Mile 1550.2: Challenges

The alarm goes off at 4am.

Luckily, I’m the only one sleeping in the shelter, as everyone else around me decided to pitch their tents. It’s the first time I set an alarm on the trail, but I remembered how annoying used to be hearing loud buzzers in the morning in the middle of the woods, where the only alarm should be the sunlight and the chirping of little birds.

Everything is dark around me and my morning routine is slower than usual, mostly because for a while I have a hard time finding where I hung my food bag.

While I eat breakfast I try to convince myself that what I’m bound to attempt will be great. The night before I was anxious and excited about hiking a whole state in a day, but now I truly recognize the madness of it.

“You’re about to run two marathons in a day,” I think. “You’re an idiot.”

After struggling to swallow three protein bars, I quickly brush my teeth, get dressed and pack all my stuff. I finally tie my shoes, turn on my gps and I’m ready to go.

“What did I forget?” I look around making sure I hadn’t left anything in the shelter. “Water! I definitely don’t want to die of dehydration out there today.”

After filling my two water bottles and finally ready to depart. It’s 5am and the sun is slowly starting to make its appearance at the horizon.

For my first few miles I have to use my headlamp to avoid tripping on branches or rocks. I didn’t enjoy my one and only night hike a few weeks before, so this time I was trying to focus more on what I could actually see rather than all the noises around me.

Less than a hour in my hike and I see the Connecticut border sign. The sun is fully out and I can enjoy the freshness of the first morning hours. The trail coasts a river in its first mile into Connecticut and the sound of the rapids is a pleasant reminder of the beauty that surrounds me every day.

However, I have to say goodbye to the river and the easy stroll when the trail takes a sudden quick left turn, going up on a steep mountain. The fresh air turns into overwhelming humidity and the only water running is the one from my forehead.

After 2 straight hours of climbing and 24 miles into the challenge, I decide it’s time to stop for lunch. In order to travel as light as possible I decided to pack enough food to last me for the day, and obviously nothing too heavy. Which means my lunch consists of two protein bars and a handful of trail mix.

After filling my water bottles (probably the 10th time from the beginning of the day), I resume my odyssey.

 

It’s 1pm, it feels I’m in a furnace and my feet are starting to ask for pity.

Within two hours I’m completely beat. I have no energy, I feel pain all over my body and I have a constant crave for an ice cold drink. Coke to be precise, which I never drink in a normal situation.

However, for some weird reason my body keeps moving. Probably it’s stubbornness, but most likely is my absolute fear to be seen as the guy who quits.

“I’m going to finish this, no matter what,” I think. “And I’m going to finish it fast.”

After 14 hours of hiking and 44 miles behind me, I see something that catches my attention. Usually, every 100 miles on the trail someone draw a number stating how many miles have past from the beginning in Georgia, using sticks or pebbles. The number I see is 1500.

“I’ve walked for 1500 miles. Thank you trail for reminding me what the real challenge is.”

I take a quick picture and I start walking again, this time as fast as I can. Apparently my body gave up on torturing me and my mind was able to regain control of the situation.

The only problem now was that it was getting dark. Even though I always feel uncomfortable hiking at night, I decide that this time I need to push until the end. So, I wear my headlamp and I start battling against my fear.

At around 9:15pm I found myself on top of Bear Mountain, just a mile from the border of Massachusetts and the completion of the challenge. There are no trees above me and for an instant I’m able to entirely enjoy the sky. The bright stars bring lights in the darkness and the view of them bring more energy in me.

“One more mile,” I say out loud, sure that nobody could hear me up there at that time. “It’s time to bring it home.”

While I descent Bear Mountain, the light of my headlamp starts fading. The battery is dying and the terrain is as steep and rocky as it can get.

“Fuck! Don’t abandon me now, please!”

The headlamp dies, of course.

Fortunately, I still have my phone and I can use its light to see in front of me, which means I can use only one hand to go down on the rocks. Somehow, I manage to get down the mountain without hurting myself and now I can focus to finally finish the challenge.

As I continue walking and in the meantime searching the trees to spot the border sign, I start hearing a loud noise of running water on my left. I’m walking right next to a river, thing that makes me really concerned.

“Please, don’t let me fall into it,” I think while looking up, maybe searching from some reassuring sign from up above.

As I measure every step I take it, I see something hanging from a tree. A wooden sign with four letters on it. CT (Connecticut) on one side, MA (Massachusetts) on the other.

Seventeen hours and 40 minutes later I had made it to the border. I look once again at the sign to make sure it’s real. Then I hug it, I kiss it, I get down on my knees.

Nobody is there to tell me “good job,” or even take a picture of me. And I’m even too tired to take a selfie.

I still can’t grasp what one accomplished and everything I can think of is to find a place to pitch my tent. I manage to find it and within 30 minutes I’m fast asleep.

I wake up the next morning, later than usual. Nobody is around me and I take the freedom to walk around in my underwear, taking my time to pack my stuff. I even decide to make some instant coffee to celebrate my success.

So I’m there, sitting on a rock, wearing only my boxers, sipping coffee from a cup that is also my dish and cooking pot. I can barely move as my legs feel like bricks and I’m nowhere close to a town to be able to enjoy a good meal.

I’ll eat instant mashed potatoes tonight and maybe some chocolate, if I have any left.

But you know what? I’m satisfied. I controlled my body against pain and tiredness, I fought some fears and come out as winner. And I even managed to learn a little more about myself.

“What a day,” I think, while a smile appears on my face. “Definitely not doing it again.”

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