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A couple weeks ago I wrote a post titled You Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em. It referenced Kenny Rogers’ famous song, The Gambler, in which he teaches a fellow train rider a valuable life lesson about knowing when to push through, and knowing when to let go.  As a competitive shooter (not an operator), I suggested there are some times when things aren’t going right at the range, that it’s better just to pack up and go home.  Comments ranged from supportive to critical, as I would expect.  One particular comment criticized my mental game and my ability to work through adversity.  Well, sir, whoever you are…this post is for you.

This weekend was the 3-Gun Nation Pro Series qualifier match at the US Shooting Academy in Tulsa, OK. Unfortunately, a number of shooters were affected by the winter storm that socked in half of the east coast. In what became some of the worst days for air travel this winter, over 7000 flights were canceled on Thursday, and around 1300 on Friday, according to my very scientific observation of a CNN headline in the Chicago airport.

But if you didn’t show up and qualify, you didn’t get to shoot in the 3-Gun Pro Series this year. Travel was mission-essential, not optional.

Of all the times to push through and hold onto my cards, this was it!

“WE’RE ON A MISSION FROM GOD”

In the 1980 film ‘The Blues Brothers’, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd play Jake and Elwood Blues — the Blues Brothers — who set out on a mission to raise $5000 to save the Catholic home where they grew up. Early in the movie, Elwood picks up his brother Jake from the slammer on the day of his release.  Elwood then drives Jake to see The Penguin, the nun in charge of the Catholic children’s home where they were raised. Jake and Elwood learn that the home is going to close if The Penguin can’t pay the $5000 tax bill in 11 days.

With not a lot of time on their hands, the Blues Brothers set off on a mission to raise the cash to save the school.  They visit a church and “see the light” and realize getting the band back together is the best way to get the job done. They manage to pull their old buddies away from their real jobs and land a few gigs.  Along the way, Elwood notes several times that, “We’re on a mission from God” to save the home.

Finally, they put on the big show that raises all the money they need to save the home.  Unfortunately, because of their questionable antics along the way, the show is well attended by Illinois’s Finest and they have to sneak out the back, where they’ve staged the Blues Mobile for their escape.  One of the greatest lines in movie history precedes what I believe is the best car chase of all time.

Elwood:  “We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark…and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

Jake:  “Hit it.”

The chase commences. Carnage ensues. They drive through a mall. Thousands of cops are on their tail, but they make it to the Chicago municipal building to pay the taxes just in time to save the kids home. Yyyyaaaayyyy!!

FIRE AND ICE FOR VALENTINE’S DAY; SLEEP OPTIONAL

Snow and ice hit the DC area Wednesday night into Thursday. It wasn’t on the level of the 2010 Snowpocalypse, but it was legitimate snowfall. Schools were closed, work was canceled, and I spent the morning on the couch watching Olympic hockey. Then around 11 AM, I got the email from Southwest notifying me that my flight Friday morning was canceled. I was welcome to reschedule without penalty; great, except for the fact that all 3 DC area airports were closed, and what few flights were still scheduled to leave were booked solid with Wednesday and Thursday’s cancellations.

So I looked at Richmond. They were getting snow. I looked at Norfolk; they had one flight, but were supposed to get more snow overnight. I looked at Raleigh-Durham; the snow was past them, but several flights had been canceled and passengers shuffled and there was no space available. I got on Google Maps to see how long it’d take to drive to Tulsa; 18 hours + snow time seemed too far to drive safely by myself, but like I said — travel was mission-essential.

This whole time I was in contact with my other east coast lady shooters, who were also facing similar travel difficulties. One never made it to the match because she simply couldn’t get out. I ended up making last-minute plans to travel with Adams Arms’ newest shooter, Candice Toy. Candice and I shoot regularly at Tarheel 3-Gun near Raleigh-Durham, so I was happy to have a friend to share in the adventure. And boy, was it an adventure.

Time hack: 2:30 PM. I left my house in the DC area and headed south on I-95. Between DC and Richmond (a span of around 90 miles), I counted 15 disabled vehicles. Eight of them were solidly in the ditch, and two of them were upside down.  I grew up in snow country and was confident in my driving skills, but I worried about those…less experienced…drivers on the road around me.

I made it to Richmond, where I hopped in the boyfriend’s Tahoe and we continued south through the snowstorm. Roads were bad, so he insisted on driving me to Candice’s house near Raleigh; I obliged in hopes of catching a nap. Sleep didn’t really work out. We stopped along the way for a super fancy pre-Valentine’s Day dinner at a McDonald’s in the middle of nowhere. Nothing says “I love you” like a soggy chicken sandwich. So romantic!

Time hack: 7:45 PM. Candice and I threw our stuff into her vehicle and headed towards Raleigh-Durham airport. The plan at this point was to drop off her car, pick up a one-way rental and then drive to the Charlotte airport three hours away. We had a 7:00 AM flight scheduled out of Charlotte because we believed that airport got less snow and was better prepared to deal with what they got.

We continued to check flight statuses along the way. At one point, my Southwest app told me there were seats available on a flight out of Raleigh the following morning. We were close to the Raleigh airport at that point, so we decided to confer with a ticket agent when we got there. We parked the car and ran inside, only to find the ticket counter empty; however, the nice lady at the baggage claim office was able to tell us, sadly, that there were no seats left. Looks like we were gonna have to drive to Charlotte after all.

Time hack: 10:00 PM. We pulled into the rental car place and filled out the paperwork for our ride to Charlotte. We were left to brush the snow off the car with our bare hands because apparently, like snow plows, there is a severe shortage of ice scrapers in North Carolina. After a protracted conversation with the parking lot gate attendant, we escaped the lot, re-parked Candice’s car, and were on our way. Thankfully, it had stopped snowing, so it was more or less smooth sailing from there.

Time hack: 12:30 AM. Smooth sailing, that is, until we hit the parking lot of the Hampton Inn at the Charlotte airport. It was too cold to sleep in the car, so we decided to catch a quick nap in a hotel before our flight. We had secured the very last room in the place and all we had to do was park the car before we could sleep for a few hours. Easier said than done.

The parking lot had about 6″ of snow and ice on it, and clearly hadn’t been plowed. Candice attempted to back into a parking space, and then we got stuck. It was a classic case of spinning tires but going nowhere fast. I got out to push. Despite my extensive Crossfit training, I simply wasn’t strong enough. (I’m blaming the icy footing!) So Candice put it in neutral and we attempted to push the car together, but to no avail. After collapsing into a fit of giggles we got back in and Candice slowly pulled off a 37-point turn before we escaped the parking lot, came in the other side, and slid into the spot. Phew!

Time hack: 1:30 AM. Head hit the pillow.

Time hack: 4:00 AM. Alarm went off. Quick showers before heading to the airport.

Time hack: 6:00 AM. WE’RE ON A PLANE! Can it really be true? The pilot came on the intercom and said we were ready to go. He tried to pull back from the gate, but we were stuck because the tarmac, much like the Hampton parking lot, was unplowed. The pilot pulled forward, then back, then forward, then back. Talk about deja vu all over again.

I asked Candice if we should get out and help push. She said that wasn’t our strong suit, so we stayed in our seats. After a few minutes, we were rescued by a pusher truck that got us away from the gate. The de-icers came, and we were on our way to Chicago! The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful.

Time hack: 12:30 PM. At long last, we arrived in Tulsa, complete with suitcases and guns. The sun was shining, Johnny Cash was on the radio and life was good. We got our rental car and headed to the range to walk the stages and do our 3-Gun Nation TV interviews. Never mind that we looked like the walking dead at this point; we were there, and that was what mattered.

22 hours, 5 cars, 2 planes, and 4 airports after leaving home, I made it to Tulsa, still with a death grip on the crappy hand that Winter had dealt me. 

At that point, I felt like we should get extra points just for tenacity. But it gets better . . . .

Time hack: 5:30 PM. Candice and I were done walking stages so we were heading over to the open bays to check zero on our rifles, put a few rounds through our shotguns, and the like. As we pulled up to the bay, we saw a guy standing in the middle of the range, with a small ring of fire around him.  He was desperately trying to stomp it out with his foot, but the grass was bone dry and the winds were gusty. I could tell this wasn’t going to end well. Candice jumped out to help and I drove up to the clubhouse to let them know their range was on fire.

Me: Hey! You guys have a bay that’s on fire!

Guy: How? Was somebody shooting tracers?

Me (thinking, does it really matter how?): I don’t know. YOU HAVE A BAY. THAT’S ON FIRE.

Guy: Well how much?

Me (seriously, dude?): The whole back berm and it’s windy and it’s spreading FAST.

Guy (nonchalantly): Hey Josh, we have a grass fire…

Me (rolled eyes and walked away)

I got back to the bay and by this time it was 3/4 consumed and had started climbing the berms to the neighboring bays. And wouldn’t you know it? That guy was STILL standing in the middle of it, trying to stomp it out with his foot. While perhaps a moron, I gotta at least give him points for persistence.

Time hack: 9:30 PM. I collapsed into bed. Sleep coma ensued, but only for about six hours. Woke up at 3:30 and spent the next 2 1/2 hours running through stages in my head. At least I knew my stage plans inside and out!

WHEN DO YOU HOLD ONTO YOUR CARDS?  WHEN YOU HAVE TO.

It was more than 106 miles to Chicago. It was 1800 miles to Tulsa and we weren’t wearing sunglasses. But we survived snow, ice, wind, fire, and sleep deprivation.

And I showed up the next day and shot the best match of my life. I was clean all the way through, except for a reshoot. I executed my plans exactly as I intended to shoot them. I took fewer makeup shots than usual. I shot on the move more than I ever have before. I kept my head in the game, and I made it back into the 3-Gun Nation Lady Pro Series.

Mission accomplished. Take that, winter. You dealt me a crappy hand of deuces and random trash, but I held on and somewhere along the way, they turned into aces. I WIN.

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26 Responses to You Gotta Know When to Hold ‘Em

  1. I think I made a comment about training through adversity or some such, but I don’t think I was exactly critical.

    Whether you are referencing my comment or a different one, congratulations!

    Good job. This will be a match you remember.

  2. It’s a great story, but I have to say that under the circumstances, especially with two drivers, I probably would’ve taken the over the road route….

  3. You have issues that you have yet to identify and that I cannot address except to say that this is not the place for you to air them. Have you considered a career as a stand-up comedian?

  4. Congrats! I agree, sometimes everything is going your way and you perform poorly. learn from it and move on. Sometimes you perform well with all odds against you… One heck of a story and memory. It’s what competition is all about!

  5. That might have been me….

    “Well Ms. K, gamblers work with what they get. Can’t bluff when your banging nails. At your level, it’s not about shooting…wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t. Your relying on routine to get you through. Pants, shoes, bags, loads, sleep, food….routine gets where your at….learning to accept distractions without losing focus may be the next thing to work on.”

    Well done…keep us updated.

  6. Thanks for the insight on what it’s like to be a high level competitive shooter.

    Also, don’t devote excessive attention to impolite comments from individuals who have never competed at your level. Like any other collection of people, the shooting community has its basic combat load of Sir Mungo Malagrowthers.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I developed a thick skin a long time ago, so I’m not too worried about it. The guy had a good point though — mental toughness is every bit an essential part of the game as shooting ability.

  7. “You dealt me a crappy hand of deuces and random trash, but I held on and somewhere along the way, they turned into aces. I WIN.”

    I’d say you bluffed when you had nothing in your hand, and convinced the other players you had aces. They folded. You won the hand!

  8. Great Story. I really enjoyed it. The parts on the Brothers, the hotel parking lot, the bay fire, the excellent performance, priceless…..

  9. Great recap, Karla! I couldn’t stop laughing at the bay fire part! I can still see him attempting to stomp out the ring of fire, completely ignoring the much bigger fire behind him! gah… wow, just wow is all I can say in hindsight about that adventure! You’re a great travel buddy!

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