1,000 miles, 20 athletes, one week of a lifetime (with multimedia)
Competing in the G4 Challenge Nevada Passage this past week was perhaps the closest I will get to being on a reality TV show (I hope) ” yet as far from reality as I will ever be.
When again will I have every meal provided for me, driving lessons from world-class instructors and drivers and a chance to be outside all day everyday exploring new places with a group of friends/competitors who share the same enthusiasm for a challenge?
For a week, I had my life documented by a crew of more than 40 photographers, videographers and sound guys as I attempted to maneuver over the rugged dirt roads of the Nevada outback in a 2008 Land Rover LR3.
Video cameras were mounted both inside and on top of the vehicle and pointed directly at me as I clung to the side of a cliff, hyperventilating, forgetting I had a microphone clipped to my race jersey ” most likely my whimpering will make it on national TV for all to see.
The running joke of the week-long adventure came from our daily set of instructions: “We are going to an undisclosed location to do an undisclosed activity for an undisclosed amount of time …”
After the first few days of this, that lesson was learned: Soon we were prepared for anything at any moment.
Though we drove luxury cars, ate specially prepared meals and donned all the free gear one could hope to stuff in a duffel, the challenge was no vacation.
If we weren’t getting our adrenaline up for the next physical challenge (biking, climbing, running, orienteering, kayaking) we were in a constant state of preparation for the unknown.
Most of the 20 participants (10 teams of two, one man and one woman in each) were experienced runners, bikers or climbers. All were challenged to compete in the unfamiliar: winching an SUV up a sandy hill and time-speed-distance rallies ” just to name two.
The creative crew of Land Rover and Team Unlimited found new ways to catch us off guard.
Take, for example, a mad scramble amongst teammates as a mountain bike race had already started and the Specialized Stumpjumpers were still perched atop the Land Rover.
Almost everything we did was judged, timed and scored, yet we rarely knew where we stood against other teams.
The uncertainty kept me on my edge and overflowing with nervous anticipation as my teammate, Dean Kruuse, constantly had to remind me to relax.
We were constantly comparing ourselves to others. What are their strengths? What are our weaknesses? How are we going to finish?
During the week’s events, our team felt the exhilaration of finishing first and the disappointment of finishing last.
I joked about the cliche saying, “Life is not a destination but a journey,” when we were seemingly behind before even starting the competition and realized later I should have not been so concerned with the overall outcome.
In the end, you realize that it’s not about worrying and comparing yourself to others. It’s not about being judged.
What it really was was being on the road with a lot of really cool people in cool places (and I have the video and photos to prove it).
… Which is a great metaphor for many things ” don’t you think?
The Nevada Passage G4 Challenge will be aired on several major networks, including Fox, ABC and NBC starting in August. For more information on show times go to http://www.nevadapassage.com.
I arrived at the Sunset Station resort in Henderson, Nev., on Sunday May 4, for the Nevada Passage G4 Challenge, a four-day, multi-stage competition that includes off-road driving, navigating, orienteering, running, kayaking, rock climbing, rappelling and mountain biking.
As soon as I walked into the casino, I crossed paths with my teammate, Dean Kruuse, a San Diego-based Land Rover mechanic by way of South Africa who had arrived earlier. The 10 teams competing were identified by a color and number. We wore gray and were identified as Team 2.
We picked up our swag, which included uniforms, T-shirts, two tents, sleeping bags, pads, jackets, Camelbaks, headlamps and water bottles. All except the tents and sleeping pads we could take with us at the end of the event.
The actual competition wouldn’t start until Tuesday, but we would still have two busy days of interviews, photos and driving instruction from some of Land Rover’s best.
On Monday we got our vehicle: A 2009 Land Rover LR3 with about 200 miles on the odometer. Strapped to the top of the vehicles were two new Specialized Stumpjumper bikes and a fiberglass kayak. And no, unfortunately, we did not get to keep any of the big-ticket items.
We headed out in our vehicles in a convoy to the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas, where a crew of Land Rover instructors taught us all kinds of off-road skills, including how the vehicles worked, winching, using GPS and time/speed/distance calculations.
An English trials course was set up for us to practice with the vehicles. I was amazed how the vehicles handled driving at all kinds of angles and through ruts, potholes and sand.
That night Dean and I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning doing our “math homework,” something I hadn’t done in about eight years. We had to calculate times for the time/speed/distance rally the next day. A predetermined speed, distance and coordinate were given to us and we had to determine the correct time to arrive at checkpoints along the way.
We had to be ready to leave the next day at 7 a.m.
We went out to the vehicles lined up outside the casino an hour prior to our departure time to make sure we were ready for whatever tasks came our way. After packing the vehicle, we lined up with the other teams. The G4 event was officially started and we ran to our Land Rover and grabbed a clue that was placed on the windshield. It had a GPS coordinate we frantically tried to put into the GPS inside the vehicle.
Dean and I were one of the last teams to leave the parking lot. After making a u-turn and parking on the side of an on-ramp we noticed that the clue also had a very pixilated map ” duh. We followed that, leading us to St. Thomas at Lake Mead. By the time we got to St. Thomas we had caught up with most of the other teams and were somewhat relieved.
We were handed a second set of instructions to run to the remains of an ice cream parlor from the 1800s. We ran hard and passed some teams along the way. Once we got to the location, we were given another clue to drive to the Overton Marina Boat Ramp and kayak to Stewart’s Point (about seven miles), where we would switch paddlers and end at Echo Bay Marina.
Dean decided he would kayak first as he had already adjusted the kayak to fit him. We drove as fast as possible, obeying all speed limits, to the boat ramp and found out we were the first team to arrive but were soon to be followed by two other teams.
We unloaded the kayak, grabbed the paddle and PFD and launched Dean into the water. As I rushed out of the parking area to the exchange zone I remembered Dean saying something about the GPS being on the front of the car. I slammed on the brakes, looked inside the car and didn’t see it, so I drove back to the boat ramp.
Not seeing it anywhere, I assumed Dean had taken it with him on the kayak. I nervously waited at the exchange area wondering if we would be able to continue if we lost the GPS. Soon, I could see a couple of kayaks coming toward the shoreline.
Adam Chase was in the lead for Team 6 followed by Dean. After off-loading, emptying out the water and adjusting the kayak, our nightmare had come true and the GPS was MIA. I headed out with Caroline Colonna, Adam’s partner, in the distance. I wasn’t used to using a paddle with a rudder and was having difficulty keeping the kayak in a straight line. I had a map strapped to the front of the kayak helping me navigate around the coastline. After a few miles of kayaking I could hear Tom Lyons of Reno approaching. He was hitting the side of his kayak with his paddle.
“Push Emma, don’t just pull!” Tom said as he cruised by me. I wanted to stick with him but the gap was widening. After stopping and taking a quick GU and water break, I adjusted my paddle and was able to get into a really good rhythm. There was a large peninsula in front that Caroline seemed to be paddling around, and Tom was going to shore.
I decided to go in Tom’s direction, as it was shorter. As I headed into the bay a boat had also turned around Caroline and we were neck and neck. I picked up the pace and was able to cross the finish line second only to find out later we were actually third because the event was only timed from the start of the kayak.
Better news was finding out Dean had found the GPS on the side of the road.
After receiving coordinates for the start of the time/speed/distance rally, we put the kayak back on the roof and realized one of our tires was low.
We filled up the LR3 at a gas station in Loganville, Nev., and decided to change the flat before starting the TSD. The driving challenge would take us on approximately 108 miles of off-road in about 4 hours and 38 minutes. The challenge was to make it to the campground at the exact time along with checkpoints along the way. We had predetermined our speed and time to arrive at each checkpoint. We had also had a videographer riding in the back seat of the LR3 for the duration of the drive.
I was driving (the easy part), and Dean was navigating (the hard part). We had to keep to a certain speed to make it to the checkpoints and not miss any turns or our mileage would be off. We hit almost every checkpoint on time, although I had a tendency to want to speed up as if I were crossing a finish line.
We drove through beautiful landscape. The desert was much greener and in full bloom. We were surrounded by sagebrush, Joshua trees and some unsuspected wooded areas. Jim the videographer, who was camping out on the back seat, would often dangle his video camera worth tens-of-thousands of dollars out the window as we drove on a pretty rugged off road.
We got to the camp at Hell’s Half Acre just as the sun was setting in the exact time required; later finding out we had the best time for the TSD and were only 11 seconds off out of all the checkpoints.
We later met our climbing instructors that would lead a climb later in the week. We were given climbing shoes we could take with us after the event, which was another bonus (bye-bye rentals). We were given the GPS coordinates for an orienteering event happening the next day that we had to calculate and plug into the GPS.
We had an early breakfast and a briefing where we were told everything we were going to do that day minus one event. This included climbing, rappelling, mountain biking, an off-road driving challenge and orienteering. We were told most of these events were “practice.”
There were set times for each event, which became obsolete, as everyone would soon to get off track. We started with the bike challenge, which was just to get acquainted with the bikes and the abilities of our teammates, three laps of maybe a half-mile course. The bikes worked great, although I was used to using different shifters and kept shifting in the wrong direction.
Next we did the driving challenge, which required us to drive the Land Rover over rugged terrain with one person in the car and the other outside spotting and using hand signals to direct the driver to make sure the vehicle did not hit anything.
To make things even harder we had to squeeze it between orange cones. For every cone we hit a minute was added to our time.
I started driving with the left foot on the brake and right on the gas with Dean spotting. I thought we had a lot of time to complete this event but immediately felt rushed as Dean and the Land Rover guys were telling me to speed up. After about a quarter mile of driving, Dean and I did a mandatory exchange of driver and spotter, where I was outside the vehicle directing him.
I made a huge mistake at the beginning causing him to hit several cones. You had to pay a lot of attention as the spotter, always looking at the position of the vehicle and watching the rear tires. Even if the tire barely touches the bottom of the cone, it still counts as a hit.
By the time we finished this event I was just getting used to spotting and was actually enjoying it, clearing some of the more difficult cones a the end. However, the damage had already been done. We hit a record eight cones, putting us in last place.
We got a chance to test out our new climbing shoes on some surrounding rock and rappeled off a sizable cliff, which was one of the highlights of the trip, although I was very nervous beforehand (I don’t like heights).
We had to leave Hell’s Half Acre by 2:15 p.m. and it was almost 1:45 p.m. We were getting mixed messages about the orienteering event to follow. Land Rover was telling us to do it, although it wasn’t a high-scoring event, and Team Unlimited was saying we didn’t have to and needed to make the 2:15 departure time.
We decided to do the event, which required us to find as many GPS coordinates as possible in a 30-minute period. We had a very basic topographic map showing where the coordinates were using the GPS device. Coordinates closer to the start counted for fewer points and those farther away were more.
I left most of the work up to Dean and his experience. The terrain was very rugged with very few trails; we were scrambling on foot over rocks and through brush to find the hidden orange flags marking the coordinates. A cactus had come into bloom with a pink flower I kept mistaking for the flags. This was probably one of the most fun and challenging events. We were going hard and seemed to have little difficulty locating the coordinates. Unfortunately, we underestimated the time it would take us to get back to the start running on a dried up, very sandy creek bed. We kept pushing but arrived four minutes late ” but with nine coordinates.
I was pleased with our performance, although I was worried about my legs being tired from running hard two days in a row for events that did not really count. It would be just my luck to have a running race the next day and be tired for it.
We met up with the convoy and headed out of Hell’s Half Acre just as a thunderstorm was moving in. I tried to put my legs up as Dean drove, anticipating another physically demanding event that afternoon.
We drove off-road for a while and then on-road where we went through a town, Caliente, and saw bright orange arrows marking a trail on the side of the road.
“We have to be mountain biking,” we said to each other.
About 10 to 15 miles past the arrows we turned into the Cathedral Gorge campground, where we were told we would probably be running a five-mile scramble ” so we better get ready. After all the camera guys caught up we were given a clue and told to follow brown BLM posts and yellow arrows. It was raining pretty hard at this point. We didn’t know how long we would be out there, so I made sure to bring a fuel belt with water.
We started together as a group on a flat trail in the middle of the gorge. My legs felt heavy and tired and I was just trying to keep up with the top two teams and not take the lead. I noticed several teams were using bungees to help the slower runner.
Others were pushing the slower runner with their hand. We had to finish as a pair so it was important to stick together. We soon headed up a narrow canyon surrounded by steep clay walls. The muddy ground was becoming increasingly slick.
We were now in second place behind Phil Glenn and Laura Home as we took a sharp left turn onto a steep set of metal stairs up the side of the canyon. I looked to the top and saw a metal gazebo known as Miller’s point.
“This is safe, running up metal stairs to a metal gazebo in a thunderstorm,” I muttered.
We got to the top and were given another clue. The first direction said something like “Go back down the stairs to the intersection and take a right. You will see flags.”
This was confusing because we had come up two sets of stairs. We ran down one set and saw a left-hand turn. It looked pretty sketchy and narrow; we looked around the corner and did not see any flags, so we kept going.
At this point most of the group had caught up. We got the second set of stairs where we also had the option of taking a left up the canyon but by the wise navigating of Dean we went right and back to the main trail, taking a left. The next clue told us to go through the rabbit hole and touch a rope at the end.
We ran along the side of the gorge reading every tourist sign to see if we should turn in there. We didn’t know if we were going the right way but some of the camera guys were kind of giving it away. It was now us and Laura and Phil again.
I saw a black flag marking the Nevada Passage course ahead and for some reason assumed it was the finish, so I started sprinting. It wasn’t, but it was a good move as it put Dean and I in the lead as we headed into a very, very narrow canyon and into Moon Caves ” which literally made us feel like we were on another planet. I pulled my way through the canyon, seeing a photographer around each bend. After heading down one dead end we discovered the rabbit hole ” a very small tunnel in the wall of the clay canyon we had to squeeze through. It was wet, so I think it helped us get through, although I heard Dean yell he was stuck right after I got through.
Luckily, he made it out. We kept going up the canyon, running over a slippery 2×4 and came across a rope ladder at the back of the cave. We grabbed it, winning the challenge by mere seconds.
The teams came trickling in behind us and we gathered inside the cave, unable to leave until all the teams arrived as it was only one-way traffic.
Dean and I were both very excited to win the challenge. I was relieved, as running is currently my strength and my best chance of winning at the competition.
We made our way back to camp soaking wet, cold and muddy, but very happy. We did a few interviews on camera and lined up to take a well-needed shower before setting up tents and eating dinner.
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