That time I hiked 20 miles…a short story

Yesterday I took part in and completed the 20 mile Mammoth March in New Jersey. A few of my hiking friends suggested it and I thought it sounded interesting. I waited for the Jets schedule to drop, no home game on October 2nd so I took that as a sign.. and signed up on May 18th.

So 20 miles, it seemed a bit daunting, but then I thought to myself; I hike fairly often on trails of varying lengths and difficulties. I’m currently one fire tower away from completing the Catskills Fire Tower challenge. I’ve hiked in freezing temperatures, in scorching hot temperatures, I’ve had my fair share of scrambles, I’ve reached great heights.. so what’s a few more miles among hiking friends.

Sort of forgot about the hike through the summer and most of September and then about two weeks ago reality set in.. Then one week ago at the Tunnel to Towers 5k run, we were looking at the forecast for the date of the march and it was rainy and dreary. Ian had just began to form and the remnants were scheduled to drop large amounts of rain on us.. the seed had been planted.. hmmm… maybe I don’t want to do this. I secretly wished for torrential rain so I would have an excuse to bail.

I got in some steps during the week to keep the legs in shape.. Did a lovely hike with friends Friday morning about 5 miles in length and was going to do an evening hike too but my body said nap. So nap I did.. when I got up I hopped on the treadmill and ran to get more mileage under these legs of mine. Then Saturday as the rain beat down, I took my spot on the couch, reluctant to leave. Other than bowling, and what a poor showing there, I rested the entire day. But then I discovered CSI Miami channel (I think) on Pluto TV and got sucked in and sleep did not come until way later than was planned to ensure a “good night’s sleep”.

Woke up Sunday morning feeling tired to overcast skies and temps in the high 50s. The threat of rain was “possible” in the early afternoon hours, so it was not enough to justify rolling over and going back to bed. Instead I proceeded to get dressed have some coffee, making my banana and peanut butter wrap to eat for breakfast before the start of the race and double checking to make sure I had everything I needed for a successful hike. I wrapped my foot which has been giving me trouble and then I just had to wait for my friend to pick me up. Of course I ran back inside 2 times for things I had forgotten.. subconscious? maybe!

The ride was easy, no traffic on a grey Sunday morning, the smart people stayed at home. Oh how I longed to still be wrapped up in my blanket fast asleep, but alas that was not to be. Jen remarked there was no one around which seemed odd, until we realized the GPS decided to take us somewhere else.. luckily only about 6 miles away… but still maybe another sign to go home?

We arrived on time despite our slight navigational snafu and promptly got in line with the rest of our hiking friends to check in and get ready to begin the race. Oh we were pumped up, the adrenaline and excitement coursing through our veins. At the starting line when they told us to make some noise, the guy said “oh my” this is quite the crew. Our team of 8 was a little bigger than the “wave” they were sending out; small parties of 4-5 people about 30 seconds apart, but he kept us all together. However, that did not last very long.

We started off through the woods and across the street and down the road a bit where I spotted my first heart. So I stopped and took a picture and fell behind. But then I ran and caught up. We went under a bridge over very rocky “terrain” the man at the bridge sitting there said I can’t believe they are letting people cross this as part of a race. Honestly it wasn’t really bad, or I didn’t think so.. it was level, normally this view is vertical.. so a horizontal cross was a piece of cake..

Little by little separation occurred, but we would get to a spot and then re-goup and start off together again. But then, as paces were set, a few of the faster hikers banded together and a few of us took a slower, steady pace and we did not see them again until the first aid/rest station between mile markers 5 and 6.

The path was mostly browns and greens, there were flashes of red and gold from a few trees that were turning colors. The rain the day before had made the lake rise.. Some of our more recent hikes were rather dry due to the drought conditions and high heat.. so it was refreshing to see. We came upon an overlook that had a nice view and took a few pictures there then continued on.

We arrived at mile marker 5 and I felt good.

Got to the aid station grabbed an energy bar, some water and this hydration drink stuff.. thank goodness one of the girls warned me before I dumped the whole packet into my water bottle. It was way too salty.. so I just put in a smidge and it did the trick. As I was waiting on line, the music was playing and I hear.. Hank, why do you drink? Hank why do you roll smoke? Why must you live out the songs that you wrote? I sent a video to my son for my little man.. if you know, you know.

Then off I went with a huge smile on my face and joy in my heart to tackle the next 5 or so miles. We all set off together but that was short lived. They trotted off at a fast pace again, Jen and I looked at each other and without words, settled into our own comfortable pace. Shortly thereafter, we came upon the Wild West City sign. Memories of my youth. Ah good times.

The view got a bit more basic after that point, mostly woods, no more water, I did see a lot of hearts, but did not stop to take pictures. Jen was able to provide some music when there was a signal. Nothing like a crooning cowboy when you are being all outdoorsy. Where there was silence, we talked a bit, and when talking became harder due to the need to breathe, I entertained myself vacillating between singing in my mind, Hank Williams Jr. Family Tradition and the Roy Kent chant from Ted Lasso – Roy Kent, Roy Kent, he’s here, he’s there he’s every- &*&&$N-where, Roy Kent.

The aid stop which we were searching for at the 10 mile mark was actually at the at the 11 mile mark and it was at the bottom of a hill.

Someone thought it would be funny to add more torture to this arduous adventure? Not really, it was the only logical spot along the route at that point, but still! Have mercy! I felt so much like throwing in the towel. The joy had begun to wane and I was thinking, what difference does it make if I finish or not. I’m bored, my body is getting tired.. why push myself to exhaustion. And then I thought, because I can. Also at that time I had gotten a text from my son of my grandson. I couldn’t open it because of the very low signal strength but seeing his adorable face, I resolved – who am I kidding. I’m not quitting now..

At this stop Jen and I met back up with Theresa so the 3 of us finished up together. A light drizzle began and so I broke out my Premio sausage poncho. It never amounted to anything, in fact it stopped as quickly as it had started but I was determined to use this thing. I’ve been carrying it in my backpack for over a year untouched. And the layer of humor it brought to the situation was a much needed respite for me. I wore it for about a mile then I put it away. Our pace had slowed a bit, the trail was winding through useless switchbacks, I’m convinced it was only to ensure the race was 20 miles long rather some weird number like 17… we could have cut right up, and for a split second said should we? But we did not, begrudgingly we continued on.. I looked down and saw yet another heart and I laughed and said to myself – message received. As we made our way on the higher ridge, we heard yelling from below.. A party of 3, the women in the back asking us.. is there anything special along the way – would you cut up instead of taking the long way given a second chance.. we all said YES! She tried to convince her friends, but they trudged on and she lost that battle.

We picked up an energy drink in a can at this stop, can’t remember the brand but let me tell you when it kicked in, I had pep in my step again and the pace increased a bit. Also along the lines here there was no 13 mile marker, I guess they skipped it – what are we in a hotel elevator.. But anyway that seemed to cause some resentment to build. When we finally hit 14 we were relieved but frustrated. I let out a rather loud expletive.

At some point, Theresa broke out with a song she had stored on her phone -“Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride” and for a few moments we had that excitement and anticipation that we started with as we all sang along… But reality smacked us in the legs, sigh… onward… .At that point there were some mushrooms along the path. And unlike the mushrooms I had gathered a few weeks back, these had some life and beauty left in them so I snatched some up and took them home with me.

We finally got to mile marker 16, and the final aid station. There was a real bathroom and some tomato soup and these protein brownies. Tomato soup has always been a favorite of mine, if only there had been grilled cheese too… We got our fill and used the facilities and then we forged on those last 4 miles.

The miles and time between 16 and 17 and 17 and 18 and 18 and 19 got longer and longer. Our bodies were really beginning to feel beat up. I had shifted my walk a bit to relieve the pain in my left foot and my calves began to ache. We shared our thoughts, never again, this was stupid. Whose bright idea was this again? What was I thinking? … you get my drift.

We encountered people who told us that this was their 2nd time doing it. And others who said it was their first but they couldn’t wait to do it again. We thought – psychos.. What is wrong with these people. No freaking way I am ever doing this again. I hate this. It stinks. (think back to earlier expletive reference). I equated it to labor pains, where you are in excruciating pain and yell never again but then you see that beautiful bundle of joy and you change your mind. Except no beautiful bundle of joy here. No smiling baby.. One and done. Of this I am sure. But seriously, good for them. And a huge congratulations is in order too. This was really tough and anyone who attempted it at all is pretty amazing!

We all have something in this life that speaks to us and calls to us. The important thing is that we follow our own dreams and not worry about competing with anyone else.

If I am being fully honest, while I did some hiking to get ready for this hike, I did not in fact, train for a hike of this magnitude. Had my body been better conditioned those last few miles would not have been such a struggle. My finish line attitude would not have been quite as harsh.

We finally got back to the last stretch, tired and dragging, but seeing that 19 sign knowing there was only one more mile and I would be done with this stupid quest, lit a fire in my belly and the last mile wasn’t nearly as awful as the previous 3.

We got to that finish line, took our obligatory photos, got our medals, I bowed as if I was being knighted.. got a laugh out of the medal presenter. Grabbed our free beer. Parted ways with Theresa. Jen and I got our passport stamped, got our certificate but we decided not to stand in line to wait for a picture in front of the finisher sign, instead opted for a picture of the two of us with our medals.

The drive home was brightened up by a video call from Ryder saying good job Nonna. Any pain I was feeling washed away. However, not enough to change my mind.. I will not be doing the Mammoth March again.

I woke up this morning after sleeping 8 and a half hours. I was feeling much less sore than I had anticipated. Still very glad I had taken the day off to get a massage and putter around a bit before a training class I must attend this evening.

I shared my pictures on FB and got lots of like and congratulations. Some comments on how great I must feel. Some comments mentioned how beautiful the scenery was. And in spots it was very beautiful, but as my day progressed and my mindset changed, I saw less beauty than was actually in front of me along the path. Little things that normally jump out, like flowers and a random leave, a twisted tree trunk (one of my favorite things) , all the mushrooms were slipping by me. Luckily every time I started to get overly negative, a heart would appear and I would check myself – for the most part. I am human after all and my body was hurting and I was tired and I just wanted to be home, showered, wrapped in a blanket with a belly full of comfort food rather than these snacks I was nibbling on throughout the day. I even commented how I was getting sick of hearing myself whine.

Time provides perspective. I thought about the day again and I recalled a charity walk I had done some 30 years ago with my cousins. It was horrible, I don’t think it was nearly as long, but definitely double digits. I hated every second of it, I was sore and beat up for days and that was a walk, no elevation or rocks to navigate. I thought about my first 5k where the next day I cried out in pain when I tried to go up and down the stairs, I recalled my first half marathon where my legs refused to work for days after.. but here I sit, today, 20 miles later, a little sore, I wouldn’t even say beat up and definitely not broken!

I still have no desire to do another 20 mile hike any time soon. However, I do have the 12 mile #ch4peak challenge in Arizona on the books for November. I am really looking forward to this, and after 20 miles, 12 miles might seem like a walk in the park, except for the fact that it is climbing 4 different peaks, hence the name.

As with most things in this life, there were amazing moments along this hike and there was some horrible moments. What we choose to hold onto defines how we live our lives moving forward.

I paused for a bit to go get a massage. More time to ponder, more perspective to share. After a glorious hour of magic fingers, my legs no longer feel sore, but just a little tender. And whatever she did with my heals/ankles, miracle.. nothing, not a twinge of the tenderness and plantar fasciitis that had been hovering around for a few weeks.

Afterwards I sat and savored every bite of my Vidalia onion, home grown pepper and freshly harvested chicken of the woods omelet. Heaven. I would not have had these beauties if not for my 20 miles yesterday. And just to be sure I would remember the beauty I was surrounded by yesterday, my phone made a stylized photo and sent it to me.

So now, if you were to ask me yet again – will I do another Mammoth March 20 mile hike? My answer would be, never say never. I can say it will not be this particular course though. But if the right hike presented itself and if I prepared and trained more thoroughly, I may give it another go.

Hiking has become such an important part of my life. I have received a level of joy and contentment I didn’t even realize I had been missing. Yesterday was an important part of my story. I learned a lot about myself, my resolve, my ability to set boundaries and that at the age of 57 years young, with many chapters still yet to be written, I am still quite the bad ass.

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