July 11, 2011
As promised, here is some more of the backstory on Expedition Impossible. Things have been pretty hectic lately—the second episode aired during the opening ceremonies of the No Barriers Summit and I was giving a talk in London as the third episode aired—so I’m combining these reports.
When we picked up our Arabian stallions at the start of the stage, you saw Jeff get thrown from his horse. Ike told me what happened but I didn’t realize that Jeff landed on his back until the footage was aired. That’s pretty good reaction from my bud…a split second after taking a hard spill, he pops right up and shouts “New horse!” and then runs off into the woods in search of a less spirited animal.
I have to say that I was pretty nervous about the seven miles of horseback riding! Since I am blind, if I get thrown off, I can’t see the ground coming up. I could easily land on a rock, or twist my ankle, or crack my kneecap in a fall. Not only could I be out of the race but possibly out of commission forever.
Because he was the most experienced rider, Ike would go out in front of me providing directions and Jeff would ride behind providing micro-adjustments while I was trying to control my horse. We got up to the point that we were galloping in places, which is quite exciting. It’s actually a smoother ride than trotting but it’s also kind of scary as I’m flying past trees and rock walls. Some of the horses were tripping and stumbling on the trail too, so it isn’t like you can totally trust them.
One time, a horse from another team started snapping at my horse, which made it twitchy. Fortunately, I was ready for this because two weeks prior to the race I was training on a horse in Colorado and it threw me when another horse went to bite him; my horse jumped right and I fell off to the left on a gravel road. I’m glad I went through the pain of scraped knees and a sprained ankle back home because I was ready for my uppity Arabian stallion.
Leave it to Hollywood to greatly exaggerate reality. In the second show, they made a big deal about my being “abandoned” by our team. The truth is Jeff and Ike were never more than 50 feet away and I was in no danger whatsoever. Before they dashed off to deal with the water bucket challenge, they said, “Hey Erik, watch the packs.” Which is often what happens when you’re blind. It’s sort of like when I was a kid, my Mom would say something like, “Eddie you sweep the leaves up in the backyard, Mark go pick weeds, Erik, uh, go take a bath!” It was a bit of that kind of moment and my teammates were trying to think quickly and they couldn’t think of a roll for me.
But we did accidentally violate a 20-foot rule, so the field judges made Jeff and Ike dump their bucket of water on the ground and come back with me. Here we got lucky because they also found a watertight bucket that let us solve the challenge in a singe trip while the other teams needed two.
The four-mile section of boating in the rubber duckies was pretty tame, though it sounds like some teams may have struggled. And we didn’t have any real problem solving the lantern challenge. The next two miles to the camp, we were neck and neck with the Football Players and Fab 3. It was rugged terrain, which slowed me down quite a bit, and both teams eventually passed us.
While blindness hampered our team, brains gave us a third place finish. Jeff showed some amazing navigation skills when he spotted a gap in the stone wall. He shouted, “That could be it!” and cut right, with all of us running hard. We beat the Football Players by mere seconds! And Fab 3 trailed in several minutes later.
Groan. More camels! And not just any camels, these were much bigger and nastier than the first ones we encountered. When we got to the camel station, we opted for some slightly smaller camels in the hopes that they would be tamer. Instead we discovered they had small-guy syndrome and compensated for lack of size with wildness.
I took the ride of my life when my camel, whose legs were hobbled, became hell bent on bucking me off. He was tilting back and forth, dipping his head down, reaching back to bite me, spitting, and letting out this guttural roar—I barely hung on and avoided getting thrown onto my head!
I’ll admit to having a small panic attack. Jeff says it was the most freaked out he has ever seen me which, considering we climbed Everest together and have been on countless other adventures, is quite a statement. When I’m biking, kayaking, climbing, or skiing, I have a sense of control. But the animals during this race were unpredictable and downright dangerous. After that, we made a team decision to lead the camels instead of trying to ride them for the 3.8 miles to the olive mill. I would rather run twenty miles through the desert than get back on one of those beasts again!
Assembling the raft out of the barrels wasn’t much of a challenge. And it didn’t take us long to figure out an efficient system for paddling and steering into the nasty headwind. Just hunker down and get ‘er done.
At this point in the competition, we are starting to get to know some of the other teams. Sure we race hard all day but spend time together at night talking and telling stories. Sometimes we cooperate, like when the Gypsies helped us out after Ike’s GPS went on the fritz during this stage. The Country Boys proved themselves to be true country gentleman as well. After the rafting section, we had about a mile of off-trail running in our wetsuits to the camp. When I arrived, I was exhausted and covered with hundreds of stickers from the bushes. One of the Country Boys pulled me aside, got down on his knees and started pulling the stickers out of my wetsuit—it was such a nice gesture of kindness.
It seems the majority of the challenges are stacked against Team No Limits since I can’t help with things like counting snakes, finding hidden objects on a map, or solving the scroll-a-pole. Thankfully, Jeff and Ike have been up to the tasks so we haven’t lost any critical amounts of times…unlike some teams.
The next day’s decision to take the 4.1-mile riverbed instead of the 3.3-mile brutal hike was a no-brainer. The two teams that decided to take the “short cut” paid a heavy price. We were psyched to come in second and it’s now becoming obvious which teams are in the race for the long haul.
Next up…the Atlas Mountains. I think our chances are pretty good! Please leave a comment on how you like Expedition Impossible so far.
Jeff's blog: http://mountain-vision.blogspot.com/
Gypsies blog: http://www.themoderngypsies.com/blog/