One day, when we were going out for a training hike, Daniel begged to go. He just did not want to stay at home and clean the nuclear fallout that passes as his room for whatever reason. I said no. He said please. I said no, but louder. He said please with a lot more e's. I said, If you come, you cannot complain or slow us down. This is a no-whine hike. He ran to get his shoes on and off we went.
On the ride there, Daniel asked if I would sign him up for Ultimate Hike. NO was the answer. This is Natalie's year. Maybe next year if you don't whine today.
We ended up going a little over ten miles due to my habit of never knowing exactly where I am. There's not anything bad about always being lost because it just means you're training harder than you planned. Natalie looked like she wanted to throw darts at my face while Daniel ran circles around us. Have you ever let a dog run free at the beach to chase the seagulls? My son is that dog. My daughter was the pissed off dog owner who couldn't keep up with that dog.
When we were done and he bounced back into the house, I realized it'd be silly not to sign him up. Natalie could use someone her size to train with. It was difficult enough for me to shorten my stride enough so she could keep up with me. Giving the two of them a bag of Slim Jims and gummies and instructions to stick together might just be my best idea to date.
I'll be honest- when I first started training with Natalie, I had serious doubts she was going to be able to do the whole thing. We would have to stop every thirty minutes to tape up her feet and she'd move slower than a kid who was just told to go upstairs and clean their room. She would ask me if she had to recommit. Yes, Natalie. You begged for this. You have already reached your fundraising goal. You are doing this.
Naturally the next question was, "But do I have to do the whole thing? Didn't you say there are vans that you can jump into and skip sections?" And naturally my answer was, "You are going to train as if you are hiking the whole thing. It's a lot easier than cancer."
With each training hike, we'd learn something new. It took a while for us to figure out that Natalie's trail shoes were not only a lot heavier than a ten-year-old needed, but were giving her a ridiculous number of hot spots. Once we decided to all switch to sneakers, our speed increased significantly and no more stopping for tape. And, for what it's worth, I'll probably never hike in hiking shoes again. Besides the comfort factor, I'll now have much more money for necessities like nachos and bacon and bacon-covered nachos.
After each hike, I'd ask the kids what they learned. Answers included: I really should have drank more water yesterday/I need to eat more when I hike/Never stop on an incline or Mom will yell at me.
Sure enough, the kids started making hiking their bitch. Imagine me at a taco bar; that's how they were on the trail.
Our last day of training was the famous Ben & Jerry's hike where we park at Ben & Jerry's, get on the greenway and hike 8-9 miles into Umstead State Park, eat lunch, and reverse it all until we return to Ben & Jerry's and eat disgusting amounts of ice cream. I don't even like ice cream all that much, but damn if I don't make it look like I'm just coming off a month-long broth-and-lettuce cleanse.
The first time we did the Ben & Jerry's hike, Natalie was so tired on the way back that she looked like a drunk who was trying to avoid a sniper, all zigzagging and droopy-eyed. This last training hike, she killed it. Training actually works.
In fact, she was killing it so hard that she was ahead of us a bit, leading the pack. And then there was screaming.
Someone was dying.
But it wasn't Natalie. It was Daniel.
That day we found out that usually the first person that steps on a yellow jacket nest doesn't get stung. (But everyone behind them will.)
Poor, poor Daniel. Yellow jackets are relentless. They just keep stinging you with those nasty barbs, over and over. My friend and I were also stung multiple times, and we all came running out of the woods with purpose. I have always said the only way I would ever choose to run is if there were a bear behind me or a Taco Bell in front of me. But now I know that I will also try to outrun a swarm of wasps, complete with flailing arms and a constant stream of bad words.
The lesson we learned that day was to start carrying Benadryl and also maybe hysterical screeching means that there are yellow jackets all up in Daniel's shorts.
So, basically we were ready for anything. Evil insects, long distances, bathroom breaks. (All of my kids have done things in the woods.) Matt and Eve were coming to volunteer, so we all packed up and headed to West Virginia.
One does not simply head to an Ultimate Hike without stopping at Cracker Barrel as there are so many lard-covered carbs to be had. Our party (and when you have 13 people in a van, it's definitely a party) was large enough that we got two waitresses, one for each side of the table. And then they would stand at one end and pass the plates down the table so everyone else could breathe and cough on your food before it got to you. Not before they reminded everyone to be careful, because these are HOT PLATES.
I'd say, including our visit to Cracker Barrel, we probably stopped between four and two hundred times to pee on the way up. Most of them were requested by my son who goes from zero to OH MY SWEET JESUS I'M LITERALLY DYING FROM PEE PRESSURE in about three seconds. (He is a very hydrated boy.) Two men in the van were encouraging him to use a Gatorade bottle, but that is disgusting and if I ever hear you make that suggestion again, I will buy a pre-packaged egg salad sandwich at the gas station and hide it under your seat while the van sits in the hot sun.
We arrived safe, no burns from hot plates or bruises from slapping some sense into people that think peeing in a bottle in a van full of people is an appropriate thing to do, and settled into the hotel. Natalie and I were roommates, and when I returned from going across the hall to tell Daniel goodnight, her eyes were red and watery. (Not allergies.) This, from the girl who may or may not have been told that she's dead inside, just like her mother. (If one is solely judging by our vastly different reaction to Mr. Miyagi's emotional, contemplative beach scene in Karate Kid II.) Nerves, terror, and tears mean a lot more when they come from someone who sheds them so infrequently. I'm just so nervous! I mean, not that she shouldn't be. That's a big hike for a little girl.
But we agreed that it wasn't cancer so it's not all that bad. It would be fun, and we promised to try to poop before getting on the trail.
So we went to bed for a few hours, woke up before a lot of you even went to bed the night before, and tried our bestest to poop and not be nervous.
It's just a really, really gorgeous hike. You have the honor of this incredible physical challenge made more meaningful by making real impacts on research AND you get to see this:
If you haven't signed up, you should totally do it if you like doing good things for others, with other good people. You don't really meet too many jerks on an Ultimate Hike weekend. Maybe a lot of inappropriate people, but I'm one of them so I can't be too judgy.
This is the back of Daniel's backpack:
Everyone wears a bib with their name and on the back there is space to write why you're choosing to do this hike. On training hikes, whenever the kids would get tired, we would talk about the kids who would love to switch places with us. (The ones on treatment.) Then we'd talk about the ones who died not because they lost a battle, but because they were failed by a lack of people willing to do important, tangible things to make life-saving research happen. Wesley was one of those kids that we talked about a lot.
Wesley's dad carried his ashes on this hike.
If you don't suffer from motion-sickness, below is a five-minute video of the first section of the Dolly Sods hike. A friend lent me her GoPro Hero 4 and we set it to time lapse, recording 30 frames per second, one frame taken every 2 seconds. This video is slightly less nauseating because I slowed it down 50%, but seriously...don't drink and watch.
Highlights of the video include getting lost and consulting the map (I'm always trying to make things more Ultimate), many pictures of my phone as I hike and snap, hike and snap, hike and snap, and a few seconds of stillness, where I was with Daniel having a moment.
Remember those yellow jackets? Well, Dan was pretty nervous about stepping into any brush-covered sections off the trail. Especially if his pants were coming down and he was going to...leave a trace. So, that took enough time for us to figure that out, in fact long enough for the two of us to get separated from everyone else. It wasn't until Dan was in the middle of giving back to the earth that two coaches came upon us. One jokingly shouted his mantra, "Always be moving!"
Little did he know there was a movement happening right there.
We got back on the trail and eventually caught up to the others in our pack, but not before Daniel yelled to anyone behind him Don't look to your right! a dozen times as he just stopped ON the trail, turned to his right, and started watering the wilderness. It was amazing how well-hydrated that boy was. Once we were back with Natalie and the others, I was in awe of how fast Natalie herself had learned to pee in the woods. Like, Roadrunner fast whizzing going on. #ProudMomMoments #TeamWeeThePeeple #MostHashtagsAreStupidExceptOnesAboutHikeAndTacos
There are a fair amount of
My mom, Matt, and Eve were at the second aid station volunteering. Eve was busy waiting on everyone. Have I told you about Ultimate Pickles? They have been the vegetarian item at one of our Christmas parties in the past. You take a baby kosher dill, dip it in Frito-Lay Jalapeño Cheddar Dip (my favorite canned cheese product!), and then roll it in crushed Doritos. Of course it sounds weird. But it's twice as good as it sounds, maybe three times if it sounds not-that-weird to you. Anyway, they are the official snack of Ultimate Hike and Eve loves to make them and she was, like I said, busy waiting on everyone. I roll up, sit down to change my muddy socks, and ask for a pickle. "Sure! The stuff's over there, Mom. I'm going to make this guy a sandwich."
But he didn't even ask you for a sandwich yet! Just because I gave birth to you, doesn't mean that I don't deserve the same amount of attention that you are giving these other people that did not only NOT birth you with no working epidural but also did not pay eight billion dollars to the hospital for your life-saving medical care. After I made my own pickle because she was focusing on people that did not give birth to her, I noticed Natalie reading a letter from a loved one and she looked...touched. Of course, she folded it up and did not say much when I asked her about it because, you know, she's dead inside, but I found out from Matt that she was considering stopping at that aid station until she read it. So, obviously that letter must have been filled with a thousand tacos.
For the last leg of the hike, I let my decaffeinated kids eat caffeinated electrolyte chews. Aaaand...they're off! If Daniel got in the back, I would tell him to get in between two adults in our group so he wouldn't be left behind. Once the caffeine kicked in, he started running. Our friend ran up to catch him and stay with him, but I wasn't terribly worried because if something happened to him ahead of us, we'd surely see his body on the trail. The rest of us clipped a speaker to the back of Natalie's backpack, pumped out some Queen, and occasionally said bad words that she couldn't hear. We kept on like the badasses we were and for the most part, still are.
On the last stretch, you come to THIS:
And then you're totally listening to Freddie Mercury and you're all like, THIS IS IT! We really are the champions!
And then you're like, let's dangle our feet over for shits and giggles!
And then you're like, NO, DANIEL, YOU'RE MAKING ME NERVOUS!
And then I'm like, my knees are weak but it's so pretty. Let's sit here and eat our way through these feelings for a few minutes.
And then a few miles later, Natalie came through the finish line, threw her poles down, and raised her arms in the air, all victorious-like. Despite her self-doubt, she kicked that hike's ass. Daniel bounced through, all high on a new love of caffeinated Gu (a gelatinous substance that resembles a can of pie filling without the fruit...basically, it looks like snot) and declared that he was ready to sign up for the Foothills hike next year. He declared this while peeing, of course. Youngest hikers in Ultimate Hike history is cool, but I'm fairly sure they will be remembered as the most hydrated hikers in Ultimate Hike history.
To be honest, $7500 seems like a good deal for all that.