INVERNESS, Scotland — Moments after Alex Abols, Brian Cresto, Steve Stroud and Scott Logan finished the 10-stage Drambuie Pursuit across the Scottish Highlands, they returned to their hotel and headed straight for the bar.
It was then that the members of Team Current TV — sweat-soaked, mud-splattered, dressed in matching red shirts and competition bibs — patted down their running shorts and realized they had nothing resembling a wallet between the four of them.
When they finally did get some dough, Cresto sat at a table near the window and admitted, "I can't believe we won that."
That makes them the only ones. From the beginning of the Pursuit, held across Scotland over two days in late April, other teams and media-types had them pegged as the most formidable of the 10 teams in the race. Drambuie had selected 40 amateur American athletes with different abilities — some with experience in triathlons, others in guiding rafting trips, and still others who were just totally jacked.
But not only were the smokejumpers Abols, Cresto and Stroud fit enough to fight forest fires for 21 days at a stretch, slogging over huge hills and working chainsaws for 16 hours a day during fire season, they had experience working as a unit.
Further, they're dedicated outdoorsmen, hunting game in Idaho, rarely consuming store-bought meat, and in the case of Abols, wearing ivory elk teeth on a necklace.
"We live strictly off of things we kill," Abols said. "The freezers are full of wild game."
"It takes you back to the element of man," Cresto added.
"And that's similar to our job, and that's why we're attracted to it," Stroud continued. "Because when you get on the ground, and you are working and doing it, it's a manly thing. You feel like you're doing good in the world, you're doing something that's hard, that's super-difficult, and it's hard as hell to get there. Everybody who's there wants to be there.
"They're out in the woods, hiking in the woods, digging in the dirt, doing man (stuff). And it's awesome."
In this competitive equation, Logan was the unknown. A wiry native Scot who joined the team by dint of his work on Current TV (one of the so-called "media partners" of the Pursuit), he didn't want to be seen as a liability — especially on his home soil.
"It's Scotland — I don't want anyone else to beat me," Logan said over drinks. "But, on the other hand, I wanted to gel with these three guys, because it was a team effort. I just wanted to make sure I did my utmost."
Logan succeeded in holding his own, though between him and the driver of his inflatable Zapcat speedboat, they did manage to puncture the boat with the corner of a crate they had to carry. While Logan enjoyed the scenery, the driver had to plug the hole with his foot to keep the craft from sinking.
Otherwise, it was the smokejumpers' show: Abols and Cresto combined for the highest score in the archery stage, and with Cresto anchoring the post-boating sprint, they won the Zapcat stage. After falling behind slightly on Logan's peddling in the mountain bike stage, Abols, Cresto and Stroud scaled the 700-foot vertical rise of Boch Baeg — a grueling hill climb that proved the crucible of the entire event.
With Cresto still recovering from his earlier sprint, "they were fish-hooking me and dragging me up the hill," he said.
The three arrived at the hill's summit as the first full team — three of the first five competitors up the hill. After that, they merely had to hold their own through the final stages (mountain biking, dune-buggy racing, whitewater rafting and canoeing) before making their victory official with a sprint through the ancient streets of Inverness.
"This is a pure example of guys who do a job, as opposed to guys who go down to the gym, do their wee bit of cardio and start pumping iron, and they think they're fit," Logan said. "Let's take a step back a few hundred years and realize this is the way it should be."
"There's just a different kind of physical fitness," Stroud said.
"Well, there's strong," Cresto added. "And then there's outdoors strong."