We thought we would be heroes.
Only 25 people have ever conquered the "2Lb. Burger, 1 Hour Challenge" at Vancouver's Two Parrots Perch and Grill, if you believe the cryptic information floating around. Most references to the infamous sandwich sound like the PTSD-addled journals of a Vietnam vet.
According to our server, only six or seven people even attempted it in 2014.
What this means is that when my two fellow Icarii and I entered Two Parrots, we were unprepared for the scale of the coming battle.
No bathroom breaks.
(I know, the bulimia manoeuvre had occurred to me too. To be honest, it was a relief. It would only add another layer of absurdity to this little venture if I smuggled this beast to the bathroom in gooey portions instead of actually eating it.)
I had attempted a saltine challenge at some point in the past, dulled by drink and poor critical thinking skills. One of us once won a taco-eating contest by a single bite. But what was coming was a different animal. (Not literally. The tacos in question were also beef. But you understand my meaning.)
The burgers arrived with a vengeance. As high as the plates were wide, they were irregular spheres of complex carbohydrates and greasy meat. Ribbons of romaine and tomato discs peeked out from between three layers of dough, like a Big Mac in a funhouse mirror. The Jabba the Hutt of Big Macs, complete with Salacious Crumbs.
Three mountains of meat, cheese, and bread.
Each was as big as my head.
I looked at my team.
This wasn't a dream.
We were filled with increasing dread.
(Sometimes poetry is the only way I can get my feelings across.)
My first bite was a savage assault on the impassive granular perimeter, to little effect. I made a sobering realization. My strategy adjusted. I armed myself, tackling the monstrosity with a fork and knife.
Cut. Spear. Bite. Chew. Swallow.
This continued for some time. The transformation from enjoyable meal experience to mechanical hate-eating was a slow one. I observed my table-mates flagging.
One reached the mealtime equivalent of the runner's wall about 20 minutes in. The other lasted longer, but was beaten around the 40 minute mark. I watched his head slowly sink to the table next to his plate as I continued my relentless pursuit of excess. The dawning horror of my situation only began to sink in.
The ticking clock in my mind was palpable, a giant orange digital countdown against black. I had forgotten to set a timer on my phone. If I didn't focus on the task at hand, my head would get cloudy and I'd forget what I was doing. All my body wanted to do was slump in my chair and cradle my belly like a wounded lamb. I was fighting my own biology as much as I was the hateful dish.
Cut. Spear. Bite. Summon willpower. Chew. Swallow.
Don't stop. Never stop. When you stop chewing, you're finished.
I imagined stretch marks around the circumference of my stomach. Straining to hold the load, bulging out and displacing the rest of my organs. What if it burst? What if the pressure was too much, and the next painful swallow transformed my belly into a time bomb, lethally spewing opaque beige clouds of post-food into my body cavity and consigning me to an early death at this very dinner table?
My jaw was sore. The meat sweats were setting in. The implacable pace I had been setting didn't stop, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't waver. The only thing keeping my teeth moving was the dread that if I didn't finish, it would all be for nothing. I'm no dietician, but I doubt that's a good reason to eat a meal which you weren't sure on first glance would even fit inside you.
Tiny sips of water. Don't pack your mouth full until you feel that cartoonishly large lump in your throat. Chugging water, your impossibly distended esophagus pressure-washed clean. All you're doing is turning the pasty, thick mass between your teeth and tongue into a sludge that you can swallow like a baby bird. The fill/flood technique might do for speed, but it's not sustainable. I felt bad enough at the time without having to deal with digestive issues that tactic would be sure to prompt.
It was becoming more and more apparent that despite my best efforts, I wasn't going to make the deadline. Defeat loomed large on the horizon. Staring into that abyss, I didn't blink.
I kept chewing. I destroyed as much of this monster that I could before the bell rang. I strained my jaw muscles open and closed and open again, the aqua vitae swishing a heterogeneous mess down my gullet before I slammed another mouthful in between my teeth.
When the clock ran out, I set down my fork. More than 75 per cent of the damnable sandwich was demolished. The rest languished tauntingly on the plate before me. It was nothing but the barest remnant of beef, concealed by a Stonehenge of bread crust and leftover sauce.
Our server was adamant that we had come closer than most to finishing the challenge. Despite her kind words, she didn't look surprised at our failure for a second. The walk out the door was the hard part -- simply the sheer physics of moving. We were a burping, groaning trio reclining on nearby park benches for the rest of the evening, commiserating and digesting in equal measure.
The stink of failure clung to me afterwards. Eventually the shame would pass, along with the rest of the digested beef, slithering gracefully from me into a sparkling porcelain bowl. When it vanished into the depths below like a high-scoring Olympic diver, I felt better than I had since that fateful bell tolled.
Sometimes you just gotta let go.