Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lord of the Hike: Part I: The Fellowship of the Hikers

The mountain occupying the center of the Shenandoah Valley has had many names throughout history- Peaked Mountain, Buffalo Mountain, and Effthatshit Mountain (according to Laura). Today, it’s known as Massanutten —an Indian word that doesn’t translate well into English, but probably means “Lots of Dumb Rocks.”  This is Part I of how 36 hikers conquered 31 miles of “Lots of Dumb Rocks" in one day.

Greatest Hikers Ever Assembled

Hours before our early-morning ascent into the dark hills of Massanutten, our group of hikers and volunteers assembled in the banquet hall of the Front Royal Holiday Inn (a real quality inn) to review the hike's logistics and to feast on pasta, mashed potatoes, and buttered rolls.

Having gone to all of the training hikes, it was great to see all the familiar faces gathered together for the first time.  I didn't even recognize some of the hikers without their hats and moisture-wicking gear-- this group cleans up well!

Several others were joining our team for the first time.  Six hikers from the DC Chapter were forced to hike with us when the Foundation canceled their 25-mile Xtreme Hike of Spruce Knob.  Apparently, the Foundation felt that hiking in the vicinity of West Virginians with guns sounded a little too much like the premise for Deliverance 2.
Another four hikers from Virginia had never—and I repeat never-- hiked before. A few of them had run marathons before, but we're talking about hiking 31 miles.  You just don't wake up and hike 31 miles without conditioning your body for the rigors of the trail and breaking in your gear--right?? Wrong.  It can be done...and they did it.

"Hiking poles are totally for sissies."

There were several new guides too.  For this hike, Corey hand-selected a group of men with beards-- he definitely has a thing for beards. 

During dinner, the hikers shared why they had committed to the Xtreme Hike.  I was expecting a few people (including myself) to admit to being under the influence when they signed up—instead, everyone shared stories of the CF patients we're hiking in honor or memory of.  Their stories reaffirmed my belief that this was the greatest collection of hikers ever assembled.

As we were introducing ourselves, a special guest star arrived.  After our last practice hike, I received a comment on this blog from someone who had seen the #CF Instagram pictures I had posted during our training hikes.  Bailey is a local CF patient who wanted to hike alongside us with her fiancĂ©, John.  She believed the hike would be a challenge and positive outlet for her and John.  I contacted Corey and CFF, thinking how amazing it would be to hike a few miles with someone with CF—and they arranged for Bailey and her family to show up for the pre-hike dinner. After dinner, Di and I spent some time talking with her and her fiance John, and we're looking forward to hiking with them in the future...especially on the next Xtreme Hike.

Our Special Guest Star
Cutest smile ever? Yes

Seeing Bailey with her fiancĂ© and 3-year-old daughter brought everything home.  At times, it felt like this hike had been about overcoming my own obstacles—and while that was a big personal motivation, this hike was really about Bailey… Faith…Evan…  Chase… Briar… Jake… Alyssa… and every other CF patient.  This group raised $57,000 (net and counting) for cystic fibrosis research-- a HUGE accomplishment that trumps any personal goals I had when we started.

The faces of CF in VA
Corey closed out dinner by explaining the hike’s logistics:  Be at the bus by 2:30AM (not a second later), bring extra batteries for headlamps, follow the cue sheets, and wear orange vests so that 8-year olds with guns don’t mistake you for a bear.  Who in the world thought it would be a good idea to create a “Youth Bear Hunting Day?”  Really??  Corey assured us that there would be very few kids hiking onto the trail to kill bears—but remember, we still had some trust issues (especially after he revealed during dinner that he was responsible for the Quality Inn reservations).

"Dodging bullets should improve your pace."
Before adjourning, Corey made a dire warning: some of us wouldn’t finish the hike.  He shared his own story of being turned away from the summit of Mount Rainier because of storms.  Even though he hadn't made it to the top, he raised thousands of dollars for Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit that mentors at-risk youth.  He reminded us that the hike was a fundraiser, and that raising money for CF was the ultimate goal.  Our safety was his top priority, and he would pull us off the trail if he thought we’d be hiking into the dark.  Saftey??  The only safety Corey needed to be concerned about would be his own if he pulled us off the trail.  I prayed I'd have enough energy to put a pole through him if  he cut our hike short of 31 miles. If that sounds harsh, it isn't- Corey is invincible--he could take a pole in the heart and still hike 100 miles in a day.

After dinner, I visited Dr. Dana Marie's Triage Center to bandage my feet. This time I asked her to teach me so that I could do it before the next hike...

Got any morphine?
After taping my toes, I went back to our room and finished the night by watching Argo, thinking it would put me to sleep...
Cool beard. Dumb hair.
...and slept for five minutes.

1:30AM: The alarm goes off and HIKE DAY is here.

1:45AM:  I text a Millennial from my office-- he's getting trashed at a bar, while I'm putting on toe socks and making sure my Snickers are readily accessible in my pack.

2:00AM: Continental breakfast downstairs.

2:29AM: Tires screech through the parking lot.  Todd (aka: Boyfriend of the Year) has completed his Waynesboro-Richmond-Front Royal trip to pick up Meg's pack.  Yes, Meg forgot to bring her pack to the hike.  Crisis averted.

2:30AM: The bus leaves for our Edinburg drop off.

3:15AM: The bus arrives and it turns into total chaos.  I feel like we're storming the beaches of Normandy (minus the Nazis)--pictures are being taken, people are searching for obscured places to pee, hikers are disappearing into the woods, and Corey's already yelling at us to pick up our pace.  The headlamps go on...Di complains about how much the headlamp hurts her head (for the next 8 miles)...and we're off...

VDOT workers in training
Yea! 31 miles to go....

Into the dark...


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