Crushed by a Rabbit…

I’d like to say that I conquered a mountain this past weekend.  I’d like to say that I came away tired but unscathed.  I’d like to say that I met the challenge with flying colors.  Truth be told…the mountain crushed my soul.  It left me depleted.  It pummeled me and then kicked me again while I lay on the floor.

Villager  Peak and Rabbit Peak are two coveted summits for peak baggers in Southern California (they are both on the 100 Peaks Section of the Sierra Club).  They lie in the remote Santa Rosa Mountains of the Anza-Borrego State Park.  Villager lies at an elevation of about 5700 feet and Rabbit Peak at about 6600 feet.  I imagined this would be a very challenging hike but I had no idea what lay in store for me.  This was a SUCK to remember.

I love road trips and the adventure they bring.  I left LA early enough to avoid traffic and enjoy the ride out to the desert.  The Anza-Borrego desert lies next to Salton Sea…an oasis in the midst of an arid and harsh landscape.  I’d planned on spending some time in the area after completing the summit the following day.  Silly me!  This was not to happen.  At around 6:30PM I met up with Joe and Nicole Decker and the eleven other Gut Check Fitness crew about to embark on this little adventure.  Although these guys are all from the San Diego area they are mostly all now familiar faces from previous SUCK events hosted by Decker and Gut Check Fitness.  These guys and gals are all tip-top in my book…good people, good attitudes, good senses of humor.  You have to be able to laugh while getting your nuts handed to you by a mountain!

After a little distraction with cars getting stuck in the sand (including mine) we set off just before 8:00PM.  When Joe had sent out the gear list a few weeks earlier I just about did cartwheels and leaped for joy. Unlike previous SUCK events, this list did not include 50lb sandbags, sledgehammers, buckets or tires.  My pack would only include some food, extra socks/shirt/jacket, and 6 liters of water – total weight about  15lbs!  A big difference from the 60-120lbs loads we usually humped.  My happiness was premature.  Never underestimate Joe!  We were going to be delivering water to stashes at several points up the mountain in preparation for the final race in the King of the Hill series hosted by Gut Check Fitness on May 12.  I was given a 2 1/2-gallon and a 1-gallon jug of water – total water stash weight: about 30 lbs.  Total ruck weight…about 45lbs.

With our headlamps leading the way we made our way across the desert floor to the foot of the mountain and the start of our uphill trek. Our first destination was about 3.5 miles up the mountain. Almost immediately we realized this was going to be a slow and difficult march upwards.  The terrain is impossible – loose rock and shale covers almost every inch of the ground – and rolling an ankle or worse is a real danger.  Jumping Cholla lies in wait at every step to launch sharp, painful needles into your legs.  And there is no real trail to speak of or that is decipherable in the thick of night.  We slowly made our way up, our group stretching out over several hundred yards – Big Ben trailblazing at the front and placing chem lights to mark the path for us and the future racers.  Me in the middle pack and the rest of the group bringing up the rear.  The chem lamps were of little help as it was too easy to veer off the “trail”.  Our only guide was to stay on the ridge line or keep it just to our left.  More easily said then done.  It was a very slow 3.5 miles but despite the difficulty I actually enjoyed myself.  Having previoulsy carried much heavier loads for longer distances really prepared me and so the weight in my ruck was very tolerable.  The night was beautiful and as the hours ticked by we were treated to tremendous views of the heavens.  At the 3.5 mile mark we unloaded some of our water stash and took a short break.  I took the time to lie on a large, flat rock and take in the scenery above us.

After our short break we continued upwards.  The trail got worse but I was still feeling strong and my ruck was one-gallon lighter.  Our next destination, Villager Peak, lay about 3.5 miles further of the mountain.  I spent a good portion of this leg walking by myself with the headlamps of those in front of me periodically keeping me on track and those behind reminding me that I wasn’t alone.  Villager Peak is an accomplishment all its own.  I was proud of my little legs for getting me up the mountain.  We built a fire and rested for about an hour.  This would be one of the highlights of the trek.  After unloading and hiding the rest of the water stash we set off once again.  Half the group descended having only Villager Peak as a goal while the rest of us continued on to Rabbit Peak…another 4 miles up the mountain.  For one brief moment I considered going back down at this point.  For a BRIEF moment.  I was too close to the top to turn back now.

I brought up the rear of our group so Joe handed me one of the 5 or 6 walkie-talkies we’d brought up with us.  This turned out to be a life saver later that day.  Again, the trail was a brutal up and down route.  5000 foot drop-offs lay to our left and the loose rock and shale kept us on our toes. It was about halfway up this final leg that I slowly began to acknowledge the awful truth to myself…I still had to get back down after reaching the summit.  Still, the night was beautiful and we were treated to the slow dawn creeping across the valley floor.  I reminded myself to stop and take it in.  I was in the privileged position to see something that very few have seen from my vantage point.  THIS is why I do this.  Despite the pain and suffering, these little moments remind me that I am surrounded by beauty.  I stand still, I listen, I look and I breath.  In these moments I forget about whatever heartbreak has come my way and I am able to have calm and peace in my heart…even for a brief moment.  And then onward…up the mountain…in life.

At 7:00AM I reached Rabbit Peak!!! I signed the log book, refueled and attempted to set my mind straight about the long and difficult descent that still lay in front of us.  I brought up the rear with one of other person.  We made slow progress but at least we were moving downwards.  The sun was up and began to unleash its heat on us. We made it back to Villager Peak about 3 hours later.  At this point, we were both running low on water.  We knew there was water at the stash we’d left on our way up at the 3.5 mile mark.  We were rationing our water and it seemed to take an eternity to reach the water stash.  We were hot, tired and thirsty.  The stash location was difficult to find since it was dark when we’d arrived to the stash point in the thick of night.  We miscalculated the distance we had traveled down from Villager Peak and went into a bit of a panic thinking we had passed the water stash.  Throughout this we were in radio contact with Joe and he kept us on point.  We described the part of the ridge we were on and he assured us the water stash was still ahead of us.  Dehydration and exhaustion were beginning to take a toll on us.  My feet were blistered.  Going downhill was worse than going uphill and our progress slowed to a crawl.  Eventually, we made it to the water stash, rehydrated our bodies and refilled the water bladders in our packs.  I added electrolyte tablets to my water.  I wasn’t sweating anymore and I knew this was not good.  We had 3.5 more miles to go…a marathon as far as we were concerned.  We now had enough water and we still had plenty of fuel but the mountain was beginning to demoralize me.  I wanted off but there was no way off except to keep walking.  I wanted to sit and rest but knew this would just make the entire ordeal (at this point it went from being an adventure to being an ordeal) last that much longer.  The trekking poles that had proved so useful on the way up and most of the way down were now dragging behind me…held in place by the pole straps wrapped around my wrists.

At about 4pm we finally made it off the mountain…and then went the wrong way.  We radioed Joe and Nicole trying to get assistance on how to get back.  My partner and I were depleted and the idea of having to backtrack to the point we came off the mountain was absolutely demoralizing even though it was the smart thing to do. We mustered up the energy and slogged our way back up the dry riverbed.  Luckily it was a fairly straight line and we had good landmarks to guide us back.  BUT it was very hard to keep moving.  The sun had done its job on us.  We were sucking down water but it seemed to do no good.  I knew we weren’t lost since I knew where we had gone the wrong way.  We just needed to get back to that point so that Joe and Nicole could meet us there and guide us back to the cars (I’d radioed them and asked them to come find us at the point we went the wrong direction –  I have to admit I was a little panicked at that point and needed the morale boost of seeing them).

Seeing Joe and Nicole coming over the small ridge directly in front of us was like a scene from a movie.  Cue the music.  It was glorious!  I almost want to say that they first appeared as silhouettes in the wavy haze of the heat.  I can’t say for sure that they weren’t!  I’d found the correct rock cairn marking the way back to the cars and had walked about 20 yards in the correct direction when Joe and Nicole appeared.  My joy was short, however, after realizing we still had another mile hump back to the cars across the desert floor.  At least it was flat I told myself.  We arrived at the cars shortly before 6:00PM.

These are two other people in our group making their way down the final stretch to the cars. This is what my partner and I must have looked like several hours later!

22 hours (and 22-26+ miles – depending on whose GPS tracker one uses) after we had set off under cover of night we were back at our start point in the brutal heat of day!  I have to admit feeling a bit proud at the feat we had accomplished.  All I could think of was what I was going to eat on the way home…and how bad I smelled.  This was truly an epic SUCK.  I’ve now done some pretty awful things (most of them at the hands of Joe Decker) but this has got to easily be the worst of the worst.  And, yet, not 24 hours later I am already thinking of going back in a few weeks to volunteer on the trail for the racers going up the mountain!  But I think I’ll just go up to the 3.5 mile marker or to Villager Peak.  Sick, I know.

One of the Goruck cadres likes to say “treat your body like you hate it” when training.  I think this weekend I went well beyond hate.  This was just an awful beat down I put myself through.  My toes are blistered and, admittedly, my ego is a little bruised at starting to unravel near the end.  However, the upside is that I’ve been to hell and back.  I know what it looks like and I’ve shaken hands with the devil.  Hopefully, I’ll now be just a bit more mentally prepared for whatever the Death Race throws at me in June!

Ruck On. Stay Muddy.

6 thoughts on “Crushed by a Rabbit…

  1. Wow, I knew you had been up to something when I saw that wicked tan! What was it that you ate when you got home? I imagine it’s what you would have picked as your final meal if you faced a death sentence!!

    • I ate turkey sandwiches, turkey jerky and granola on the way home. When I got home I don’t remember what I ate…I went to sleep after cleaning up. Even though I was starved I actually don’t think I had much energy to eat. I drank a LOT of water loaded with electrolyte tablets, though!

  2. Funny for someone who got crushed, beaten and kicked you’re all smiles in the photos…sicko! Great write-up! Looks and sounds like an amazing experience. Good Livin’!

    • All the pics are at between the start point and Villager Peak at 7.5 miles on the way up. No pics after those first 7 hours. I’m sure I’d look like death!

  3. “It pummeled me and then kicked me again while I lay on the floor.”
    Hehe.
    Gosh that mountain looks big in that last photo. Very impressive.
    Sounds like a real treat to have a campfire in the middle of a SUCK!

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