Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Most Extreme Ultimate Ultimateness

This is me and fellow momcologist/hiker, Candi, on our way down to Georgia to carb up for the Ultimate Hike:
Note how blissfully unaware we are of what we are getting ourselves into.

This is our hike group, after carbing up at a pasta party:
We also signed a peace treaty and met with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Now here's my dilemma- how do you make yourself go to bed early enough to ensure you have enough sleep to wake up by 2:30 a.m. and hike across state lines? Don't ask me; I don't have an answer. I didn't sleep well. Maybe it was the fact that I've never slept in a hotel room by myself. Maybe I need extra bodies piling on top of mine to slowly smother the life out of me and render me unconscious.

I tried to sleep until 2:30, but whoever stayed in the room before me set the clock fast, so I actually got up at 2:25. I was in-between being annoyed and awed. Annoyed because how dare someone freakin' cheat me out of those five minutes of lucid sleep! Awed because who is watching me and how do they know how I am chronically late and always have to set my clocks fast?

These are the internal struggles I deal with when I'm up so early instead of being up so late.

So, I wrap my sprained ankle back up, tell myself no wire hangers, and head downstairs like an idiot who thought this was a good idea until this very moment. For the record, I'm not unaccustomed to eating breakfast at 3 a.m., though it normally means I'm at Waffle House and it's the end of the night. Not the beginning of a very long day.

We got into a van at 3:30 and I vaguely remember hearing a coach talk about something called hashing that involved a man covered in flour running through the woods drinking or in search of beer. I can't be sure of what I heard because, after all, it was THREE-THIRTY IN THE MORNING.

We got here after an hour or so:

And just to be sure you understand the severity of the situation, this is what it looked like outside:

(This photo has not been altered in any way. It was bleeping black outside.)

But here we are, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from our summit the night before, [not really] ready to set off onto the trail three hours before sunrise:

I'm only smiling because I don't know what else to do.

First of all, stepping into the dark woods can be described as nothing but disorienting. The second thought that passes through one's mind (after, "It's forty-effing degrees out and I have no hope of being warmed by the sunlight for another three hours!") is: Just how they hell did they convince me to generate a minimum of $2500 for the opportunity to be dropped off in the middle of the pitch-black woods before they tell me, See you in 28.3 miles!?

I had no less than six near-death experiences before sunrise. Most of them occurred as I tried placing my trekking pole into the ground before realizing that there was no ground, only empty space and many, many feet to tumble down. But I'm sure had I tumbled, a tree/black bear/already dead hiker would have broken my fall.

I was excited to become a tree hugger, or maybe just someone who had found part of the trail where it didn't feel as though you were shimmying across the ledge of a skyscraper.

I'm sure the whole thing sounds melodramatic, but it was the sprained ankle making me less than confident in my footing. Definitely not the sandwich bag of orange and red pills I was taking every other hour, whenever the drug alarm would sound on my phone.

The first stretch was 4.7 miles and done completely in the dark. We crossed from North Carolina into South Carolina. I know we did, because the hikers bottle-necked as we all stopped to take a terrible picture of this sign:

I had some mild pain from the ankle but nothing that stacking Tylenol and Motrin couldn't dampen. We reached the first aid station, used the nicest outhouse I've ever graced my ass upon, shoved some fruit into our mouths and kept on truckin'. But not before one of the coaches yelled to us that we had better put on our bright yellow Ultimate Hike bandannas RIGHT NOW because it's hunting season.

My ankle began hurting a bit more on the next 7.2 mile stretch, so I kept on popping pills. It was very manageable. Until two miles into it when my left knee began throbbing. At which point I struggled to decide which way to limp, with a messed-up left knee and a sprained right ankle. I decided to use my poles like crutches and shuffle down the trail like real [old] hikers do.

We even stopped for some impromptu fencing.

My friend, Jo, was spot-on when she said it was like hiking through the backyard of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I kept waiting for a giant Lego to take a rest in, or at least a giant Rick Moranis, and am still undecided which one would be more shocking.

8 miles in, we were still smiling like idiots because, after all, we were only 20.3 miles away from the finish.

Although it would appear that Jo and Candi are just now realizing we still have 20.3 more miles to go:

At the next aid station, I visited the last outhouse that we would have the pleasure of visiting and immediately sought the medic. It was starting to swell, so he taped it up and wrapped it with an Ace bandage. I found the Cheetos and shoved as many in my mouth as possible. Licking the orange powder wasn't as yummy as when I'm watching Netflix on the couch because of all the dried hand sanitizer on my fingers.

What really made my day, besides the all-you-can-eat-Cheetos, were these boots:

Eve made a video to inspire the hikers, and in it she told them to keep hiking and hiking and hiking and hiking and hiking until you can't hike anymore. Then hike a little bit more. Fellow hiker Deborah took a Sharpie to her boots and wrote down this reminder on all sides. That's totally boss.

Almost halfway into the next stretch, which happened to span 10.4 miles, my knee got worse. It slowed me down to the point that I was all too aware I would be the sacrificial lamb in the herd should a wolf attack. Normally I would be grateful for going downhill, but it was downhill that made my knee think of that sweet hobbling scene from Misery.

But there were pretty things to look at, like the Chattooga River. And if I had been crafty, I may have built a raft from some sticks and floated my way to the end of the hike.

Instead, we took a break and sat in some uber-comfy stone chairs we found by the river:

I'm sure if a bed of nails had been nearby, I would have napped comfortably.

But there did come a point where it was decided that we should stop and break for five minutes. It seemed like a brilliant idea. I mean, really, why wouldn't it?

Except my knee pretty much seized up when I stopped moving. And when I tried to start again, interesting pains shot up both sides of my leg and the first tears started to fall since the day Eve was diagnosed with cancer. I was at the point that I knew I couldn't finish this hike. My knee would not allow it. (Thankfully, my ankle decided to shut the hell up for the meantime.)

I can't talk through pain, so it proved to be a very quiet hike.

A half-mile later, when I was convinced I was going to have to gnaw off my own leg in order to continue, one of our coaches left the trail to try and find an old access road to see if I could be rescued. It was obvious at this point that we would be hiking until midnight at the rate I was gimping about.

He was gone for a while and I got scared my knee was going to get even worse standing still again, so we decided to hike on, however slow I may be. Luckily, in another half-mile, another coach appeared and showed me how to use my poles as knee replacements. And it helped; I moved forward without tears.

We hiked for a bit with another chick who had knee problems, and she educated me on the best way to relieve yourself in the woods without further injuring oneself. I am truly forever grateful for her guidance.

I made it through to the next aid station and the people there looked at me like I was a ghost coming out of the mountain. Remember that game Telephone? I was still alive, contrary to what you may have heard. My knee was swelling some more and the medic threw some more Ace bandages on it. I was wrapped up like a Vietnam vet. When he asked if I had any Motrin with me, I shook the bag of red and orange pills in my pocket. When he told me I should take some, I let him know that probably wasn't a good idea since I had been eating them by the fistful. How many did I take? I don't know. 12 Motrin? 8 extra-strength Tylenol? Yeah, that sounds about right. What's that you say, kidney failure? Look dude, I'm going to expletively finish this hike one way or another.

(Which wasn't the plan a few miles back, but it seemed reasonable at this juncture.)

Only 6 more miles to go. We could do this. We really could. And I had to, because I told people I was going to. And the only thing worse than not doing something you said you were going to do is having people ask how it went when you didn't do it. So I was doing it.

For the majority of this quiet hike, I could only hear the ending theme to Twin Peaks. Yeah, I know who killed Laura Palmer. It was the Ultimate Hike.

A mile into this last stretch, Candi hit her wall. And thank goodness she broke through that wall, because she's the biggest reason I got through that whole "I can't hike because I'm too busy crying over my cussed up knee" saga. I heard lots of people hit their walls during these last six miles. I couldn't afford another wall because I had already slowed us down by at least ninety minutes. The only thing I wanted was to get to the other side where there was beer waiting.

Maybe it was exhaustion. Maybe it was too many pills. Maybe it was too much artificially colored orange cheese powder. But I started seeing things that I know weren't there. Like those green dwarfs that kept turning into bushes. I'm not scared of little people, but when they shape-shift into plants, it makes me jittery.

Although the one thing that did make me stop in my tracks was the black bear I saw crawling under a fallen tree fifty yards ahead of us. Luckily, I had already evacuated the necessary storage compartments in the woods several miles back or else I would have wet myself.

But bears don't wear bright yellow bandannas. Coaches dressed in black on their hands and knees do, though. And when I told him I thought he was a bear, he responded, "I'm not big enough to be a bear...maybe a baby bear."

Like I wouldn't have reason to pee my pants if I saw an effing baby black bear in front of me. But, baby bear probably would have gone for the green dwarf first.

The last few miles proved to be...I don't long as they should have been. It didn't feel as it was never going to end, it simply felt as though I was that horse that broke its leg and was seconds away from being euthanized. I suppose I could have lost the yellow bandanna and taken my chances, but I popped one more little pill and got to the finish line.

That was the ultimate masking tape.

I don't want you to think I was getting all Kerri Strug on the trail or anything, but it was totally epic.

Was a beer waiting for me as we got off the trail? Yes. Did I drink it? Yes. I had hiked across mountains and rivers to get to this particular camping chair with the drink holder in it.

And here we are, freezing and growling and wondering if it's appropriate to use trekking poles as crutches inside a hotel.

And you can see one of the many bags of Cheetos I had stuffed in my pockets, given to me by no less than four people at various aid stations.

Because all I need is Motrin and Cheetos to survive.


  1. What an amazing hike, I can't imagine how long and tiring it was. Great job!

  2. Kick cancers ass girl!!! Super proud of you and all you do for the bald kids!!

    Ps- you didn't see any of those Hobit holes in the woods did you?:)

  3. I loved reading about your Ultimate Hike experience. You did it!!!!!