We all got up at 2 a.m. and scarfed down some quality Holiday Inn Express breakfast, which I have found for the third time that if you insist on eating bacon and butter sandwiches that early in the morning, it will make you want to leave a trace in the woods in a bad kind of way. Leave no trace is only an obtainable goal when there is an outhouse nearby.
Lucky for me, I didn't have to hike to the outhouse. I got to ride in a van to the outhouse. These other suckers had to hike across state lines to get to the outhouse.
After you set up an aid station, you do something very important: wait. The first aid station we got to wait in the dark. I think next time I'm going to bring some glow sticks and hold a rave. Bears like raves because they really enjoy house music. They are about so much more than picnic baskets.
It started to drizzle while we were waiting and the temperature dropped. I was happy to be snacking on a bag of jerky like I needed fuel for the hike I was not participating in. I was happy that I didn't have to worry about having raunchy jerky breath because Matt was hundreds of miles away. I was also happy to not be on the trail in the rain because I slip and fall when it's dry outside so adding water into the mix would probably ensure that I ended up being airlifted to some hospital that doesn't even take my insurance. I felt safe and good with the jerky and visions of rave-dancing bears while we waited. Hikers came and were in good spirits. Go them. They were awesome. And unnaturally pretty for people hiking through the cold rain in an ungodly hour of the night. I don't know what they drink down in Atlanta to fill them with such positivity and good-lookiness but I hope the answer is Miller Lite because I want to be like them.
After the hikers got back on the trail, it was time to pack up and head for the next aid station. You'd be amazed at how fast you can pack up when it's getting all drizzly out. The bears refused to help.
The next aid station we set up was set up fairly quickly because the rain was getting slightly more annoying. I respond to all annoying things by either ignoring them or moving faster. You can power-walk past someone who is going to stop you in the middle of the grocery store and invite you over for an
Then you hurry up and wait again. This time, we got to set out lots of things since it was a bigger aid station. Which means the coffee pot gets broken out and plugged into the generator. And what goes into coffee makers? Ground coffee. And what did we have? Whole beans. And this is why it's awesome to have many hours to yourself before hikers come in to work on solving problems. My idea was to put the beans into a Ziploc bag and then use a pickle jar to bang the crap out of them until they were pulverized enough that the beans would be more-or-less "ground." My execution was much less awesome, with the first bag making a coffee the color of Earl Grey tea. I was determined to bang the most crap out of the second bag, and in doing so, my banging eventually scooted the world's giantest pitcher of freshly made Gatorade (I KNOW, I HAD NO IDEA IT CAME IN POWDER FORM, EITHER!) off of the table and onto the ground, spilling precious blue electrolytes this way and that.
I started to feel bad for doing that until I picked up the pitcher and realized that there was an inch-and-a-half of blue powder that was still clinging to the bottom which never dissolved because it was never stirred. Because you have to work hard to make Gatorade, apparently, or else you don't deserve to drink it. After adding more water, I couldn't find anything that resembled an appropriate stirring tool so I decided that the random twelve-inch metal rod sitting on the table would work, and it did. But then it turned out not to be so random when it was revealed to be the pump part of a coffee carafe, which had become so clogged with blue powder that it wouldn't pour out my slightly less weak-ass coffee that was ground Pilgrim-style. Screw it all. Let's just tear open a pack of hot chocolate powder.
So while that sounds like it took a good amount of time, that accounted for like thirty minutes start to finish. Back to the hurry up and waiting part. In the meantime, we ate a lot of Doritos dipped in Frito-Lay Jalapeno Cheddar dip because that is what I thought was appropriate to buy at the gas station to carb up for the hike that I was not hiking in. I can't carb up with jerky.
It's like a motivational poster waiting to happen.
Again, these people were too pretty to have hiked just so many miles in the cold rain. I was just sitting there with these unexplainable neon-orange crumbs on my shirt.
Broke the station down like some champs. Packed it in the vans like some champs. Went off to the next aid station where we knew no one would be arriving for a REALLY long time like some champs, because those hiking champs were in for the hardest, longest leg of the hike in some crapissimo weather. So my lovely idea was to go ahead and just hike from the third aid station to the finish line for something to do since the only other options were to wait in the van for several hours or watch Brecka from CureSearch rid the trail of used condoms for everyone's benefit, or a third option of trying to figure out who is having safe-sex on the Foothills Trail. Maybe it's the bears after their raves.
I heard the words poison ivy right before I started slipping onto the trail and in an effort to not touch the said plant (which I still cannot identify) or hidden used bear rubbers (which I think I could identify), I did this amazingly graceful pirouette parallel to the ground before I gently landed on a pile of soft leaves. And by "amazingly graceful" I mean that I looked like a bowling ball that learned how to talk and started spewing out cuss words before falling on top of a pile of wet sticks.
But I got up and to everyone's amazement, didn't hurt myself or lose my ability to wax profane. And then I went on for a hike in the mountains by myself. Because I could. And because nobody else wanted to go hike in the rain with me.
This trail has been so pretty the past two falls we've hiked it, but when you are there in a green season it's incredible. Like The Secret Garden which I have admittedly never read nor watched, but use it as a description more often than someone should who has never read nor watched The Secret Garden.
But ain't that magical? You can hike with someone and never talk, but it's not the same as being in that secret garden by yourself. You can hear the streams and the birds and the trees swaying and it's quite hypnotic. Until you stumble upon a child with his pants down in the woods.
Benjy is a four-year-old boy who not only is alone in the woods with his pants down but now also smells like pee. Benjy apparently pulled his pants down but not quite his underwear. Benjy doesn't know where his parents are. Benjy doesn't speak very clearly with all the crying and snot fogging up his nose. Benjy is a sad, sad sight.
Also, PSA: Benjy is overweight. Come on, you know we ALL love chubby kids. They are seriously effing adorable. But I'm not going to go on about how it's unhealthy for a child to be overweight and the risk of medical conditions that can stem from that because this is OLD NEWS. I'm going to encourage you to keep your child a healthy weight if you think it's a possibility you may ever leave your child alone in the woods where he would run to a stranger with those arms up, crying for stranger to carry him because he is cold and wet and tired and scared. Because stranger's back cannot sustain the extra weight for very long. Especially if stranger has been eating Doritos all day.
Benjy alternates between laughing and crying and has no idea where his people are. We hike for thirty-five minutes looking for anyone, taking spur trails here and there. The rain does not wash the scent of pee off of Benjy. It does little to help the bad cough he has, which is directed straight at my face. Together, we are a hiking petri dish of soggy desperation.
Finally, there is a large group ahead. I point to it and Benjy gets excited, leaps out of my arms, and starts running and laughing toward this motley crew. He joins three adults and five children. None look to be related to one another; it looks a walking United Colors of Benetton ad, if the ad were scratch and sniff and the sniff smelled of pee. One of the adults in the group patted Benjy on the head and said, "Oh, there you are" before glancing back at me and saying, "Thanks for looking out for him!"
I KNOW. I was there. And no, I was so shocked that I did not run up to them and give them the third-degree. If we're being honest, I may have caught up to them and given them the second-degree had I been dry and not so tired from hauling their kid for so long, but that wasn't the situation I was placed in and I really wanted to get back to my Doritos. Plus, I was all turned-around which is not a good thing to be when you are in the woods alone with no map, no cell service, and walkie talkies that don't go farther than fifty yards.
I astounded even myself by getting back on the right trail and plodding through the muck to the end, all the while asking WHO LEAVES THEIR FOUR-YEAR-OLD IN THE WOODS WHEN THEY'RE PEEING? in my head really loud. It was a hard question to answer, and an even harder one to forget since I kept smelling the pee waft up from my jacket. I have no answers and can only hope that Benjy isn't lost somewhere on the Foothills Trail right now because he separated from the group after too many Hi-C's.
Back at the third aid station, we still had some time to kill before the hikers reached us. Which means that some of us had some time to explore our inner-culinistas using junk food and our wits. Want to know what is actually more awesome than you're going to think?
Oh yes, that is a dill pickle dipped in nacho cheese and encrusted in crushed Doritos. And you would be hard-pressed to hate it once you took a bite, because COME ON! Doritos! Nacho cheese! Pickles!
That picture actually makes me really hungry right now. Like just typing about this hike that I didn't do still makes me feel the need to carb up with something.
Eventually, delirious hikers descended upon us, soaked and with the crazy eyes. You know people with the crazy eyes? Like they maybe just saw three bears rave dancing in the woods and/or are a bit dehydrated? This is a fun aid station to watch the crazy eyes start shoveling food and Gatorade into their mouths while getting problem areas taped up. I think some people didn't drink enough because it was cold and wet, but luckily they didn't get sick. They just got the crazy eyes. But maybe that's because I smelled like pee.
After everyone was taped up and refueled, it was packed all up again and onto the finish line. Previously when I went traipsing through the woods, I was supposed to put some signs up to keep people on the right trail. Well, I misunderstood the assignment and thought I was just supposed to mark this one confusing section (because you might think you are at the end and start running like a crazy woman toward it only to become VERY disappointed). And I marked that section heavily with all the signs I was given. Some of the arrows didn't make sense to me but I got creative and made it work. Turns out, a few of those arrows were meant for another very confusing section of the trail, so I hiked back in from the finish line to put more signs out. But not signs with arrows, signs with cancer kids. Signs with cancer kids that had previously been put in right before you were finished with any given leg of the hike.
This means that I put them in about a mile from the finish line just to make sure people were staying on the right trail. I think it was probably very cruel because they thought they saw the light at the end of the cold, wet tunnel. But in all honesty, it was very nice because otherwise their 28.3 miles could have turned into many more if they missed a turn. Although that would have been the most ultimate of Ultimate Hikes and they probably could have milked that for more fundraising money.
At the end, people get all smiley. And wouldn't you, if you had just done almost thirty miles in the cold rain?
They are awesome. More awesome than nacho-covered, Doritos-encrusted dill pickles. More awesome than a limited-time 99-cent Beefy Crunch Burrito. More awesome than horny, raving bears with glow sticks.
We who helped out didn't do anything epic like those awesome hikers, but I think we made some hikers happy. Because we had a van full of pie at the end. If we were strangers, that would have been creepy to invite someone into a van for pie, but we were not strangers anymore. We saw their pruny, blistered feet. You can't not know someone after peeling off their soggy socks for them. Which still smelled better than my jacket.
I think Benjy must have been on some crazy antibiotics or something.