All throughout the winter of 2008/2009, Kristian and I had been getting geared up for the first race of the spring.   Our experience at Wildlands and French Creek the previous fall made us fall in love with adventure racing.  Because we had spent the entire winter mountain biking at places like Michaux State Forest and French Creek State Park, we were in great racing shape by time the 2009 Cushion Peak Adventure Race came around.  Heck...I had even bought my first pair of trail running shoes and a new mountain bike.   Gone was my 2006 Epic...replaced with the most expensive bike I had ever 2009 Specialized Epic Carbon.  I was ready to race.

Mountain biking Michaux State Forest.   Mark Lentz, Dave Raymond, Mikey Nardelli, & Kristain Hains -- February 2009
I can remember picking Kristian up that April morning in 2009.  Just a week before, I had purchased my new (well, new to me) 2004 Chevy Silverado.   My life really seemed to be perfect at that moment.  All the pieces had fallen into place:  I was healthy, in great shape, my kids were doing well in school, and I was incredibly successful at my job.  For me, life was pretty good on that April morning in 2009.  

My 2009 Epic Expert Carbon -- April 2009
The Cushion Peak race was another two man event put on by Butch and Breakaway Sports.  This one was located at the South Mountain YMCA in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  That particular day, April 26, 2009, was unusually hot.  By the finish of the race, temperatures had soared in to the 90s!  
Each of Butch's races are different and, this particular race...the Cushion Peak race...was always my favorite.  The event covered approximately seventeen miles and combined mountain biking, trail running, boulder climbing, archery, and rifle.   The tennis courts of the YMCA served as a common transition area for the racers....a place to switch shoes, pick up or drop off your bike, and grab whatever you need for the next portion of the race.  

The start of the 2009 Cushion Peak Adventure Race.  You can spot Team White Squirrel (Dave Raymond & Kristian Hains) just left of the big tree.  We are wearing gray shirts -- April 26, 2009
The race start was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  Butch led us to the base of the boulder climb.  Kristian and I entered this with a game plan.  We knew that we weren't going to win the race on the boulder climb...mountain biking was our strong point.  We also knew that we needed to have one speed:  GO.  Just keep moving forward.   It didn't matter if we took a moment to walk and recover...just as long as we kept moving forward.   Experience had also taught us that it was impossible to predict what kind of obstacle or suffering that Butch would put in our way.  At one point we had to crawl through a rope obstacle course.  Normally this wouldn't be difficult, but Butch made each of us carry a raw egg through course which  had to be kept in one piece all the way up the hill.  I'll never forget the look on Kristian's face after we finished navigating Butch's chaos...his egg didn't survive.   Our second attempt was much more successful....but we had lost precious time.  We needed to be flawless the rest of the race. 

Another of Butch's obstacles...the Wall at Cushion Peak -- April 26, 2009
The details of the rest of the race seem to escape me.   I do remember the two of us frantically moving from section to section.  I remember us acing the archery section...but having to deal with a rifle that kept jamming.  All the while, we had no idea how we were doing.  Because the course was so compact, teams were diverted to different stations in different directions so there wouldn't be a log jam of teams in one area.  We had no clue as to who was in front of us and who was behind us.  Each time we thought we were coming to the finish line Butch would divert us somewhere else.   The final obstacle was a tire carry...on our back...while holding the tire over a rope.   Thanks for the suffering, Butch!  

More suffering...courtesy of Butch -- April 26, 2016
Crossing the finish line was almost surreal.  We were there with only one other team!  Kristian and I had finished first in our class!  I remember jumping up and hugging him.  I remember the sense of accomplishment.  In my life I had been on a championship football team.  I had won many mountain bike races.  But this seemed special for some reason.  With just three adventure races under our belts, Team White Squirrel had it's first 1st place finish!  It seemed like a beginning.  This was just the first of what Kristian and I believed would be many.  I had finally found my niche.  I had found something that I loved and a friend to share it with.  I had no idea that this would be the last race White Squirrel would run for a long, long time.  I had no idea that this would be the last race Kristian and I would do together.  I had no idea that, within a week, my whole world would be turned upside down.

Team White Squirrel (Kristian Hains & David Raymond) at Cushion Peak -- April 26, 2016

Life is a journey, not a destination.

David A. Raymond -- February 12, 2016

If you are interested in competing in one of Butch's adventure races be sure to check out Breakaway Sports.   As always, you can check out of my mountain biking and adventure racing pics at the All Trails Lead To Ice Cream website.

White Squirrel WILL return.