Norseman 2012
by: Smitty

WARRIORS BLOOD  

The website for the Norseman claims this:  “The Norseman is the world’s toughest long-distance triathlon. It is also the most northern, taking place at the same latitude as Anchorage in Alaska. The race is a travel through some of the most beautiful parts of Norway. It is not a normal circuit-race as it starts in a fjord and finishes at mountain Gaustatoppen at 1,850 meters above sea level. Total ascent is 5,000 meters. The water temperature is normally about 15.5 degrees C, and the air temperature normally ranges from 6 to 28 degrees C through the race day. The race is limited to only 240 competitors. The competitors need to bring their own support. Norseman is the race any hard core triathlete should do once in a lifetime.”  

It is some months back and I get a call from Mark Miller, he tells me he had applied for the Norseman and gotten accepted.  I knew what that meant.  I remember the first time they held the race 10 years ago, it intrigued the hell out of me and frightened me at the same time (it’s a sickness).  I told him he was nuts and that I was jealous.  He then explained he needed a support crew, someone that could drive along with him all day then run up a mountain at the end with him (Sherpa time! – I do believe that I was Tenzing Norgay in my previous life).  Asking me to go halfway around the world to witness insanity and run up a mountain is like asking Eric Bernard if he wants his socks to match.  

So, we were set, I just had to keep my butt in enough shape to run a few miles up a mountain….he on the other hand had to pull it together to knock off a beast of an ironman in a foreign country.  Our final  schedule had us taking off on Tuesday, racing on Saturday and returning on the Monday….a whirlwind tour at best.   Some 11,000 plus miles in the air.  Our flight out on Tuesday took us from Lafayette to Houston, Houston to Amsterdam (10 hrs), Amsterdam to Copenhagen, and finally Copenhagen to Bergen.  In Bergen we were to rent a car and drive through the country side for almost 3 hours to our village of Kinsarvik.   

Kinsarvik is named after the river on which it sits, that empties into the Hardanger Fjord.  For all those except Trevor “Geologist Boy” Casper, a fjord is a long narrow deep inlet formed by glacial activity.  In other words, a deep ass pond formed by a giant piece of ice cutting the shit out of the earth.  Miller was going to swim his 2.4 miles in this monster – this lil swimming hole was 1200 feet deep, so he wasn’t going to be touching bottom (hell not even Ben Hawn can touch).  The race director said, no worries on the sharks, just watch out for those lil killer whales!  Holy crap!  

Well, like all good plans…..they go to shit in a hand basket right away.  We landed in Bergen intact, but bikeless.  The bike box wouldn’t fit on the final plane, so they just left it behind…no big deal Miller could just run the 112 miles across the mountains.  So, we waited for the next flight, but no bike.  To make matters even worse, I had a monster migraine come on.  As we were getting in the car I vomited my toe nails up for about 10 minutes.  I rivaled that crazy bitch on the exorcist.  Poor Miller, we had been in the air or airports for 20 plus hours, his bike was a no show, his only friend and crew for 5000 plus miles in any direction is puking his guts out, and we have a three hour drive through the mountains left before we can rest.  You have to love it when a plan comes together.  

Well, we had to stop along the way for me to puke – the sounds of a wretching mongoose rang out through the Nordic valleys – we added a whole new twist to the yodeling thing.  Finally, we reached our fjord and had one final ferry ride to the village.  The drive was beautiful minus all the vomit.

Kinsarvik is a town of 495, well now 494, they had a funeral the second day we were there.  There was one restaurant (the one in our hotel), one café, one store, and one gas station.  Ruud Vuijsters (of Holland) now Lafayette fame, schooled us in the ways of the Nordic peoples.  Basically, he said pack a briefcase full of cash because the food and booze are outrageous.  Folks, I am not making this up, beer was $12/bottle, and vodka was $20/glass.  As for call brands, ha!  You got what they had.  The average meal ran us about $90.  That was for a salmon wrap and a reindeer burger.  I can only imagine the cost of liquor in their strip joints (I digress).  

I am a salmon lover, and I ate salmon at all but one meal for six days…..salmon the nectar of the mongoose!  That made up for the lack of liquor in my system!  I didn’t get a buzz until our last day in Norway (celebration time).  

Well, to add to Millers woes, his phone wouldn’t work in Norway.  I had to do some funky things to mine (probably broke some kind of laws) but got mine to work.  We harassed the airport about his bike every few hours.  It seems his bike arrived on a flight sometime in the middle of the first night we were in Norway.  They assured us it was on a truck the next day.  Those fuckers last name must have been Obama, because that bike never saw a truck for two days.  It wasn’t until late Thursday night that the hotel desk called and told us that the bike was on a truck stuck across the fjord, the driver had missed the last ferry.  I figured yep; tell me another lie….or so I thought!  

Friday morning was a lot like Christmas.  I woke up, ran downstairs and there was a bike waiting for me.  I definitely wasn’t a good boy, but hell may I never get what I deserve.  I raced up the elevator (more on that deathtrap later) knocking the paint off the walls with the bike box to show Mark and alleviate some of his anxiety.  The bike is here!  The bike is here!  

Miller put his steed together and went for a test ride.  I borrowed some fishing gear from the front desk and went try my hand at fishing in the fjord.  They offered to rent me a boat, but the way our luck was running, I decided to err on the side of caution….yep, believe that shit….me and caution in the same sentence….this wasn’t my race…it was Millers and I didn’t want to screw things up for him.  So I became a bank fisherman….hootie hoo.  

The race was set to begin in another village just up the fjord from us, the village of Eidfjord.  If this were Louisiana it would be a 5 minute drive, but this ain’t loosyana folks.  The roads here are one lane, grades (hills/angles) that would make a mountain goat slide on his ass, tunnels, rocks on the edge of the road and cliffs on the other.  My nerves were shot on every drive.  You would come around blind curves only to lock up in the front of another vehicle.  Did I mention the car we rented was a standard (fun!).  Several times we found ourselves or the car we were facing having to back down this one lane death trap to a spot wide enough where we could pass one another.  There was even a “secret” button you would press and the mirrors would fold in on your already compact car so you wouldn’t rip them off on the rocks, a cyclist, or another vehicle…..Norway the land of the narrow shit!  

We made it to Eidfjord, took our photo opportunities, and went to the pre race briefing and listened to the race director as he scared the hell out of everyone.  After the meeting we returned to Kinsarvik to get the Sherpa wagon ready.  This race is totally unsupported, so your crew has to have all of your water, food, etc.  for the entire race.  I can remember the race director stating that crews should be made up of more than one person…..ONE RIOT-ONE MONGOOSE M8!  Note to self….there are no ice chests in Norway (Burton & Jim need to open a K2 outlet).  So we improvised and bought a wash tub, some giant waters, coca cola (to defizz overnight), pretzels, etc.   You should have seen the look on their face when I asked where the bags of ice were.  No worries, I spoke with the kitchen staff at the hotel and found their ice machine…..we had all the ice we needed!  Norway is one big block of fricking ice and I couldn’t get a damn bag…..  

The night before the race Mark and I spoke about what this race meant to him.  He was dedicating it to his dad Bruce Miller.  His dad had passed away some years back and I know how much it would have meant to have his dad here and watching him accomplish such a feat (I know all too well).  Marks dad knew what it meant to endure…….he was a tough man, a hero……if Mark is chasing something, he is chasing being the man his father was…..if he was going to finish this race….he was going to have to dig deep, deep into his warrior past, his warrior soul…..his warrior blood.  

2 a.m. came early (usually they are kicking us out of a bar at that hour).  Instead, we were waking up to enjoy one of the most epic days of our lives.  We loaded the car, stole our ice from the kitchen and started the trek to Eidfjord.  We set up in T1, Miller was cool as a cucumber (wtf does that mean anyway) – I like cool as the other side of the pillow better!  This was going to be his 24th Iron distance race.  However, this was going to be the toughest he had ever encountered.  As for me, I was pooing my pants for him.  I hate the cold, especially cold water.  The water temp was 14C or 52F – go swim 2.4 miles in the cold dip my friends – oh and did I mention you have to jump 30 feet off of a ferry (not a queer – a large boat that carries vehicles) into 1200 feet of water that may or may not have killer whales waiting to snack on you!  I know Navy Seals that wouldn’t swim this shit.  Hell the water was so cold it could give John Holmes an Inny or possibly end his career!  

Well Miller boarded the queer…I mean Ferry….and off he went into the darkness…..they told the racers they could use the chicken door if they wanted….a small door at water level where they could slip into the fjord rather than jumping off the deck of the ferry.  Miller tells me he jumped off the deck….we’ll leave it at that! (just kidding).  I had a little secret in my pocket.  A way that Miller would be able to know I was up the road and waiting for him to give him the “shit that kills” (water /food/encouragement).   It was my world famous (now anyway) DUCK CALL!  Just as the ferry let out its blast on its whistles……I hit the duck call.  The whole dock erupted in laughter….yes, the first time in my life people were laughing at me.  

Now to the battle, the race started at 5 am.  I could see the ferry in the distance and heard the blast of the horn.  My heart jumped and I knew it was on….  

All men are artists….some men paint, some men cook, some men endure…… It is 5 am August 4, 2012, in Hardanger Fjord, Norway and Mark Miller (Son of Bruce Miller) is about to paint his masterpiece!  

This race was so cool.  They built a bon fire on the bank to guide the racers to their first swim turn.  It wasn’t long until people started to come out of the water.  I have never seen anything like it.  The cold water had destroyed the feeling in their hands, feet, and their equilibrium.  People were literally crawling out of the fjord, their handlers helping them into T1.  Carnage is the word that comes to mind.  At 1:19, I saw Antonio’s locks come flying out from under the swim cap.  Amongst all the Norweigen, German, French, and other buy a vowel gibberish….I hollered “GOOD JOB MILLER” – it kind of startled everyone and I elicited a smile from my frozen athlete.  We went into T1 where I helped him disrobe and get into his cycling gear.  

This is Europe, so nudity is very acceptable.  I did explain to Miller right then and there that all bets were off if his penis touched me at anytime.  He giggled and the cameraman filming this mini porn even had to laugh out loud.  It was damn cold.  I was shivering and I had a coat on and here was Miller standing butt naked in T1 having just swum 2.4 miles in a frozen pond, welcome to the NORSEMAN!  

We finally got him on his bike and on his way.  The first climb out of T1 takes the athletes up 3600 feet of climbing in the first 40k of the race….through tunnels and overhanging cliffs all while the roads are open to traffic.  Listen folks, there were no road or course markings (except little signs every 20-30K with the distance traversed thus far).  No course marshals (with the exception of three spots where there were  some major turns).  In this race, you were on your own!  

This first major climb was so steep that I almost burned the clutch up in our car.  And no I am not a shit driver.  Several crews burned theirs up and their racers were left on their own.  I helped a girl on the run from Italy that had lost her crew in just this manner.  With all of the racers and crews going so slow up the hills you were forced to stop and start – stop and start - on inclines that rock climbers would be looking for footholds on.  I was pooing and worried!  I knew Miller was a strong cyclist, but this was brutal.  This made Rouge Roubaix look like a pancake flat ride (and no I am not exaggerating).  

It took the average athlete (if you call any of these guys average) 2 plus hours to traverse the first 24 miles of this race.  That is a 12 mph average for you nonmath types.  

I would leap frog Miller, park in any cubby hole or sheep/moose path I could find.  I would blow the duck call like a man possessed, scream “Warriors Blood” at him (he knew what this meant), and give him anything he needed.  We made several changes of clothing along the first half of the bike.  The clouds rolled in, the temps dropped to below 40F and the wind was blowing.  Hell I had the heated seats on and I was shivering.  

He/we then broke out onto the Hardanger Plateau.  A plateau covered in glaciers and fjords.  It was somewhat windy (rhymes with wendy) and windy (rhymes with wine-dee) – man am I a linguist or what?  There were rolling hills and I mean hills.  This ride was a sufferfest.  Miller was riding smart and staying within himself.  

I watched the times starting to slip and I was worried.  This course was brutalizing me in a car and I was watching the carnage it was inflicting on the athletes.  I had my speech for Miller prepared.  We were going to get into T2 no matter what and keep moving.  I never needed it, the man was an animal and a smart animal.  Had he pressed this bike at any time to garner a little time, his race day would have been over.  

I watched him suffer up many a hill.  I would park at the top and wait, watching the grimaces on the other athletes as they rode past.  Offering encouragement and a blast from the duck call.  I am sure several of them wanted to shove that call up my ass by the end of the race!  

I knew we had to be out of T2 by 5 pm (12 hours).  The swim and T1 had us out at about 1:30.  That gave us 10-1/2 hours to complete the bike.  The way things were looking it was going to be about a 9 hour bike leg.  We weren’t discussing it, but we both feared the cutoff and how his running legs were going to react after such an ass kicking on these hills (scratch that) mountains.  

He entered the last big climb up Mount Imingfjell.  This was just cruel.  90 miles into a brutal bike leg, they throw a mountain at you.  I met him at the base, explained this was it, climb this, 10K flat at top, then a 30K drop into T2.  I told him he was a cinch for the cutoff and he was going to knock this off.  All along the way, I would scream out the car window, or from the side of the road “WARRIOR BLOOD”.   

I waited at several stops up Imingfjell to offer up fuel, encouragement, and plenty of high balls from my duck call!  The hills were alive with the sound of MONGOOSE!......OK Mallards!  

Miller finally made it to the top intact.  What a stud!  I would have surely quit this damn race a long time ago.  I can honestly say that I could not have completed this bike ride, given any amount of time.  The next 10K that the race documents said was flat……well those bastards are kinned to OBAMA too!  Lying shits…..but then again, I don’t think there is a flat piece of land in Norway.  

Finally he reached the last descent, and what a descent it was.  I almost lit the tires on fire on the car feathering….OK smashing the brakes to avoid careening off the mountain!  Not sure how Miller made it down.  I am sure there were plenty of curves where you couldn’t have driven a finishing nail up his ass!  

Well, about 10 hours and 30 minutes into this torture fest, we entered T2.  I use “we” lightly.  I got all his gear out, laid it in a changing tent.  These guys are my kind of people.  The changing tent was unisex and it had windows – huge plastic see through windows.  Unreal!  So once again, I got to dress Miller (I know all of you are jealous).  His penis never touched me, so I remained as part of the crew!  

He looked good.  He told me he felt like he could run and was gonna go for it.  I was scared to say the least.  I told him I didn’t have any idea about how I was going to support him on the run.  I needed to pick up his bike, all his gear and get up the road and see about it.  This was kind of neat.  This is a point to point race and the crews pick up your gear as you go.  No returning for gear after the race.  

I loaded up the bike and gear faster than I thought I could and was able to meet him just up the road.  It appeared that he was going to run along the edge of guess what????  A FJORD!  Hence the name Norway – land of the fjords!  Land of the obvious!  

The first 20K of this race is somewhat flat.  I say that in Norweigan flatness.  Coonasses would say rolling hills.  Miller ran this portion of the course like a man possessed.  I was so proud of my friend.  I couldn’t believe how well he was doing.  I was blown away.  I would leap frog him every mile or so and park wherever I could, blasting music and my duck call.  The locals were sure loving me.  

We were starting to leap frog a few runners and I got to know them and give them flat coke, cold water (which they were amazed we had – even in the land of giant fucking ice), pretzels, you name it.  An Italian girl had lost her crew to vehicle issues loved my music (limp bizkit, billy idol, etc.)  She would sing as she would go by and partake in the goodies of the Sherpa wagon on occasion.  Another local girl whose family was leap frogging with me would tell me “blow you whistle – blow you whistle”.  So I would let the duck call err whistle rip for her.  

Her husband was something else.  He told me this was her first triathlon.  HOLY SHIT!  And that she hadn’t trained enough, and it was showing.  I explained that he needed to bring her to a regular Ironman race where she would probably podium!  What a weinerschnitzel!  If he wasn’t proud of her I sure was.  

Finally at about 20K we made a turn and up ahead lay Gaustatoppen, the final mountain and finish line.  It shown in the distance like a great beast rising up from the valley floor, topped in snow/ice.  It was awe inspiring to say the least and so was the show my friend Mark Miller was putting on.  The man was still running.  Like we always say at ultra races….look marge there is one of them and he is still running!  

At 25K into the marathon (for you Americans an entire marathon is 42K), you make a turn and start to climb, and that is an understatement.  They call this next 7.5K climb Zombie Hill.  At the top is the final cutoff at 32.5K.  If you could make this by 17 hours and 30 minutes into the race, you had all the time you needed to complete the final 10K, there would be no cutoff.  When we made this turn, I was elated, I knew my friend was going to accomplish this amazing feat and knock this epic race off.  

The climb was tremendous, with long long switchbacks.  I would drive up and park the car at each switchback, grab a water bottle and run down to meet him and walk up with him, letting him fuel and hydrate.  We repeated this carnage for 7.5K.  It took my legs out.  It didn’t help that I had only had a snickers and a liter of diet coke all day.  

It was on one of these lil climbs that we met some of Rezvani’s  girlfriends.  I could hear the clanging of their bells as a herd of sheep came running down one of the hills at us.  I was cracking up….how awesome.  Miller and I talked and walked and enjoyed the scenery and savored what was about to happen.  I am so thankful to him for allowing me to share in this adventure.  I have no problem living vicariously through someone achieving something as tremendous as this.  Life is about opportunities and my friend isn’t afraid to grasp them.  

We topped Zombie hill, checked in at the final checkpoint and headed for the finish.  The course had failed to crush his spirit or his legs yet, he began to run again.  He ran all the way into Gaustablikk.  In Gaustablikk, they put you on a double out and back course for 6K (3K each loop for you dummies still reading this far into the report).  

It was at this point that a full rainbow appeared in the sky on top of the mountain.  It was beautiful.  All I could think about was how the rainbow signified Gods promise to man…….and quite possibly for just this moment in time, Mark Millers promise to his dad to complete this race in his honor!  

I fought back tears (F***…ya’ll – it was an awesome moment) as I saw my podna come out of the trees and approach the finish line.  16 hours 42 minutes and 39 seconds.  The toughest ironman in the world was his!  He had knocked her off!  The only place in the world where you can get a daylight finish in 16 hours….the Nordic/Arctic Circle…  

24 Ironmans, this one being the damn hardest thing I have ever witnessed.  I have seen my share of stupidity when it comes to races folks.  This made Leadville look like a 5K.  

Well after more nudity in the parking lot as Miller cleaned up, we ate our weight in food at the hotel buffet only to be told like the Holy Family, there was no room at the INN!  This meant we had a 4-1/2 hour drive back to our hotel in Kinsarvik over plateaus and mountains in the middle of the five hour long night ahead!  Did I mention we had been up since 2 am!  This feat of endurance wasn’t over yet.  

We joked about hitting a moose, well…….guess what……on one of the plateaus, a cow moose the size of a suburban jumps out onto the road in front of us.  I had a diarrhea attack and pushed the brake pedal through the floor of the car.  After hyperventilating, I thought, wow…..all that meat…..and I had a pocket knife in the glove box… (you can take a boy out of the country…but you can’t take the country out of the boy!)  

We finally arrived at our hotel at 4 AM.  Happy, nerves frazzled from driving through tunnels and one laned roads all through the night….but knowing that the goal had been accomplished.  We had traveled halfway around the world, and my friend had smoked the toughest 140.6 miles on the planet…..Tenzing and Hillary didn’t have shit on these two coonasses!  

So, in the end, thanks Mr. Miller, not Mark Miller, but Sergeant Bruce Miller (Millers deceased father).  Thanks for never giving up, thanks for enduring.  Your feat of endurance happened halfway around the world too.  However, you didn’t sign up for your test.  It was April 9, 1942 in the Philippines and you and your fellow soldiers were captured by the Japanese and forced to march 80 miles in intense heat, as they starved you, brutalized you, and murdered those around you.  You survived the toughest US military travesty of all time…..the Bataan Death March, only to be imprisoned in a POW camp for 3-1/2 years.   

By enduring, by surviving, you were able to return home, have a son, and pass on your code, your ethos…..your “WARRIOR BLOOD”……and I was able to witness it in action halfway around the world…….  

I never met you or saw you in action…..then again….maybe I have!  

Mongoose out!