The first time I did the Foothills Ultimate Hike, I pretty much decided I was never going to do it again. Then that childbirth thing happens where you know there must have been pain but not enough to cover up all the good stuff that came out so you decide to sign up for it and have another baby.
The second time I did the Foothills Ultimate Hike, I pretty much decided I was never going to do it again; I remembered the childbirth a bit more vividly that time around. I came back to volunteer and participated as a hiker at Dolly Sods instead. Things were going according to plan.
But then my cousin came for Thanksgiving and he finally drank the Kool-Aid (it was flavored like beer). If someone says they'll hike, YOU SIGN UP TO HIKE, TOO. Even if it's the Foothills Trail and you were not planning on having another baby.
Eve is cured, yes. That is something to celebrate. But you'd feel like a total jerkface if you didn't continue to raise money and awareness so that other kids can be cured and celebrate, too. And a lot of kids ARE cured and it's wonderful! But a lot of kids who are cured have some pretty nasty late-effects that last a lifetime. Eve's late-effects so far have been mild in comparison to the many kids we've met along the way, but it doesn't change the fact that they are still there. On the drive down to Georgia, I put a reminder in my calendar to schedule an appointment with the dermatologist to remove a spot on Eve's back where she had radiation. If she were my daughter, I'd definitely remove that, he said. As I was literally clicking "save," a phone call came in. It was Eve's psychologist from Duke who has been following her post-treatment. Thirty minutes later, I was off the phone and had the number of another doctor I needed to call to schedule an appointment so Eve can start a trial of drugs to see if some of this chemo brain can be helped. It was a very well-timed reminder that we need to keep hiking so these kids don't get these shit treatments anymore. They are all shit. They are all outdated, dusty pieces of shit that work on some and not on others and all carry the potential to leave you with more shit than you started with.
So that was my motivation. No more shit for anyone. And a personal goal not to actually shit on the trail.
Friday night was the earliest I had ever gone to bed before an Ultimate Hike. I think I was asleep by 9:15, but not until I got all of my nerves out. I had so much to be nervous about: my crappy knees, my period (day two, y'all), the fact that I signed my fourth grader up for a 30-mile hike.
Now Daniel, he was not nervous about anything. He was just popping M&Ms into his pie-hole, hand over fist like they were vitamins. A mom I met in Indiana at a hike had lost her son Ryan a few years ago and he was Daniel's age. She had a package waiting for him at the hotel filled with Ryan's favorite things, fun facts about Ryan, and special treats for Daniel to devour on the trail. She said it was the first time she had been shopping for a ten-year-old boy since Ryan died. Can you imagine what that must have felt like for her? I know most of you cannot imagine this and I'm happy for you! But I think you should take a moment to reflect upon the fact that more kids die from childhood cancer than any other pediatric disease combined. There's a saying, The day before my child was diagnosed, I wasn't a cancer parent, either. (Misery usually loves company but none of us want you in our clique, sorry. We just want your money. Research ain't cheap.)
You can see us on the trail head in an Ultimate Hike Live video. Fun facts: Daniel was young enough that when his sister was on treatment, all he remembered was being able to drink unlimited juice and Matt B. forgot his boots and did the trail in the hike manager's much smaller shoes. THIRTY MILES IN SOMEONE ELSE'S [smaller] SHOES. That's how much Ultimate Hikers hate cancer.
Me, my cousin Matt, and Daniel, all very excited to be up so early.
Daniel's reasons for hiking.
So very dark because THE SUN WON'T COME UP FOR HOURS. Lazy, good-for-nothing sun.
You see that red light? That's Melanie and I bet you still weren't awake yet. You and the sun and your sleeping in.
These are my feet. I haven't worn my hiking shoes in a while. You can hike in whatever makes you feel good, as long as that include pants. I've seen enough weird things on the trail for you to sneak up on me not wearing pants again.
OMG I HAVEN'T HURT MYSELF YET! IT'S A MIRACLE! A MIRACLE OF THE VERY SHORT-LIVED VARIETY!
Taken on a pee break.
More pretty things to look at while peeing and not trying to fall down that hill.
Melanie is hiking to work out some nervous energy on account of upcoming scans for her daughter. The most she hiked before the Foothills trail was 16 miles so she had another 14 miles of bonus energy to burn!
Here we are with Bill, who also had knee problems so he was basically the person I cussed to very loudly in my head whenever we went downhill. I think I heard him cuss back. Damn knees.
Melanie introduced me to 30 Seconds of Gratitude, where you make a short video that you can calm down or meditate to. Mine never lasted more than 15 seconds and got progressively shorter because I had to pee a lot, but I can look at this picture for 30 seconds and hear the water rushing. It's relaxing, although just the memory of the rushing water kind of makes me have to pee.
If you can imagine the most perfect weather for a hike, then you can imagine yourself in this picture. If you can imagine me saying something inappropriate, then you can imagine yourself next to me in this picture.
Seriously, why haven't you signed up for this hike yet? Spoiler alert: there are no dead hikers floating down river. We all survive! You can survive with us, too!
Come on, my fourth-grader did this. You can do this. Granted, my fourth-grader does take after me so obviously he's an incredible addition to the human race, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't also give it a try. You're a pretty good human.
We're on a beach! You could be on this beach with us. I mean, we can't stay there all day because you know I'm going to have to pee.
Here's another 30 seconds of gratitude. Don't drink too much water before staring.
Melanie and I stuck together the whole hike, except those ten minutes when I left to find her because I thought she went ahead with Daniel. Turns out she was behind just trying to make a 30 Seconds of Gratitude video without me in the background saying I had to pee.
Not one complaint from this kid. And still as hydrated as ever.
This one is safe to stare at for 30 seconds because there's no sound of rushing water.
This large wolf-like creature is Samson and he is the best animal I have ever met. I have no idea who his owners are, but I've seen him at the third station of the Foothills Hike for a few years. This year he led me, Daniel, and Melanie through the last eight miles of the hike all the way to the finish line. He jumped in the water and didn't even smell like wet dog; he was a magical unicorn in a dog costume, as I'm pretty sure when he marked the trees there were rainbows shooting out of his dog weenie. Even more bonus points to Samson for not putting his nose where it didn't belong, even though it was obviously that time of the month for me since we were on an Ultimate Hike. (Obviously.) Dogs can be so effing rude sometimes, but this one had manners.
Best hike ever, and I say this as someone hiking with the knees of an 80-year-old and the uterus of a 35-year-old.
Am I moving each hour? Of course. Almost eleven liters of water and I was moving from this tree to that.
I'm so proud of this kid, but so upset that my ten-year-old has to take on the responsibility of raising funds so other kids his age don't have to die. The government only gives 4% of research dollars to childhood cancer, and childhood cancer is not just one disease. Try to divide the 4% between all the different types of pediatric cancers and you're dealing with fractions of pennies on the dollar. We need more than 4%. We need more Daniels. You should be a Daniel. Please be a Daniel.
...or you can be a Natalie! She is signed up to hike Dolly Sods again this weekend. You can visit here to donate if you'd rather sleep in and use indoor plumbing.
And guess what? I didn't even poo on the trail. #PersonalGoals