It all started on a quiet Monday in May in my friend’s house in LA. I could barely move thanks to the delayed onset muscle soreness I was experiencing after the weekend’s events. I’d just completed my first ever endurance challenge and was on a high despite feeling very sore.
I was being told about an endurance event that was in the process of being developed that wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill endurance event where you throw yourself around and lift heavy stuff for hours on end. Instead this one took the concept of Live Action Role Playing (LARPing) to a whole new level as it was turned into a 72-hour endurance event. Everyone involved would be part of a story which would be written as the event unfolded. I didn’t know where the event was going to be held, other than it would likely be in some mountains.
On any other day this may have sounded a bit crazy to me, but having just finished 39 hours of funishment in the SISU Iron the previous day I was intrigued. It also helped that the person telling me about this event was the one and only Don Devaney, who is somewhat of a legend in the endurance race circles.
The event he was talking about was called the RYNGE (pronounced “ring”).
“Come along”, he said. “It will be fun”, he said.
I said I’d have a think about it. A month later I figured out a rough race calendar, realised I could squeeze it in so I signed up. The RYNGE was going to be a beta (aka a test event).
My first thoughts of “I am way out of my league” came when I received the first email after registering. The email included a series of puzzles and questions to answer, but all were in different languages. I took one look and had a moment of regret as I had no idea how to answer any of them. I did have two months to get my responses back to Don so I just let the email sit there for weeks as I got on with other things.
The week before the questions were due I re-opened the email and tried to figure out the questions. I am not going to write anything about the questions or the answers as anyone who wants to do the RYNGE next year will need to figure out their own way of answering next year’s questions, but suffice to say that I did have several moments of panic when trying to answer them. I will however divulge that thanks to answering one of the questions I learnt that we’d be based in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
Eventually I got an answer for each question and turned in my responses the day before they were due.
The point of answering the questions was to earn an initial haul of ‘Lyfe chips’. Each person would be awarded a certain number of chips and would either earn more, or lose chips, throughout the event.
As the event drew nearer I started going through the gear list and worrying about all the things I needed. I made several calls to Don over a few days asking about certain items and whether the Amazon version that I’d chosen of things would be sufficient. Travelling constantly meant I didn’t have a lot of the required gear, so $200 later I had ordered most of the things and I was almost ready to go.
When signing up to the event we had a choice of city to start in: Burlington, VT; Albany, NY; or Boston, MA. I chose Boston due to ease however changed it to Albany after the person I was going to start with pulled out. Luckily my friend BJ Pierce was going to start in Albany so I teamed up with him.
The day before we started BJ and I hit the shops to get everything else that we needed. A trip to Home Depot got us buckets, PVC pipe, tarps, and a hatchet. Dick’s Sporting Goods produced fishing line and hooks. Target and Walmart gave us all the food we needed and a few other little things that were on the list. I also picked up a My Little Pony (Rainbow Dash) as a good luck charm for the weekend. That afternoon we packed all our gear and ate dinner in silence as we both wondered what we’d signed up to. From the sounds of it the only other people still going were a bunch of Death Race finishers and here we were with barely any endurance events under our belts, ready to take on a 72+ hour event.
For BJ and I the event kicked off on Friday 30th September at 7:30am at the Adirondack Mountain Club in Albany. We met Don and he introduced us to Jamie, aka the Trickster, and told us our first task. We had to buy 6 items from 3 stores and the total cost had to be less than $9, and they had to enhance our experience. The Trickster offered us an additional task which we both accepted – one of the items had to have a crow on or in it. We then had to be at the Mercy Airfield in Keene by 12pm.
We got in the car and headed to the Dollar Store which luckily opened at 8am. I got myself a greeting card, eucalyptus inhaler, hair elastics and garbage bags. Next stop was Goodwill where I found a Lemony Snickett book with crows on the front cover, and the last stop was CVS where I bought some gummy energy chews. We had all our items so we got back in the car and drove the 2 hours to Marcy Airfield, stopping to get some lunch on the way.
BJ and I both checked in with Don just before 12pm and were then introduced to Ross and JT who were both joining us for the event. We were given a second task for the day and that was to run across the field to the trail, follow the trail until we found the Wanderer at the Seer Tree, follow his instructions and run back to base. BJ went first, I was second, Ross was third and JT brought up the rear.
When we reached the Wanderer he gave us an option of two trails. I took the one with a lower incline and power walked up until I saw BJ running towards me and realised it made a loop. I ran back down the hill to the base and waited for the others.
We were introduced to the staff who were all known as ‘elders’. We met Hannah (the Oracle), Tim (the Wanderer), Heather (an elder), Caty (the smallest elder), and four guys from Knight’s Hall in Nashua. Don was the Elder’s elder.
We did a gear check and then were asked by the Elder’s Elder to give the Oracle a tomato. I whipped out my bag and gave her a cherry tomato that had been sitting in my friend’s garage since May. It was a tomato that Don had given me at the SISU Iron and had since dried up. The Oracle looked at it as the guys tried to figure out where to procure a tomato from and Don just laughed at the fact that I had actually brought the tomato with me.
Once the guys had all handed in a tomato I joined BJ, JT and Ross as we followed the Wanderer back to the trail as we waited for our fifth tribesman – Yitzy Sontag, to catch up to us. The Wanderer explained (very slowly) that we were to find a place to set up our base. We picked a spot and started setting up when we were joined by some elders and our location was questioned. Our ‘base’ was too visible from the path and may be spotted by barbarians, so we took down the tarp and found a different spot.
For about an hour we started to set up a camp and put up shelter and created a reservoir for water. We were told that we needed 20 gallons of water at our camp and for every 6 hours that we didn’t have the water we’d each lose a Lyfe chip. We all had a 1 gallon bucket which meant we would have to do at least 4 trips to get all the water to the base. We only managed to get about 4 gallons in the initial time period before we had to make our way to base camp for dinner.
After dinner we heard the start of our story as the Wanderer (slowly) read it to us. During the story the Trickster gave us each a piece of ice and asked us to keep it and hand it to the Huntsman when we met him. We put our blocks together in one tin and prepared for our task for the night.
The Elder’s Elder (Don) explained to us that we were going to go on our first night traverse. We were going to hike up Blueberry Mountain, cross Porter Mountain, go to the peak of Cascade Mountain and then end back at the highway. We had five hours to complete the 8.5 mile (13.5km) traverse so we packed our bags and headed off at around 8:30pm.
I was in the lead at first as I didn’t want the guys to leave me behind. I tend to be a plodder which means I can walk for ages but it may take me a while to get there if it involves carrying heavy things. We took a wrong turn but quickly got back on track as we slowly ascended up the Blueberry mountain trail.
Eventually we got to a point where we saw the Wanderer and the Trickster on top of some rocks. I sat down and the first of many tears appeared in my eyes. I had a drink and listened as the Trickster explained how to make a cairn (a stack of rocks) and explained that our task was to make five cairns so other hikers could easily find their way.
We took about 20 minutes to build the cairns which were then inspected by the Wanderer and all passed. We took some time to debate the shape of rocks and told some jokes before the five of us continued on our hike.
At the start of the event we’d each been given a bag with our Lyfe chips, some charcoal and tracing paper. We were to take an imprint of the USGS marker at the top of each mountain we traversed, but the issue was trying to find said markers in the dark.
When we reached the peak of Blueberry we all tried to find the marker but couldn’t find anything but a heap of cairns so we continued on in an attempt to get out of the cold wind.
Yitzy, Ross and JT took the lead and powered on while BJ followed me along the trail. There were a few instances where we had no idea where the trail led and would try not to get even more lost as we tried finding markers in the dark.
I was tired and hadn’t drank enough water before the hike and so all I wanted to do was rest. The faster three would stop every 30 minutes for me and BJ to catch up and every so often we’d stop to rest. In some instances, we all sat down and fell asleep and I awoke at one point to the sound of snoring. The naps were only about 5-10 minutes long but they felt like hours to me as I was so exhausted. We’d well and truly missed out 5-hour time cut when we arrived at the junction of Porter just before 3am. We had no choice but to continue on to Cascade and head down the mountain to meet Don.
The trail would lead us up and down which was a nice change from just a straight ascent. However, we’d be going in and out of trees and as soon as we were above the tree line we’d be frozen from the wind so we’d rush back to the warm trail. At around 5am we got to the junction of Cascade and I just sat down in a crumpled heap. The guys asked if I’d be ok to wait as they went to the peak of Cascade. I chose to stay so I curled up in a ball, out of the wind, and tried to sleep.
No less than five minutes later I heard voices and saw Don and the Trickster coming up the path we were soon to go down. Don asked if I was ok and I burst into tears and explained that I was dehydrated, hungry, stressed, didn’t have enough sleep on the previous few nights and felt way out of my depth. I was the only woman and at that moment I wished I wasn’t there as I felt like I was letting my team down. Don, as Don, said “you’re exactly where you need to be” which helped calm me down and almost instantly I felt better. Crying certainly helped release some tension too!
Don went off to find the guys and I stayed with Jamie and we chatted briefly about why I was there. I told him that I wanted to really challenge myself and see what I was capable of achieving. I wanted to be able to finish on Monday and be proud of the fact that I got through such a long event. Eventually Don and the guys returned and we all headed on the trail down Cascade.
It took me (with BJ and Jamie behind me) over two hours to hike down the side of Cascade to the road. By the time we reached the bottom the sun was out and hikers were making their way up the mountain. I’d officially been awake for more than 24 hours (excluding the tiny naps) and was feeling better.
As we neared the bottom Jamie returned to Trickster mode and made BJ and I an offer. If we were to give him something precious, he would give us information. I traded him a piece of knapping flint for information on where to find precious stones. He showed me the stones and said to find the Huntsman and that the Huntsman would tell me where to look for the stones. We said farewell and walked along the road to the ‘land between the lakes’ and went to meet the Huntsman.
BJ and I stopped briefly to take a few photos of the beautiful mountains behind us. The leaves were green, orange, yellow and even pink and made for a stunning backdrop. The reflection on the water was mesmerising and we both mentioned how lucky we were to be in such an amazing place.
After a few minutes’ rest we continued walking and joined the others at the ‘land between the lakes’. The Oracle came up to us and offered us both a hot chocolate, but said we’d have to give her something in return. In addition to the hot chocolate we could ask a question of her. BJ couldn’t think of something to exchange and I suggested he offer a hug. The Oracle accepted and handed over his hot chocolate. I refused one as I wasn’t going to tempt fate and drink milk whilst in the middle of an event thanks to being lactose intolerant. So instead I walked to the side, put down my pack, started to eat something and then the tears returned once again.
I don’t know why I was crying at this point, but it was certainly making it hard to eat my banana burrito. Hannah (no longer as the Oracle) gave me a hug (minus the hot chocolate) and I soon calmed down and joined the others.
The task was simple – make fire. A lot of the branches were wet so I did my best to find dry materials to make a fire. I didn’t have anything to make it from scratch so I used embers from an existing fire to make my own. The Elder’s Elder then announced that he’d offer something to whoever cooked him an egg before 9am (it was 8:30am at this point). I’d left my frypan in the car (it was one of my chosen items to bring) so I started hunting for things to cook an egg in.
We were then told that once we’d cooked an egg we had to climb a waterfall and bring fire to the Wanderer.
JT succeeded in making scrambled eggs first and presented them to the Elder’s Elder who proceeded to eat them. He then made one for himself, grabbed some embers and went to meet the Wanderer. The rest of us were having trouble with our fires and trying to figure out how to cook an egg without a frypan or pot. My first attempt involved me just cracking an egg onto the fire and laughing as the idea was a complete flop.
When I went to grab another egg I tore off part of the egg carton and then cracked the egg inside that and used that to create a strange version of a poached egg. It had charcoal on top of it so surely it was still edible!
BJ and Ross were next off to meet the Wanderer leaving me and Yitzy behind with our uncooked eggs. I remembered that the Trickster told me to ask the Huntsman about finding silver so I did. In addition to being the Elder’s Elder, Don was also the Huntsman and he took me to the edge of the lake and talked about where I may find silver. I spotted some so I removed my shoes and waded into the ankle-deep water to retrieve the silver stones.
I picked up my cooked egg and some embers and followed Yitzy to the waterfall, passing the other three guys who were returning back to the bottom. I was the last person to meet with the Wanderer and he said that if I taught him how to make the sound of a kookaburra that he’d give me something special. So I did, and he did. I was offered a rock that would make the Elder’s Elder very happy and was told to find more. So as I went back down the waterfall I collected another 9 pieces of the rock and headed back to meet the others.
As we’d taken so long on the initial hike we had no chance to hike back, so instead we put our packs in the car and were driven back to base. Once we returned we had several hours to build our fort and shelter and collect the remainder of the 20 gallons of water. At one point we had two arrows fired at us from the woods and we saw two potential barbarians lurking nearby, scoping out our camp.
Once our fort was looking better we reported back to the base and were given our next challenge. We were told to hike up Blueberry mountain (again) and meet the Wanderer at the summit for another task. Yitzy had brought the Elder’s Elder a huge rock and was told that he’d have to take it to the top of Blueberry. That meant a 2.5-mile hike straight up the side of a mountain with a 50lb rock in tow. The guys shared the load as they walked a half-mile each with the rock in their packs and we stopped twice for food and rest.
As we climbed Blueberry we all commented on the intensity of the climb and how steep some sections were. During the daylight it seemed to be much harder! At least the scenery was much more rewarding during the day.
When we reached the summit we saw Tim the Wanderer and Danny and they told us our next challenge. We were all pooped so we each took a few minutes to eat and rehydrate before getting to work. The task – build 4 cairns, equal distance from the rock, in the direction of North, East, South and West. It took us about an hour but we got the cairns built and included Yitzy’s rock into one of the cairns. We tried to get a lesson in timekeeping, but as there was no sun and it was starting to rain we all gave up and returned to base.
The RYNGE was a beta which meant we were test subjects and things were subject to change. On the way back down the mountain JT, BJ, Yitzy and I all discussed our expectations versus the reality of the event. When we got to the base we broke out of character and spoke to Don honestly about how we were all feeling in regards to the event. We continued chatting after dinner and Don met with the other elders to discuss the course of action before confirming it with us.
We were told that we had until midnight to sleep as the next phase would start then. It was 9pm when I curled up in the car and slept for a few hours. At midnight BJ woke me up by shaking my leg and for a moment I wanted desperately to pretend to be asleep so I didn’t have to continue. At that moment I didn’t want to be there anymore and I just wanted to sleep. Heather came to find me at the car and as I put my shoes on I started bawling my eyes out. I don’t know how she managed to understand anything I was saying but somehow she did. I said that I didn’t want to go on because I was tired, hungry and over it. She looked me in the eye and said that this event was an ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ event and I had to choose whether I wanted to continue.
I went to the toilet and composed myself before finding Heather and nodding that I would continue. I hadn’t come all that way to quit. So I had some food, grabbed my pack and followed the guys and the Trickster towards our fort.
When we arrived I sat down and had some more food and that’s when some tensions arose. There was a small heated discussion and I felt like crap as I was letting my tribe down. I got up and started helping and 10 minutes later JT said he was heading back to the base and walked off. We later learned that he’d left the game, leaving only four of us in the tribe.
The guys got a fire going and we continued to reinforce the ‘walls’ of our fort. At one stage Yitzy and Ross went down to the base leaving BJ and I alone. As we got the fire going we heard noises in the bushes and so we quickly covered the fire so the barbarians couldn’t find us. We got the flames to die out so the fire was just embers. My heart was pounding as we turned off our lights and listened to the cracking branches. It was at that moment where shit got real and we realised we were being stalked by people who wanted to destroy our fort.
Eventually the noises stopped so BJ went into our shelter for a nap and I sat by the fire on the lookout. Eventually I curled up, laid my head on a rock and tried not to fall asleep, but the inevitable happened and I woke 20 minutes later with drool down the side of my face. Not long after I heard Yitzy and Ross trying to find us so I flashed my light and they made their way back into the fort.
I can’t remember the exact order of things, but at some stage we were shown how to make tools and then left to our own devices to make them. Yitzy and I were the first two to meet the elders at the base and show off our tools. My axe broke the first time it was hit so I had to head back into the trees to find more wood to make another axe with. Two hours later, with many more failed attempts during that time, I managed to create an axe that survived being swing into a tree repeatedly.
Since we had taken so long BJ and Ross had given up on waiting and joined Yitzy and I at the base. I headed back to camp expecting the guys to return shortly after me. Instead I was alone for over an hour as I failed to make a bow. The materials I was using were inadequate so I just sat and hoped that the barbarians wouldn’t attack someone who was on their own. It was pretty scary to be sitting there alone and hearing people lurking in the woods. Even though I knew who they were there was still a sense of fear as I never knew what was going to happen.
The guys returned and BJ helped me make a bow before the elders met us at our fort. They attracted the barbarians who approached with scepticism. Since I offered them fresh water as a peace offering, they peacefully came into our fort to show us how to use our foam weapons. After we each got a turn at fighting, the Elder’s Elder asked for someone to help him with a task so Ross volunteered and walked away with the elders.
No less than 20 minutes after the barbarians and elders left we had arrows whizzing past our heads as they returned to attack us. I grabbed my ‘sword’ and started defending the base when I copped a blow to the throat. For a brief moment I had the wind knocked out of me and I felt a bit pathetic as I started crying again. I was in shock and pain as I removed my helmet and walked away from the fight and towards the ‘revive shelter’ which was down the path. Tim walked with me and asked if I was ok but all I could do was walk and shake my head as I tried to stop hyperventilating. I got to the shelter and found some more weapons and shields. Shortly after that I saw BJ and Yitzy coming down the path to revive themselves as well.
They took the shields and longer sword as I walked with Tim down to the base to get some water and swap helmets for one with a neck guard. As I returned to the fort Ross jumped out from behind a tree and hit me in the head with his sword prompting me to tear up (again) and return to the revival shelter. I thought he’d defected and assumed our tribe was down to three people. He raced past me, shouted an apology and I just walked back to the fort to wait for the others.
Yitzy and BJ were nowhere to be seen so I cleaned up our shelter a bit and waited for them. When they returned we were attacked again but BJ managed to still be ‘alive’ when the barbarians left. I told them that I thought Ross had defected so we mutually agreed to become nomads. We picked up our weapons, left our packs, and headed towards base. On our way down we passed some elders and we pretended to be going to the revival shelter.
On the way we saw Ross and, believing that he’d defected, we decided to take a back route in case the barbarians were ready to ambush us. So we hiked down the stream instead of taking the path and eventually ended up at the base.
The elders were a bit surprised to see us and asked what had happened. We said we were now nomads and had abandoned our fort in search of a new world. We were told to wait for the other elders to return before we embarked on any new journeys so we did. After they returned we saw the barbarians coming our way and we prepared for one more battle.
As they approached we shot arrows towards them and retreated to the porch to fight. After about a minute Yitzy and BJ were both dead and I was the only one from our tribe that was still alive. I fought the barbarians one by one and eventually defeated their archer (who may disagree with me, but it’s all a matter of opinion) and we were crowned the victors of the battle.
Ross was nowhere to be seen. He wasn’t with the barbarians and we learned that he’d been on a task to collect a stone and hadn’t actually defected. The three of us headed back to the fort to collect all our belongings and remove trace of us being there. Then we were to meet up with Ross at sunset to head down for another dinner.
After dinner we all spoke about the plans for Monday. There was some rain predicted for the next morning so there was some scepticism as to whether certain hikes could be done. As everyone discussed a hike that would take over 8 hours to complete, traversing 7 peaks, I had an idea. I had collected over 50 pieces of ‘silver’ and so I traded in 30 pieces in return for doing a shorter hike. I didn’t want to slow the guys down any more than needed and as Don is a super-fast hiker I knew I’d be lagging behind.
I called over the Trickster and the Oracle and made my proposal which was accepted, however I was told that the hike would be weather dependant. Hannah (the Oracle) set about finding an alternative hike and at 9pm we were told to go and rest before our 1am wake up.
It took me almost an hour to fall asleep as I wasn’t feeling tired, even though I was sleep deprived. Eventually I fell asleep and was woken at 1am, ready for another hike. I met with Hannah and she advised me that we’d be going up Cascade mountain so I could actually summit the mountain after failing to do so on the Friday night. By 2:30am we were ready to go and so we said farewell to the others and drove to the base of Cascade.
The aim was to get to the summit of Cascade and take as few breaks as possible. Only three actual breaks were taken on the way up (apart from quick wardrobe changes) and before too long we reached the crossways area where Don had found me curled up in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Hannah led the way as we followed the yellow paint markings to the summit. We were in a cloud so visibility wasn’t the best but we pushed on until we reached what we thought was the summit. Hannah told me to stay put as she couldn’t find the next yellow marker. So I stood patiently and searched around for the next marker or the USGS marker while she did the same. After a minute or two she asked me to go back to the last yellow marker so we didn’t get lost. I took a few steps, turned around and saw it – the USGS marker. Turns out I’d been standing on it for the last few minutes. We laughed and took a few photos before getting off the summit as it was freezing cold and starting to rain.
On the way back down I got excited as I saw a sign that said ‘toilet’ and we took time to use the ‘toilet’ (aka a box over a hole in the ground), and I re-fuelled with a protein bar and Rice Krispie Treat. Now that we’d made it to the summit we aimed to get back down with as few stops as possible and did so with the exception of two brief pauses for wardrobe changes. We ended up making it back to the trailhead 4 hours after starting which meant we did the 4.5 mile hike in over a mile and hour.
We returned to the base at 7:30am and I set about completing my next few tasks. First I had to carry 20 gallons of water to the tree line to replenish the supply we’d lost when we abandoned camp. Secondly I had to return bundles of wood to the trees. Thirdly I had to collect 30 stones for the elders (and I found about 100 more in the process). Lastly I had to take stock of what was in the vegetable garden and collect some fresh vegetables for my tribe.
I completed all my tasks and then returned to the remains of my tribe’s fort to remove all trace of us being there. At 12:00pm I was told that I’d officially completed the RYNGE and at that moment I removed my shoes and celebrated with rolling out my aching calves. I then took a moment to count all my rocks (I had over 150) and create a lovely picture with it.
Heather then reminded me that I had something to celebrate as there had been no tears from me all day! While that may not seem like much, to me it was a big deal as I’d spent so much of the weekend crying.
I helped pack up the base and we all drove to Don’s house in the woods where I got to have the first shower in 4 days. It was heavenly! Eventually the others returned around 5pm (after an 11-hour hike) and we celebrated the end of the event with a lovely dinner and made some last minute offerings to the Elders.
Despite writing out everything we did, I still can’t figure out the best way to describe the RYNGE. It was a fantastic event (despite all my tears) and it was unlike any endurance event that I’ve ever done or heard about. The addition of a story to the event set it apart from others and added an element of surprise and mystery. I may have been an emotional wreck at times but the journey helped me realise things about myself and others that I never knew. It has given me an insight into things I need to work on – mentally, emotionally and physically – and is an experience I’ll never forget.
Now it’s time to sit back and relax for a while as I plan for next year. After doing the RYNGE I am interested in doing more endurance events and I will be back for more next year, hopefully with some more women around to join me in the fun!
Event: The RYNGE
Date: 30 Sep – 3 Oct 2016
Location: Keene, New York (Adirondack Mountains)
Type: Endurance Race