From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.11.12

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episodes 11 & 12: "It's Just A Million Dollars, No Pressure" - #TeamExtreme Recap

To put our experience on The Amazing Race into words is a near impossible task. The feelings of pride and joy, of disappointment, of overwhelm, and of gratitude, are welling inside of us and will be for weeks to come. But the outpouring of love and support that we have received following the final episode has truly been beyond comprehension. We set out to accomplish a difficult goal and that goal allowed us to spread a message far and wide, that women can be strong, smart, kind, and relentless. The Amazing Race gave us an incredible opportunity not only for that message to be heard, but received. For that, we are eternally grateful.

Kristi and I traveled to 8 countries that we've never been to, we got to experience new cultures, eat some different cuisine (ahem, scorpions), step outside our comfort zones, and push ourselves to the limit for 23 straight days. It was an experience that I'll remember for a lifetime and I was lucky to take it all on with Kristi by my side. While the final two legs of this race presented some challenges and the final result wasn't entirely what we set out for, we are still extremely honored to have finished this season with the lowest average of any all-female team in The Amazing Race US franchise. As a team, we never fell below 3rd place, a feat that has never been achieved by any team, male, female, or combined. It's a badge that we hold with great pride. Read on for our final recap and reflections of The Amazing Race Season 30.

Leg 11: Hong Kong

Where did your taxi take you when going to the Peak?

For the second leg in a row, we had some misfortune with our cab driver. The language barrier was thick, and our cab driver unfortunately took us to the pedestrian access area. We saw a sign that pointed to Victoria Peak (an 8-minute walk), so we decided to hoof it as our cabby was having a difficult time simply turning around. We just said, "you stay here and get turned around, we'll be right back!" I left my bag in the cab and pointed at it to make sure he understood.

The fortunate part about getting lost on our way there was that we were halfway down the mountain when it was time to race back to the detour! Haha! Also, I don't think Indy or Jody were able to retain their taxis at Victoria Peak, so that gave us an advantage getting to the detour cluebox. That's how we were able to catch up to those two teams.

What was so difficult about tying those crabs?

The crab challenge was deceptively difficult. First of all, learning how to pick up the crabs and not get pinched, then wrangle all their legs, then wrap the tie around them without a leg getting loose, was a tall-order! When we watched the demo we were told that we didn't need to do it the exact way, so we were perhaps a bit hasty when we started tying the crabs.

After a bit of difficulty we went back to rewatch the demo. That's when we started figuring out a better technique. There was a trick to twisting the rope (like when you're tying a present) so that it doesn't come loose when you change direction of the wrap. Unfortunately, the crabs that we tied at the beginning all came loose since they were wriggling to try to get free (poor little dudes). So we had about 15 crabs to retie out of 50.

Why didn't you switch detours?

Well, I suppose I should start with why we picked crabs in the first place. After our choice of detours (and switching detours) in Thailand, we felt like the crabs might be more straight forward. Especially knowing that Henry spoke some Mandarin (yes, I know that the restaurant challenge was in Cantonese) we felt that they may have an advantage. Kristi and I weren't racing to play safe and stay in it anymore. We were racing for a win.

When we switched detours in Thailand, we ended up quite far behind the other teams, so we felt it was a smarter choice to stay with the crabs. Certainly, that wasn't the case here, as Indy switched detours and still got out of the restaurant before Big Brother or Team Extreme.

What were you thinking when you saw Big Brother leave the boat?

We were freaking out. Well, I was freaking out. We knew that Indy Car switched detours. We knew we had been working on crabs for a LONGGGGGGGGGG time, we arrived to the boat slightly in front of Big Brother, so for them to overtake us was a terrible feeling. But there was nothing else we could do at that point. Kristi was staying more optimistic at this point and redirected my negative thoughts. We had about 12 more crabs to untie and retie when they left, so we just hunkered down. Kristi was less fearless with the crabs, so she did all the untying and then I'd start retying them as efficiently as possible. Our only option was to stay calm and finish strong.

How about when you got to the Roadblock?

Ugh. After we left the crab detour, we just kept saying, "we hope there is another challenge that can be an equalizer." Something akin to the song and dance in Zimbabwe, something skill based, that we might be able to gain time on. When we go to the roadblock and realized that it was a pure brute strength task and that Kristi basically had to go up against Cody, we were discouraged. We could hear Cody grunting. If it was hard for him, it was going to be really hard for us. That said, Kristi crushed it.

The reverberations through the bat into her hand caused sever pain, swelling and bruising. For two months after the race, she would wake up in the middle of the night with shooting pain in her hands. She broke two bats during that final challenge and bent a third. I was blown away by Kristi's fight through this challenge. It was so painful for her. Also, forgetting to read her clue barely affected the timing. She still had more bashing too do once she read her clue. When I saw BB leave, I started a timer on my watch. We were about 13 minutes behind them when we left the Roadblock, which was about the same gap leaving the crabs. We were just hoping our next clue didn't say "go to the pit stop."

How did you miss the Arch from Washington Square Park?

The first two images we found (the bull and the fez) had the colors of the race, so we were looking for yellow and red. We were repeating the locations of each leg to try to conjure images. Where we failed is we kept thinking Iceland for leg 1. We neglected to think about the fact that we started leg 1 in New York. When we saw that arc we thought it was l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which we hadn't been to. Looking at that black and white arch didn't register a THING! Now had it been yellow & red? Potentially a different story...

As for us being dismissive of the guy pointing the sign out to us, we were convinced he was drunk and had no clue... I mean, he was drunk, but apparently he had a clue! That was a big miss on our part. There were so many drunk people in this area. It was quite a mess of scene. Another drunk guy had given us terrible directions earlier, so we were a bit hesitant to trust anyone.

How did you finally solve the combination?

This was a point of contention for Kristi and I. We found the bull and the fez in less than 10 minutes of arriving at Lan Kwai Fong. Kristi had been trying combinations, in a systematic order in the cab. At this point, having two of the three numbers wouldn't have taken long to figure out. Unfortunately, we abandoned that strategy after a few failed attempts.

It can be hard to maintain your composure under that much pressure and stress. Kristi had just been put through the wringer in the Roadblock and I was trying to be sensitive to her wishes. Ultimately, it led me to unfairly implode. I just wanted to try numbers in a methodical way in case there was something weird with the locks. There wasn't. Eventually, I agreed to letting her try it her way and she was right. You didn't have to do both sides at the same time. And we got the combination: 3-1-5.

Did you know you were in 3rd place and ahead of Indy when you got to the mat?

We were hopeful, but we weren't sure. We hadn't seen Indy for about 10-15 minutes prior to getting our combination unlocked, so we knew there was a possibility that they had gotten out of there ahead of us. We also had no idea we were running to the pit stop, so we hadn't been thinking about our placement that much, we just continued focusing on racing. That's why it was so important for me to hug Kristi before Phil said a word. I just needed her to know that I loved her, that she was the best partner on this race, and that I was proud of everything she had done, regardless of the outcome.

We were devastated to see Indy get eliminated. It was a sad moment for us. We got very close with them during our time on the race and wanted to race in the final leg with them. But things can turn at any point in this race and unfortunately, this was the end for them.

Leg 12: San Francisco

Why was it hard to find the balls with the right numbers on them?

When we first paddled out to the cove, there were already hundreds of balls in water. All of us started paddling around, grabbing baseballs, trying to find some with numbers. They were all blank. At some point, Kristi noticed that there were balls splashing into the water from the ball park above. Really paying homage to Willie Mays & his home runs!

Both Kristi and I have paddling experience, so we positioned ourselves at the back of the cove facing the stadium. When we saw a new ball fly out of the stadium we paddled there efficiently. We knew the exact numbers we were looking for, but it still took some time to find them all.

You were first to get the number correct, but you made it to the bridge second. What happened?

The other teams figured that the only numbered balls would be numbers you needed in the answer. Unfortunately for us, Yale & BB got lucky in more than one way. Yale had found two 6s before they even knew the number they were looking for.  And, somehow BB managed to ask someone on the pier in the middle of the night to look up the answer for them. They managed to find their numbers quite quickly after that!

When we got our number approved by the umpire, he told us to "go to your team zodiac before you open your clue." There were no instructions about getting into the Zodiac. There were no instructions on what to do or where to go next. Nothing in our Roadblock clue, nothing in our ARI clue. We thought we had to paddle back to the pier and started to do so, until we saw BB getting into their Zodiac. Sooooo, that sucked. That's when Jessica and Cody jumped in front of us on the way to the Bay Bridge.

Did Kristi gain on Cody climbing the bridge?

The ascender wasn't just about strength. There was a lot of technique to it as well. Kristi made up some ground on Cody during the climb. She was less than 2 minutes behind him in the end. We started a timer (again) to figure out our lead on Yale as well. It's good to know what kind of time advantage you do or do not have. It was only about 12 minutes, so it wasn't a comfortable lead, but a lead none-the-less.

How did you pass Big Brother?

As I said on twitter, apparently we can now put Fortune-Cookie-Making into the life-skills-we-posses category. Haha! I don't know where that skill came from, but I was grateful to have it. We had no idea how far in front of other teams we were when we finished, we just knew we needed to get moving Asap.

The cookies were coming straight off the press, so they were HOT! Kristi was the first one to start and wasn't using gloves. It was definitely burning her fingertips, but she wasn't about to stop to put on gloves. In watching her, she was moving much more efficiently than Cody, who was wearing gloves. I figured the gloves were impeding his dexterity. Regardless, I decided to start with gloves on, since taking them off would be faster than stopping to put them on. But I was having a hard time grabbing the fortunes, so I ditched one glove.

What happened in that final challenge?

When Kristi and opened our clue, here is what we read: "Search the U.S.S. Hornet to find 12 airplane parts. Then, ONE of you must assemble your plane to show one image from each leg of the race. When you think your plane is "properly assembled," ask the Captain to check your work. If it's correct, he'll clear you for takeoff."  We read through the additional information and immediately kicked into high-gear to search for the parts. We were thrilled to see that this was the final memory challenge and that our strategy worked to put me in the position of solving the puzzle.

I have a mechanical mind, so when asked to “properly assemble” a plane, I instantly took took this to be a two part challenge. 1) Build a functional plane and 2) solve a puzzle with the images. Unfortunately, my ultimate failure was in paying too much attention to the first part, because in the end structural plane assembly didn’t matter. The big wings were actually dimensional meaning they had a thick edge, what’s known as a “leading edge,” that faces forward on a plane.  I therefore quickly deduced that I had two left wings and two right wings, which should have helped me solve the puzzle even more quickly.  This was my fatal error.

Compare this to the pieces for the tail wings. They were constructed on flat panels of wood and could all be interchangeable. Any of them could have gone on the left and any of them could have gone on the right, from a functional standpoint.

In the end the only thing that mattered were the images.  In fact to “properly assemble” the plane, I had to put two left wings on it.  One wing facing forward and one facing backwards.  A possibility I didn’t even consider until an hour or more after the others had finished and I had deemed the challenge impossible.  See below:

Why was it a plane if the only thing that mattered was the puzzle? How could a plane with two left wings be cleared for takeoff? Why was I the only one to notice the dimensions? These are questions I repeatedly ask myself and questions I cannot answer.

Admittedly, it’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster but in the end I can confidently say I have absolutely no regrets.  Short of wishing for a new brain, there is no amount of studying or preparation that would have made me interpret that clue any differently. There's nothing I could have changed or done better. Kristi and I are so proud that we got to compete in every leg of The Amazing Race. It was an opportunity we had only dreamed of, and we couldn’t be more thankful to everyone that made it possible.  We had the trip of a lifetime. We are thrilled for Jessica and Cody, and continue to send them our heart felt congratulations.

Oh, and since I know there's just enough other nerds out there like me, here's the breakdown of my plane parts. I drew it as soon as I got home to try to figure out if I had missed something. I had not...

General Race Questions:

How many times during the race does luck of cab driver come into play? How many times did it benefit or hurt you?

Cab drivers are always a variable. Any time you need to use public transportation with a driver (taxi, songthaew, tuk-tuk), there is luck involved. We had seen so many seasons of this show where strong teams ended up eliminated because they got a bad cab. We didn't want to be one of those teams. After our bad cab in Morocco, we made sure to always get a map of our location so I could be navigating along with our driver to ensure that he/she was taking us where we needed to go. Here's the breakdown:

Belgium: Indifferent, not great, but not stellar. Still should have kept him at the Roadblock.

Morocco: Bad. Got out of there as fast as humanly possible.

Prague: Good. Best cab driver that we had the whole time. Kept him the entire leg. We profiled a few drivers to find a young driver who was more likely to have a cell phone and speak English. It helped for the former. Wish we could tip him more!

Zimbabwe (Imire): Bad (from Train station in Marondera to Imire). Despite production providing us all with vehicles, our driver was super slow. We were ~7 minutes behind all the other teams until Indy car's suspension went out and Ocean Rescue passed the Safari vehicles.

Zimbabwe (Harare): Good. He knew just enough English to get by, also knew Harare quite well. Combined with my neurotic obsession with using his phone on google maps, we were able to sneak in front of some teams. Kept our driver the rest of the leg.

Thailand: Bad. Would have gotten out if we had stayed in the city, but had no other option. Didn't speak any English. Didn't have a navigational device. Didn't know where either Detour location was despite me showing him on a map.

Hong Kong: Mixed. Started off bad, but stayed with us the rest of the night. Once we were back in the city, he was a lot better.

San Francisco: Indifferent. Made no difference in the outcome of our race. We were just glad we found him so quickly leaving the cookie factory. Still wish I could tip him more.

Did you know people were intentionally trying to give you wrong directions?

We didn't know at the time, but when the race ended, we learned that there were quite a few Big Brother fans out there trying to mislead Kristi and I. Jess and Cody's fan base protect them like it is their life's duty. When they were tracking us around the world, a lot of their fans would gripe about how much they disliked us (simply because we kept doing decently and seemed to be sticking around). In both Hong Kong and San Francisco people attempted to give us wrong directions. Fortunately, Kristi and I have enough common sense to realize that what they were telling us didn't make any sense with what we were trying to solve and where we were trying to go.

If you had the opportunity would you do the race again?

100% without hesitation, YES, OF COURSE WE WOULD! Regardless of all the ups and downs, the difficulty along the way, the trip up on the final challenge, this was the experience of a lifetime. It tops the list as the coolest thing I've ever done, and I've been fortunate to do a lot of cool things in this blessed life of mine.

What was the hardest task you had to perform during the entire race?

Jen: You really need to ask? The final challenge. It was physically demanding to find all the pieces of the plane, it was mentally exhausting trying to figure out the puzzle. It would have been difficult even if the wings weren't tripping me up.

Kristi: The TV’s in Hong Kong were by far the most difficult.  Some of the TV’s were from the 50’s or 60’s and were exactly like hitting brick walls.  I hit them dozens of times as hard as I possibly could only for the bat to bounce right back into my face sending reverberations straight though my hands.  I actually broke 3 bats, including a metal one trying to break through those TV’s.  When I got home I went for an X Ray because the pain in my hands took weeks to subside.  It’s the only challenge where I felt a disadvantage to the men on the other teams.

When did you feel most proud of your partner during the race?

Jen: I felt most proud of Kristi when I watched her doing the Roadblock in Hong Kong. She was in so much pain, there was nothing I could do to help and she never gave up. That would have been a really easy moment to throw in the towel, to say "I'm done." But she never did. She just battled on. And honestly, when I was watching her build that trebuchet in Chataeux Les Baux. She was up against 7 guys and got out of there in 2nd place. It was a shining moment. I was so proud.

Kristi: Gosh, I feel like we passed other teams every time Jen did a Roadblock.  She was brilliant in Iceland, Morocco, Prague, and she definitely carried our team in Thailand.  I was proud of her in all those moments, but I was actually most proud after the finale was over. Despite frustration Jen accepted the defeat with grace and humility and I am so proud of her for that.

How does it feel to know so many fans were rooting for you to win?

Jen: It feels incredible. On one hand I do still feel like I let people down, but on the other hand, I feel completely humbled by how much fans respected how we ran this race. We're honored. The greatest gift we could possibly get out of this experience was the chance to inspire even just one person. Money can never top that.

Kristi: It’s truly touching.  The letters from fans have certainly been the best part of taking of the race.  The messages explaining that we’ve inspired people, and especially women to be more fearless and face life’s challenges is the greatest gift we could ever receive.

And, for one last time, THANK YOU for being a part of this journey! We were blessed to experience The Amazing Race and sharing it with you has made it that much better. I hope each of you can find a little inspiration to dig deep when it matters, to pursue your life's purpose, shoot for your wildest dreams and break down barriers around you. YOU inspire US. So thank you. The World Is Waiting.

 

From The Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.9.10

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episode 9 & 10: "The First Rule of the Amazing Race Club" - #TeamExtreme Recap

What a week on the Amazing Race!! Bahrain and Thailand were really incredible places to travel. We never would have found Bahrain on a map prior to this race and are grateful to have experienced it. P.S. - I'm still trying to track down some King of Halwa... And Thailand. Oh, Thailand! I can't wait to go back!! My husband spent quite a bit of time in Bangkok, but had never been to Chiang Mai. So we'll definitely be planning a trip back! The tasks in both these legs of these races were so much fun, but the elephant task was by far the most unforgettable.

Leg 9: Baharain

How did Brittany & Lucas loose a passport?

Our travel from Zimbabwe to Bahrain was brutal. Our original itinerary had us on an Emirates flight with only one connection, but Brittany and Lucas found an earlier flight on a cheaper airline. It had more connections, allowed for less sleep, but landed an hour earlier. So they took it. In the end, we were all able to get on that flight.

We had to pull our passports out a few times just for certain connecting flights. Don't know exact details but, when they got on our flight from Addis Ababa to Dubai, Brittany sat in a seat of vomit with a dirty diaper in the back of it. She quickly jumped up and switched seats. Sounded like she usually takes Lucas' passport right when they sit down, so I think that things got lost in the shuffle...quite literally.

We figured there had to be a non-elimination leg coming up and weren't sure if this was going to be it. So, even though we knew they didn't make their flight, when we last saw Lucas and Brittany it sounded like Lucas was running back to the plane to look for his passport. We figured there was a good chance they might make it in time to run the leg and stay in the race if it were a NEL. All of us just took to racing hard like usual.

How did you finish the log challenge before the boys?

We were asked to get 300 lbs of lumber to offset the scale. Kristi and I combined are about 15 lbs shy of 300 pounds, so we knew it wasn't that much lumber. Kristi figured if we dragged lumber we could make fewer trips and get more lumber to the scale more quickly.

We made two quick trips with 4 pieces of lumber. Kristi wanted to make one more trip, but I was pretty certain we had 300 lbs, so we tried it and nailed. The Indy boys way overshot how much lumber they needed.

We heard there was an unaired task? What was it?

Yes, this task was called "Who knows your partner best?" It took place on a ship in Bahrain Bay. One partner was on a plank, the other was inside the ship out of eyesight. Teams were asked 3 questions and without communicating with one another, we had to hold up a board with Kristi's name or my name on it, stating which of us the question applied to. The first question was "Who has carried the most weight in the race?" "Who is the first to quit on a task?" and "Who knows their partner best?" Every time you got an answer wrong, the person on the plank had to dive in the water. Then you had to start over. It could have been easy to get stuck there all day.

Well, apparently 12 years of friendship isn't enough to actually get to know a person... We got each question wrong on the first attempt and correct on the second attempt. On the first and last questions we were both trying to be nice and flatter one another. The second question: "Who is the first to quit on a task?" is a dumb question to ask me and Kristi.

The correct answer is NEITHER! But, we quickly realized that it didn't matter if our answers were "right," they just had to match. We got each question wrong, but on the second time that it was asked, I kept my answer the same and Kristi changed. Had we both kept our answers the same, oh boy...

With the unforeseen drama with the passport, there wasn't enough time to air this task. While it was pretty cool, I don't think it changed the team order nor had as much cultural relativity as the camels, so they eliminated it.

How did you to get so lost before the pottery challenge?

Blahhhhhh. Getting lost in Baharain SUCKED!!!!! Kristi and I made it to the general location of the candy store pretty quickly. When we got there we saw Alex & Conor again, so we worked together to find the candy store. After receiving our next clue, we decided to work together to find the pottery place. I had printed out several google maps images of the area from the travel agency in Zimbabwe, but they were all different scales and didn't match up all very well. We could see the town of A'ali on the map, and it looked relatively straight-forward to get there.

I thought that the highway we had been on earlier was the highway that would take us right there, but I was mixed up. Eventually, I realized what I had done wrong and stopped to explain it to the guys. I found a route on the maps I had printed out, but the zoom wasn't super helpful for determining what exit we needed. There was a weird looking loop/junction that we couldn't be certain would link us to the highway we needed to be on. At this point, I should have switched with Kristi and had her drive because I had a really good sense of where we were. Navigating and driving at the same time, in a foreign country whose street signs are in Arabic, is very difficult...

Needless to stay, we stopped once more to get directions, but weren't being patient enough to write them down. Then Alex had interpreted what the woman said differently than the rest of us. But we agreed he might be right. Then this sent us even further in the wrong direction... That lasted for another 15 minutes at which point I insisted we turn around and get back on the highway, despite the traffic. I was done with the crazy backroads. Once on the highway, I spotted a sign for the pottery place, but Indy was in front of us, so we had to part ways. Kristi and I got lost once more from here, after stopping yet again for directions. She told me to take a left at the round-about and somehow my brain registered right... It was a road that we couldn't turn around on, so we had to follow this massive loop all the way back to the highway and start over.

In reality, it should have only taken about 20 minutes, but I bet the elapsed time was nearly 2 hours. Somehow we were still the second team to arrive... For more insight into the NIGHTMARE of driving in Bahrain, check out this clip.

What was the most difficult challenge in Baharain?

Um, driving. Next question. Haha! But seriously, the driving and navigating in this leg was beyond difficult. We'd do things a little differently if we could do it over, but unfortunately I haven't figured out how to fold time back onto itself.

Other than the driving, the pottery was the most difficult task. There were so many pots, it was like 90 million degrees out, and the nuances of the gems we were searching for were very specific. It was really time consuming.

How did you two complete the pottery challenge so fast?

Kristi and I used the same approach in this challenge that has carried us this far. Be thorough. There's a saying in mountain biking: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. That concept really lends itself well to the race. Listen, Kristi and I are the first to run and sprint from place to place, but sprinting in the wrong direction isn't faster than walking in the right direction. We got one of our first relics wrong and realized how minute of details they were analyzing. From there, we just made sure to look in every damn pot. When we went to get something checked, we made sure to know where we left off.

We also communicated very effectively during this challenge. Only one of us was allowed to be touching a pot a time, so we would get in position ready to pick up the next one as one of us was checking a different one. Also, some of the pots had larger openings and you could pretty easily see into them. By not touching any of those pots, and just looking in, we saved quite a bit of time.

What was it like to milk a camel?

OMG! You can really tell how deprived of animals I was at this point because I definitely got overly excited about milking a camel! Haha! But it was really cool. I've never been up-close-and-personal with a camel and their faces are just so expressive. It's priceless.

But in all honesty, it was really difficult to milk the camel! You really had to yank on those udders to get anything to come out. I was worried I was gonna hurt the precious mama and she definitely got a little grumpy. I'm sure you develop finesse with this over time, but I didn't have any!

Leg 10: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Why were you last to arrive at the temple?

So, this was the first sign of us starting to overthink things. We looked up google images of this temple on the internet and I noticed that there were elephants lining the front entrance. Our clue said to "search among the elephants," so I thought I was being clever when all the other Songthaws turned left toward the parking and I directed our driver to the main entrance. Unfortunately, the temple grounds were actually under construction. Not to mention, those weren't the elephants in which the clue was hiding...

Had we been bold enough at that point to just bolt into the temple grounds, we likely would have been in first, but we doubted ourselves. Our driver then went to where everyone else had originally gone putting us in last place to get to the clues.

Why did you change detours?

My first instinct was to do the elephant detour. I'm not scared of math and I felt like it might be pretty easy to get through. But then Kristi thought the frogs would be easy. We went back and forth in our Songthaw way too much. At one point she said, lets just do what you want, but then she kept planting seeds of doubt about my decision. This was one of the few times in the race where we had a real interpersonal issue. We were over it as soon as the leg was done.

Our driver didn't know where either location was, but we were playing a game of leapfrog with Yale because their driver was about as clueless as ours. I had a pretty decent map of Chiang Mai and managed to find both locations on the map. We decided we were going to go to the elephants, but when we saw Big Brother and Indy at the frog detour, we just wanted to get out of the car. Finding places is the hardest part of the race, so typically if you get to a detour you should stay there... However, when we got there, both teams were already in the mud and no one had found a single frog. Each team needed to find 20 frogs in the same mud pit. It wasn't like there were frogs stocked for each team, so the more of us looking for frogs, the more difficult it would have been for any of us to find frogs and get the number that we needed.

We had a loose alliance with Indy & Big Brother and felt like it was in our best interest as a group if Kristi and I went to go and tackle the elephants. It was a gut decision as soon as I stepped into the water. We were trying to get Yale out of the race in this leg. So, Kristi and I switched. We didn't waste any time deliberating.

Loved seeing you best Team Yale at Math. How did you do it?

Wooop! Technically, I'm not sure we beat them at the "math" part, I think they had an error in their measurements, but I'll take it!

The math that we had to do involved multiplying a three-digit number by 21.11 or something like that, then do some subtraction. We couldn't use a calculator. I just broke it down into chunks, multiplied in easy numbers and then added them together. So, I took the original number, multiplied it by 21 then added 1/10th of it and then 1/100th of it to itself. The decimals are what intimidate most people, but this was a really easy fraction for me to figure out. I don't know... We were pumped to get out of that challenge before Yale. I figured it was more likely the measurements they were hung up on, because we could see them REMEASURING their elephant. None-the-less, we still found the irony in the outcome to be humorous.

You have to understand, that every time we do post-leg interviews, producers are asking us how impressed we are by Yale's intelligence. Isn't it surprising that they've done so well? Well, no, you have to be smart to do well in this race. And they show you the "nerd" side of Henry and Evan and all the "bumbling" that they do, but they held up just fine in the physical tasks. I got in a footrace with Evan in the Reykjavik airport and that girl can RUN! Regardless, Yale would have been chuckling if they beat us in a more "physical" task too.

Where is the dislike for TeamYale coming from? Is it because they're not like the rest of you?

Here's the deal, folks. Any amount of "liking Yale less than other teams" has nothing to do with them attending an Ivy league school. As a matter of fact, it was one of the first things we talked about. My late father was a computer science professor at Yale for 32 years. As it turns out, Henry's mom was a computer science major at Yale and knew my father. Henry and I pretty quickly connected over this, but as soon as we did, it seemed like Evan pulled back.

There was a very cerebral quality to Evan's racing that tended to rub us the wrong way. I only know Evan in the context of this race, so I don't know if this is how she is in real life. Everything was a strategic calculation for her, but somehow the fact that there were emotional beings executing the racing, got lost in the shuffle. When they tried to insert themselves into social play later on in the race it was too late. This wasn't bullying, this wasn't casting them out because they're different, this was a race.

Do we think they're a strong team? No doubt. Do they run the race differently than us? Yes. Do we feel more connected and aligned with some other people in the race? Absolutely. But we don't hate Yale. And please, can we stop with "the nerds vs. the jocks" narrative? It has nothing to do with it.

For a few of our other thoughts on #TeamYale and our other competitors, check out this video.

How did you pass the sanctuary and not see it??

The editing masterminds did some voodoo with the clips and soundbites in this episode to build some extra drama. We never drove past Patara Elephant Farm until we found it for the detour. The problem was, the map we had was more of an art piece than a map to scale. (It's the only map from the race that I saved so that I can frame it.)

While looking for the farm we passed two landmarks that appeared after Patara according to our map. We decided to turn around in case we had driven past it. Yale kept going at that point, and that's when I made my remarks about them not knowing where they were going despite having the same map as us. I was wrong. 100%. I was also misinformed. But at the time, I believed I was right and I was annoyed. And no, you couldn't see the elephants when I made my comments. Watch it again, my voice and the clip of the elephants are separate. 

Kristi and I spent another 15 minutes from that point to finally getting someone (a monk in a private monestary) who confirmed it was back up the hill where we had last turned around. So, this time we kept going past Doi Resort. That's when we saw elephants crossing the road and found Patara. Check out this behind-the-scenes clip to see a little more into our navigational woes in Thailand.

Why did Kristi hope Yale was lost?

As for Kristi's comment at the end of the leg "I hope Yale's lost," allow me to explain... With only 4 teams left, and supposedly another 2 legs of the race, we expected Thailand was a non-elimination leg. NELs are one of the most frustrating parts of the race. Especially when a very strong team nearly gets eliminated, but survives. Though Henry & Evan thought we were underestimating them, we were not.

We knew at this point that we were getting close to flying home. There was such little amount of time left, we figured the only way to fit another leg of the race in before flying back to the US, was to stay in Thailand. There's a greater chance of maintaining an advantage from a previous leg when you start the next leg in the same country. Wishing that they were lost, was a way of expressing that we wanted as big of an advantage as possible the next leg. We wanted Yale to get eliminated. That doesn't mean we hated them or even disliked them. We're simply racing for $1,000,000.

Isn't riding elephants horrific & cruel?

It certainly can be, but not at Patara. I've tried to learn all I can about Patara Elephant Farm, since my return home. Patara is an elephant sanctuary. The adult elephants are rescued from the the circus and are brought to Patara for protection & breeding. They do not "break" their baby elephants through torturous methods. They only allow bareback riding (apparently the chairs are a very painful and damaging aspect) and only allow one ride per elephant per day. I encourage you to look into their practices further to ensure that this is the case. And if you're traveling to Thailand and want to have an experience with elephants, please look to places like Patara or Elephant Nature Park, and don't accidentally support the corrupt elephant tourism industry.

We didn't have time to ask many details while we were there, but you can read this very helpful write-up from a traveler who visited Patara (or this one). The love and affection that they showed these elephants was astounding and our experience was one we'll remember for a lifetime.

What did the scorpions taste like?

The scorpions were much more flavorful and delicious than the frogs! They also made me eat crickets, which were probably my favorite of all. The hard part about eating the scorpions is that the exoskeleton didn't really dissolve at all. So, you'd just chew it to break it up in smaller pieces, but it was really rough and tough to swallow. Hence why I washed it down with some beer. We weren't supposed to eat the billion little bones of the frog, so that was somewhat meticulous. I just picked out all the bones and then tried to swallow the meat as fast as possible.

NEXT WEEK:

We've made it to the final four and have yet to finish below 3rd for the duration of the race. Hoping to channel a little extra strength next week to be sure we can maintain this streak! Kristi and I are very proud of our performance and are so appreciative of all the support that we've received. Thank you for watching, thank you for reading these recaps, and we can't wait for next Wednesday! Can't believe this is it! Tune in from 8-10 pm MT & CT (9-11 pm ET & PT). DVR the Olympics and watch us LIVE! xoxo

From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.7.8

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episode 6: "All's Fair In Love & War" #TeamExtreme Recap

Woohooo we went to Zimbabwe!! Kristi and I have still not finished below 3rd place AS A TEAM after 8 legs of this race. Our consistency is something that not even Kristi and I can fully understand, but we feel very fortunate to have continued to perform well. Neither of us has been to Southern Africa at all and if my face didn't give it away at the start of the episode, we were so excited! I LOVE animals, so I was thrilled to be heading to a wildlife conservation.

How long did it take to get from Prague to Zimbabwe?

After we ripped our clue at Letna Park in Prague, we had to make our way to a travel agency to pick up our tickets. Yes, once again we were all on the same flight. Understandable considering how much of a venture it would be. We walked from the park to the travel agency since we had plenty of time. From the city, we took the metro to a bus to the airport. Then we had a sequence of three flights, including a 12-hour overnight flight from Zurich to South Africa. Once we landed in Zimbabwe, we had to take a taxi to a train station to a shuttle bus to a safari vehicle before arriving at bushcamp. All-in-all, it was about a 32-hour travel day, so we were fried when it came time to assemble that tent.

Aren't you and Kristi supposed to be good at setting up tents?

Hahaha!!! Yes, we've both spent a fair amount of time in the outdoors. I camp a ton with my husband, though thanks to Escapod, we don't camp in tents any more. That said, I've assembled many a tent.  From the train it was full on taxi race to Imire. The first 3 teams managed to stay together and cruise down a super sketchy road. Indy Car's suspension went out during the drive and they veered off the road right in front of us. We knew we were behind the other teams quite a ways, but rolled with it considering the potential outcome. We managed to assemble the tent pretty quickly, but we started about 7 minutes behind the first three teams (Yale, BB & Firefighters). Ocean Rescue impressed me more than anyone. They finished that challenge in 2nd despite arriving there last (10 mins behind the first three teams).

What did you think of the partner swap?

Besides potentially messing with Kristi and I never finishing below 3rd place, we're alright with it. (I still stand by the fact that we have all top-3 finishes to this point as we weren't racing together on leg 7 - have I said that yet?).

We are fully accepting that the Amazing Race creators can do anything they want. However, there was very minimal information provided at the time of the announcement. We didn’t know how long we would be racing for, what would happen to the last team to arrive at the pit stop, and when or IF we would be reunited with our partners. It was pretty stressful. Kristi and I had been racing really well together, so we weren’t thrilled to have something potentially disrupt our momentum.

Were you surprised that Jody picked you?

Kind of. We had been getting along with Jess & Cody really well on the race, but I don’t think Kristi and I quite realized how much teams were paying attention to our performance. Especially being athletes, we’re always looking for ways to improve our performance. We knew we had the best finishes of all the teams, but didn’t necessarily think of ourselves as the “team to beat” until this moment.

How did you decided which partner would switch with whom?

We were very much put on the spot. Since Cody & Jess chose us, Phil asked them who would race with whom. Cody pretty quickly said that he’d race with me and Jess with Kristi. At this point, Kristi leaned over to me and said, “I think your strengths would better match up with Jess and mine with Cody.”

In hindsight it’s always easy to play the “if-only” game, but Kristi is a better paddler than me, so on the rafts, I think it was good to have Kristi with Jess.

Did teams have to do opposite sides of the detour?

No, teams were allowed to do the same side of the detour. There were only 3 stations on each side, so if you arrived early, like we did, you could go choose the same detour. That might’ve been a game-changer for this leg. Or, it might not have made a difference, given how much the Firefighters struggled with the singing later on.

For the record, Kristi does know how to drive stick. However, should she and Jess have gotten stuck, Jess would have been the one doing the winching... they'd still be stuck in that mud puddle.

Then why didn't you switch detours to go with Jess & Kristi?

When the girls switched, it was my initial instinct to go with them. My thought was that 4 brains are better than two. We could potentially work together to get through it really quickly. Cody said that Jess is good at puzzles, so I let it go. That’s not to say that Kristi isn’t, but memory & puzzles are more my thing, physical is more her thing. Had we switched, that would have forced Evan and Daniel to do the 4x4, which could have been interesting… If Daniel were driving, Evan would have had to winch. Evan took stick driving lessons before coming on the race, but these trucks were really difficult to drive. (Hence why I switched with Cody at the water crossing).

Cody & Jen flew through the 4 x 4 challenge. How did they do that?

Cody & I worked really well as a team. The only "mistake" we made was not switching to help Kristi & Jess, but hindsight is 20/20. Originally, I started out driving with Cody in the back, so if we got stuck, he could do the winching. But when we got to the water crossing, I got a bit nervous about me doing the driving. The vehicles they provided were VERY difficult to drive. I kept accidentally starting in 3rd instead of 1st and it made for a very jerky ride... So, I switched with Cody at the water, which was the best decision I could have made.

The second water crossing was intended to get you stuck. We found a good route across and Cody knew a secret about this kind of the driving. Apparently you need to keep wiggling the steering wheel left and right so that you don't dig a giant rut. Welp, it worked! We nearly beat Phil to the mat. LOL. Production was scrambling when they saw us get our pit stop clue.

How did Jess & Kristi get so stuck on that puzzle?

There were a few factors that went into this. Partly, not fully understanding what was expected of them. The clue doesn’t explicitly state “remember the location and order in which you find the evidence.” Some teams read between the lines on this and realized it before getting to the puzzle. Regardless, Jess & Kristi got the first 5 correct and just scrambled the final 3 on their first attempt. Let me tell you one thing about getting a puzzle wrong on The Amazing Race. IT SUCKS! You very quickly start overthinking it, which I think they did.

They thought that they path may have been in a crisscross pattern instead of in a circle. Also, not knowing your new partners strengths and weaknesses makes it very difficult to know when to sit back or assert yourself. Once Evan & Daniel came through and got it on the first try, they realized it must be simpler than they were making it out to be. That's when it all came together for them.

Why didn't anyone U-Turn #TeamExtreme?

Though it sucked to finish at the back of the pack in Leg 7, we were very fortunate that Ocean Rescue and IndyCar were the two teams to finish about 20 minutes before us. Had it been Yale, we would have been U-Turned 100%. Because, according to Evan, that would have been the "strategic calculation" to make. And, she's right. If you were looking at the U-Turn as an opportunity to get the best team out of the race, we would have been it. However, Kristi and I were very close with Indy & Ocean Rescue. We were racing the same way and had a lot of respect for one another.

How did you and Kristi make up so much time through that Detour?

When we were in the cab from Imire Wildlife Conservation to Harare, we weren't able to exactly locate the haberdashery. We knew the street, but not the exact address. I asked our driver which end of the street the "fabric district" was on and he led us there. We made a left when a lot of other teams went right to arrive at the U-Turn board in 3rd place.

Rolling those tires through that marketplace was no easy task. It was about 92 degrees outside and we had to put those suits on over our clothes. Not to mention, we were instructed to "roll the tires like the locals do." The dirt roads had giant holes and rocks everywhere and the surface was extremely uneven. I just knew that the crux of the task would be locating the hardware store, so I kept my eyes peeled. That's ultimately what allowed us to jump in front of Indy & Ocean. We sprinted back to our cab to make our way to the garden.

Why was Kristi mad at you for helping #TeamYale?

Kristi wasn't really mad at me for helping Yale, but it wasn't the smartest race move. If you're going to help a team, it should be a team that will reciprocate that down the line. Henry & Evan gave us no reason to believe that they'd ever help us. They absolutely 100% would not. And I don't blame them. Kristi completely understood why Evan didn't help with puzzle in the previous leg. You can see that she moves past it quickly and shifts attention back to solving the puzzle. But it wasn't absurd for her to ask. If you don't ask for help, you generally don't get it (unless your Yale, and you pass me...oops). So, she was razing me a little bit. Especially because we had strong working relationships and loose alliances with some other teams at the time (Ocean, Indy & BB).

How long did it take you to get the singing challenge?

Kristi and I handily arrived in first place to the singing challenge. We were there for about 15-20 minutes before Ocean Rescue showed up and had already made 1 or 2 attempts on stage at that point. Every time we got up there, they'd tell us we had to another little thing different. First it was pronunciation, then it was keeping pace, then it was not using the paper, then we needed be dancing and grooving more, then my mic got unplugged, then they couldn't hear me well enough... It was like, seriously guys?!

The edit made it seem like we were all more stacked up than we were. The only other team we saw get on stage was Ocean Rescue. Brittany & Lucas very quickly realized it was more about putting on a show than nailing the pronunciation or pacing. Once they got it, we hopped back up and did our best to play to the crowd. We got it immediately after Ocean Rescue got theirs correct. At this point, the other teams were there and learning from our failings, so IMHO it helped them move through after fewer attempts.

What is the name of the song?

For your convenience, I've added the lyrics below. For now, you can watch this YouTube video of the song. Haven't been able to find it on iTunes or elsewhere.

Jen:      E’yay yoi-ye e’yay Ho-ye ba-bá

Pasi pã-no ka’ni pa-ne zee-edzo

Kristi:   E’yay yoi-ye e’yay Ho-ye ba-bá

E’yay yoi-ye e’yay ini n’do-da kwen-da

Jen:      Mwari’uyu akasika wo zwee-no tapira

Dokosi-kawo zeenovava

Kristi:   Musika akasika zweeno-fadza

Dokosi-kawo zweeno-su-weeza

Next week:

We're off to Baharain for the first time in Amazing Race history! We'll do some heavy lifting, make a splash, get up-close-and-personal with multiple mammalian creatures, eat some bugs and more. This is going to be an insanely action-packed two hours of adrenaline pumping RACING! Join us from 8-10 pm MT & CT (9-11 pm PT & ET) or DVR this sh*t and watch it later!!! Preferably both :)

 

From the Cutting Room Floor - Tar 30.6

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episode 6: "The Claws Are Out" #TeamExtreme Recap

And so, the adventure continues! **SPOILER ALERT*** Once again, and with honor, Kristi & I landed on the podium. This time we were back in FIRST place. We're the first team of the season to win two legs and are feeling stronger and more confident as we work out our strategies for this race. Prague is a gorgeous city and close to my heart as my great grandparents were from this area. I've always wanted to visit and am more compelled than ever to go back!

When we signed up for the Amazing Race, we did so because of the incredible opportunity the race presented - a potential trip around the world, being tested in all different realms, a prize of $1,000,000 - not because we were going to be on TV. The cameras, the producers, the sound guys/gal, were all secondary to the competition. We almost forgot that there was a TV show being produced at times, we were simply there to compete. The aftermath of the show has been an incredible gift and given us the chance to relive one of the most [amazing] experiences of our lives.

Why didn't you plot against a strong team in the back of the pack and eliminate someone with the W-Turn?

For those of you who don't know the rules of the race, once you've used a u-turn, you can't use it again in the race. [After speaking to some other races from TAR30, I may have been wrong about this]. Regardless, Kristi and I were feeling really strong about how we were racing and with an hour lead on 3 other teams, we felt like we would be wiser to let them battle it out among themselves. Though the "social" game of TAR isn't quite as mission critical as in say Survivor, it is still a crucial element. Being a good team isn't the only reason you get u-turned. You can have a target on your back for being a strong team, for being untrustworthy, for being annoying...

To risk u-turning a team that we were likely to beat to the mat that day regardless, wasn't worth it. Even had we used the "burn" tactic, wherein, the first team to arrive u-turns a team in the back of the pack, and then the second team to arrive u-turns the first team, thus making it void and leaving only one team u-turned, there was still a chance that team would survive. Well-Strung nearly did. Then we'd be left in a race with a pissed off team and we would have a target on our back for not only being "good" but being "untrustworthy." The U-Turn was an unnecessary weapon for us to use in this scenario.

That said, Jess & Cody absolutely made the right decision in U-Turning Well-Strung. Though all of us were sad to see them go.

Why did you decide to keep your cab in Prague?

We let our cab go at the Roadblock in Belgium and then got super lost finding the printing press. We said we'd NEVER let our cab go again. But then had a terrible cab in Morocco, so we abandoned ship! Haha! See, learning from past mistakes...

On the flight to Prague we asked a local an overwhelming number of questions about their taxis. There are a lot of fraudulent taxis in Prague, as well as only certain ones that travel in certain places. We made sure to learn the trustworthy taxi companies (AAA was one of them). We also knew that cabs were difficult to track down in the city, but were informed that any restaurant would happily call one for you. The Firefighters did that! But, waiting for a cab during the Amazing Race is a form of torture.

So, without giving away too many secrets, we found a way to communicate with our cab driver that we were in a very important race and that we wanted/needed him to wait for us. We also learned how to say "thank you very much" in Czech (děkuji mnohokrát - pronounced djay-qwee-A moots-graat), which goes a long way while traveling.

Why didn't others do the same?

This was the first leg where you really needed a cab, so I don't think the "keep your cab" mentality was quite front-of-mind. The driving time between the detour & roadblock was probably about 15-20 minutes without traffic. And from the roadblock back to the city center about the same. To be without a cab would have been horrendous. You couldn't do it. Hence why so many teams spent so much time trying to find a cab, versus trekking on foot. I don't think many teams thought about keeping their cab at the Rudolfinum and then some others had issues retaining them.

Why did you choose "This" over "That?"

Since we had no information about either detour, we decided that we would go to the closest one. Our cabbie told us that "This" was closer, which apparently wasn't true, but it worked out. The most important thing was that he knew where it was. We got there about 15 minutes before Yale, as they were taking public transportation. I think Kristi and I would have been able to get through "That" pretty quickly as well, but "This" was way more fun.

"This" had some elements that made it very tricky. For example, the "perfect pour." (If the photo of the perfect pour was double-sided, we're total idiots...) I knew we needed some foam, but the area to which we needed to take it for approval was quite a ways away. By the time we got down there, our foam had deflated almost to nothing. On round 2, we brought our mug of beer and another mug full of foam, and refilled our foam right around the corner from the brew master.

What was so difficult about finding the party boat?

This is actually so freaking funny... After we rearranged the kegs, tapped the full-keg, and delivered a perfect pour to the brewmaster, we had to deliver 2 kegs to "Fidelio at Naplavka Smichov." That was ALL the information we had. We first went to our cabbie who was waiting for us, and showed him where we needed to go. He offered to drive us, but we had to go on foot and we're not allowed to have someone lead us. We tried to follow his directions, but apparently our concept of 200 meters is wayyyy off.

This was approximately the route that Kristi & I took, maybe a little shy on the back & forths:

We asked so many other people for directions. Everyone just kept saying, it's at the river, which we thought meant it was a restaurant or brewery on the river. Mind you, the river is long, as rivers are... There was no indication of Fidelio being a boat. However, if any of us had slowed down enough to use someone's phone to look up each individual element of this, we would have learned that Naplavka means "embankment," Smichov is a district in Prague, and Fidelio...yeah, nothing about Fidelio. We were too fixated on this last element, Fidelio, to realize that Naplavka Smichov is a very specific embankment. Not the river itself...

If you did it right, the brewery was merely a 5 minute walk to Fidelio if you went directly there... But Fidelio was tucked behind the wall of the embankment, so you didn't see it while you were walking past it. We past it two or three times before actually finding it. Don't worry, we got it right the second time!

Jen, how did you solve the Roadblock?

The Roadblock was a memory challenge, which I happen to LOVE! Yay! I hadn't seen this episode with Flight Time & Big Easy (though I watched their season, so not sure how I missed it). This was allllll new. As soon as I walked in, the ringing was overwhelming. It was deafening. I just decided right away that I had to be extremely methodical about listening to the phones. I think I was also the only one who plugged their other ear... As I was hearing the words, I'd put them into small individual phrases so that it would be easier to remember.

I made a whole lap around the room, listened to every single phone, but still only had 6 words. At first I was stressing but, it was still only Daniel and I in the room. So, I just started at the beginning and SLOWED DOWN.

The phones weren't real, meaning that picking up the handle didn't trigger the recording. I'm fairly certain that the recording of the words was on a loop, so if you picked it up right after the word played, you'd hear silence for long enough that you'd think there wasn't a recording. But, if you picked it up right before it played, it would seem like the words played quickly. In a nutshell, if you went too quickly, you'd miss words.

I finally got all 8 words and went into the room to solve the puzzle. This was around the time that Evan arrived. The form had a bunch of random questions you had to answer (to confuse you) and then had one section to write the 8 words in, line-by-line. I'm a very visual person, so I immediately went to write the words down on the margin so that I could visualize how they should go together. Apparently that was not allowed. So I started over. I first tried: "It is the meaning of life that stops," which is completely morose...

The real Kafka quote, however, is beautiful: "The meaning of life is that it stops." A little less than 3 years ago, I held my father's hand as he took his final breath. His death taught me to appreciate every moment for what it is. So, that's what Kristi and I have tried to do on this race. "Life has meaning and purpose because it's finite. And our experience on this race is finite as well, whether or not we win, or go home next leg," I say, as Kristi finishes my thought, "we want to enjoy every moment."

Why didn't you work with Daniel?

It didn't even cross my mind to work with Daniel. The twins are the nicest people on earth and their dad jokes are out of this world. Evan had been calling them the "plaid dads," which I think would have been a more appropriate hashtag, but maybe it didn't fit with the theme of the season.

Anyway, my decision to not work with Daniel was simply because I didn't need to. The Firefighters and us were the first two teams there. The edit made it look like Kristi and I somehow arrived long before them, but we weren't there more than a minute before they arrived. We were still at the clue-box when they got there.

At this point we knew Well-Strung had been U-turned because Indy told us when we saw them as we were leaving the detour. So, we knew we didn't have a ton of time pressure. In the same way we didn't need to U-turn, we didn't need to collaborate.

Did Jess sabotage Brittany & Alex?

Before you read on, please remember that behind the "characters" that you see on this show are real people with real feelings and real lives. Be kind. It's fine to be critical of race decisions, but let's not make it personal. All of these people are in a race for $1MM. No one knows who or what to believe or when you're being lied to. As a racer, there are things you don't know until the show airs. Yet, all our opinions on scenarios are filmed BEFORE THE SHOW AIRS. You have to be on your toes, looking over your shoulder, questioning every decision, conversation, interaction, to see what it may tell you about a team's trustworthiness.

I don't think Jess sabotaged Brittany & Alex, but she was uncomfortably sneaky, and intentionally so: "The last thing I wanted was to give everyone all of my hard-work and then see them leaving the roadblock before me. I didn't feel comfortable sharing the actual answer until I was heading out that door with the clue in my hand." This is completely fair, but there was probably a better way to go about it.

In the context of the race, I give her props for thinking on her toes so quickly. I couldn't have come up with that plan on the spot. Might not be the same game Kristi and I are playing, but this girl is in this game to win it. I also completely understand why Brittany is expressing reservations about trusting Jessica moving forward. Don't forget she's also in a race for $1,000,000.

What We See:

Jess asks Brittany, "How many words do you have? I have 5, but I'm missing 3."

Brittany responds, "Which ones do you have? I'll tell you if I have the one that you're missing. Ha!"

Jess says, "This, Is, It, and then Stops," then states, "let me know if you find another word."

We then see Brittany & Alex hand in their sheets, while Jess changes "this" to "life." After B & A get it wrong, she turns her in form, gets it right and gets her clue.

What We Don't See:

I've typed out the scenario, word for word, but we are still missing so much information. For example, we don't see when Alex got in the mix. We don't hear anyone explicitly say "let's work together". And we don't see who did what when they were solving the puzzle... In other words, we don't have all the facts, so how can we judge?

So, what should Jess have done?

By telling them the word before she left, Jess prevented an all out war. Had she not done that, she would have guaranteed that she and Cody would be racing with a target on their back. Jess could have gotten the same results without potentially burning bridges by negotiating the collaboration. She was in a power position because she had more words than Brittany & Alex combined. By saying, I'll give you my words if you let me get the clue first when we solve the puzzle, she would have preserved some relationships. Easy for me to say in hindsight though. All said and done, it's a race.

Next WEEK:

Off to Zimbabwe next week! When we left Morocco we were worried that would be our only African experience. Morocco feels more middle-eastern and Mediterranean than African. We are over the moon excited to go to Zimbabwe! My face says it all! Next week shifts to two-hour time slot from 9-11 pm ET & PT and 8-10 pm MT & CT, only on CBS :)

 

 

From The Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.4 & 30.5

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episodes 4 & 5: "Gotta Put Your Sole Into It" #TeamExtreme Recap

My, oh, my! I think people are finally starting to understand why they're calling this season the "most competitive" season yet. Out of 30 seasons, that's quite the statement, but in the first 5 legs of this race, we haven't seen a repeat leg winner! ***Spoiler Alert*** Kristi and I did technically arrive at the mat first, but grrrrr... those head-to-heads. Guess we needed to have spent more time playing yard games like bocce ball instead of doing cool sh*t like skiing, mountain biking and wakeboarding (#NoteToSelf).

Read on to learn a few behind the scenes details about legs 4 & 5 of the Amazing Race. There were quite a few details missed in these episodes like a fender bender (our cab driver hit a car), a skipped active route info clue, half of a detour, a close call with our sound guy, and a few injuries.

Leg 4: St. Tropez, France

Why was every team on the same flight leaving Morocco, AGAIN?!

Before I get into this, I just need to tell you a little story... Leaving the palace in Morocco, there was a line of cabs along the driveway waiting for teams as we started this leg. You could hop in any old cab that you chose, so Kristi and I found one that looked a bit newer and hopped right in. Our cabby started to pull out and WHAM! Smashed into another car driving by... But, we're in a race, so we can't wait for them to get sorted. We just hop out, run to the cab in the very front of the line and tell him where we're headed. At this point we still think there's a chance of getting on an earlier flight so catching Yale & Indy was priority numero uno.

We were told we could book a more advantageous flight if we found one. Unfortunately, upon arrival at the travel agency, we learned that there were no other flights. The airlines that you can fly and the countries through which you can travel are limited. I think there are logistical and security reasons for this and in the end there were no other available flights. We asked at the travel agent for quite a while and then double checked availability on a computer later. We even discussed trying to take a ferry to Spain (only 8 miles across the sea) to catch a flight from there, but we weren't allowed. So, once again we were all bunched up.

Why couldn't #TheFirefighters figure out how to reverse their car in France?

The stick shift had a ring that you had to pull up on in order to move it into the reverse position. If you didn't know it was there, I'm sure it would be confusing. And maybe the driver's manual wasn't in english?? I had driven a stick shift like that previously, so it didn't trip me up. But they figured it out by the Les Beaux leg. I'm just glad that they didn't get t-boned while pushing their vehicle into position!

Kristi seemed to do really well at the Roadblock. Has she sailed before?

Kristi has not sailed before. She did grow up on water, but this activity was not intuitive. She understood what she was supposed to do right away, but the wind was blowing straight into the shore. They didn't show much of it, but she paddled most of the way out to the first buoy. Fortunately, she was able to catch the wind and tack all the way back into shore.

How did some teams get so lost leaving the detour?

The edit on this episode was cut somewhat short because they needed to allot more time for the head-to-head. One major detail that was missed was the second half of the detour. There was a second half, you ask?!?! Yes. After we finished making sandals (or baking bread), you had to deliver a finished pair (or baked loaf of bread) to a person in a restaurant in St. Tropez. This meant, we had another location to which we needed to find before arriving at the Place de Lices.

*There was also an additional route info clue, leaving the roadblock, that was edited out of the show. I suppose it didn't change the order at all, so they eliminated it.

What are your thoughts on the Head-To-Head now?

Ugh. The head-to-head. Blah. Well, this was a frustrating one, as you can imagine. To have run a really strong race leg and then have a few rounds of bocce (pétanque) determine your entire day, really sucks. Our thoughts remain consistent with what we said after the Belgium leg: we would be fine with the head-to-head if there was an opportunity to pick up time after it.

Kristi and I were waiting for about 25-30 minutes before IndyCar showed up. But our start times for the next day show us starting about 20 minutes after IndyCar. Had the head-to-head been upon arrival at the Roadblock, we would have had to play the same two teams, in the same order. Even with the same results (a loss to Indy & Jody) we may have been able to overcome it and still win the leg... Make sense? Another alternative would be to leave the head-to-head where it is, but if you're there for more than [xx] amount of time (say 10-15 minutes) before another team arrives, then you can check in. If there is a team right on your heels, you have to play them in a head-to-head.

Ultimately, I like the head-to-head, but think that there are better ways to implement it as to not nullify virtually everything else that had happened in the leg.

Leg 5: Les Beaux, France (Pronounced 'Lay Bow', not 'Lesbo')

Did you have any issues finding the castle during your drive from St. Tropez?

We had a great map of France, but it was of ALL of France. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite zoomed in enough to provide a comfortable level of detail to Les Beaux. Kristi did a great job navigating and found a route there, but it was not the most direct. We decided to take it anyway because the more direct route had road junctions that we couldn't clearly identify because of the scale. KRISTI & I DIDN'T WANT TO GET MAJORLY LOST. We arrived in 2nd, about 35 minutes behind Indy. So we lost a little bit of time, but still jumped in front of Jess & Cody. Guess they should have continued following us after they followed us to the highway ;).

What did you do when you arrived at the castle at 5 a.m., but it didn't open until 8:30?

When we arrived and found the IndyCar guys, we tried to hunker down and sleep on the cobblestone. That lasted for about an hour. It was FREEZING! Chomp arrived, then Well-Strung, then Jody (something like that)... we all discussed the idea of going to sleep in our cars for a couple hours and honor our arrival positions. It was very broken sleep as we kept waking up when other teams would arrive. Finally, around 8 am, we noticed that Yale was just arriving and decided to walk toward the gate. Holy bananas, they got REALLY lost. But they seemed to maintain their composure through all this adversity (frites race, chipped tooth, lost for 3+ hours...). Props.

This roadblock seemed cool, how did Kristi get it right on the first attempt?

This was a fun roadblock. Kristi joked on twitter that she "trained" for the Amazing Race by assembling IKEA furniture. It certainly wasn't intentional, but it probably did serve as excellent practice. There were no instructions, just a pile of parts and one complete trebuchet that you had to replicate. Kristi was thorough in examining the finished product before she started assembling it. Not just looking at what parts needed to go where, but in what particular order.

She also made a smart move with the big basket thingy (see photo)... Kristi anchored the long arm down with chains before trying to slide it on. She appeared to be neck-and-neck with some of the other teams at this point, but jumped way ahead with this move. I think we actually got out of there in 2nd, but I can't be certain.

Was it difficult to find the bull Arena? How cool was that place?

It was a bit challenging to find the Arena. The clue that we received from Cafe de la Fontaine only said the name of the arena and the town. According to google maps, it was about a 25 minute drive if you navigated directly there.

We found the general area quickly, but we wasted about 15 minutes just looking for the marked parking area... Turns out, the marked parking is easier to find when there are teams in front of you. Ocean Rescue saw us park and then the 4 of us started running through the town to find the arena.

The trickiest part was that the main staircase drew you straight up, but all the arches were gated closed. We ran all the way to the back of the building before realizing we weren't getting any closer to finding the entrance. At that point, I figured we should go back toward the main entrance to see what we missed. On the side of the stairs, there was a marked entrance, but it was quite hidden.

*This part of town was mainly a walking village but some of the roads would alternate between walking & driving paths. When cars were allowed in or out, these cylindrical barriers would get lowered into the earth. Then when it was back to a walking path, would pop up out of the ground. One of these popped up right in front of our sound guy, Mickey, and totally took him out! These guys are the most badass people I know. Mickey just got right back up and kept on running.

Were you in front of OceanRescue after the detour?

Once we completed the challenge at the Arena in Arles, it was a footrace back to the parking lot. Kristi and I went out a different exit and got in front of Lucas & Brittany. But we made the ultimate Amazing Race error and didn't fully read our clue. We were so used to being given very little information about where we were going, that we stopped to ask someone for directions. You can see it happen in this BTS video here. I guess we don't have compasses in our hearts, Brittany!

Brittany & Lucas realized that they had directions all the way to the pit stop, so they cruised on by and got themselves a well-deserved W. It was only upon getting back in our car after asking directions that we realized we had all the information in our clue. Our bad! Won't be making that mistake again...

What do you think about Brittany & Lucas' engagement?? Jen, why did you ruin the moment?!?!

Kristi and I are so happy for Lucas & Brittany. I love how clever Lucas was with his hiding spot for the ring and that he asked for his headphones at such an awkward time. Haha! I still want to know why Brittany thought this meant he must be cold?! They had a tough few legs leading up to this, and it was great to see their strengths shine.

I don't know why, but I knew as soon as Lucas opened his mouth that was about to propose. Brittany didn't even register what was happening. She was just gazing at Lucas in awe. That's when I realized that I shouldn't be gasping out loud and tried to hide my face by turning toward Kristi. Ooops! Too late :) Selfishly, it was an honor to be there to witness this. It was a beautiful moment. And even if Brittany wasn't fully listening, the words Lucas had to say about her truly melted hearts. I'm glad they have it on tape!

Quick Summary of Legs 4 & 5

Overall, legs 4 & 5 of The Amazing Race were incredible. The South of France is one of the most stunning places I've ever been and I hope to return to explore the mountains at greater length. We've still managed to stay in the top 3 for 5 legs (the only team to do so) and are feeling stronger with each step. We know that there is only one #1 that we need and that's where we're focusing our attention. We made one major mistake in Leg 5 that likely cost us the win (e.x.- not reading the entirety of our clue, which gave us exact directions to Hotel Benvengudo), though we have no regrets considering how that leg turned out!!

On To The Next!

Next week, The Amazing Race heads of to Prague, Czech Republic (my great-grandparents moved to the US from here), so I couldn't be more excited to see this country up close and personal. There will be a lot of beer references and a throwback to a legendary roadblock from season 15. Tune in 8/7 c on CBS!

From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.3

The Amazing Race Season 30 Episode 3: "It's Gonna Be A Fragrant Day" #TeamExtreme Recap

Hope you had fun watching Amazing Race Episode 3 - and if you haven't yet had the chance to watch yet, you definitely should! This was my favorite leg so far. There were so many lead changes, the scenery was stunning, and the Roadblock was really well thought out. Once again, Kristi and I end up in country we've never been to (no skiing challenges yet) and got to cross another one off the list! Morocco was stunning and the architecture was so intricate. I'd love to go back and explore when I'm not running around with a gnome under my arm ;) ***Spoiler Alert*** Kristi and I are now 3 for 3 with top 3 finishes and are learning from our mistakes in every leg. We're the only F/F team left and are stoked to keep on running! Share your favorite moment from Leg 3 in the comments below!!

What was the deal with your cab driver?

Great question. He definitely didn't speak any of the languages that we speak, and I don't think he much enjoyed having the cameras in his cab. According to some Race experts, if you're in a bad cab, you should get out and find another one. While agree with this, it's not always that easy. We left from a hotel 10+ miles from the medina/fish port area of Tangier. It was mostly residential and cabs weren't aplenty, so hopping out to find another cab was a tall order. We tried communicating with him in French, Spanish, English & fish-face...to no avail.

Once we got to the Petit Socco, we decided to jump ship and ask the locals. We obviously knew we weren't at the port, but needed to separate from our cabbie. Using sound reasoning, we decided that fish ports must be on the water, so our first goal was to run down the hill to the shoreline. Once there, we found a gentleman from Spain who spoke English and was able to point us to the fish port.

TeamExtreme cruised through that fish challenge - what was your strategy?

Well, arriving in last place readily adds fuel to the fire. There was literally no time to be squeamish about the smell or texture of the fish, we just needed to get in and out asap. Kristi saw other teams there, but I didn't, so I thought we were in last, last, last the whole time. We quickly fell into our roles at this challenge. Kristi just started scooping out masses of fish and I started arranging them. I noticed that the example was extremely precise. Not only were the heads facing up, but also their bellies, and the fish were formed into very neat layers and rows. We made a base layer with fish so that the angle of our presentation layer was a bit easier to form.

Fortunately, we got the task done before Indy (love you boys!) and Kristi's french proved to be very helpful for getting directions to the next location. We actually lucked out, in that the Souk was up near the Petit Socco where our cab driver wrongly let us out earlier in the day. Also, we got to run up some hills, which I think is one of our strengths compared to other teams. We were the 5th team to get the Roadblock clue.

What did you think about the situation with Jess, Brittany and the Gnome?

Listen, it's a race. Both Kristi and I bonded with Jess and Brittany on this race. They are fierce, strong, smart women. Things get crazy in this race. When you are out there, it's pure survival. This was the first leg in which there was a TON of interaction between the teams during a challenge. We were all collaborating at various points and somewhat leapfrogging off of each other.

For example, I started out at the back of the pack on the Roadblock and worked with Brittany to get to the first zip line. After that, I spotted a sign for the Kasbah, which allowed us to make up serious ground. Arriving to the Kasbah, we ended up with EVERY OTHER TEAM (except Cedric, who was still out front). When I saw everyone else, I had to split from Brittany and run my race. Then I linked up with Chris from Well-Strung to find the tele-boutique and after that, Conor from IndyCar to make our way back to the Souk.

In the case of Jessica and Brittany, I don't think that Jess took the gnome from Brittany's hands with the intention of having her forget her gnome. If they weren't at the back of the pack, maybe Jess would have said something to Brittany. But, you never know what's coming in this race. For example, your next clue might tell you to run to the Pit Stop or it will send you into a challenge that doesn't play to your strengths. Every second counts.

Simultaneously, I understand where Brittany is coming from. It's hard to not be suspicious of another's intentions when you're competing against complete strangers in a game with very vague "rules" for $1,000,000... This race certainly brought out paranoid thoughts in me. Only Jess knows her own intent.

What didn't we see during the Roadblock?

First of all, Kristi and I had no idea that we were in 5th when we got to the Roadblock. Since Brittany was right there with me, I asked her if she wanted to collaborate to find the American Ligation Museum. To which she responded, "as long as you don't run off on me once we find it." Fair enough, I thought. It took us forever to find the museum, but Brittany found someone who spoke Spanish and was willing to show us. Except that he was about 75 years old and just walked (walking might be generous) the whole way there. I was freaking out. I think we were the last two teams up to that first location, and I sent my Gnome off first and stood by my word and waited for Brittany to send hers off. Then we worked together to retrieve it and find the Kasbah.

When I split from Brittany after we got meshed in with the other teams I was so worried that she was going to be pissed that I ran off. But, then the whole gnome thing happened... After retrieving my gnome from the 4th rooftop, we had to find the tele-boutique. I worked with Chris to find the phones. What they don't show is that I used all my coins on the first call and then was trying to juggle the gnome and the coins and hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder... The recording played, then there was a dial tone, and I was like, "uhhhhh, I have no idea what that just said and I have no more coins."

Fortunately, Conor showed up right then and didn't know where to get the coins. So, I told him that I'd tell him where to find the coins if he told me what the phrase was. He agreed. Then we worked together to find our way out of that crazy maze and to find the detour.

Why did you choose "Shake It Off" and not "Drop It Off"?

Honestly, despite being tired from the Roadblock, our decision was more about the complexity of the tasks than physical exertion. Running around that town during the Roadblock, made me very aware of how difficult it was to navigate in the medina. However, Kristi does not dance (I mean, neither of us really does) and we weren't sure how stringent they would be with our dancing. But, I didn't feel like getting lost anymore, so we opted for "Shake It Off"... Fortunately, they weren't too strict with our dance moves! After seeing the show (and talking with teams that did the other detour) it's clear we made the right decision. But, as I said on the show "no one will ever cheer for my dancing like this again!"

Oh, side note. Funny story, Amazing Race production gets our measurements before we come on the show so that our costumes "fit." However, my hip to waist ratio is a bit insane because of my skier's booty. So, when pants don't have a zipper, it's really challenging to get them on. It was quite the process to get those pants on. Kristi was attempting to lend a hand, but I basically had to do hip circles for a few minutes to make it work...

Amazing Race Episode 3 #TeamExtreme Summary:

We got to the first task in last, left there in 8th (2nd to last) surpassing Indy. Then we arrived to the Roadblock in 5th, hopped around from 2nd to last to tied for first. We finished the roadblock in 2nd. Then we went to the detour where I had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction. Ultimately, we finished the leg in 3rd. Our third top-3 finish in a row.

Next week we head to St. Tropez, France! Kristi FINALLY gets to play in the water and I get to continue working on my cheering game.

From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.2

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The Amazing Race Season 30 Episode 2: “You’re The Best French Fry Ever” – #TeamExtreme Recap

Another leg down, another country we've never been to, and Kristi and I landed on the podium during The Amazing Race once more! This week's episode was able to capture a lot more of the "real" action from the race (i.e. - the action that played a major role in any team's performance). Without needing to spend as much time introducing the teams' background's and only covering 10 teams' journeys, allowed for this. However, there's still a few details to fill in about our race.

Why were you in such a hurry leaving the mat in Iceland if all the teams were on the same flight?

When Kristi and I opened our clue, it told us that we had flights reserved for that afternoon, but that if we found a more advantageous flight, we could take it. So we were in a hurry to get there to see our possibilities! When we got to the travel agency, we found a flight that would arrive about 30 minutes earlier than the original itinerary. We were likely the ONLY team who could make this flight as it left in just over 2 hours (which would mean we had to race to the airport). It would be a longer day of travel with a connection through Oslo, but an advantage is an advantage, right?

Why didn't you book the alternate flight?

Going into this race we told ourselves that if we were the only team who could get on a seemingly advantageous flight, that we SHOULD NOT take it. We learned from watching this show that it's sometimes safer to have other teams around you, especially early on. However, adrenaline (we're on the Amazing Race) and ego (we want to maintain our lead) played a role and we were VERY close to pulling the trigger. Jody came in and left, calm, cool, and collected, so we could only assume that they took the original flight. Then we realized that the airport was not the one for which I saw the sign close by, but actually 50 minutes away. (This was when I realized we had directions from the wrong airport in leg 1).

By taking the second flight, we ended up with hours to get to the airport. So, we decided to take a bus to save money. In the bus ticket office, we took off the boots given to us in Leg 1, and asked them to take them to goodwill. Hopefully they ended up there! We took the bus with Yale, Well-Strung and Indy, while other teams, with later starts, took taxis. This was the first opportunity that we had to actually talk with Trevor & Chris, since we were on different flights to Iceland.

When did you arrive in Belgium?

We landed in Amsterdam around 7 or 8 p.m. and had to take a train from Amsterdam to Antwerp. All the teams got in an unnecessary footrace to the train station to all end up, yet again, on the same train! When we arrived at the station in Antwerp, we had to find the chocolate shop. It was after 10 p.m. at this point, but we had to assume that were going to be thrust into a challenge as soon as we found the shop. So, we started running, again. Well-Strung got their first, followed by Indy, followed by Kristi and me. This is when we learned that the shop wouldn't open until 9 a.m. the next day. Time to hunker down.

Where did you sleep?

We slept on the floor of an old hotel? Not entirely sure what the building was, but we were in a large open room that had a small kitchen/bar in one corner, and one random couch in the middle. Everyone found their spot and set up camp. Amazing Race production was kind enough to provide teams with  light foam sleeping pads, but we didn't need them since we brought our own. Or so we thought...We gave Indy our sleeping pads, so they could double up, but it got really COLD overnight. Kristi and I kept adding layers until we had nothing left in our bags. Turns out inflatable sleeping pads don't hold heat well. Poor Cedric, however, didn't sleep a WINK that night. But it didn't seem to impact his performance the next day.

Kristi crushed the Roadblock, what was her strategy?

We arrived to the Sky Climb in 8th place...not where we wanted to be. Fortunately, there were 4 spots on the sky climb, so Kristi was able to go on the second ride, tying us up with the teams who arrived in 5th, 6th and 7th. Though most teams successfully completed the challenge on the first go (some of that is questionable though...), Kristi was able to get up the ladder and back down to the bottom before the ride was over. She wrapped her leg around the ladder, which helped keep her more vertical, thus making the climb faster. This enabled her to jump off, jet over to me, to read our next clue. She crushed it, passing 3 teams and putting us in 5th place, but you should have seen the bruises on the inside of her thighs!

Why did you choose to do "Old Print" and not "Diamond Glint?"

This was a very easy decision for us to make. In the description of the detours, there was an element of Diamond Glint that was very subjective: determining color and clarity. I don't think the mathematics element was actually the problem for any of the teams, but determining those values. Both of these factors changed the formula, so if you got them wrong, your answer was wrong. You'll have to ask a team who did it, but that's my guess. Old Print sounded much more straight-forward. Once we figured out that it needed to be a mirror image, we were able to move pretty quickly through it.

You left the detour in 2nd place, why did you arrive at the square in 4th?

When we got our clue leaving the printing press, we found a very nice woman who spoke flemish to translate it. Then we pulled out our "trusty" map of Antwerp and asked her where Silvius Brabo square was. We had a tourist map, which had images of historical buildings on the map. She pointed to one on the shoreline (or so I thought) and we navigated there quite smoothly, but it was the wrong building. We got hung up a little longer because we saw production equipment for post-race interviews. Eventually, we found someone who pointed us in the right direction and we made our way to the square.

What were your thoughts about the "Head-to-Head?"

For the first time in Amazing Race history, teams had to go head-to-head in a challenge. We knew signing up that the masterminds behind The Amazing Race could do anything they wanted, anytime they wanted. We were warned on the start-line that there would be twists this season, but I don't think any of us ever anticipated this. Kristi and I benefited from the head-to-head in this episode. Arriving to the square in 4th, Kristi beat Evan in the head-to-head, thus leading us to a 3rd place finish. The exciting part of the Amazing Race is that it tests racers as all-around competitors, from physicality, to grit, to intelligence, to social prowess.

The head-to-head nearly nullified our performance in all other challenges. Sure, getting there early gives you more opportunity to stay in the race, but continuing on in the race comes down to whether or not your good at the head-to-head skill. The argument can easily be made, however, that is true for any challenge you face. If you get stuck on one challenge in one moment of this race, it can be the end. Ultimately, I thought it was quite exciting to watch the Frites Race on TV. I thought it would get old after a while, but it kept me on my toes and I even knew the outcome!

Kristi's Thoughts on the Head-to-Head:

Kristi, however, felt more strongly about it. She was saying as soon as we were done, that there was only one team who would be going home that day: Goat Yoga. I was hopeful that the skill element would play more of a roll, but I wasn't the one who did the Frites Race, so I have to defer to her. Kristi asserts that if the head-to-head was in the middle or beginning of a leg that led into other challenges it would be better. That way, you would have other challenges through which you could potentially make up time. She was not a fan!

On to the Next!

Kristi and I race off to Morocco this week! We've never set foot on African soil, so we're excited to go there. Episode 3 is going to be action-packed, so hope you can tune in! 8 pm ET/PT, 7 pm MT/CT on CBS!

From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30 .1

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The Amazing Race Season 30 Episode 1: "You're A Champion, Prove It" - #TeamExtreme Recap

WOW!!!! I can't believe the time is finally here. Amazing Race 30 made its debut last Wednesday night (1/3/18) and ***SPOILER ALERT*** Kristi & I couldn't be more proud to have taken home the W on the first leg of the race! My heart was beating so fast watching it last night that I felt like we were running the race all over again! I've been excited to see the edit for months now (I do realize we didn't have to wait nearly as long as most other seasons) and was curious to see how they fit all that action into 45 minutes of television. If you do the math, that's only 4 minutes per team in the first episode...

Unfortunately, that's a tough task! The production team for the Amazing Race is absolutely extraordinary, but there is no way to introduce America to 11 teams and fit in an entire competitive leg of the race. For Kristi and me, this made us appear to be out for a casual walk in the park and conveniently landed on the mat in first place. Haha! However, there is a LOT more that goes on behind the scenes. During our viewing party last night, friends were asking some common questions, so I figured I'd share my insights into what went on. Like, how we got to that first route marker in 5th place and worked our way to the front of the pack.

How did you get from NYC to Iceland?

One minor detail that this episode didn't discuss was that there were in fact 2 different flights to Iceland. As we left Washington Square Park it was a race to the airport to get on the first flight which would land 30 minutes ahead of the 2nd flight. We didn't know how many seats were on that first flight (turned out there was room for 7 teams) and we were lucky to get to the airport first and secure our seats. Flight 1 was Jody, Indy, OceanRescue, the Twins, Yale and GoatYoga. Flight 2 was NBA, RingGirls, Well-Strung and Hot Dog.

We took a red-eye flight out of JFK and turns out there was no food on flight #1, but flight #2 did have food (lucky ducks!). I don't think we landed a full 30 minutes ahead of those other 4 teams, but we definitely did have a solid head start. However, head-starts disappear quickly when you're too rushed to stop and get a map during a self-drive leg, you don't have your own cellphone to use for navigation, you hand-drew a map from someone's computer, but drew the map and wrote down directions starting at the domestic airport, which was 45 minutes closer to our final destination than the international airport where we actually flew into... and then, you take a wrong turn when you already don't know where you are.

 

You can try this yourself by looking for Reykjavik Airport (domestic airport) and Keflavik Airport (international airport). Get directions to Husafell. where we were was a bit beyond Husafell, but this will give you a general idea of the route. Not to mention, the road signs in Iceland are very confusing (they show business routes differently, so I kept seeing signs for route 1 pointing in every direction and couldn't figure out which Route 1 I was supposed to be on). What you don't realize is that, without a cellphone or map, if you get off course a little bit from your handwritten directions, you get VERY DISORIENTED, which led to the following:

Thanks, CBS, for keeping this out of our edit :) and Kristi, again, I'm sorry I yelled at you, especially because YOU WERE RIGHT and I was wrong. So, despite finding our car quickly and heading off with Yale and OceanRescue, we ended up lost and got to the first challenge in 5th place. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge NBA for their phenomenal navigational skills because they beat us to that first Route Marker challenge despite being on flight #2.

It seemed like you made it through that first challenge quickly? T/F

True. But you could only gain so much time because there were only two zip-line stations. We got there as IndyCar was going out on the line, but had to wait for them to finish before we could begin. Kristi was smart enough to realize that it would be easier if we sent the lighter person out on the line (aka: Kristi), which was advantageous. She didn't drop the line as far as some of the heavier competitors which made it easier to pull her back in. Plus, I understood the dynamics of using my leg strength in addition to my upper body to pull her in.

What was so hard about the buggy challenge?

Well, first of all, we haven't slept for, um, I don't know 30 hours or something... secondly, no food for nearly the same amount of time, third, you have a dude driving you in a buggy around a course filled with puddles and it is his intention to drive insanely fast and ACCELERATE into the puddles, which then splashes all over you while you're trying to spot letters in random locations, out of order, that have numbers on them and you can't write anything down. I was happy to see the edit and realize that Henry and I took the same approach. We both repeated sounds out loud to help us remember the order. We also asked the driver to slow down, so that we could get our bearings. To which his response was, "No, I'm not allowed." It was like the movie Speed.

Ultimately, I made 3 laps down in the river bed and still hadn't found 2 of the letters, but it was the first two letters _ _ GOLFSTORG. So I was riding round chanting, golfstorg to myself for a few more minutes until I decided to go try my hand at the puzzle. I had everything right and decide that 'IN'GOLFTORG sounded more Icelandic than 'NI'GOLFSTORG, so I guessed, and fortunately got it right. Picking up 2 places, putting us in 3rd on our way to the square.

What was up with those shots??

Well, as you saw, Kristi and I each had to take a shot of either Cod Liver Oil or Brennivin, which they also maybe call "Fire Wine" but there is nothing wine-like about it. Apparently. I wouldn't know because I drank the cod liver oil. However, the people who drank the Brennivin said that it was more like rubbing alcohol than wine. It burned something fierce, and caused several people to either vomit or nearly vomit. Kristi fell into the "nearly" category along with Conor. We'll spare details.

How did you end up in first??

I'm still not sure what happened to Henry & Evan on their way to the square, but I assume they must've gotten lost along the way...? Kristi and I decided to stop and write down detailed directions from someone's phone - we still didn't have a map. This paid off, despite being a 10-minute stop, because we didn't get lost going to the square. We found our answers to the questions easily by asking locals. We used the same approach to find the pit stop. Ask-a-local is to the Amazing Race as phone-a-friend is to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. We got solid information from our local friend and I saw the lake as we were driving to the square. So, we made our way to the Pit-Stop pretty quickly.

Kristi and I truly believed we were in no better than 3rd place when we landed on that mat. We were absolutely thrilled, shocked, honored and proud when Phil told us we won the leg! The Amazing Race isn't simply about not making mistakes (though that would be nice), but about recovering quickly when you do. Not a single team ran a flawless race this leg. Some excelled at navigating and struggled in the challenges, others struggled navigating and excelled at the challenges. In the end, we seemed to mitigate our issues better than our competition. We leaned into each other's strengths and even managed to learn from mistakes within the leg to help us reach the pit stop first. The timing of our issues allowed us to continue to climb the ladder instead of fall further behind. Leg 1 carried with it some HUGE learning opportunities that we carried into Leg 2.

Other questions received:

Why were #TheRingGirls and #GoatYoga carrying those bags?

Production gave us some gear to wear in some of the challenges (boots, rain jackets, wool socks, hat, gloves, etc.). Our additional information told us to bring all our belongings with us when we park the car in Ingolfstorg. These ladies took that a bit literally... Kristi and I put the boots on our feet, tied our sneakers to our bag and left everything else behind. We already had clothes for cold weather, so we didn't need the products they provided. Given that we weren't sure if we'd be doing more tasks in Iceland the next leg, we chose to keep the boots. We didn't keep them for the rest of Amazing Race, however.

Learning to Let Go

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It’s the last day of 2017. Though we are free to make fresh starts at any point in the year, January 1st certainly nice ring to it. I recently moved into a new home that my husband and I have been tirelessly working on over the last year – built from the ground up. This whole process involved shoving our stuff in storage for 2 years and cohabitating with my mother for the last 8 months (bless her heart for putting up with my three messy boys and me)… The whole process of packing & unpacking our belongings led me to purge A LOT of stuff. Items that had been in storage for years that I hadn’t even thought about, clothes that hung in my closet that I never wore, trinkets and gadgets collected at various events that never got used. This was the easy part. It felt good to let it all go – cleansing – allowing only the possessions that continued to serve me to find a place in my new home.

I also uncovered photos from my past, cards received after my father passed away, a wallet full of receipts from the last 2 weeks of my father’s life: spin class, hospital food, funeral dresses. These things were more difficult to say goodbye to. It seemed there was a part of me still clinging to an alternate destiny, denying the outcome of his illness. But amidst those things, I found a Christmas card that I wrote to my father 3 years ago – his last Christmas. Though at the time of writing it, I had no idea it would be. In the card, I encouraged him to do something that he always encouraged me to do: LET IT GO.

Let go of your expectations, let go of your ego, let go of what was, let go of what could be… LET IT ALL GO. Anytime I’d have a result that wasn’t favorable, a challenge with a sponsor, jealousy of another athlete’s “opportunities” this would be his advice. I used to not understand it. I couldn’t recognize that within “letting go” you could still yearn for greatness, seek improvement in your life, and achieve excellence in your field. I thought “let it go” somehow meant “giving up.” But, it does not.

Letting go is learning to live with an open heart. It’s learning to strive without attachment to the exact outcome that you want. It’s about being immersed in the moment you’re currently in, accepting all the gifts and lessons that are being offered.  When I wrote that card to my father in December 2015, I had just gotten back into a halfpipe for the first time after tearing my ACL going into the 2014 Winter Olympics. At the time of tearing my ACL, I thought my career was done, that I would never compete again, that I’d never ski to “my standard” again and therefor didn’t want to waste any time doing it. Fortunately, as the snow fell and the competition season started, my desire to be in a halfpipe and to compete again took over. That contest in Copper was liberating. I finally understood what my father was telling me all these years. By letting go of all the bull, I was able to just enjoy skiing. I didn’t pressure myself to perform at any level, just invited myself, my soul, and my body to ski a halfpipe and express what felt true.

For my father, the treatments for Leukemia were taking a toll. A toll that we thought he would persevere through, a toll that we assumed had an end that didn’t involve the end of his life. He had so much edema in his body that wearing shoes (let alone ski boots) would cause immense pain and rupturing of surface tissue. For those of you who don’t know, my father is the one who taught me how to ski. He LOVED skiing. As far as sports go, this was his favorite. And in the winter of 2015, he didn’t think he’d be able to go.

So, we bought him the gift of a sit-ski lesson through the National Ability Center at PCMR. We encouraged him to let go of how he used to ski, of what his body used to be able to do, and we got him on snow. Without letting go in that moment, this experience wouldn’t have happened. My sister and I wouldn’t have that memorable, final run with my father. Lucky for us, he was willing.

 

In 2017, I’ve been reminded of this lesson more than once, though I didn’t realize it until I found that card. The hidden gifts that the universe has in store for us began to appear this year. A perfect example of this was the opportunity to compete on The Amazing Race. This was a full-circle gift returned from not getting my “desired” outcome in other situations.

In 2014, I applied to be on the show Survivor. I made it quite far in the casting process, but ultimately, they decided I wasn’t a fit for the show and I wasn’t invited out to finals casting in LA. The casting director told me that maybe I’d be a fit for another season or another show, but I was certain she was just letting me down softly. I was bummed, but I let it go. Instead, I planned a solo mountain bike road trip on which I met my now husband.

Fast forward three years. My husband and I built our relationship around adventure and in our wedding vows agreed to be one another’s adventure partners for life. When I got an unexpected invite to go on a mountain bike sailing trip in Iceland, it was met with great resistance by Chris. It was a financial burden and a trip that would use up precious vacation time that I couldn’t later use for an adventure with Chris. This was a major point of contention for us. I felt like I was missing out on a great opportunity by saying no, Chris was convinced that there would always be opportunities coming my way. So, I let it go.

Instead of Iceland, we planned an epic trip for some bikepacking in Alaska – a trip that both of us could experience. Another couple months later, on a random Friday evening in July, merely 6 days before we were supposed to leave for AK, I got a text message asking about my interest in competing on The Amazing Race. *($(*^%(@$&*@&$*#&(*$%&*?!?!?!?!? Seriously? Seriously. To make matters even more interesting, the day I received that text was the day that I would have been on a plane to Iceland had I said yes to the biking/sailing trip. Had I held on to my belief that Iceland was going to be the last and best and biggest and greatest adventure that I’d ever have the opportunity to experience, had I continued to dig my heels in with my husband, had I not let go, I wouldn’t have even seen that text until it was too late.

What are you cheating yourself of because you just couldn’t let something go? By focusing on what “should have been” we’re denying ourselves the beauty of this moment. By staring at a closed door, we’re feeling to see the three others that just opened in front of us.

I’m sure, like me, at lot has happened for you in this past year. There are always lessons to learn and carry forward, but there is also a lot to let go. I invite you to let go of what didn’t go your way in 2017, hold onto everything that went well, and carry that into the new year. Be present and patient with your journey – there are often gifts hiding that you cannot yet see.

2018 mantra: come what may.

Happy New Year, everyone! As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. All the best in 2018!

Death and Decision Making

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20160220_112639-01 Death is an inevitable part of life but can work its way in at unpredictable times, knocking you down to your knees, taking your breath away. Yet everyday we see athletes pushing the limits and breaking records in outdoor and action sports. Taking risks and defying death - until they're not. What compels them to continue?

Facing Death

On April 29th, 2015, my father passed away. I was by his side in his final weeks, days, hours, and breaths. Details of his death circle around my mind daily. His frail skeleton of a frame, sunken eyes, transparent skin, were all signs that death was near, yet life remained pulsing through his veins. He fought so hard to stay alive, fought through pain and discomfort, so that his physical being could remain by our family's side for moments longer. He cherished his life.

I was the last person to see and speak to my father in his wholly right mind before he got sepsis, erasing the possibility of stepping foot outside a hospital again. As he laid there, emaciated from days without food and so severely dehydrated that nurses couldn't get an IV into his vein, I finally got up the nerve to ask him if he was scared. "Yes," he paused, "that's the first time anyone has asked me that." Of course he's scared, you idiot, I thought to myself, even though he never showed it. 

This encounter made me acutely aware of how shy we are about death, and how many of us live in denial of its reality. After his starting treatment for Leukemia in 2010, none of us ever talked about the possibility of my dad not making it. Nearly five years elapsed, as if talking about death would somehow manifest it. I later learned that my father was also scared on mountain peaks, yet again, despite all my time with him up there, I never knew.

Not Afraid? Or In Denial?

I know a few skiers who claim they're not afraid of death, but I am. Partly, I'm afraid of what dying would mean for my future (or lack thereof), but moreover, I fear how my death would impact those I love. I don't want them to hurt because of me. I don't want that deep inescapable ache in their hearts to be because I died. Missing someone who has died is among the worst feelings on this earth. Nothing can be done to remedy it. It's just a piece of your heart, frozen in time, constantly weighing your chest down. You'll never get to see that person in their physical form again so you hope and pray that your memories of them will suffice to carry you through your darkest days.

My vigil and my final words to Sarah.

In the last year, two prominent women in the snowsports industry lost their lives in avalanches. Both while filming. I don't know what exactly transpired to lead to such dire outcomes; I wasn't there. It's common to place judgments from afar about what decision-making took place, but it's unfair. We weren't part of the conversation. The deaths of Matilda Rappaport and Estelle Balet hit close to home for me. Along with Liz Daley's and Sarah Burke's deaths in recent years, these women represent me. We fall into the same demographic. These accidents happened to them and it could easily have been me. It just wasn't.

We like to think that we can keep ourselves safe by always making the right decisions. But we all know that we can't evade death forever. Even in my dad's case, my family replayed the tapes so many times trying to figure out where things went wrong. It's easy to look back and point fingers because, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. In the scenario of backcountry skiing, these moments of decision making seem to be a bit more concrete. But are they?

Why Do We Continue to Take Risks?

Jen Hudak jumping a cliff at Rocky Point at Alta, UtahSince stepping away from halfpipe competition, I've been spending more and more time in the backcountry. An ironic result of not being willing to risk my body in a halfpipe any longer, I now spend time in an even more life-threatening environment. Risk assessment is something I've become quite privy to, but awareness and good decision making only keep us so safe. It seems that not a month goes by that our community doesn't hear about another person who lost their life to the mountains, most of them in avalanches.

I've struggled to transition away from my life as a professional skier. The dichotomy between feeling there is untapped athletic potential running through my veins and sensing there is more to life than reaching that potential, keeps me at war with myself. Is there more to lose than to gain? Yet, even as I relinquish professional pursuits, I'm still a skier, through-and-through.

Time in snow-covered mountains makes me forget my troubles, at least temporarily; it helps me make sense of my thoughts and process my emotions. I find myself in a meditative, trance-like state as I work my way up long skin tracks while I feel, dissect, process, and reflect. As I drop into an untouched slope of powder, outrun my sluff, or navigate steep terrain I feel exhilarated, elated, but even more so, I feel inseparable from earth and life force itself. I think to myself, with my arms outstretched and smiling face looking up to the sun, "this is what it's all about." My happiness, sanity and sense of self depend upon time spent in the mountains. But it's not always safe.

Measuring Real Risk

Over the last ten winters, an average of 27 people/year died in an avalanche in the United States. It's impossible to say what percentage that is because we have no way of counting backcountry travelers accurately. But 27 isn't a huge number. From 2002-2012, an average of 41.2 people died skiing or snowboarding on a resort. This is out of 54 million skier visits in the 2012 winter, which equals a .000076% chance of dying. Car accident fatalities however, totaled 32,719 in 2013, equal to 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people. A .0103% chance of dying in a car accident. If you ski, that means your chance of dying in a car accident is 135 times greater than dying on a ski resort. And no one seems too concerned about those odds... It's if driving a car is a "necessary" risk and skiing in the backcountry is not.

Our perspectives on life verse death and risk verse reward are personal. There is no one-answer-fits-all to the question, "why do these athletes continue to take such dramatic risk?" In the end, I suppose I'm not trying to answer that question but to ask another: who will your death affect? I think about this constantly. For me, it's my mother, husband, sister, brother-in-law and niece. It's helped me draw some distinct lines about what risks I am willing to take. I think about my family before I go into the mountains every morning. I take risks, but not unnecessary ones, I avoid avalanche terrain on dangerous days, I wait for a stable snowpack to ski. But accidents can happen.

Life is short and our time should be spent in a way that fulfills us, brings us joy and allows our inner child to live fully. If living daringly on the edge is the only way for you, please be honest with yourself about what there is to gain, but also to lose. Discuss it with your loved ones. We will never escape death, and so, we must appreciate life - respect it, treat it with care, and explore our potential.

That's all for now, there's a conversation I need to have.

MM Rapaport Hargin Foundation & Sarah Burke Foundation:

"We want to inspire and support skiers, entrepreneurs and others to pursue their passions. We strive to improve gender equality both within and outside of skiing, and increase safety on the mountain." To support the MM Rapaport Hargin foundation, click here.

"The Sarah Burke Foundation is committed to the altruistic ideals embodied by Sarah’s life and her actions. The foundation will preserve Sarah’s goodwill and her actions, by supporting and inspiring current and future generations. All support will allow us to carry on Sarah’s spirit and legacy by supporting others in sport." To support the Sarah Burke Foundation, click here.

References: 
  1. Colorado Avalanche Information Center, US Avalanche Accident reports,<http://avalanche.state.co.us/accidents/statistics-and-reporting/>, Feb 15, 2017.
  2. "General Statistics." Fatality Facts. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. <http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview/2013>.
  3. "Odds of Dying." Injury Facts: NSC.org. 21 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/injury-facts-odds-of-dying.aspx>.

Last Frontier Heliskiing - What Dreams Are Made Of

In October 2015, I got an email inviting me on a trip to Last Frontier Heliskiing in Canada. A lifelong dream was coming true, at the most unexpected time. Turning a cheek to the heli as it blasts snow after a drop!

Life has a way of giving you exactly what you need when you need it most.  So for me, it was in the midst of a mild depression last fall (October 2015) that I first learned about the opportunity to go heliskiing with Last Frontier Heliskiing.

I was in New York City for the Women's Sports Foundation's Annual Salute when I saw an email from photographer Ashley Barker looking for a male and female athlete to take on a marketing trip to Last Frontier Heliskiing. Figures it's upon "retirement" that my first chance to go heliskiing finally presents itself... The Women's Sports Foundation event that I was attending was hosting its first annual Athlete Leadership Connection. My day was busy planning my post-skiing life, digging, grasping, and searching for the "next" chapter. At this point in time, what I "wanted" was falling to the wayside of what I "needed" and what I really needed, was a job, not a heliskiing trip.

What Dreams Are Made Of

As a young kid, I had always imagined going to the Olympics. First, that dream was for mogul skiing but once I found a halfpipe, that dream morphed. The competitive nature of skiing was enticing to me because of its simplicity - show up, compete, and see where you place. But creativity and expression were always a core element for me. The dream of heliskiing, however, was a far off one - an idea that seemed nice, but not a goal that I was actively pursuing.

As my competitive career was winding down I began seeing so much value in the film and photo side of the sport, purely from the joy, excitement and aspirations that people get from seeing stunning images. I had hoped to transition into a full-time film and photo athlete, but timing and sponsor alignment never came together. Begrudgingly, I let go of the dream and tried to find a job.

The Transition

When I got home to Utah from the Athlete Leadership Connection, my husband, Chris, and I continued conversations about my career prospects. Fortunately, he pointed me toward a job with an affiliate marketing company in Park City called AvantLink. My eyes grew wide. Suddenly, all of the pieces seemed to be falling into place. After a few emails, a phone call and a successful interview, AvantLink offered me a job. I had found a company that allowed me to apply my knowledge of marketing and had a boss that appreciated my love of skiing!

Finally, I could ski for fun and make money elsewhere! I'm sure that this sounds like a silly "revelation," but I had been doing what I loved for a living since I was 17-years young. Passion, purpose and profit were all wrapped up in one neat package. Until now. And the Last Frontier Heliskiing trip, would actually be possible. So I called up Ashley and committed.

The Trip

After months of working a desk job, the March trip to Last Frontier Heliskiing was a very welcome one! Our travels north were quite smooth. Despite the select few flights from Vancouver to Smithers, we were put up in a Hilton in downtown Vancouver the night before our flights. It was a short, but incredibly scenic flight from Vancouver to Smithers. Skimming over the Canadian Rockies' peaks was the perfect way to build anticipation for the skiing to come. Upon arrival in Smithers, were greeted by the crew from Last Frontier. Our bags were loaded into the tour bus as we piled into our seats. No detail was overlooked and we were fed gourmet boxed lunches as we settled in for the 4 hour drive to Bell II Lodge.

On the final day at Bell II Lodge, all of the guests enjoyed a bonfire in the center village and released paper lanterns carrying their greatest wish.

Evenings were filled with beer and wine and sing-a-longs.

When we pulled up to the lodge, Bell II wasn't entirely what I was expecting. This was mainly due to the ease with which we arrived and its proximity to the infrequently traveled road... But once inside, the lodge had that wood-burning stove coziness to it, and the faint scent of hot apple cider. This wasn't a sterile hotel, but a home-away-from-home. A place to come together with strangers to celebrate over a common bond - snow.

The Heliskiing

Weather was a bit challenging for our first day at Bell II and periodically throughout the trip. If we were there simply to ski we could've spent all day on the hill, but we needed light to capture the images we were after. Staying hunkered down in a lodge certainly wasn't our objective, so we made quick use of the ping-pong table and bow & arrows.

Hunkered down

Alas, on day 2 we were able to fly! I've been in helicopters before, but only in Afghanistan on a USO trip, so this was an entirely new experience! What incredible, powerful, maneuverable machines! With all of the camera equipment that we had, we just about maxed out the weight limit, but our pilot, Sean, was not deterred. I peered out of the windows in awe of the vast mountain expanse that were the Canadian Rockies.

Reviewing our surroundings on a map before one of our first runs of the trip.

There's an interesting dichotomy at play with heliskiing - the man-made sound and flight of the helicopter intertwined with the serene and all-powerful presence of the mountains. It was strange, at first, to find the balance of appreciating both sides of this. Climbing into the helicopter after an intimate mountain experience, only to put on headphones that help drown-out the whir of the blades. But to me, it felt like the ultimate celebration of humanity - these man-made developments were enabling the deep exploration of our natural world.

Finding the light and dancing down the mountain with our bird.

It hadn't snowed much leading up to our arrival, but we got enough of a dusting to keep things interesting. When skiing terrain like this, sometimes the freshness of the snow is not what matters, but the pure, virgin nature of it. I haven't skied so many untouched lines ever in my life. Still, there was a deep surface hoar that kept us away from enticing areas but our guide, Michael, was on top of it. The possibilities were virtually limitless as long as we were conscientious of existing avalanche terrain.

Skiing one of the most exciting lines of the trip. Unfortunately, a small wet-slide released above me to the lookers right and I had to wait out the snow before skiing through my narrow exit.

Doing my best to replicate Callum's ability to play along the shadow lines.

Our final day at Last Frontier Heliskiing truly delivered! The rain in town had us a bit concerned, but sure enough, the precipitation laid itself down as snow up high. I did my best to take in every moment of this trip as if it would be my last heliskiing trip ever. All I could think about every day was how excited my dad would've been to hear about this trip. I can't tell you the number of turns that I took that had me grinning ear-to-ear with a warm feeling of joy in my heart. I am so blessed and was so fortunate to have had this opportunity. So thanks again to the folks at Last Frontier Heliskiing (pilot Shawn, guide Michael, head of marketing Mike Watling, filmer Grant Baldwin , photographer Ashley Barker, all the staff and of course, my fellow skier, Callum Pettit) for making this happen.

Continuing to Dream

It took a lot of work to retrain my brain how to dream of a life I wanted and it took a lot more to begin living it. I used to live by the Henry David Thoreau quote "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." But as my halfpipe skiing career came to a heartbreaking close, dreaming again felt impossible. Day after day I'd have small conversations in my head, asking difficult questions like, "If you removed all barriers about what you thought was possible, what would you choose to do with your days and how would you want your life to look?".

These questions are a constant for me now. Not a day goes by that I don't dream of being able to ski whenever and wherever I want, but I also value the freedom that the inflexible stability of my job provides. My competitive nature continues to fuel me and I still feel that I have more to give on my skis. I also recognize the challenges that athletes are facing these days for funding and there's a part of me that feels it's a selfish pursuit. I see a life ahead of me filled with future adventures and endeavors on my skis and bike, but also in starting a family with my new husband and finding different ways to contribute to this world.

The one common thread for me has always been writing. But when I ask myself these tough questions, writing is always a piece of the answer. I'm working on breaking down the barriers that I've created surrounding my ability to make money through writing, skiing and biking. I dared to dream once before and it led to 11 of the most-memorable and exciting years of my life. So now it's time to dream again.

 See a full gallery of the trip below!

Monte Cristo Directissimo- The Mountains Are Mirrors

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My head spins with irrational fear. The weight of past mistakes, falls onto my shoulders, collapsing my core. I feel vulnerable, scared, but I'm lying safely in my bed, tucked under my down-comforter as my fiancee changes out of his work clothes before crawling in beside me. He's suggested our route for tomorrow: Monte Cristo Directissimo. In Andrew McClean's The Chuting Gallery: A Guide to Steep Skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, he cautions against getting stuck on this route too late in the day, as warming can cause wet-slides which could quickly turn a skier into a "corpsicle." We'd made that mistake just a year before, narrowly avoiding such a dreadful fate, and the thought of choosing to return, was daunting.

Sweet Dreams

I slept surprisingly well that night, albeit only for 5 short hours. Sometimes I feel that my dad visits in my dreams. I think he came to see me that night to remind me that these experiences are what life is about. Have many of them, as many as possible. And he's right. You can be safe, you can calculate your every move, and you could still be gone tomorrow, without ever having left the house.

My mind seemed to settle at rest, to sort out fact from fiction (or fear). The day would be cool, not likely to be above freezing until noon and there should be some cloud cover for most of the day. Last year we were inexperienced, and naive to dangers outside of a typical slab avalanche. Wet slides caught us off-guard, but we've learned so much since then. We know our route, are aware of the snow conditions, and have the proper gear. Not to mention, my lungs are screaming for some extra blood flow and my legs feel strong and ready for use.

So, I rolled out of bed to get ready for our day. My morning routine can't be altered even if I have to leave the house before dawn. Breakfast- a balance of carbs and protein, coffee, with a little cream, and a LOT of water before piling into the car. I used to strongly dislike the drive from Park City to LCC, but now I embrace it. I know that I'll feel good once my ski boots are on and I start the ascent.

Panorama of Alta & Snowbird across from Mt. Superior.

The Approach

The sun was beginning to rise when finally got our skins on and started our approach. There were about 10 other skiers on similar programs that morning, but we all found our own rhythm and naturally spaced out. As we worked our way up to the south edge of Toledo Bowl, Chris and I wondered if we should have brought our ski crampons after-all. Cross-hilling was challenging as there was a small dusting of loose snow atop a bullet-proof layer of ice, but we pressed on.

We reached the ridge in due time and after another 30 more minutes of precarious skinning, we started the bootpack. This is probably my favorite part of the ascent. For some reason skinning feels like torture, but bootpacking on a knife-edge ridge and stair-stepping to the top of the universe somehow feels fun...

The Summit

We reached the summit around 11:30 am and were content with our timing. We could take a moment to enjoy the summit, but still had enough time to descend before temps would become dangerously warm. There is nothing quite like standing atop a mountain like this. It's not huge in the grand scheme of alpine terrain, but Monte Cristo still rises over 11,000' and with views down to the Salt Lake Valley floor, the 7,000' visual drop feels significant.

It's the smallness you feel while standing up there that is compelling. The city seems small, the houses tiny, and the people microscopic. Our problems: nonexistent, yet we so often let them rule our lives. Somehow we all co-exist, not always harmoniously, but seamlessly. We push and pull, lift and drop, hope and dream, and the world turns.

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Slide for Life Skiing?

We settled in about 10' below the summit to shelter ourselves from the wind while we ate lunch. I couldn't eat much, my shoulders were tensing up and my bladder was extremely full. All I could think about was the descent, which was shrouded in a cloud, making visibility a challenge. The variable conditions began to concern me. We would we now be on slide-for-life ice above a cliff that we need to rappel down? My nerves started to fire rapidly, uncontrollably, [somewhat] irrationally, once again. This is where I'm grateful for the man I'm marrying and why we all benefit from a solid life partner.

"Jen, let's just take it one step at a time. If we don't like the conditions we can divert around. We're still a long way above the rappel. Besides, this open bowl is so wind-blown, the couloir is more protected and won't be this bad."

Chris has a way of simplifying things, sometimes too much so, which is what got us in trouble last year, but I tend to overthink things. We allow our dialogue to continue in this push-pull manner until we arrive at a safe and probably very rational decision to ski. Chris went first and found an island of safety below some rocks (not that a slab avalanche was remotely of concern today, but it's good practice to reinforce the right habits). I proceeded to ski into the couloir and nestled behind a large cliff at the start of a separate couloir that would divert around the rappel, should we decide not to complete this route. Once I was safe, I called to Chris. He skied down to the top of the first cliff to set up our initial rappel.

As I sat there, I could see and feel the wet slide that took place just over a year ago in that exact location. We didn't know exactly where we were (fail #1) and got caught out too late in the day (fail #2). I had skied all the way down to the top of the first rappel when I realized we were cliffed-out. Chris was above me, trying to see if we had another option out. He watched as a wet-slide powered through the couloir down the exact path that I had skied only moments before. I was fortunate enough to be able to tuck behind a small rock outcropping while the slide moved through, but I was out of Chris' site. For all he knew, I'd been swept over the cliff...

"Jen!"

Chris' voice snapped me back to the present moment.

"We're good. You can come down to me."

No wet slides today. No confusion. No thoughts of nearly losing someone you love. I carefully skied down to Chris and clipped into the anchor.

Rappelling With Skis On My Back...

There are fixed anchors on this route, which made our setup pretty straightforward. Chris descended first. I watched him ease over the edge and waited until he confirmed that he was secured to the next anchor before I maneuvered the rope into my rappel device. Now it was my turn.

I always loved climbing as a kid. My dad and his colleagues were avid rock climbers and I was fortunate enough to tag along on many of their adventures. A few of my favorites were climbing out of a canoe somewhere in the Gunks, working my way up the [former] Old Man of the Mountain and climbing one of my first multi-pitch climbs in the Las Vegas Red Rocks when I was 12. Rappelling was always one of the most enjoyable aspects for me. A celebration of completing a physically demanding feat, you could spring your way down the wall.

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While rappelling with skis on your back and ski boots on your feet is a bit more awkward than the rappels of my youth, it still felt celebratory and fun, and it's certainly easier than climbing with skis on my back! Once I rejoined Chris at the foot of the cliff, we prepared for the second, larger rappel. This one topped out at about 100' and gave me a few butterflies (the good kind, the kind where you know you're safe, but it's exhilarating anyway).

Halfpipe Couloir!

My feet planted softly on the melting snow and I sank into the upward pull of the rope to get some slack. I unclipped from the rope. We had made it down two pitches and we now had the remaining drainage to ski back to the road.

The couloir fills in in a halfpipe-like manner, making for a playful descent and oddly familiar terrain. Some roller-balls were forming due to the predicted warming temps, but a smile found my face and a full-breath filled my lungs. The mountains are mirrors for what's in our hearts.

This is life. This is what we're here for. Small progressions to move past previous limitations, comparing yourself to no one other than who you were yesterday.

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A few of my favorite deals:

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

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Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute is a rite-of-passage for any Wasatch backcountry skier. The chute, located off the south ridge of Mt. Superior stares at you from Alta and beckons you to ski it. About this time last year, I watched a video of Angel Collinson and Erik Roner skiing the iconic line. It looked magical and certainly planted a seed with me.

Rise and Shine

It's still dark outside when a familiar twinkling sound softly causes me to wake.  I hear this sound every morning, letting me know that my slumber has come to an end and it's time to begin my day. But why is it still so dark? Then I remember. Chris and I decided to ski Suicide Chute before the next snow storm deemed conditions too dangerous to ride for a while. But my bed feels like the coziest place in the world at the moment; I'm warm and weightless in a swaddle of down. Please don't make me get up! Yet I do.

Our gear was all ready to go the night before. Bags packed with essentials. Shovel, beacon, probe. Helmet, goggles, gloves. Even our PB&Js are safely tucked away along with a bottle of water.  Chris begins making some oatmeal as I grind coffee for the french press to take on the road. We're efficient in our silent preparation for our day's venture and are out the door in 20 minutes. Skis and poles are thrown in the back of the truck, boots are up front with us to stay warm.

No more than 45 minutes later we pull into the upper parking lot at Snowbird. We were surprised at how quickly we made it over to Little Cottonwood Canyon from our home in Park City. When the roads are clear, the drive is smooth. Maybe too smooth. The caffeine from our coffee doesn't seem to have done much for me as we turn the engine off. I would much rather close my eyes and take a nap than step out into the cold to put hard plastic boots on my feet and a heavy pack on my back in order to climb a mountain. But, of course, I do.

Initial Approach

Before long, the alpenglo begins to illuminate our skin track. Headlamps are no longer needed to light our way, and I feel my body begin to wake up. And then... I see the mountains.

Jen Hudak Skinning Up to Suicide Chute

The last time I saw Mt. Superior covered in snow was last March. I had been a guide for Kristen Ulmer's Ski To Live camps, one of the most life-changing, perspective-framing events of my life, and was inspired to FaceTime my father from atop High-Boy at Alta. For some reason I felt that my father might never see those mountains again, and I wanted to give him the chance to see them one more time. So I called, and he answered. A lot of the time I resent the conflict of technology interfering with one's appreciation of nature, but that day I couldn't have been more grateful for the geniuses behind the internet and the iPhone. It turned out that my hunch was right, my dad passed away the following month.

Now, here I am again. Alive, and seeing this mountain shrouded in snow once again. I get to climb it and ski it. Who needs caffeine? Chris and I are the only ones on this mountain and suddenly I'm lit up with excitement and appreciation for our day. Who knows how many thousands have seen Mt. Superior before us, and how many thousands will after us, but this mountain, blanketed in this exact snow, is for our eyes only. It is changed as soon as we glide our skis across its surface and place a boot-pack in the newly fallen snow. The mountain is generous and welcoming. We are lucky to be here to enjoy its offerings.

Jen Hudak at the mouth of Suicide Chute

The Boot Pack

The approach up the apron was short and sweet. In just over an hour we began removing our skis and strapping them to our packs. Crampons went on our feet and our ice axes came out of our packs.  The boot-pack would be the brunt of this climb, so we were glad that the initial approach was so gentle.  Making one's way up Suicide Chute varies in technicality depending on what time of year you're making the approach. It's still mid-December and we haven't quite seen the effects of El Nino just yet... For us, this means that the entrance (and later, the exit) to the chute has a small ice fall (no more than 10 vertical feet) that we need to maneuver before the straight boot pack begins.

Despite some fresh snow, our feet easily find the icy surface below. Crampons were a great decision. The ice axe however, was debatable. At one point I told Chirs that I wished I had a whippet, and he replied "I wish I had another ice axe!"  The discrepancy could be due to the fact that I was using a 50 cm ice axe and his was 60 cm, but given that he's at least 10 cm taller than me, I'm not sure that reasoning is valid. Still, I had to bend over pretty far in order to find a firm surface that my iceaxe would plant on and I really didn't need to use the pick end of the ice axe at all.

Conditions were pretty easy for our approach, all-in-all. Neither one of us had serious issues with our gear, just minor details we'd like to improve upon. Jen Hudak entering Suicide Chute hike

Jen Hudak Boot-packing Suicide Chute

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Working my way the chute! Slow & steady...

It didn't take long for Chris to move well in front of me on this part of the approach.  I wasn't moving slowly, but I wasn't about to win an Olympic medal with my performance. So, I did my best to settle-in, something I've found very useful for my bouts with racing mountain bikes. Granted, I realize this chute is child's play compared to what's out there in the world, but it was still hard-work. The sound of my feet pressing through the snow and finding the ice below, served as a metronome for my thoughts. Day-dreaming about the skiing to come, reflecting on my past, letting go of my former-self step-by-step. My glutes were burning and I was sweating, but I could see the top. I could see the top for so long, and I just kept lying to myself, saying "you're almost there, Jen." My body seemed to believe me as I pressed on. Eventually that lie became truth and I stepped out of the couloir onto the saddle overlooking a view of the Salt Lake valley below.

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View of the Salt Lake Valley

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

The ski down always goes too quickly, yet somehow it makes the uphill well worth it. The further we worked our way up the chute, the more filled in it seemed to get.  This time, we seriously lucked out on conditions.  The skiing was a blast!  There is something that feels really exhilarating about chute skiing, even when the pitch isn't super steep. (Suicide Chute is also known as "Country Lane" because it never gets over 40 degrees). But charging between rock walls, and visibly seeing the valley floor getting closer, makes you well aware of your surroundings and your speed.

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

There was significant powder the entire way down, until the exit. Due to early season conditions, the chute wasn't entirely filled in. You had to be precise and calculated in your turns to avoid some rocks hidden just beneath the surface. Keeping speed under control was key.  The trickiest part was working our way through the choke at the exit. We side-stepped our way down and each did a quick jump-turn in order to straight-line the choke. It didn't exactly go as planned for either one of us, as the snow on the apron we exited onto was not ideal, but we survived. Then we got to enjoy some sweet and soft low-angle turns on our way back to the car.

I highly recommend skiing this Wasatch classic line. Be safe, get educated and only ski with partners that you know and trust. The mountains should never be taken for granted!

Gear Used:

Petzel Glacier LiteRide Ice Axe 50 cm

Under Armour Women's Nimbus GORE-TEX® Shell

Under Armour Women's Nimbus GORE-TEX Bib Pant

RAMP Sports Skis, Beaver

Backcountry Access Float 27

Black Diamond Neve Pro Crampons

POC Lobes Goggles

Backcountry Access Float 27 Tech Airbag Backpack - 1650cu in

Farewell Halfpipe, I'll Always Love You.

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Last February, when I went to help my dad while he was in the hospital I told him I was going to announce my retirement from halfpipe skiing at the Park City Grand Prix. I could tell that he was relieved. I have to imagine it's been stressful being my parent for the majority of my life, as a lot of the things I love to do are *relatively* risky. But just before I was to fly back to Utah for my final contest, my father fell and broke his hip. I was overwhelmed with a sinking feeling, I could sense that his end was near, and saying goodbye to two of the most important components of my life was far too much to handle all at once. So I stayed silent.

Riding my favorite pipe at Park City!

I feel like two different people as I sit here writing this, attempting to make sense of it all. There are two distinct voices in my head: one saying "you're done" and the other saying "no, you're not." But fall is swiftly moving toward winter, and decision time is upon me.

I have grown up a professional skier. I didn't grow up first and then become a professional, I became a "professional skier" and through that, I eventually grew up.  Despite my efforts to live a balanced life throughout my career, I identified deeply with the self-concept I've developed through this sport.  Almost all formative experiences in my life have been trials and errors in my skiing career.  It is not an easy thing for me to say goodbye to the sport that has molded me into the woman I am today; I like who I've become and hope to continue to evolve into a better person every year. I know how to do that through halfpipe skiing, I know what I have to offer in that realm. What do I have to offer outside of it?

Injuries and loss have taught me so much, but at the same time, I wonder if they've taught me enough, as I sit here struggling to "let go."

I'm still uncomfortable with the realization that I'm not entirely in control of outcomes, including injuries & death, but also of new opportunities and successes. I like to have my compass pointed toward my destination, so even if I get off track, I always know where I'm heading.  Right now, it seems my compass is somewhere near a magnet... as I face an uncertain path. In vain, I try to keep doors of my past cracked open, but doing so keeps my heart and mind looking in the wrong direction, not focusing on the possibilities that lie ahead. And they are infinite.

The reality is, halfpipe skiing has already given me more than enough. Of course I can look at my career and see what remains to be achieved, but there will always be something left to be desired. Accomplishing a dream just gives birth to a new dream; I will never feel I've done enough in my career and at the same time, it's already been more than enough. I've acheived a great deal in my career and I've sacrificed a great deal along the way. It's time for a new way of living.

So with no further ado, I am officially announcing my retirement from professional halfpipe skiing.

There is so much weight behind those words, but just because I've chosen to retire (and it most certainly is my choice), doesn't mean I need to be done with skiing pursuits entirely.  I'm scrapping the "only-way-I-knew-how-to-be-a-skier" model and starting over. I've asked myself exactly what it is that I want to do with skiing. And the answer is simple: just SKI!

I want to ski for myself without feeling the pressure to push myself out of my comfort zone day after day (maybe just on occasion). I want to ski with loved ones and I want to share skiing with others. I want to coach clinics and continue supporting the next generation of athletes climbing the ranks and navigating the crazy world of being a "professional" anything at an undeveloped age.

What I want to do in life is a touch less clear, but I'm going to roll with what I can grasp right now as the rest will unfold over time. I want to write, about skiing, about transitions, about hardship, about love and about chasing dreams even when they seem to slip out of reach.  Some of the most cherished moments that I have from this life, are when YOU, my treasured readers, share how I've touched your hearts and made a genuine difference in your lives through my written word. So thank you.

Thank you to everyone reading this- to my sponsors old and new, this journey wouldn't have been possible without you. Thank you to my team & family. My coach Elana Chase, agent Mike Svenningsen, my mom & dad, Cathy & Paul, my sister & brother in-law, Cristina & Scott and to my husband, Chris--you all have held me up through your unconditional love.

xo,

Jen

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Happy Holidays. Dream BIG!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

er pressure, to leave people in awe of what you have just done, and the glorious feeling of taking home the win.

My Road to Sochi

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RosaKhutorResort  

Over the last two years following an injury to my right knee I have been patient, strategic and optimistic as I continued to pursue my dream of making the inaugural U.S Olympic Team for halfpipe skiing.  In 2011 I got to see an 8 year long dream of mine come to fruition: our sport was accepted into the Olympics and would make its debut in 2014.  I remember being so excited, not having a doubt in my mind that I would be there; why would I have a doubt when I had been on almost every podium for the previous 3 years?  But things change.  Adversity strikes (it can weaken you in some places and strengthen you in others), the field grows, and competition level rises.  It has been a wild ride since that day in 2011 and I am so very grateful to have been a part of it.

Sadly, my journey to Sochi has come to an end.  The injury that I sustained to my left knee at Dew Tour was not going to be managed by a simple scope as I had initially hoped.  Once I was in surgery, the damage to my meniscus was too bad to just clean up, it needed to be sewn, which would require 4 weeks on crutches and would end my quest for the Olympics regardless of damage to the ACL.  Ultimately, I had a full reconstruction of my ACL, meniscus repair and an articular cartilage paste graft, which uses stem cells from a non-weight bearing part of the knee in combination with a microfracture to regrow a full-thickness cartilage surface.  This ensures the best health of my knee for the long term since living an active lifestyle and skiing for the rest of my life are big goals for my future- I want to be able to teach my kids to ski one day.

Though my heart is broken that my road to Sochi has come to an end, I proceed with a smile on my face.  This sport has caused me more than enough tears- tears of joy and tears of sadness.  In this next phase, I choose to be happy, to feel pride in having come so far, and to be grateful that I have had great people behind me every step of the way.  My first thought when I learned about my knee was that I couldn’t wait to ski again.  Right now, I am diving head first into rehab and am more committed than ever to get strong, once again.

Even though I will not be able to say that I am an Olympian at the end of this 2014 season, the Olympics is still a huge part of my story.  Setting my sights on a goal that didn't exist when I started out was a huge risk that brought many rewards.  That single goal carried me so far and to walk away knowing that I did all that I could do, holding my head high, is all that I can ask for.  Thanks to everyone for believing in me and giving me the chance to live out my dreams.  I realize that I am amongst the fortunate ones.

As my team gathers in Park City for this final Olympic Qualifier I will be there cheering them on.  I am so proud to see how far all of these ladies and men have come over the years.  There are very familiar faces out there, ones who began this journey when I did, and some very fresh faces, but we all share one thing: we are Freeskiers.  We are family.

 

Huge thank you to my sponsors: Under Armour, Volkl/Marker, Rockstar, Giro, Paul Mitchell, Liberty Mutual, i Ride Park City, US Freeskiing and The Stone Clinic for your continued support.  Also, to my family, friends, coaches, fans and mentors- you have made this journey so special, there is no way that I would be here without each and every one of you. xo

I'm Not Done Yet

The alarm went off at 6:15 as it has every morning for the last week and a half.  It’s dark outside- winter’s dawn won’t be for over an hour.  My bed feels too hot, and I struggle against the tightly tucked layers of sheets and blankets, to free my left leg and expose it to the crisp air.  Ahhhh.  At first I forget that I don’t need to be awake; it’s finals day for the New Zealand Winter Games, and I failed to qualify.  But my roommates and teammates, Anais and Anna, need to get up, as does our coach Elana.  We are sharing quarters for the month down here as we train and get ready for the biggest potential contest of our lives, The Olympics. For the last week we have been on the same schedule: 6 a.m wake up, slow crawl out of bed, immediately turn the electric kettle on to boil water for our French Press coffee, whose plunger is currently held together with medical tape (it’s all we have on the road).  I prepare 2 eggs mixed with a bit of milk; the gas stove in our kitchenette burns hot, so the eggs cook quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them and getting my gluten free bread toasted perfectly by the time my eggs are done cooking is always a challenge.  After a week, I’m beginning to get it down.

My eyes and head feel heavy.  Abruptly leaving behind the long days of summer for the stunted days of winter in New Zealand makes mornings seem darker than usual—we’ve been cut off of our sun addiction cold-turkey.  My 2 other roommates awaken around the same time and we awkwardly dance through the small living-dining-cooking space, as everyone prepares for the day ahead—Anais with her yogurt and muesli, Anna with some toast with an egg, ham and cheese, Elana with a cup of coffee.  Slowly ski clothes find their way out of the bedrooms, ski pants climb their way up our legs, excess coffee is poured into to-go mugs and we tumble out the door toward our cars.

Elana drives the Ford Ranger—it’s 4-door truck with a short bed, but it seats 5.  All of our skis and poles go in the back of the Ranger (11 pairs in total) and 5 people load into the cab.  My car, as I like to call it, is a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado—“The Prado”.  It’s a huge, wide, very American looking SUV.  We have one of the rear seats up, so that we can fit 6 people, 6 backpacks and 6 pairs of boots.  I climb into the right side of the Prado as the rest of the kids fight over shotgun and bitch.  The auxiliary cord gets passed to the backseat somewhere and Lil Wayne begins to sound.  I’m always shocked at how good rap can make me feel before the sun is even up.

We pull out of our drive, remembering to stay left.  Some days Elana is the lead car, and other days I am; some days we try to break ground speed records and other days we try to practice the skill of patience as we sit behind a car going a mere 90 kmh in a 100 zone.  Elana is typically more aggressive on the pavement in the first part of our drive, while I prefer the dirt of the second half.  Getting up to the base of Cardrona Ski Resort takes between 28 and 40 minutes (depending on how we choose to drive) and the pipe is open from 7:30-11 or 10 or 12… New Zealand isn’t the best at creating a consistent schedule.  But, this morning is a contest day, so the schedule will be a little different.  And then I remember, I’m not competing.

Yesterday was the qualifiers for the World Cup.  Going into it I was feeling really good.  My skiing was progressing nicely, training had been on a steady incline and I was prepared to peak for contest day.  My warm-up runs felt solid, and I was done with about 5 minutes remaining of our 35-minute session.  There were 26 girls competing and I felt confident about being in the top 12 to qualify for finals.  The run that I was competing was fairly basic compared to my best skiing of 2 years ago.  Big straight air, alley-oop mute, 540 safety, alley-oop 5, cork 7 tail, switch 180.  That run earned me 2nd place at this exact contest 2 summers ago.

In my first run I landed really low on my alley-oop 5, I didn’t touch the ground with any part of my body and I fought through, determined to stand up and finish the rest of the run.  I was really proud to have skied away from that trick and glad to feel the strength in my right leg after all it has been through.  Last winter, stepping into my binding was a challenge and now I am able to pull off landings that would be tough for anyone of any age, gender, health or strength.  My score was a 68 and put me in 9th.  I was happy to at least be in finals, for the time being.  I made the decision to keep my alley-oop 5 in for the 2nd run- my thought process being that I’m not going to the Olympics without it, and I felt that I will land it better and improve my score from run 1.  Most of that statement was right, I landed the trick better, but still low and somehow felt really slow going into my 720, last minute I thought to do an air to fakie instead so that I could still do a switch 180, but I decided too late and ended up just flailing on a straight air.  I didn’t fight.  My stomach sank, and I felt that I had just made a big mistake.

My intuition was right.  4 girls managed to land better 2nd runs and I moved from 9th place to 13th—one spot out of finals, one short fight away.  But sometimes that is how the cookie crumbles.  My intention for this first event was to do the run that I did.  My skiing is exactly where I had wanted it to be at this time, but adjusting to where that has placed me was tough.  As I said, 2 years ago that run landed me on the podium (granted it was a little cleaner) and now it didn’t even make finals.  It is a proud moment to observe the growth that this sport has gone through, but an intimidating one.  The path that I have laid out for myself has me peaking in December, taking every step, and pausing there for a moment, one new trick in training, one new trick in a contest run; not skipping ahead just for the sake of a competition.

I'm feeling reconnected with the sport that I once loved greatly and drifted away from for a while.  It feels really good to be motivated again, to want to learn new tricks, to be able to focus on the elements that are in my control, no longer distracted by the doings of others. The Olympics won’t mark the end for me whether or not I qualify to compete, so I will just continue look ahead.  I will progress on the timeline that I lay out, not forcing anything based on the looming event that has us all on pins and needles.  I’m not done skiing yet.

Staying focused on your future goals in times when you fall short of your immediate goal is imperative to success.  Know that you have what it takes to get there as long as you are patient.  Often we are only one trick, one day, or one moment away from being where we intend to be, but we give up just before we can see over the horizon.  Do not quit too soon,  “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”  Thanks for that, Helen Keller.

(Side note: I watched finals that morning.  It turned into a one run contest because the fog was so intense.  My US Freeskiing teammate Devin Logan, ended up winning.  It was her first contest back from an ACL tear she suffered in New Zealand one year prior.  My good friend Angeli VanLaanen got 2nd, her first podium at a Platinum level event since her return to skiing post recovery from Lyme Disease treatments.  Anna Drew ended up in 5th after crashing really hard on a right 900 in training (her unnatural way of spinning).  I was happy to see her healthy and skiing.  And Anais did a beautiful 900 first hit and went a little big on her alley-oop 5 resulting in a crash. She ended up 12th, but is skiing really well. On to the next one.)