(I will speak briefly about Jim's experience - he would have completed the hike much faster had he not been so kind as to WANT to finish with me. He's "a little sore" but was able to come back and play the last two games of a softball tournament to help his team win the championship less than 24 hours after finishing the hike, all while I was still trying to get out of the car. But this is my blog, so I'll tell my story!)
The alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday. We had a quick breakfast and loaded into the vans to head to the starting point. Around 4:00 we were taking group photos and the first groups were sent off. There were six groups of five attempting to hike the entire 32 miles, and those expected to finish fastest were sent off first. We were in group six - apparently we weren't expected to be speedy! There was a seventh group behind us planning to hike 17 miles.
Here is the whole gang at the start:
The hike was divided into five sections. The first section was completed mostly in the dark, our headlamps hopefully illuminating the rocks and roots which were all too frequently encountered. Spirits were high and adreneline strong for the 7.2 miles of the first section, and our group even caught up with the two groups ahead of us. Everyone was doing great upon arrival at aid station one. A few snacks, refilling of water and we were off again.
Then came section two.
Although section two begins with some of the most beautiful scenery of the hike,
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Section 3 was the easiest section of the hike. The ascents and descents were fairly mild, so knee pain was minimal, and we could move along pretty well. The only bad memory of this section was when someone coming from the other direction told us we were 3/4 of a mile from the aid station. After walking for FOREVER after that, we realized he was very inaccurate in his mileage report, which made it seem like a really long stretch. But we arrived at aid station 3, which, at 17.5 miles, meant that we were more than halfway done with the hike. I needed some blister care at this aid station - feet were starting to feel it! A wonderful halfway point surprise was reading a few letters that some family members had written to encourage us on in our hike. All hikers received hike mail - what a cool bonus of the day, even if it did elicit a few tears!
I wish I could forget section four but every muscle in my body is reminding me of those next 8 miles. The brief description of this segment includes "trail climbs steeply" and "steep and rugged descent." The steep climb goes on and on and on and on. Climbing for that long and being able to breathe at the same time is not one of my strong assets, unfortunately. I could breathe much better during the "steep and rugged descent" but it was a killer for my knee, despite another healthy dose of Ibuprofen. And all of these ascents and descents and level ground sections (I think I might remember a few level ground sections) always had many many roots and rocks to maneuver over and around, and in my case accidentally kick on a regular basis so that my toes were getting very sore!
Aid station 4, at mile 25.5 was a most welcome sight. Unfortunately, there were some unexpected issues with the aid station location in that, because of construction, no vehicles could get to it, so when we got there they were out of water and were trying to get some guy with a 4-wheeler to bring some more in. Upon arrival at aid station 4, Jim and I had actually passed enough people in previous segments so that we were close to the middle of the pack. Jim was completely out of water, though, and I didn't have much, so we had no choice but to wait for water to arrive. I didn't sit down, but standing around for a while was NOT GOOD for my knee, which was VERY stiff by the time we set out on the last segment. I had fleeting thoughts of saying that 25.5 miles was good enough, but I felt like I had a few more miles in me.
I did have a few more miles in me. Unfortunately I needed a few more than a few. If the hike had been 29 miles long, I could have said, "Wow, that was tough, but I finished pretty strong!" Somewhere around 29 miles, though, I was having more serious blister issues - my blisters were getting blisters - and I think I was having a few electrolyte / salt issues as well. I popped a few electrolyte tablets in my water pack and then realized I didn't have a whole lot of water left, and Jim was getting low also, but the electrolytes did help some. With still a couple of miles to go, my knee was telling me it could no longer do much for me on anything other than level, smooth ground. Have I mentioned yet that there is very little level ground, and far less level, smooth ground? I honestly had thoughts of sitting down on the trail and calling for some sort of rescue, and I admit that I couldn't help but cry with every step for a while. By now most of the hikers that we had passed earlier had re-passed us. I didn't care if I was the last to finish, but I didn't know how I was going to finish at all.
Thankfully, my hiking partner, my amazing husband, was there to get me through it. For the last couple of miles he let me hang onto him while he pulled me up and over the rocks and steep uphills. He let me hang onto him and supported my weight, because my knee wouldn't, for the steep downhills and stepping over large rocks and roots and whatever other obstacle threatened to stop me in my tracks. If he weren't there, I might still be somewhere on the Superior Hiking Trail bawling my eyes out, or having been eaten by a bear. He is my hero!
And yet, somehow, after he practically carried me for a couple of miles, I am still FAR more sore than he is!!!!! He wins the ultimate hiking stamina award for the Rogotzkes, easily. Now he wants to hike it again next year and see how much faster he can go without me holding him back! I'm thinking I'd love to be an aid station volunteer!
But here we are at the finish line - still able to smile! It took us about 14 hours to complete the hike, and the reports I heard said the fastest finishers finished in about 12.5. There was a group of about six of us that all finished together.
And yes, Jim is still holding me up here!!
We encountered no large animals, but did see a few traces that they are around. Several snakes were the only wildlife to speak of that we saw.
That night we had a celebratory supper, which was CRUELLY up a couple of flights of stairs! I was comforted to see that several others were walking as slowly and awkwardly as I was.
Here are a few other photos from the hike. We didn't take many - we were too busy HIKING!
Jim and I CHOSE to participate in CureSearch's Ultimate Hike in memory of Anna, and in memory or in honor of all those children who don't have a CHOICE when it comes to battling cancer. We had several opportunities where we could have CHOSEN to back out or call it quits - an option those kids never get. We survived our ONE DAY and feel it is an accomplishment, but the true achievers are those who battle day after day, often without complaint, and so often with a smile on their faces. It is a privilege to undertake a challenge like the Ultimate Hike and raise funds so that someday children and their families may not have to go through the horrors of cancer and its treatments. It's amazing how many things that we would never believe we are capable of doing that we can accomplish.
We are so grateful to all who supported us with prayers, good thoughts, and donations. The Twin Cities Ultimate Hike, as of Sunday morning, was nearing $100,000 raised!!! WOW!!!! And in case you wanted to see if we would really do this before donating, now's your chance! Donations are still being accepted.