Looking back, this 21 hour endurance hiking adventure started off fairly innocent. A simple text from Julia:…..and within a week…. my birthday plans were set. Jules is no stranger to the AT, she spent the spring of ’13 hiking from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry. She’s also no stranger to the “ranger marathon”, where you hike from the northern most point at Philmont to the southern most… in under 24, with a full 30 lb. pack- approx 40 miles. By comparison, this seemed like a walk in the park.
I optimistically plotted our hike for around 17 hours hoping we could finish it around dusk. You know, waltz off the trail, grab some dinner with the family and cruise back to DC and begin my birthday celebration. One of these days I’ll learn…
I’m sure I could get Soph or Jules to write-up their impression of the hike and it would be vastly different from mine. Even 5 days out, my brain has already turned those steep inclines into small hills and my sore knees and tired soles into practically nothing. What has lasted, is this feeling that with each hike, race, and ridiculous adventure I’m impressed at how well our bodies can handle the twists and turns we throw at them and more importantly how lucky I am to have a family that not only suggests things like this, but will continue to support you no matter how crazy you just might be! I had Jules and Sophie by my side for the long haul, but we couldn’t have done this hike without my dad, aunts, or cousins helping us with logistics (moving cars and the like), jumping on the trail with us… oh, and those hot chocolates… those helped a ton too 😉
Gameplan was to start hiking at midnight or 1am… we ended up on the trail by 2:30. The extra time gave us time to get properly prepared (and warmly dressed), each of us carrying 5L of water, and close to 6k of calories. As we tapped the first state line and giggled our way through the dark we settled into a nice stride. Night hiking has always been kinda fun, especially because it typically sets the stage for an epic sunrise. The majority of our day would be spent hiking in Maryland, and purposely planned it Southbound so we could get some good views in the daylight hours.Night hiking was already slowing us to a consistent 2 mi/hr pace. The mix of ups and down, and cautious hiking to avoid falling flat on your face kept us from going much faster. But as sun broke, and we reached the ridgeline…we picked it up a bit. One of the major differences between other hikes I’ve done was how little we messed around. We typically ate while walking, and outside of our many pee breaks there were very few times where we sat down and just “rested”. By the time my dad and Dodee met up with us we were almost at mile 19. Close to halfway done. We welcomed a change of socks, sandwich, and sitting in a warm car for a hot second. They shuffled cars to the finish line and met up with us 4 miles down the trail. By this point, we could all pinpoint aches and pains that were bugging us, and looking forward to putting another 10 miles behind us and getting closer to that finish line. These next 4 miles seemed to take 4 hours, but they did contain the original Washington Monument!! I should note this was one of the few places where we actually saw some people on the trail. The Carney gaggle joined us at 23 and hiked with us to 30.
The sun set quickly, and with the last bit of daylight left the family. We would be finishing this hike exactly how we started it…. in the dark!
As we pumped up the jammypack tunes and settled into a quicker pace, Jules looked over and mentioned, “if I don’t talk for a while, its just because I’m in the zone!” Those next 7ish miles were anything but quiet, we gossiped, giggled, sang along and somehow those 2 hours just flew by. The ‘hiker’s high’ we were experiencing was unreal. We were delirious, almost drunk, and by the time we descended the Weaverton cliffs and onto the C & O path, we were practically skipping. Sadly this celebration would prove to be a tad premature. A quick google map check showed we were still 5.8 miles away from the border, and even though I assumed this was all fairly flat… we had a big climb at the end that neither of us saw coming.
As we crossed the bridge and kept joking about what we were going to do once we stopped, we noticed the “road” the car was parked at was very high compared to where we were. This only could mean one thing, and as we both silently just sucked it up, our legs were screaming for us to stop. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think multiple times in that last 3 odd miles about just stopping, we were just doing this challenge for ourselves right? Would anyone care if I made it 44 miles instead of 45 or crossed the Virginia line on the AT or on a road? I could rationalize pretty much any decision at that point, but in the end I knew, I cared. By the time we finally got to the border, my fingers could barely take a snapchat without freezing… as Jules called her AT buddy to celebrate our finish, I silently just smiled ear to ear. I was a mere 20 mins from my birthday and I had just hiked farther in a day than I ever had in the first 30 years of my life. My knees killed; my feet extremely tired. I was dehydrated, sweaty, smelly, and happy.
People ask me all the time why I do things like this, and while I’m still trying to find the words to articulate it… I feel like the easiest answer is just:
Being outside and moving is what keeps me so zany and youthful but being with people I love while doing it has proven to be the biggest source of happiness, especially this year. I looked back at the car as I hobbled into the gas station to get some
beer chocolate milk for us and I couldn’t get over this sense of pride. I was so proud, proud of my two cousins, proud of myself, proud of my family, and proud of another epic year!