It’s been a while since I have done a race recap…and it’s taken me a few days to process what in the world just happened. Truthfully, my adventure started way before the boots hit the ground in the Gorge, as I drove 1500 miles in 2 days, drove 90 miles to Colorado Springs for a family wedding, flew 1500miles home, and drove 200 miles to go rafting all within 5 days.
But by the end of 2 weeks of school, I was ready for another trip up HWY-321 for a new adventure.
The hike into the gorge felt as though we were stopping every 5 minutes to take a photo or wax poetically about the Gorge. It was here on the trail that I learned that the Linville Gorge is called the Grand Canyon of the East Coast. Having hiked the Grand Canyon at 12, I was foolishly prideful of this miniature version.
Hitting the main trail along the river, I looked longingly at the river slipping past and went to the edge to dunk my hat and my head into its cool refreshment. It was here that I decided to go pure mountain man with shorts and shirtless as the heat was getting the better of me.
While we pushed on, stories of unfortunate tick bites (I’ll save the details) and shouts of poison ivy made me regret my attire. As one person stated: “For a guy highly allergic to poison ivy and doubling down on the melanomas, you are the only one going shirtless. Not bright are ya?” Five days later, and covered in bumps, I should have heeded the advice.
By the time we hit this cool, refreshing pool for a longer break. I felt strong.
The problem I have is that I am never hungry on these outings. And the goo, cliffbars, beef jerky and banana by this point are all just disgusting to me. So began the erosion of my strength.
As we climbed out of the Gorge, we stopped along the trail for the final water. Deciding whether to stay in the shade, or to go fill up my water, I opted for the shade. It was then I noticed I had only consumed half a liter over 5 miles in 4 hours of hiking. So began the disappearance of my water.
At our next trail split, the guide read for “Expert Hikers only.” As I enjoyed the scenic views and decent trails along this expert hiker, I thought to myself…huh, I must be an uber-expert hiker cause I could take my kids on this trail. I should have recalled from a previous hike, the deception of a 14er trail guide that called its gruesome scree infested trail as “distinctively charming.” One should wait until the end before casting judgment.
Feeling good, feeling proud, we came across this beautiful sight. A cascading waterfall, where I offered free baptisms to the group.
Little did I realize that this would be where God would smite me for my bad joke, and became my turning point of the hike.
The trail got narrower, and rockier, the heat got hotter, and my water got less. Still shirtless, I realized I was not sweating anymore, and the fast clip I’d keep seemed to once have was now a lumber. At each subsequent rest break, like a dog I pushed past my compatriots to dive under brush and into any shade I could find.
Finally, we hit the last .5 mile which was a 681 foot climb out (without switchbacks). While some chose to rest prior to this final push, I knew if I sat I would be harder to get moving. So I pressed on.
With each small crest my surge of victory was quickly defeated when I saw yet another hill to looming, and pastorally inappropriate explitives were released. Soon, I was caught by a good friend, who gracefully would pause to keep an eye on me, for I was in the hurt locker.
I stumbled, I mumbled, I bumbled and was humbled.
Out of water, out of shade, these seemingly easy two laps around a track or twice up the mothership took its toll. By the end, Blago shoulder my pack and extricated my mind from the Gorge. I have always preached that friendship is when men work shoulder to shoulder with one another, and Blago demonstrated the power of having a friend walk alongside you in the suck in order to mentally drag you up and out.
In the end, it was great trip, a great way to wrap up three crazy weeks, and awesome men to push myself once again.
But as we drove away from the Grand Canyon of the East, I suddenly realized that while yes I did hike into the Grand Canyon when I was 12, at the end we helicoptered out of that gorge to Vegas (which is another story for another day).
And so my new mantra is:
What goes down must also get out.