The Timber Rattler Run

By Ruth Bennett

Back in the 1980s during my college summers, I buried myself in camp culture and soaked up all the nuances it offered. Consistent themes of accepting campers as they came, warding off attempts for bullying or putting others down, introducing the idea of a Creator they might want to know, and wearing ourselves out every day for that incredible night’s sleep were the prescribed order of each day. In short, the expectation of the unexpected was routine!

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Living in that environment day in and day out brought few head-turning anomalies, which is why I distinctly remember pausing to lean in and listen one day to the idea of a non-prescribed, non-mandatory opportunity for campers who had the courage to push past the unknown and press into adventure. Now, let’s just pause right here and admit that most of us enjoy camp life because it offers a front-row seat to observe people be challenged beyond their desires! But it’s not as cold as it sounds. The enjoyment factor kicks in when we see them choose to step out into the uncomfortable and face their fears while taming the beast! So, as I listened to this idea develop, I was intrigued. What if an opportunity was provided for well-deserved bragging rights for campers, who, indeed, survived the course? Only a percentage would even attempt it, and fewer would finish.

A Purposeful Course
Thirty years later and 12 years deep into my current camp-directing role, that same anomaly evaded our schedule year after year. Those involved in programming saw no need. I really wanted that non-required but highly revered event. In 2015, the time was right, and an annual tradition called the Timber Rattler Run was launched. I first established my goals and then established the course.

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The goals:

  • To cause eyes to widen with wonder when the event is described
  • To create an event to be used during youth camps (not kids)
  • To fully exhaust the participants
  • To include camp-style elements
  • To create a course off the beaten path
  • To include water and land
  • ·To develop a name worthy of respect and representative of where they would perform the task.

The course:

There is a central starting point with numbered participants and time keepers.

Element 1:  Run to the next element on an open road (ours is about a quarter of a mile).

Element 2:  Enter the lake with a floating mat and float to the exit point (I had extra foam mattresses that I used to avoid purchasing mats).

Element 3:  Run to the archery target setup. Each participant must hit the target (10 yards away) before moving on.

Element 4:  Run to the edge of the woods and climb over a huge downed tree.

Element 5:  Run through wooded trails and climb down into deep ravines and back out (with a rope going in and out of the ravine for assistance).

Element 6:  Stop at a watermelon station where each participant must eat a prescribed piece and swallow it completely before leaving. After swallowing, if watermelon “reappears,” run on!

Element 7:  Run (a quarter of a mile), following instructions/signage through woods; this is off-trail and includes use of ropes to climb out onto the path.

Element 8:  Continue running to a 12-foot cliff drop-off; participants are instructed to use a rope for descent.

Element 9:  Enter a mud crawl.

Element 10:  Enter the lake to swim out to a specific item and touch it and return.

Element 11:  Pick up a sandbag, climb a hill, and resume the trail to the finish line (a quarter of a mile).

Keys To Success
The first summer event took the most time. Although we knew the property and what we might want to include, we wouldn’t know for sure if it would work until we walked it out, tried it ourselves, installed all the equipment, and watched others use it. I had two young college athletes scoffing at the course, so I asked them if they would be my testers once I set it up. They reluctantly decided they would do it after lunch. On a full stomach, at 100 degrees outside, they ran the course. When they exited the woods to the finish line, they were sputtering, red-faced, asking for water and whispering, “It’s no good. Getting in and out of the water makes it too tough and climbing the hill and … I lost my lunch.” “Perfect,” I said, with a smile and a wink, as I filled their cups with more water.

I carefully organized the course to be doable, but one that others would never underestimate. Out of 200 campers, I had 45 participate in both weeks. For all those who crossed the finish line, I provided a wristband that read, “I survived the Timber Rattler Run.” The true test was the second year that we ran the course. There was still some apprehension from programming as I took the microphone to announce that the run would be offered again, but the raucous, standing ovation that drowned me out caused wide-eyed respect from the programmer, which caused that deep place in my soul to smile. You know what I mean!

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Tips:

  • Schedule for the morning if daytime temps will be sweltering.
  • Position non-participating campers along the way for support.
  • Don’t create impossible situations at any one stop. 
  • Offer great supervision along the course. Participants will hurt and some may puke, but this is not a need for rescue as they dig deep.
  • Offer drinking water strategically; i.e., don’t offer it right before participants eat watermelon because they won’t be able to fit it all in. While that may sound fun, ultimately, it won’t achieve the overall goal of helping campers succeed.
  • Don’t offer short cuts—campers need this to prove to themselves they can push through, even when no other solution is offered.
  • Greatly praise all participants for trying—not just finishing.
  • Create a way to track the winner each year for returning campers to brag about.

Ruth Bennett is the Director of Camp Victory, an outreach of Victory Life Church in Cartwright, Okla. She has been involved in Christian camping since the 1980s and serves in the cabinet of the Ozark Section of the Christian Camp and Conference Association. Reach her at ruth.bennett@victorylifechurch.com.