Xtreme Hike

The Melon Report

img_4342

It’s 8 am Saturday morning (hour 3 of Xtreme Hike) and I’m slogging up a muddy trail, in sodden socks…with 15 pounds of fruit on my back.

This year’s 27+ mile hike involved a watermelon. I toted it for 7.2 miles. Me & the melon shared Moonstomper trail and Homestead together. We stood atop the rocks at Bear Cliff Overlook — where there was nothing to overlook. Just fog.

But I wasn’t tramping alone with grocery store produce. I partnered with Craig, one of our hikers, and of course, Maisie the Wonder Dog. Martin and 38 other Xtreme participants were scattered along the trails as well.

To back up, my Xtreme Hike 2016 book report begins on Friday morning, with our 4 1/2 hour road trip to the mountains near Blacksburg, Virginia. Along the way, we stopped to grab energy bars and drinks.

And browse the clothing racks.

img_4305

Mike Johnson snagged some reading material.

img_4308

When the 5 of us (me, Martin, Annie, Mike and Maisie) finally ascended the mountain road to our destination, “Mountain Lake Lodge,” we could barely see the resort through the fog. (Or “clouds,” as Martin kept saying.)

Fog, clouds, whatever. The hotel and its cottages were blotted out by hazy white. But we had the details: Mountain Lake Lodge is an old resort, dating back to the mid-1800s. And it is best known as the filming site for the 1987 movie, Dirty Dancing.

Hence, the watermelon. Movie fanatics should be familiar with the scene: Jennifer Grey (“Baby”) and Patrick Swayze (“Johnny”) meet, and Grey awkwardly explains her presence in the staff quarters by saying, “I carried a watermelon.”

This spurred Dave Lemen, Xtreme Hike participant and committee member, to create a secret fundraising challenge, which he revealed Friday night: an extra $1,000 donation to the team willing to tote a 15-pound watermelon from start to finish.

Folks weren’t exactly clamoring for the honor. Everyone just glanced around the room. I caught the gleam in Mike Johnson’s eyes and we volunteered “Team Brynn” to ferry the fruit… to the relief of others (and the dazed astonishment of those at our table.)

img_4313

Fortunately, I was reminded that Craig Connolly was part of our crew. Not only is Craig a veteran of this event, but he’s speedy. Xtreme Hike isn’t a race, but he has finished in front the last three years. (Staff from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation chart each participant’s time through the hike, to keep track and account for everyone involved.)

After dinner on Friday, we readied our packs. And Saturday morning came way too soon. We convened at 4:30 am.

vzm-img_20161001_090414

All of us at oh-dark-thirty

Craig volunteered for Leg 1 of melon transport. And as it happened, Maisie and I kept pace with him for those first 7 1/2 miles. Our headlamps bobbed in the dark and we paused periodically, to snap the light sticks hung the previous day, to guide the way.

In the early morning light, we reached the rest station first. And after a quick snack, we transferred the watermelon into my backpack.

During the first leg, I’d asked Craig about the added weight. He claimed, “It isn’t that bad.” He even said, “Sometimes, I forget it’s there.”

Well, when it was my turn, I did not forget it was there — a solid, 15-pound orb riding my spine. We departed at 7:35 am, and I felt every bulky minute and every weighted incline, until 10:30 am, when we completed the 7.2 miles of Leg 2.

Two sections down, two to go.

I was downright giddy, freeing that fruit from my pack, and I happily left it for the next volunteer (or victim) from our team.

img_4345

Ready for the handoff

Melon-free, I was energetic and recharged. Maisie, Craig and I blazed through Leg 3. We didn’t discuss the fact that we were leading. Because Xtreme Hike is not a race. The goal is to finish, not to win. But silently, we were thinking: we’re in the lead.

img_4352

The old golf course; a respite from the mountain trails.

We took a longer break before the last section, propping up our feet. I fed Maisie beef jerky. Then we began the most difficult portion, with the steepest, lengthiest climbs. As the front runners, we had cracked the light sticks in the dark, and adjusted ambiguous signs for those in our wake, but on Leg 4, we suffered a setback:

We were sent out in the wrong direction.

The rest stop staff and volunteers realized the error when the next set of hikers arrived, and questioned the route. They were sent the correct way, while we were radioed to turn around and start over. Stunned, Craig and I retraced our steps as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, our detour tacked on 2.5 additional miles and wasted time. At the rest stop — our start-over-again point, we learned that the two hikers who had trailed right behind us all day, had a 30-minute lead.

We had 6.5 miles to make up the difference.

img_4415

And that’s when we abandoned our fake, blase attitude about when and how we finished. Though exhausted and sore, we speed-walked at a ludicrous pace, half jogging/half stumbling when we hit rocks and roots. We barely talked — we were too winded — and around each turn we peered ahead for the leaders. When we didn’t see them, we wondered how long we’d sustain our crazy pace.

The hikers ahead of us — nice people, who’d maintained a consistent pace all day — would’ve finished first, had they not been pursued by demented, excessively-competitive maniacs.

At some point along the mountain trail, we caught up with them. They kindly yielded to us on the narrow path… though they had little choice with Maisie trotting behind them, panting heavily and practically nipping their heels.

So, extra miles aside, Maisie, Craig and I were first to hear the cow bell and whooping and clapping at the finish line. That was at 4:23 pm. Afterwards, we shed our socks and shoes, sat down, and cheered the other hikers as they celebrated their final steps. Included, were our teammates who’d heaved the watermelon over those grueling miles to the bitter end.

img_4372

Our melon carrying crew

My thanks to every hiker who hoofed so many miles this past weekend, despite aches, pains and blisters; and also thanks to the volunteers who kept everyone fed, hydrated and motivated.

Finally, my deepest gratitude to the supporters who contributed to Xtreme Hike and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. You’ve taken a step, as did we, in helping Brynn and others with CF.

img_4348

Cramming for my Hiking Exam

img_4293

I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am, I think as I study my map, which is tattered from sweat and refolding.

The problem is blue and white.

Why are so many stretches of Sugarloaf Mountain trails blazed blue or white? There are way too many trees painted blue.

The other problem is that I’m stuffing 3 months of training into 2 weeks. I’m cramming for an exam — a 26.9-mile hike — by hitting the gym, and bolting up and down Sugarloaf Mountain.

This is not an optimum conditioning plan. But it’s all I’ve got.

I hike at day’s end when the sun is setting. I speed-walk up and down the mountain, propelled by fear, since the trails are virtually impossible to navigate in the dark. (Ear buds and music blot out my irksome panting and gasping.)

img_4243

Well-timed hikes yield this view

Under normal hiking situations, Maisie acts as personal trainer, circling and barking. But on these evening marches, she just trots ahead. I imagine her thinking, It’s dark, let’s get the hell out of here.

I’ve gotten lost on the mountain. The great thing is that other people get lost, too. And they ask me for directions.

Getting lost has advantages. It guarantees extra mileage. And last Sunday afternoon, the fact that I spent hours pondering my possible location, distracted me from my swollen, itchy foot.

Sidebar here: European hornets are the largest vespine [that’s “wasp”] in North America. They are attracted to light at night — porch lights, for example…. or indoor lights… accessible through a broken screen door.

Sidebar to that sidebar: European hornets camouflage quite well against an Oriental rug. And the pain from a sting –hypothetically speaking — lasts for hours; the swelling…about three days.

162b94d8abb54468f7d635e324aadfc1

But enough about that.

Last Sunday I eventually found my way off Sugarloaf.

I hope the same for all those people who asked me, “Is this the right way to the parking lot?”

My frantic, torturous mountain marches are winding down as exam day nears: Xtreme Hike, our annual fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, is Saturday. I’ve blogged about this before, like last year. And I’ve accosted many of you, via email or in-person, to donate. My deepest thanks for every contribution. You will get your money’s worth: I’ll tackle 26.9 miles in a day, and these funds help Brynn and others with CF.

If you’ve been spared my pitch and you’d like to contribute to this GREAT cause, it’s not to late to donate. Feel free to check out my page for Brynn.

That’s it, I’m hitting the “publish” button. I’m late for my Sugarloaf sunset dash.

Blisters & Bears

IMG_0022

Our crew debated the distance — was it 26 or 28 miles? — but the fact remains: we hiked all day last Saturday.

From long before sunrise (with head lamps) until the dinner hour. We trudged up grassy ski slopes and hoofed across ridges; we slogged through mud, and marveled at spongy, moss-covered forests; we cursed while wading through weedy, abandoned trails.

But we made it.

This was Xtreme Hike 2015, which I previously prattled about here and here. The event raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Our location for year three? Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.

Noteworthy details:

Maisie and I completed the hike at 5 pm… just a shade under 12 hours.

IMG_0038

Mile 23 or so

 

Martin, hobbled by quarter-sized blisters, limped across the finish line a bit later. 

In the predawn hours one hiker encountered a bear, and she temporarily lost her way while fleeing the scene. (I was elsewhere on the trail, but you hear things when you’re carrying a walkie-talkie.)

The rest of us observed bear treads in boggy patches.

image1

 

We also viewed a kick-ass sunrise behind Shavers Lake.

IMG_0001

And later, majestic mountain views.

panoramic

Kudos to the crew of 45 hikers who ventured out last weekend.

And a great big “thank you” to every one who donated — especially those subjected to my ceaseless nagging for contributions.

You rock.

xtreme2015