them. Hard yards, this is a climb and every time you think that you are going to hit a plateau you go straight up again. There are times where I am literally crawling on my hands and knees grabbing branch and brush pulling myself up.
I’m starting to feel a little cramping in my calves. I suck more water out of my hydration pack and down a Snickers bar. Up and up until I reach an odd rock trail. It is beautiful and the clouds a whizzing through the sky. It is unreal. I reach the last stage and see Luis Escobar sitting there Patagonia cap and all with his camera along with the local guide. He arrived earlier in the morning hiking it with his guide carrying the camera equipment. He had a huge smile encouraging me to pull myself up. I summit. The beauty is indescribable looking down the volcano and across the island. I sit there for a few minutes and take it all in with a couple of others. This makes it all worth it. It is actually cold and we have to cover our faces with our hair buffs every time the wind kicks up and furiously blows the ash across the crater. It hurts.
It’s time to keep moving. I begin the descent with about a ¼ of my hydration packet full. It will be while before I reach another fill. People often think the descent is the easy part. This isn’t true. It’s in many cases slower as you try not to fall on almost vertical technical terrain. In fact it’s pretty much a controlled fall from the top and worse yet this is when the cramping take its toll. You contort when you fall and this phenomenon pulls the muscles causing you to buckle stimulating the cramping contractions. In short, I step carefully. At one point I had a little fun on the grass segment as I just sat on my rear putting my trekking poles horizontal to my body so as not to impale myself and slid down the side like I was I was on water slide. I keep going down. This is barely a trail, its boulders, rocks, caverns etc. and in fact we even go up again a little before going down again. This was along a ridge where with one wrong step you could tumble straight down to the valley and meet your maker down below. I gripped every root I could find during this process and it is a process.
I keep going down and beginning to reach the jungle which is encouraging as at least you have some cover from the sun at times. I go down a few more miles. I am looking for the marker and cannot find it. Damn. I had to make a choice …keep going with hopes to connect with it or go back up and see if I missed it. I elect to go back up. Ugh climbing back up a mile and a half I find the marker. That sucked some life out of me both physically and psychologically. I soldier on though. I am extremely low on water at this this stage and feel that something isn’t right with my body. Again, I still have not urinated. I try to pick up the pace and start bombing down. I reached what looked like a flat with a bundle of branches and growth in front of it. As I move, my right foot and leg crashes through down a hole roots wrapping around up to knee length. The force slams me back so hard that the cap on my hydration cap popped open and I could feel what was left of my water draining down my back. My “Oh crapometer” is on high alert. Here I am on the jungle floor, on a slope where no one can see, lodged in a hole with the last of my water drained out. Worse yet I was in a spot where there was no canopy with the run radiating down on me. I put my buff over my face to keep the sun off of it and try to pull myself out. Every time I would get full abominable cramps and my leg was turned in the hole and I could not pull it through. I remembered I had my multi-tool kit figuring I could cut out the branches and roots but I struggled to get it out of my pack. I would alternate every 10 minutes or so trying to get it off and then resting too keep my heart rate down. It seemed every movement I would cramp. Worse yet I had begun to vomit. I can’t recall how long this process was or I was there but I heard footsteps coming up behind me. There stood a local athlete Carlos. Carlos was able to cut me out. Carlos did not speak English but we were able to work it out. He shared his water tube with me not caring about the fact that I was vomiting. He also put himself at risk by doing so as we were still very far from next check point. Carlos and I begin the process of working our way down together. I am in bad shape now having to stop and rest frequently. Carlos rolled his ankle to boot.
We have moved maybe a mile or two. Again this isn’t trail it is full on climbing down rocks and sliding on ash. Every time I fell I would wrench up in full body cramps. My toes were at the point they were separating from each other from the severe dehydration. We he hear more footsteps. Two female athletes who had missed the cut off were coming down. Sandra and Gael from San Diego originally from Nicaragua. I have to stop lie down. They share some of their water and some food. Sandra sits and props my legs up on her and rubs the cramps deep within my legs and rubs bio freeze on them. It’s agonizing. They all look in awe as they can see the muscles contorting and moving with a mind of their own. I could see worry and concern on their faces as they looked at me telling me not to fall asleep. I am dry heaving and cramping incessantly. Sandra has her mobile phone and was able to establish a signal. She calls Paul M. (who by the way is the winner and already finished) as he is a life flight paramedic in Canada. She tales for a minute stepping away and returns and hands the phone to me. I speak to Paul who tells me that we are at an extremely remote spot. It would take hours for them to get to us and that’s going uphill. In short, he said we had to keep and moving and sac up if I want to make it. It was the right thing to say and it got me up and moving. He had made arrangements for an ambulance to meet us at the base road. As he got closer it would sound its siren too provide a beacon. We continue on at a slow pace. I cannot parasite anymore water from the others despite offer as they would be at risk.
Carlos has a short cut that we decide to take. Unfortunately said short cut likely caused us to miss the ambulance. Sandra calls her mother who lives in Managua. She in turn called friends on Ometepe Island to find us. There was to be white van on the dirt horse road a couple of miles away. We reach the road. No van. At this stage I lean against the side of the hill buckling over dry heaving for several minutes. Worse yet is was turning red. Not good. Sandra is with me as the others ran on to find the van and have it drive to meet us. After about 10 minutes a local on horseback came along. He had been asked by the others to reach us as the van was blocked by a gate maybe a mile away. I stick my foot in the stirrup grab the mane and kick my leg over as he got on back. Off we go galloping down the road. Thank god I held my vomit.
There is the van. My god the whole family was there to help. None spoke any English as we had to wait for Sandra to arrive and translate. They give me water and help me into the back seat. The others hand out the back as a teenage girl holds my hand so that I do not fall out the side as the others get in and out of the door. She rubs my legs as we speed off. Mom had nowhere to sit so she sat on the floor. These were complete strangers. Amazing! We reach the ambulance. They give me an “IV” orally. Yes it is Nicaraguan medicine. Sandra basically says screw this lets just go to the check point. We arrive at the Sacramento Village checkpoint where many of the dropped athletes were mending up. I could not get out of the van and one of them literally carried me to an air mattress on the ground. I laid there sucking on ice chips and trying to keep down Gatorade for about 20 minutes. Paul M. arrives. He asked me my name. I was so out of it at this stage I gave him my bib number (3) times not my name. He checks my vitals. He is extremely concerned about my heart rate. He and another load me into his truck and take me too Santo Domingo. He had already established a MASH unit in his room. He prepares an IV. Unfortunately I was so dehydrated that he and the nurse could not locate a vein much less keep it in. Twice in my right arm, once in my left arm then even my feet. The veins had hardened to the point where it’s like sticking a pencil into a garden hose. In short I was going to have to slowly drink my way through it. He did give me some anti-nausea tablets which helped. I remained there all afternoon listening to the partying on the beach well into the evening. Sipping water and dry heaving. I finally peed. It was almost brown. I got some sleep but it was a rough night with sweats, bizarre nightmares and constant dry heaving.
I was worrying incessantly about getting off the island as I had a morning flight the next day. I was to ride to the airport (A Michigan Man friend who I like to mash up against in every competition). Paul had made arrangements to have my gear brought from Estima to his hotel to help in the process. He said he was not going to let me leave until I urinated. Ugly but I did it. Morning arrives and I am informed that the early ferries have been canceled due to high winds. Joe says he is going to drive to the port to get in queue with the car in case they open it back up. I elect to stay and try to join him in an hour or so. I finally get the strength to go to the lobber getting a taxi to Moyogaulpa. It was a cluster there. Hundreds of people were trying to get off the island and cars stacked up in line. It was maybe 1PM at this stage and I meet up with Joe. There is no cover in the sun. I try to eat some mangos from a street vendor and sit in Joe’s car with the air on. No luck bye bye mangoes out the door. Another decision point. A ferry is going but there won’t be any cars. I decide to take it and find a taxi too Managua from San Jorge.
I chummed the Bull Sharks the entire 60 minute ferry ride off the back. My ass up against the structure just to hold me up from the weakness. Several Nicaraguan men drinking Victorio beer stood there and laughed at me the entire time. They probably thought it was motion sickness. They had no idea. Fuckers! We finally reach port. I buy a bottled water and specifically ask for bag as I knew the cab driver was in for a treat. Someone finally agrees to take me. Record time to Managua. Poor guy couldn’t stand the smell for sure. I check into a Holiday In Express. My flight is in the morning. I walk across the street to a market and load up on ice treats popsicles etc and watch the Super Bowl in Spanish. I lay there on my death bed only eating one popsicle. The others melted straight away.
The next morning I lied my way onto American Airlines telling them I was sick from the taxi ride. I just wanted to get stateside no matter what for medical attention. Like everything else I broke it down into small increments. If I can just get through security without throwing up. I did that then straight to the bathroom. If I can just hold it until the plane takes off. Once airborne they will stay airborne. I continued this process all the way to Atlanta through Miami (automated customs is genius by the way). I was so sick when I arrived in Atlanta that I didn’t even pick up my bags in claims. I got in my truck and drove straight home collapsing in bed. My wife at one point sent the kids in to check that I was still alive. I was still dry heaving all night.
The Doc. tells me the next day I had contracted the ZIka virus likely before the start of the event. The extreme stress on the body of the race shot it straight into the blood flow and contributed to the extreme dehydration. He said I was lucky to be alive. I say I wouldn’t change that view from Concepcion for anything. He says “You’re crazy”.
I have a lot of people to thank in the coming weeks and some pay forwarding to do. Someone on The Ozone a while ago made the comment that they don’t understand why people do this stuff “just join the military”. My reply is this. I started doing the adventure races in years ago after suffering a bout of PTSD. In my case the struggles were related to two things. The first being the sense of having each other’s back enduring hell together while taking care of the man next to you. This cannot be replicated in the “real” world. We all hear the corporate buzz words about team etc. but we all know its crap. These comments for military people and in particular combat veterans mean much more. When we hear “team” and “I got your back” it means something very different to those without the same experiences. The selflessness that I have seen in some of these events by complete strangers is very similar. I cannot believe what these people did for me. Some of the best people I know on the planet participate in these events. They will put themselves at mortal risk to help others. Secondly I am an endorphin addict and all that training and experiences cannot be turned off. There has to be an outlet. This has made me a better man. I will be pay forwarding and have already signed up for my next vent.
If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a lifestyle change run a marathon. If you want to talk to god, run an ultra. If before speaking with god you want to be with the devil, run Fuego Y Agua. I encountered the beast on Feb. 6th 2016.
The height of confidence is standing up in a hammock.