Top 5 Reasons You Wish You Did the 5 Alarm Challenge

Where were you on Saturday, September 14, 2013? If your answer isn’t “the 5 Alarm Challenge at Outdoors in the Smokies,” then you might regret reading on. Because I’m about to make you really jealous, possibly even ashamed, that you passed up the opportunity to be among the first of us to complete this funnest of all 5Ks.

The concept: pay money to run around the woods, traverse fallen logs, climb up ropes, and scale walls whilst carrying a lot of unruly fire hose. Give said money to Newport Firefighters Local 4592 so they can do their job better and help more people.

And it was awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I am going to tell you five things that’ll make you sign up next year.

Reason #5: The Weather Was Unbelievably Awesome

My requisite toe glitter shot. Fire engine sparkly red.
My requisite toe glitter shot. Fire engine sparkly red.

Dude. It was 70 and sunny. Perfect does not begin to describe it. I even saw three rainbow colored hot air balloons on the drive over, it was so clear and sunny.

This made for ideal socializing weather post-race, and I don’t even like to socialize. After the race was over, the firefighters cooked up some yummy hot dogs, Bikes n Beers had their signature “Bite Me IPA” on tap, and the live music was awesome. You know I’m not a country music fan, but this guy Sammy Shults could freaking sing and play guitar. We stayed for about 3 hours just chatting in the sun, eating and drinking, enjoying a perfect Saturday.

I got to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones. The firefighters both participated and volunteered, and were clearly having fun. And they make a mean hot dog. You so should have been there.

Reason #4: Infinite Opportunities to Innocently and Legitimately Say Hose. A Lot.

Hello. We were running with hose through the woods. Call me immature, but I derived enormous pleasure from making as many references to the hose as possible. And there was a lot of hose at this party. You could practically make a drinking game out of it.

Reason #3: It was a Fun, Entertaining Course

Perhaps you were scared to sign up. Mistake! This wasn’t easy, but it was totally doable. First, it was only two laps (not a million like in other 12 hoursish events). It started up the steep wall, with hand over foot climbing, and the first lap, we were unencumbered. But, the huge hills weren’t a part of this. After the initial climb, we went up and down shorter hills, and I even took the lead (male, female, or team) briefly, until I had to stop and tie my shoe for the first of 4 times.

The first obstacle was a 7′ high wall with just a narrow beam to put your toes on and hoist yourself up. The rope you used to descend the other side was a little freaky, because my gloves sort of slid down and I wasn’t sure I’d hit the ground slowly enough. I think Drew must have coated them in Vaseline just for fun. Almost immediately, we had a manmade rock wall, again about 7′ high. Then more running before the log traverse, where I had flashbacks about nearly meeting my maker in May. Luckily, we got to walk on the log this time, and not on the high wire rope. The final big deal feature was the long rope climb. This is my favorite (no sarcasm) thing at Outdoors. It is a long schlep up a creek bed with the final 30 feet or so so steep you have to use a rope to leverage yourself up. Fun fun fun fun.

Then, on the second lap, a volunteer passed off some dirty, retired hose for us to carry while doing all of these things. It was interesting. I refused to stop and put my hose in line as I climbed up the mountain. Instead, I decided the hose was best left to its own devices, and wrapped the hose around me. I later realized I was the only one dumb enough to not keep my hose nice and neat, in a roll, but I got the job done. At the first wall, I threw my hose up to the top and then held onto it while I half slid, half climbed down a ladder, which I hadn’t seen the first lap. The scariest part was crossing the 20 foot log while keeping my hose close. While it was tough to hold on to the stabilizing rope over my head with all this hose around my shoulders, it wasn’t too bad. I was still in the lead at this point, with a team called “The Hosers” hot on my heels. I managed to hold them off until my shoe came untied for the 4th time. Now, it’s difficult to bend over and tie your shoe with hose all over you, and they passed my at this opportune moment. I don’t regret tying my shoe, because trust me, you don’t want to trip running down the 356% grades that are Dan’s courses.

And much to my relief, my hose cooperated as I climbed my favorite rope. By now though, an individual man was closing in on me. I picked up the pace. Just because I’m there for fun doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up that easily (except for the shoe tying thing ….)

Luckily, my mad mad uphillz skillz came in handy as I put a little more space in between him and me for the home stretch to take the win! Well, except for The Hosers. Hosers.

Reason #2: Bikes n Beers was there

Okay. If you like bikes, and you like beer, you need to know about Bikes n Beers. They’re a group of awesome folks from Knoxville who make really good beer. I first met them at Reaper I in 2012, where they gave me free beer. I’m hard to win over, but free beer usually clenches it. And it’s really good beer. Nothing crazy or fruity, just solid, reliable, down to earth, tasty beer.

My victory spin!
My victory spin! Photo by Bikes n Beers. Check them out.

Not only are they fun people and braumeisters extraordinaire, they also take a lot of pictures and let you do a Victory Spin with the helmet cam. Now, where else can you do that?

Reason #1: It was at Outdoors in the Smokies

Never heard of Outdoors in the Smokies? Poor you. It is a special place. Every time I return, I get the same butterflies that I got when I’d go back to the same summer camp year after year (which, incidentally, only happened once… I was kind of a love em and leave em kind of camper). It’s in a beautiful, location, and it is comfy, not fancy in that fake-cabin-that’s-really-a-hotel way. Dan and his family are some of the kindest, most generous people I know, and they really know people. What I mean is, they know what we can handle, mentally and physically, even more than we know ourselves, I think. (If I’d bothered to write a race report on Fear the Reaper, I’d have said a bunch of gushy stuff about how it’s amazing what you’re capable of when the choice is A.) Do it, or B.) Break your neck in the middle of the night and wait for the crows to eat you.) And the place is amazing. There’s always a fun crowd, and you become part of a family after awhile. So make sure you look into this fun, challenging, um, challenge for 2014!

Epilogue: a Shout Out to Don Smith

What I didn’t say earlier is that I finished the race only to see my buddy Don sitting in a truck bed with ice on his foot. Turns out he took a flying jump into an unbeknownst to him shallow pond, and snapped his ankle in 3 places. This really stinks because Don is the nicest, full of lifest, 67 year old adventure racer I know. I hate to see him out of the game for what looks to be months. However, if anyone can pull through with a positive attitude, it’s Don. So do me a favor. Whether you’re lucky enough to know Don or he’s just not in your circle, send a thought, prayer, shout out, fist bump, or whatever your way of channeling love and encouragement is his way. It can only make him feel better. Thanks!

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