I imagine this question comes up from friends and families reading these blogs and watching their loved one's dot slowly move across the map of the Gallaecia course.
Officially, Sleepmonsters are the result of the hallucinations adventure racers experience while sleep-deprived. Everyone is different but on average, they are the worst between 2am and 5am. They can attack during the day but usually, once the sun rises, they crawl back into their dark cave and get ready to attack the next evening. But, what does all this really mean?
The way Sleepmonsters harass racers can vary widely but the following are some of my personal experiences to help explain what teams are going through. It begins when I start seeing things that aren't there. Maybe I mistake a leaf for a Snickers bar wrapper. I think I see a structure in the woods but when I shine my hand torch on it, there are only trees. At that point, I know the Sleepmonsters are coming out to play.
This will sound a little weird but if you experience Sleepmonsters enough, you can begin to control them and make it quite an enjoyable experience.
As they progress, things get downright amazing. It's a lot like comparing your first time having too much to drink to someone who is used to the effects of alcohol. Now that I have spent so much time both playing with and battling them, I can dial in just enough reality to continue functioning in the race while exploring my imaginary world with childlike fascination.
A fallen log on the side of the trail may become a statue of David. I once vividly saw a complete farmer's barn with equipment all around it. I knew it was fake, but it looked so real I took some time to look around. Then, to bring me back into reality, I simply turned on my hand torch and poof, it was gone.
If you know a teammate is having Sleepmonsters, it is super entertaining to have them tell you what they were experiencing. On a long paddle leg during the Florida Sea to Sea race, Andrea’s mind converted the Lilly pads into brains floating by in the water. She then saw pyramids in the distance and even pointed out monkeys swinging in the trees. The funniest one was in Huairasinchi (Ecuador) when she imagined a person sitting on the edge of the trail and tried to talk to them. When realizing they only spoke Spanish, she went back to get Luis Fernando Becdach (who is bi-lingual) to ask him for help speaking with the man. She was surprised when they couldn't find him. "But he was just here."
Sometimes it’s not so funny. On several occasions, my teammates seem to morph into other people. Totally different faces, personalities and demeanors. "Who are these people," I think to myself. Even though I know it isn't real, it is difficult to shake off the feeling like you are in a “B” horror movie.
In all seriousness, sleep deprivation can play unbelievable tricks on the mind. Even for experienced teams, Sleepmonsters can be difficult to tame. For racers new to multi-day expeditions, it can be terrifying and even dangerous. Teams need to work together to manage their sleep and stay safe.
Sleepmonsters are one of the things that differentiate our sport from all others. Some of the most fun AR stories and memorable experiences come from wrestling with the Sleepmonsters. I can't wait to see these old friends again on my next big race.
When your loved one gets home from Raid Gallaecia, don’t just ask them to tell you about the race. Ask them to tell you about the Sleepmonsters. You will likely see their face light up like a little kid who just got back from Narnia.
Chip Dodd Sleepmonsters.com ARWC 2021 Guest Commentator Team thisABILITY Adventure Racing