For those of you who may be visiting for the first time, (or are frequent visitors but suffering from amnesia), about 3.5 months ago I signed up for a little bit of craziness called the Wells Fargo Fall EXTREME Hike for a Cure to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Wow, that was a mouthful. Henceforth we shall call it the EXTREME Hike. 3.5 months ago I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
Do it for the kids, they said. We have training that will make this no sweat, they said. We’ve never lost a hiker, they said.
After this past weekend, the above were not all 100% true statements. Maybe about 30-50% truth.
This will be a life-changing experience, they said. You will feel an amazing sense of accomplishment, they said. You will be crazy enough to want to do it again, they said.
These are all true statements. Did I happen to mention that I still feel this way despite the fact that we all got lost? Read on for a full recounting of my EXTREME hike experience. If you at any point laugh, giggle or inwardly grin at my struggle, then please consider donating to the cause by clicking here. We are still raising money through November 14th, and I’m just a few hundred dollars short of my fundraising goal.
9 AM Worked from home at about 10% effectiveness as I stressed over packing and re-packing all the various goos, power bars, wicking shirts, head lamps, spare batteries, etc., which were recommended for this insane stroll through the woods.
2: 30 PM Hitched a ride with my designated hiking buddy/driver up and over to Etowah Valley just outside of Brevard, NC. Kept him entertained reading Cosmo’s 78 secret sex facts. Apparently we should all be wearing socks while naked and sniffing cinnamon. Cosmo, you’ve lost credibility. Made bets on the carpet color we expected to find in the outdated but charming mountain gem that was the Etowah Valley Country Club. I won. It was green. And matched the bed spreads. Which means I doubly won.
6 PM Stuffed our faces full of pasta while receiving a highly entertaining run down of hike safety tips. It was recommended we get to learn each other by smell since our first three hours hiking would be sans daylight. Also encouraged to poop. Apparently no one likes to be downwind of a reluctant pooper. Que the first official freak out moment of the weekend.
9 PM Retired to my room for an early night in anticipation of a 2 AM wake up call. Still suffering from a sore throat and sore body. Really regretting that mid-week kickboxing class.
10 PM Tried to fall asleep to Say Yes to the Dress. Failed. Turned on politics.
2 AM Wake up call didn’t come. Thank goodness I’m responsible and set an alarm. Throat is still killing me, also suffering from intense sweating fit. Second ‘holy crap what did I get myself into?’ moment. Throw on my three layers of clothes and a headlamp, grab my pack, head out the door.
2:45 AM Hike check-in officially complete. Load into Van A (for Awesome) to head to the trail.
4:15 AM Arrive at Daniel Boone Campground. Take a group photo of everyone still smiling.
4:45 AM Our group, Group 4, hits the trail. It is pitch black, and all we have to guide our way is our head lamps. We spend the next three hours frantically searching for orange arrows painted onto a ground of fallen leaves the day before. Guess what? Leaves move. Luckily, our blazers did a fabulous job and were liberal with the application of orange paint. Despite a few very brief missteps, we safely scale our way from 3000 feet to 6000 feet just in time to see a glorious sunrise.
Somewhere between 10 AM and 11 AM Arrive at the first aid station, 10.6 miles from the start. At this point my left knee is starting to protest after the extreme uphill climb. I pop a few Ibuprofen, scarf down a PB & J, pull out my iPod shuffle for a little motivation, and then get back to it.
Somewhere around 12:30 PM Run into two hikers from another group coming towards us from the opposite direction. Find out that we (along with three other groups) managed to miss a split between the Art Loeb (our correct trail) and the Mountain to Sea (the incorrect trail and one we were currently on.) Guess what? They both have white blazes. Who the hell uses the same color blazes on two trails? Apparently one was white circles and the other white squares. We missed the distinction. Perhaps this is because WE HAD BEEN UP SINCE 2 AM and it was all we could do to remember we were supposed to follow white. Really? You want us to discern shapes?
Deliberate on whether to head a few miles further to a road where we can hitchhike like everyone else, or if we should backtrack and try to pick up our trail again. We elect to backtrack. Our deadline to make it to the second aid station before they cut us off is 2 PM. Each aid station has a cut-off period so we are off the trail before we run out of daylight. It is extremely hazardous for us to keep going once we lose the daylight considering our early morning start.My knee is excruciatingly painful at this point. I’ve run through half my bottle of Ibuprofen and trying to power through. So far we’ve had fairly even terrain.
Somewhere around 2 PM Realize that we had gone at least three miles in the wrong direction before we started to back track. Window for making it to the second aid station in time is disappearing. Once we get back on the Art Loeb realize we should have noticed the Mountain to Sea was suspiciously easy-going. This terrain is brutal. We start to encounter sections of extreme downhill and I’m fighting back tears. There is stabbing pain in my knee. I start to heavily favor my left knee and quickly my right is protesting just as loudly. Half our group splits off because they are now moving at a faster pace. My knee is slowing me down big time.
Somewhere around 3:30 PM We make it to the top of Pilot Mountain and there is just one more brutal downhill section before the next aid station. We take a long pause at the top because we know our chances of continuing after the aid station are shot. They are going to pull us out. We figure the rest of our team is far ahead of us because we haven’t seen them on the trail in about an hour. A few minutes later, they come huffing and puffing up to the top behind us. The looks on their faces say it all. ‘How the hell did they get up here first?!’ You can tell this really takes the wind out of their sails, they were motoring to try to get a chance to push through and finish the whole thing. Apparently we took the shorter route of an earlier split in the Art Loeb trail. Deciding to make the most of the amazing view, we take 5 and snap some pictures.
4:15 PM We are closing in on the aid station. The rest of the group is several yards ahead. Our coach Nicole is hanging back with me as I push through the final downhill bit. I’m starting to think more positively about facing labor and child-birth. I’m sure it can’t be much worse than the searing pain in my knees I’m currently experiencing. 30 or so yards from the aid station we run into emergency rescue people. Apparently we were lost. Funny, we knew just where we were. They look positively disappointed they stumbled on us so quickly. I think they were hoping for a more exciting rescue. They didn’t even get a chance to take out the ATVs. Next time I’ll be sure to get more properly lost.
4:30 PM We made it! To the second aid station that is. Our chances of crossing the actual finish line are toast. We are a little disappointed, but mostly relieved to be done hiking for the day. Someone helps me tape a bag of ice around my knee. Sitting down is glorious. Even better is the cold bottle of water I down in three seconds.
5:30 PM Hobble back into the hotel room. Soak in a hot bath and then take a shower. I’m just going to lay down for a few minutes and then get ready for dinner….
7 AM Wake up realizing I missed my own after party. Made the rookie mistake of believing I could take a short nap after 12 hours of hiking.
9 AM Head to the farewell breakfast and stuff my face with grits, bacon, biscuits and pancakes. I’ve got 5000 calories to replace. My coach lets us know that after calculating our revised route we ended up hiking a total of 27-28 miles. Knowing we fell only a few miles from our 30 mile goal is a huge relief. Hearing that nearly half the hikers dropped out and/or also got lost is re-assuring to my ego. Coach has done this four times and said this was by far the most brutal.
11 AM Time to head home and go spend my day soaking my sore muscles in the hot tub. Already mentally planning for next fall. Hell yeah I’m doing this again. I will cross that finish line.