Extreme, brah. At one point in the 90s, everyone put climbing gear in their trunk, bumper stickers on their RAV-4s advertising all the extreme places they'd been, and got very, very concerned with waters and nutrition bars. They needed the most EXTREME nutrition needed to keep an EXTREME pace for weekends spent white-water rafting off cliffs before deploying the parachute inevitably landing them on the mountain bike riding to the internet start-up they would be fired from in a matter of months.
You'll remember this as the era when even mundane movie characters began basejumping unnecessarily, like the infamous scene in Fargo where Steve Buscemi and Frances McDormand fight over a single parachute after falling from a tall grain silo. It was a stupid time, and it's why even smart people are asked to fill out expense reports now.
Now you live in the filthy, wreckage-strewn wake of all of that, there are still remnants of that popular sporting culture out there, just waiting for you to feel the need for speed, dirt, and easy extremity. I got the itch, watched Point Break and White Water Summer for inspiration, and headed to Mountain City, Georgia with my brother to run in Warrior Dash. For those unfamiliar, Warrior Dash is a 3.2 mile run through the woods that I assumed was a living relic from that era of easily purchased $400 Gore-Tex jackets put right on the company credit card in the name of "Team-building."
Arriving, I could tell instantly I was wrong about a few things.
As with any group activity, I reacted badly to large groups of people behaving enthusiastically about something without an assigned team or flag. I trust sports fans and nationalists implicitly: they want your team to lose and theirs to win, and this is all pretty clear and well-established. A mob of people in body paint, horned helmets, and in one instance actual hand-made chainmail? Your genes should be screaming "houses burned and horses raped" when you see this, and if they aren't...well, you're a friend to Vikings and Cossacks the world 'round, dude.
Clearly, this was no vestige of the xtreem '90s thriving in the present-day. Instead, Warrior Dash was some kind of team-building exercise for the unassigned team of your choice mixed with a quasi-endurance race built around some obstacles. One team ran by with "WARRIORS RUN FOR THE TROOPS" t-shirts on, stone-faced and impassive. Others were groups of college bros wearing board shorts and no shirts. If shirtless were a team on Saturday, they would have won the participation award.
Team-building gives me allergies. i was trying to explain this to my brother. His attitude towards other people is best described as "misanthropic," and considers the Unabomber a model citizen minus the sending-explosives-to-others-in-the-mail thing.
"I'm...I'm trying to get a handle on it. It's like a huge corporate retreat with beer."
"Yeah," he mumbled.
"I mean, everything's sponsored, but there's that extreme bros contingent here, too, and the Crossfit types who forgot their shirts, and bored runners, and then the weird Ren-Fair crowd that just likes to wear costumes everywhere..."
"Hey. I got it."
"What is it?"
"There's kind of a high douchebag concentration here, right?"
That was the right word for it. For haters like me and my brother, the douchebag concentration was high, indeed.
There was still the course, however, to mitigate the efforted douchebaggedness breaking out around us. The course would feature obstacles, most of which you'd have to negotiate in a bobbing herd of people: submerged timbers, walls, tires, a junkyard, and mud and fire, the most important elements. Hopefully, even while going through the discomfort of having to share this event with, you know, the horror of other people, the course will mitigate this. For 30 bucks, it better mitigate having to put up with other people.
The announcers at these events are inevitably hype men with PA systems who refuse to stop talking.
"Hey, Warriors! ARE YOU READY!!!" Announcers' obsession with readiness and our collective need for it will never cease to frustrate me. We wait around. A burly, goateed man in front of us wears a vest of shiny, silvery chain mail.
"How much does that weigh, sir?"
"Thirty pounds. I made it myself."
I take a look at it: the scales are each the shape of a guitar pick, clean and uniformly arranged in a tight web. I make a mental note sizing the man up and noticing he weighs perhaps 10 pounds more than I do: finish ahead of the dude in chain mail. The man who had been wearing a full three-piece suit starts to strip down to his running shorts behind me.
"Yeah, this isn't going to work," he says, throwing his suit over the fence to no one in particular. It lands in the mud in a pile.
You forget a few things working out in the comfort of civilization. Smooth roads make you lazy, for one: as we make the slow loop around a lake beginning the run, our feet leave the pavement and hit trail. i don't notice this until I nearly tear my foot from my leg in a hole leading up to the first obstacle. The great outdoors is full of terrible footing, something I didn't notice looking around at all the pretty greenery.
You also forget that if you were really cromag about your outdoor workouts, you'd skip the easy bridges and run right across lakes, rivers, and whatever else lay in your path. Today we're doing it just for sport, but idiots I'm sure will make an instant habit of it in public parks. We have to run across some timbers, a run slowing to a crawl when the crowds begin to stall on the beams, which in the muddy water have disappeared.
A woman stands on one freaking out loudly.
"OH MY GOD WHERE DID THEY GO?"
"They're right in front of you. It's like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The man of faith scene."
"I DON'T REMEMBER THAT."
If everyone had the same basic cable references, relating to other humans would be so much easier. I leave her back on the beams and jump down into the lake, which is five feet deep or so at its deepest. It feels great, but the occasional contact with the murky, filthy bottom convinces me I'm walking over a bed of corpses, toxic waste barrels, and discarded biomedical equipment from a nuclear monkey research lab. i don't now what one of those is, but I assure you their garbage would be nastier than you could possibly imagine.
Tires and some low walls come next, and I'm disappointed: no injuries, no real potential for harm, and as of yet no fire. There's a low wall with some ropes to "rappel" up the slope, and then a cargo net obstacle, and a "junkyard." The junkyard had wrecked cars parked at angles and required you to run through it in whatever manner you pleased. Broken glass littered the hoods and seats; gas fumes still wafted from a few of the cars.
"This looks like a lot of people's front yards in North Georgia."
My brother nodded. "I think this is someone's front yard, and we're just running through it."
We crawled through a few irrigation pipes, and then the mud pit, where barbed wire had been strung a good three feet above to at least imply that if you leaped up eight feet, or were 12 feet tall, you could be potentially harmed by its jagged points. Going belly first into the mud held a pleasant surprise: instead of the soldier's crawl pictures on the website depicted, the mud buoyed you with surprising force. My brother and I dog-paddled across it as spectators above yelled down.
"Go faster! COME ON GO FASTER!"
Not necessary, aggro-xtreem dudes. This was quite pleasant, actually, like a spa treatment you had to run through. (Even after my brother kicked as he hopped out of the pit and sent a pound of dirt into my left eye; just exfoliant applied incorrectly.) The race even had the wash cycle set up right afterwards, since the mud pit opened right onto a quick run through another arm of the lake (clean cycle) and then out to the three burning berms leading up to the finish line (dry cycle).
Perhaps I'm too jaded by repeated viewings of Ninja Warrior on G4, but even though I ran across the finish line with pockets full of mud and solidly out of breath, at no point did I fear for my safety or think, "There's no way in hell I can do this." Was this extreme? Was this something Vin Diesel in 1995 would have done with a gleam to his smile and his freshly shaved dome? Would the proto-Warrior Dashers of yore, the contestants of Survival of The Fittest, recognize this diluted version of the race with nary a fractured bone or bloodied knee?
Probably not, in all likelihood. Was it fun? Yes, certainly, but was it discernible from running rough laps through your local park and over the playground? If you invited 500 overly cheerful people along, no, not at all, and that was the problem. My brother shrugged.
"That was too easy."
"I know. We need some wolves chasing us next time."
"Or to run it at night."
We walked up to the post-race swag tables just as chain mail guy was jingling across the finish line. Mission, in one sense at least, accomplished, but for pain we'll have to rely on Tough Mudder or Tough Guy. For all its Warrior-y trappings, the Dash lacked the element of real pants-crapping fear. Sadly, there's nothing retro-extreme about that in the least, no matter how much Bush you crank through the speakers.