Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lord of the Hike: Part 4: Finis

So took me 3 weeks to tell this story.  I had every intention of finishing this post in a timely manner, just like I had every intention of finishing the hike in a timely manner.  So here it is...the FINAL POST FROM OUR BIG HIKE.

Mile 22:  I had run straight into “the wall” and fallen into the Pit of Despair.  The scientific explanation of “the wall” is that when your body depletes all the stockpiled glycogen it can store- roughly 2,000 calories- you may experience overwhelming heaviness in the legs (check), loss of concentration (check), and even despair (check).  The non-scientific explanation is that when your body hikes over rocks for 12 hours, you either want to kill somebody or cry.  And since I was alone, I could only cry.

The group (Dianne, Chris, and the Nurses) was pulling further and further ahead of me, and I couldn’t shake the thought that I had become a liability to the team.  Waiting for me was only going to slow them down further. 

Right as I hit bottom, I heard a voice from behind.  “Give me your pack, buddy.”  Corey had marched up the hill with Bob and Maria in tow, and he was commanding me to hand over my pack.  Crap.  I thought he’d turn me back around and we’d go back to the parking lot together.  I handed him my pack, and he continued to march up the hill.  I didn’t ask any questions… I just followed him for another 10 miles.

Corey took my pack until we got to the top of the hill, and my pace improved dramatically.  It wasn’t because he relieved some great burden—the only thing in my pack was 5 pounds of water and giant Rice Krispy treats. My speed improved because I knew I could keep up with his pace.

When Di and I showed up an hour late to the Torry Ridge hike (and nearly filed for divorce), Corey waited for us a few miles onto the trail. We hiked at his speed and managed to keep up with his superhuman pace until we caught up with the rest of the group.  We spent the next week popping quarter-sized blisters, but we did keep up.  I knew I could keep up with Corey like I did at Torry Ridge, especially if he had some Jack to share with me along the way.

Mile 23:  Even though I'd pulled myself out of the Pit, I still had thoughts of killing or crying—there were just fewer of those thoughts now.  Instead, I couldn't stop thinking of the physical pain in my feet.  Somewhere on that hill, Di told Corey I was struggling (duh) and asked me what was hurting.  I couldn’t really answer that question because every single muscle and joint below my waist was in pain. 

Meanwhile, I wasn’t the only person feeling the pain- Chris had taken an extended break to nurse some pain that his whiskey wasn’t numbing.  After the second false summit, we ran into Gavin taking a break too.  With the exception of the super-humans who finished the hike in 10 hours, it seemed like the guys were struggling a little more than the women on the final leg.  One scientific explanation is that glycogen is depleted at a slower rate in women, meaning that they’re less likely to hit “the wall.”  The other explanation is that the women on this hike were total badasses.

Bez, Fred & Gina: Total badasses
 Mile 24:  When we finally reached the top of the mountain, we found Sam waiting for Gavin.  Our team of hikers grew to nine—plus, Chris who was probably hanging out in the back of the pack with a guide.   Laura asked Corey if he could check on Chris about a dozen times.  Corey, demonstrating his superhuman powers of clairvoyance, kept telling her he was ok without even checking.  

Mile 25: During a break on the ridge, I saw Jamie bouncing up the trail with his newest hiking buddy, Dr. Dana Marie.  I thought she had been left for dead!  Jamie had her pack strapped to the front of his body like it was a vest made of explosives, and Dana Marie looked like she was ready to kill someone.  I thought she had hit "the wall" like I had. Instead, she had more in common with Di—she had reached “berserker rage” mode.

Apparently there had been an “altercation” between Dana Marie and a member of the CFF team at the final aid station.  The quick version of the story goes something like this:

CFF hike organizer: Sorry Dana Marie, we can’t let you go on.
Dana Marie: You gotta be f-ing kidding me!  (breaks into a full sprint and runs back onto the trail.)

Yes, Dana Marie was a safety risk—it wasn’t right to go back onto the trail, especially since the guides had un-blazed the course.  And yes, she probably should’ve chosen different words when speaking with the kind folks from CFF.  With that being said… I was glad to see her on the trail again.  She had been the quintessential teammate.  She could’ve started the hike with the first group and may have finished earlier—instead, she was wrapping hikers’ feet while the rest of us were moving through the dark.  She used her own time and supplies to make sure our feet and knees would survive 31 miles of hell—and in the end, I wouldn’t have been BLISTER-FREE without her help.  For those of you who thought she should’ve known better—you’re right.  For those of you, who thought she should’ve been allowed to finish—you’re right too.   

The Doctor hard at work before the hike
 Mile 26:   Corey continued to lead our march along a mountaintop that had been scarred from a recent forest fire.  The trail was a stark reminder that everything burns—except rocks.  It seemed like the fire had burned off the top layer of soil, exposing even more rocks below.  Just what we needed—MORE rocks.  They were never-ending.  

Rocks don't melt

The only good thing about a forest fire is that it creates fantastic views.  There hadn’t been an overlook since Mile 8 and now we actually had a view of the Shenandoah River and Valley.  

First overlook in over 20 miles
That’s a LONG time to hike without seeing anything of interest. I guess that’s why Di and I started making up our own images.  I kept seeing shelters, reflections of shiny cars parked at the shelter, and backpacks on the side of the trail-- and  Di saw alligators.  

Mile 29:  After our journey through Mordor, we made our descent into another valley, where I continued to imagine shelters, cars, and people in the distance.   

And then I heard singing… it sounded like a (failed) audition for Downton Abbey: The Musical.  It wasn’t my imagination though—it was Meg welcoming us to the shelter using her Southern Belle persona.  She even had a special song for us!

Meg: Hey guys, I came up with a song about you.
Me: Cool, let's hear it!
Meg: A little ditty about Scott and Dianne... (in the tune of "Jack and Diane")
Me: And?
Meg: And I haven't come up with the next verse.
Me: Oh...ok.... cool song. 

Meanwhile, Genevieve and a handful of bearded guides were taking a short break and waiting for us to arrive.  Our group had grown to 13 hikers—13 hikers who had spent the summer training together at Dobie Mountain, Three Ridges, Torry Ridge, and McAfee’s Knob.  The band was finally back together (I stole that line from Laura).

The final gathering
Together, our team marched up the final (steep) hill in a single-file line.  On any other hill, I may have pulled over and taken a quick break—but I didn't want to be the one to hold us up.  There was a LOT of motivation to finish this thing ASAP.  

The final march
 Mile 30:   At the top of the mountain, I re-hydrated with some Jack, and it finally started to set in: Holy crap. I’m going to finish this hike without dying.  

At one point, the folks at the finish line radioed Corey: “We have thirteen hikers unaccounted for.”  For a brief second, I was totally confused—were we lost? Maybe we were dead? Is there a search party looking for us?  Clearly, someone was a little worried that half the hikers were still on the trail. There was some sort of deal made between CFF and Corey that all of us would be finished by 7:00—and I guess we were cutting it a little too close for comfort?

When Corey was asked how much further we had, he looked at his watch and said: “We’ll be done in fourteen minutes.” (aka: 7:00)

Corey, punctual as always
 And at 7:00 (on the dot), almost 16 hours after we started, thirteen members of our team crossed the finish line at the same time.
(cue cheesy music)

Working hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill

Paying anything to roll the dice
 just one more time

Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues

Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on

Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night

Streetlights, people, living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night

Don’t stop … 
<cut to black>

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