In the afterhours, local businessman Roy Malone races for his life
When he remembers his ordeal, it isn’t the pain, the fatigue, the illness, the hallucinations or even the Playmates that set Roy Malone IV’s heart pumping. “The last thing anyone wants to hear at 3 a.m. in the middle of the jungle is a terrified scream,” said Malone.
Malone and his team were trekking through a Fijian jungle following a man in his pajamas. In the middle of the night, their guide had heard them searching for the river, so he’d emerged from his grass-thatched hut in his pajamas to help them. It was there that they were attacked by a giant white bat—bad news for the racers but good news for the guide. In short order, he killed the bat and hung it around his neck, bat being a delicacy in Fiji. It was around this time that Malone began to realize how far he really was from Sacramento.
Malone is one-fourth of Team Subaru USA (along with Dan Barger, Heather Christensen and Dan Rathbun), which participated in the Eco-Challenge, a nonstop adventure race. The competition is 10 days long and includes swimming, biking, mountain climbing and a variety of physical and mental challenges. The whole event is produced and filmed by producer Mark “Survivor” Burnett for the USA network, and the fourth and final installment airs today, May 8.
Malone, a vice president at Western Sierra Bank, is an avid adventure racer who cross-trains year-round and does about a dozen 24- to 48-hour races a year. He trains up in the Auburn Canyon area between Cool and Auburn.
“We tend to do a lot of mountain biking, trail running, kayaking; the hills out there are fantastic and steep,” Malone enthused. “We may go up to Desolation Wilderness and spend 24 hours there getting lost, using a compass to try and find our way out. We do a lot of the kayak training at the [California State University, Sacramento] aquatic center because most of the paddling is flat-water. Whitewater kayak training gets done on the south fork of the American River.”
Malone’s team started competing with a short three-hour race locally in 1999 at Folsom Lake. That competition is now called the Balance Bar Adventure Race Series. In addition to kayaking, running and biking, the organizers throw in more mental challenges. “There is a 12-foot wall at a 60-degree incline that’s covered in Crisco, and you’ve got to get your whole team up and over,” Malone said, laughing.
The night before the Eco-Challenge started, Burnett told the 81 competing teams that he wouldn’t be surprised if only a couple of them finished the whole course. He told the teams that anyone who wanted to back out that evening still could have the entry fee reimbursed. No one took him up on the offer, but maybe some people should have. Less than a third of the teams made it across the finish line.
“The faces of the villagers were awash with wonder, as most of them had never seen a non-Fijian before,” said Malone. “There we stood, 320-plus athletes with spandex, Oakleys, Gore-Tex and shoes.”
When the starting gun fired, the teams bolted toward the mental and physical challenges. Each team had to construct a bilibili (a traditional Fijian boat) out of bamboo and rope (think Pixy Stix and dental floss on a large scale) that would be sturdy enough to carry four racers and their gear 40 kilometers down the Wainimala and the Rewa rivers.
The television cameras weren’t much of a factor for Malone. “You get a little bit of fame. It’s fun to see yourself on TV after the fact. But after the second day or so, you become pretty immune to it. You pull yourself in and focus primarily on your next step. You don’t focus on the camera crews until they start asking you questions,” said Malone. “If you are coherent enough to answer them, that’s usually a sign that you’re doing pretty good.”
At times, “it felt like a Disneyland ride gone bad, real bad,” said Malone. While swimming upriver, Malone’s right shoe floated away. He told his teammates the disastrous news. “After the obligatory ‘oh, shit,’ the consensus was that we could fabricate a new one. I was reminded again why I love racing with these guys,” said Malone. “There is always a contingency plan.”
While his teammates slept, Malone took a stab at becoming a cobbler. “I taped my whole foot, including toes. The insole of my left shoe became the foot bed of my new shoe. A little duct tape, a sock, an Ace bandage, more duct tape, a second sock, and my masterpiece was complete. A beauty it wasn’t. Functional it was.”
“A few days later, Sarah Wiley from Team Schick Xtreme 3 saw what I was doing and offered the extra pair of shoes that she had been carrying,” said Malone. “Never mind that it was a size 8.5 women’s, and I wear a size 11; a little modification to the toe box, and I was a new man, with happy feet.”
By the time they got to Checkpoint 10, the team had been running straight for seven days with only a few hours of sleep total. It was midnight and raining, but the team had to rappel down a waterfall. “We were wet, cold, and it was dark. The absolute last thing that we wanted to do was rappel down a waterfall,” said Malone.
When they got to the next checkpoint, they saw some of their support crew. “The concern on their faces gave us an indication of what we must have looked like,” said Malone. “It was like observing someone watching an accident happen. We hadn’t had a change of clothes in almost eight days. I’m sure that we looked and smelled every 192 hours of that.”
The physical exhaustion, hunger and lack of sleep were beginning to take their toll. “Hallucinations for me typically occur near dawn. When the morning rays cast shadows on bushes and trees, the landscape becomes a circus of animals: rabbits, oversized squirrels, horses and even a flamingo. Deep down inside, I know that they are not real. But during those times when sleep deprivation wrests logic away, I swear that the flamingo is about to attack Heather!” said Malone.
Paddling a kayak up the river on the final day brought even more hallucinations.
“With no bushes or trees to act as animals, my mind shifted to a different world. In the movie The Truman Show, Jim Carrey paddles away from a manmade stage town to escape and crashes into the painted screen of the sky that served as the edge of his world. Several times, I slammed on the brakes—there are no brakes in a kayak—hoping to avoid crashing into my own edge-of-the-world delusion.”
Mercifully, at 3:58 a.m., after nine days and 19 hours of racing, the team landed at Denarau Beach in ninth place. (The last team to complete the course would come in five hours later.)
“By the end of the race, I was numb,” said Malone. “Immediately after the race, I sat on the floor of the shower and, for an hour, let the water prune me. The next morning, at the medical tent, we were given a quick health check, drug test (we passed, whew!) and a dose of diethylcarbamazine that would prevent elephantiasis.” Malone had been shown a photo of Fijian men suffering from the disease who had testes the size of two bowling-ball bags. “Unfortunately, taking the medicine often makes the patient vomit,” he said. “Better than the alternative, though. … I took my medicine.”
At the medical tent, he found out what happened to the other 71 teams that didn’t make it. “The Playboy Playmates team didn’t finish, although the gals were tremendous athletes,” said Malone. “Another team that included Hayden Christensen [the actor who played the teenage Anakin Skywalker in the most recent Star Wars film] didn’t finish either. Quite a few athletes were hospitalized for months after the race.”
Once back home in Sacramento with his wife and three kids, Malone couldn’t shake the race off. “For the next week, I would dream of the need to move forward. Every night, all night long, I would fight the jungle again, always needing to make progress. After nine days of pushing past the discomfort during the race, my mind was not ready to let go. I would wake drenched in sweat, my sheets soaked with the frustration of not moving forward fast enough. My wife didn’t like that.
“While you’re out there, you keep asking yourself why you’re doing this,” said Malone. “If I were to do it on my own, I’d never be able to make it. But we pull each other through and help each other when someone can’t go any farther. When you get to the finish line, it’s an amazing sense of doing something that you never thought you’d be able to do. That’s what you remember. Two weeks later, you’re ready to do it again.”
“By placing in the top 10, we receive an automatic entry to next year’s Eco-Challenge,” said Malone, who suggests potential adventure racers check out www.CsmEvents.com, www.BalanceBarAdventure.com or www.EcoChallenge.com. “Rumor is that it will be in South Africa. Lions, tigers, elephants, but no river eels. I can’t wait.”