Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Indian Creek-sgiving (Part 1)

The Freedomobile was packed, the coffee brewed and steaming silently in our insulated mugs. Luke and I were on the road from Durango to Indian Creek. It was Thanksgiving morning and cell phones were turned-off and stashed in the glove compartment, along with other items we wouldn't need in the desert; namely money and IDs. The Freedomobile, aka a late 80s Mazda 2-door car painted freedom to boot, with working turbo and oscillating interior air vents, was on its last legs. Luke dubbed it: "Freedom's last stand!" I couldn't agree more. We were off to a special place, and if it happened to be our last stand, then I would have accepted it all beautifully and without struggle in stride.

the view out the cockpit of the Freedomobile

For those unfamiliar with Creeksgiving, a lot of things compromise this event of friends, shenanigans, and climbing in the southeast Utah desert. The events had already kicked off a few days before Thanksgiving day; namely the story telling event, Teabag Takeover, and other various competition-offs: showcasing people's propensity to entertain their fellow Creeksgiving-goers. So, imagine rolling up on-scene: 40+ people that you know, or will know, tents, cooking stations, and the expansive Utah desert - in its many shades of red buttes, mesas, and rocks, offsetting the contrast of the wonder-full blue sky. Red sand and dry, scrubby brush kindly interrupting the expanse of red rock as far as the eye can see in all directions of the compass rose.

Now, imagine this scene with more shenanigan spices: grown men and women in wild, expressive costumes finishing their morning coffee, hoping to be done using the single pit toilet in the Superbowl campground before the start of the annual Turkey Trot fun-5K race. Shaun, the race organizer announces the 5 minute courtesy warning till race start. Those not already lined up waiting at the starting line scramble to assemble their final costume flair. This year, there are many iterations of wild and colorful costumes; among them a man dressed as an Indian Chief, a man in a tight tiger/cat suit complete with tail, and a diapered man posing as some sort of Freedom super-hero-type. The ladies present tend to trend more conservative in their dressing, leaving the off-color opportunities to their male counterparts.

If people aren't smiling and laughing already at the display of characters this year, then this isn't their scene. However, this rarely is the case. Though, each year new people are introduced to the antics of Creeksgiving; and this year certainly was no exception. With all who will participate gathered, Shaun announces the race course and any other various obligatory items necessary. With the smokeless spoken bang of his toy gun, the race is off!

Red dust swirls as the feet beat the sand out the only entrance to the campground. Many divergent and bright colors scamper across the earthen tones of the desert, vying for a place among the 30 plus competitors in this year's Trot. After a short spell, as the front runners reach the half-way point, high-fives are exchanged amongst the race runners as all pass one another on this out and back course.

Adam's Arch
After what seems to be a half-hour, the final participants rumble across the finish line: an arch of prayer flags dedicated to a friend of many, who died in an avalanche this past winter. At this point, all are still gathered to lovingly welcome back the final finishers. High-fives, hugs, butt-smacks, and back-pats are given as people settle down for the brief awards ceremony. Shaun has done his public relations homework this year: Black Diamond has donated items - new carabiners, a few brand-new cams, and The Climbing Zine as well as Pagan Mountaineering and the Moab Diner have also kicked in items for the race and other events. Though the ceremony is brief, and the group picture following, too, the events of Creeksgiving are just getting started, so-to-speak. For many, a day of climbing the countless Wingate Sandstone splitter cracks ensues; for a few others - nine, plus one dog this year - preparations begin for the 3rd annual Turkey Shooter race: America's Greatest Foot Race, as it has been dubbed.

The south & north Six Shooters, and the Freedomobile, respectively
The Turkey Shooter is not for the faint of heart or mind; perhaps why only 9 entrants and 1 dog participated this year. This seems about par for the participation-course. The Great Foot Race winds 6.5+ miles from camp out the sandy wash to the base of the talus cone of the southern Six Shooter - a desert tower standing vivid against the bright blue sky. After a vertical sojourn up and up the talus cone - over loose rocks, sand, and massive boulders - Turkey Shooters arrive at the base of the wall. Now comes the equalizer: jugging (ascending) a fixed climbing rope to the top of the tower. Race volunteers, who make this whole thing possible, await the Turkey Shooters to assist them with the technical gear necessary - harnesses, helmets, jumars, aid ladders, daisy chains, and locking carabiners to safely ascend and rappel the towering wall 150+ vertical feet above.

Upon rappelling back down the single fixed line on the wall, a Turkey Shooter racer is only just passed half-way. The complete reverse of the course: back down the loose and steep talus cone, through the expanse of the sandy wash, known as the back 6, out to the paved Creek road and back into camp awaits. At this point, aside from the front runner or two - who are actually competing for 1st place - Shooters are teaming-up with fellow runners near them to complete this challenge, this unique life adventure, together. Perhaps that is one interesting thing about the desert: you may come alone, but you surely desire to share it with another, for it is a wide expansive place, full of solitude and vast amounts of beauty.

Luke, Dave, and Adam Ferro descending from the Broken Tooth wall on a day of rest and route scouting after the Turkey Shooter race.

Before America's Greatest Foot Race had even begun, I had sought to team up with a good friend, Timmy Foulkes: desiring to cement our partnership to the finish as one. Having run this race 2 years ago, I knew the loneliness of the back 6. I vowed not to finish alone, in the dark, this year. Having only ran 2 days in the last month since finishing the Appalachian Trail, I knew I'd be slower, but still energized of heart mind and spirit for this adventure. To Timmy and I's surprise, Lindsey from Astin, TX - and the only female participant this year - wished to team-up with us after realizing that she, Timmy, and I were the last three Shooters left.

Upon entering the sandy wash, after a brief stop at the base of the talus cone to ditch our technical gear, grab food and water at the truck used by the race volunteers, we smiled and agreed aloud at the relative coolness of the afternoon sun. As our feet pitched, one in front of the other, the sand puffed and floated around our lower bodies. If the desert had a recipe for baked goods, the sand would easily be the flour, as its dry consistency seems exactly identical, save for the red color.

peaceful nothingness tinged with everything all-at-once!
We paused for a few seconds every now and again to take it all in: the presence of nothingness and everything all-at-once. Without wind no sound registered to our hearing. No other forms of animal life seemed visible in this dry vastness besides we three, and Lindsey's dog - the Freedom Four - as we aptly named ourselves. Vastly intricate mesas and buttes of red colors, toned by the desert sun stretched as far as the eyes could perceive. The only evidence of humans was the footprints and tire tracks of other Shooters visible in the wash. Collecting ourselves from the powerful pull of the moment, we continued on our course; pausing another once or twice to give Tim and I's legs some reprieve from the bodily anxiety of the day.

Arriving back on the dirt road to camp, we happily agreed to join hands as we crossed under Adam's Arch - the finish line! Awaiting, in the lessening light of day, 4 or so hours later, was a hearty crew of fellow racers and others welcoming us back! In the moments preceding the finish I couldn't help but notice the energy present in our joined hands, as the perceived pains of my body - specifically my IT bands near my knees - disappeared in the love of experience at  foot, hand, and spirit. Hugs and whoops of joy ensued as all present embraced and smiled with the thrill of life and adventure.

This would mark the end of the races for the day, but not for the competition-offs. Still to come was the communal Creeksgiving meal - complete with turkeys cooked in the ground, the mustache contest, and of course the coveted and highly entertaining dance-off!

Luke prepares the dance floor for the evening's showdown

(to be continued....)

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