A little while ago I got an invite saying do you want to join us on this crazy group run/orienteering event in February. It involved about 17 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing. I was instructed to say “yes” or “no” and that this message would self-destruct. I said “yes.”
This isn’t really a race. It’s a sick joke for a birthday party in the woods, produced by the birthday man. But it was quite a memorable experience so I am sharing a bit about it with you today. I had such a wonderful, terrible, rewarding, day. I am so proud of our teamwork on this hike, which is extraordinary by anyone’s yardstick. Plus I have a storytime video to share (it’s at the bottom so read first or scroll down if you’re lazy).
Training for the Shope Lope
I didn’t. Besides, it’s always too late to train for the Shope Lope.
What might be the shittiest Friday of my life.
The day heading into this sucked. In the 24 hours before, I got divorced, I got a very mean letter at work, and my stepdad tore off his retina and had to have surgery. Woo fucking hoo. This all matters because it meant I was drained from the start. I didn’t feel like doing anything long and strenuous, and I was worried about my raw emotional state turning me into a horrible person on the trail. No one wants that.
My friends are the shiznit
However, I did feel like eating pizza and drinking beer. And there was a pizza party at the birthday man’s house the night before. I went over, brought my gift and some money for pizza, and joined the party. I met some groovy new people and familiar faces too.We laughed as we saw Sloan and Sam’s GPS dot riding off into the sunset–Pants had forgotten to stop tracking his phone after testing it.
I got a map that I was to trace off a master map and then follow the next day, and my “bib.” I convinced myself to join in the next day even though I was beyond exhausted because I heart my friends. I went home, packed up my stuff without really putting any thought into it, and played on my new balance beam.
Sloan really wants to do a whole loop, but we don’t really care.
The famous last words of one Sammy Pants and myself. At 6AM on Saturday I didn’t really give a fuck about anything except coffee. But we told ourselves that we didn’t want to get hurt, as both of us are doing the Mt. Mitchell Challenge in 3 weeks, and we just wanted to have a good time. So Sloan, fuck you. It’s all your fault I stuck it out for fourteen flipping hours.
The first part of the day was fun and sparkly
The morning was sunny and beautiful, and it was going to be warm. Had that differed in any way, I would have bailed. Seriously. I don’t have anything to prove to go out and put myself in danger just to say I did that. But it was nice.
We headed up the trail, with the plan being that I would stick with Sammy Pants and Sloan, because we know we can hike together even when tired and not kill each other. Lucky for us, our friend Chris decided to stick with us. He said it was because we were fun and he wanted to take the slow train today, but I know it was because he knew we’d be fucked trying to follow the map on our own. Anyway, pride aside, I was glad to have him join our crew.
But the happy part is boring, so let’s move on.
Eating snow that might be filled with parasites
About 5 hours in, shit got real. We climbed up a crap ass mountain through rhodos, laurel, dead trees, rocks and barbed wire. When we got to the summit, we weren’t at the summit. We were maybe movie 1.7 feet an hour. At this point I was getting rather frustrated, until we reached the real summit, when all that frustration evaporated A.) because we were at the top B.) because we were at a stunning overlook and C.) we would be back on trail for about an hour.
We also ran into Lauren and Ann(e) at this time and they seemed super happy. Either they were full of energy and joy, or they had had some snow at the cave. They asked how I was doing and I mumbled something I don’t remember, because all I was thinking was “we are so far behind EVERYONE.”
It’s funny how your attitude can swing from rock bottom to great in a matter of seconds, but those are the moments you always have to trust will appear or you won’t finish stuff like this.
But, however happy I was, I was out of water and had been for about an hour. The next decent water source was 2+ hours away (Chris had said an hour but he lies. He lies about everything). This could have been seriously bad.
But do you see what’s in that picture behind Sloan and the liar liar pants on fire? SNOW! So I ate it. Not the yellow snow. But it definitely had specks of dirt in it. For a minute I thought that’s why I was deathly ill the next day but alas, no.
We trucked along the trail until we got to the next book (we had to find books) which was in a hella cool cave. AND THERE WAS BEER IN THE CAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We passed it around (hope no one else got flu) and apparently the look on my face showed just how damn good that beer tasted.
On the way back, we ran into Semia and Patrick, which was an honor. Semiag gave me a little of her water (which was laced with something fruity), and I gave her some of my whiskey. A fair exchange.
A Slap in the Face
Our brief respite of ridgeline trail running was clouded by the knowledge of what lied ahead. This is best described as the most pointless of any pointless up and down that ever existed on planet Earth. We descended some 8 million feet in a half mile, only to retrace our steps and climb back up.
Now, the paradoxical bright side of knowing this loomed ahead is knowing that once it was done, it was behind us. The low point of that descent was also the easiest point to blow this whole crazy popcorn stand. If we made it back up the hill, that meant we successfully thwarted sensibility. So we just did it. That’s all I can say.
Luckily, some great water waited for us at the Parkway, which I badly needed at this point. I downed about 2 liters, ate a gross protein bar, and filled up my bottles.
Up until now, I had eaten nothing but 2 gels and 2 bites of pizza (Thanks, Chris!) in 7 hours because I didn’t want to eat solids without water. This was pretty critical and I knew I was dancing with the devil of becoming a liability. Fortunately nature, and later some kickass friends, saved my bacon.
Time flies when you’re pointlessly subjecting yourself to crazy climbs and descents.
After we slapped ourselves in the face, and told Chris to go fuck himself a few times, we were back on trail. This felt great, but it was also beginning to worry me. A few in our group were starting to feel very terrible and had almost bailed at the bottom. My strategy had been to start hiking back up the hill out of earshot so they’d have not choice but to continue on. I am an asshole. I think they continue on their own volition, and my strategy was futile.
Anyway, the group is starting to slow down. We’ve only covered about 2/3 of the mileage of our journey, and only half of the difficulty, and it was already 4:15 pm. Sunset was at 6:01 pm this night. We were definitely going to be finishing in the dark. Our job now was to minimize how much dark.
The low point. Literally and Heather-literally.
We continued on, letting our good friend Chris lead the way instead of orienteering ourselves. He’d done this route several times, and the three of us had never been out here. Fine by us. Now, saving time was more important than developing our navigating skills.
We knew we had several enormous descents and climbs ahead of us. I got quiet. Chris got quiet. Sloan got quiet. Sammy Pants got quiet. We trudged down to one of the lowest points on the course, and by now I could tell Chris was getting impatient or worried, one of the two.
Another hour had elapsed in only a mile or so. I was worried about getting cold after dark, and knew we had to keep moving. I was also worried about getting lost, but Chris assured us he was very familiar with the route and we’d be okay. Worst case scenario, we had emergency blankets and whisky.
That next climb was awful. Not the worst in terrain–we had dry cabbage patch doll rocks to step on, which provided good footing. But it was the worst in length and took forever. S. Pants and Sloan were starting to lag behind me, and I behind Chris.
Is this where I was going to die?
Tension swept down the mountain. I think the book here was titled, “The Subtle Art of Death and Dying.” My legs were hella wobbly by now, and I was tired. I had not enough food with me, and if it weren’t for the Star Crunches (shout out to Micheal Poole) and the potato chips and chex puppy chow (shout out to someone), I would have been in bad shape. This is the consequence of not preparing and not really expecting to be out this long and not preparing. I know better. Just bring a shit ton of gels if nothing else, Kit.
We summitted that peak right in time for sunset. It was amazingly beautiful. Just stunning. Here’s me trying to be happy, but feeling fan flippin exhausted.
Chris and I shouted Marco Polo to Sam and Sloan to make sure they were on the right track. I took the extra waiting time to put my pants back on. No you perv, I had on shorts. I just wanted to put my leggings back on to stay warm. I’m pretty sure at least one of my hiking partners saw my butt and for that I apologize. But you did give me a butt bib drawing so there.
How I feel doesn’t matter, the option is to finish.
This was my mantra by this point, because it was true. I’m a very passionate, feely person most of the time. I suck at hiding my feelings. But I do have the ability to put them away when something more critical is facing me.
I wasn’t happy, I was tired, I wasn’t having fun anymore–none of this mattered, and to express this wouldn’t do any of us any good. So I just walked. My goal was to keep Chris’s light in my sight and all four of us worked to make sure none got too far back–because Sloan, S. Pants, and myself all took turns as the caboose.
By now, Pants kept on saying “Chris, what are we doing here?” over and over. I genuinely couldn’t tell if he was joking or delirious. This worried me.
Thank fuck we couldn’t see the last climb
The last climb will stick with me. We were all just trusting Chris by this point, as we veered left, right, but always up. After what seemed like 389 years but was probably about an hour, we summitted the final mountain. I looked up. Stars everywhere. It was so beautiful. I would’ve liked to have hung out there awhile if I wasn’t so ready to be done.
I remember feeling good that Sloan had perked up, and Pants and I lagged behind on the extremely steep descent. We talked about Julia, and how well she’d done today at Yeti or Not 25K, and wondering why the hell we didn’t just do that race. It was nice to talk about someone other than our sorry selves, and it helped the time pass by.
Then Gkikas got us lost, sort of
We crossed the parkway and were in the final, less steep but still steep descent back to the trailhead. Mind you, we weren’t on trail yet. We trudged down, and then Chris had the courtesy to let us know that we were a little lost. I thought “a little lost is like being a little pregnant. If you don’t know where you are, you’re just lost.” However, he reasoned, reasonably, that the creek to one side met up with a perpendicularly flowing creek — if we stayed west of the one creek, we had to find the trail.
Eventually we did, and it was so very nice. After another 15 minutes or so, we finished, with the course record for the slowest fucking time anyone had ever completed this birthday group run: 14 hours and change. To put this in perspective, another guy finished in 6 hours, and another guy and his dog finished two loops in 17 hours. But we did it, just for Sloan of course.
And then I went home and projectile vomited
After finishing, we ate a little, had a little beer, chit chatted by the fire a bit (something about ultra baloney was discussed), and went home.
I went to bed, woke at 4am with a splitting headache, and proceeded to barf so hard blood vessels burst in my eyelids. I was worried I had a parasite, but spoiler alert, it’s influenza. So I hiked this damn hike while infected with influenza. Which is why I am home writing this instead of working today. Hashtag quarantine.
All in all, I am glad to have taken part, and happy to have spent quality time with good friends. I’m also glad it’s over and no one died.
Niw, here is your prize for having used up precious minutes of your limited time on Earth reading this….
My Tale of the Shope Lope
Did I mention we had to rip pages out of a book that corresponded to our bib number? Mine was 203. I put together the first 2-3 sentences from each page to make a story. Consider it your own personal reading rainbow.