Today I awoke, excited to hike with SAR teammates. The weather was perfect and my spirits high. By 8 a.m., we had congregated and exchanged pleasantries. With packs weighed, we were off.
The crisp morning air filled my lungs with oxygen, welcoming us to the great outdoors. I began in fourth position, blissfully unaware of the slice of humble pie I was about to be served.
After 25 minutes, I felt at the top of my game; my muscles were loose, my lungs expanded, and my body was in a rhythm. A song entered my head, and my boots fell to the ground in a marching beat.
Twenty-five minutes into the hike, I felt the beginnings of a blister forming and quickly fell back to number eight. Dropping my backpack, I removed the offending boot and abrasive socks, and searched for moleskin. Before I could locate my supply, a fellow teammate had handed me some from his personal stash (thank you!). After dressing my would-be wound and donning the detested boots, I was again continuing the ascent.
The first milestone
At the fire road crossing, I managed to regain a few positions. The wind howled from the southwest as I traversed the exposed ridge leading to the backside approach of the peak. The weather had turned from pleasant to cold and overcast and I considered stopping to dig out a jacket, but decided I had wasted enough time. My sweat-soaked shirt clung to me with freezing perspiration. I used the coldness to motivate myself to push harder and faster. Ignoring the blister pain, I climbed on, relishing the relief of flat or downward sections.
On the backside of the peak, I was grateful to be sheltered from wind, but the quiet calm quickly evaporated as I began ascending the opposing exposure. There I was met with cold wind and the occasional freezing droplets of water that might have been rainfall or moisture blown from tree limbs.
Upon reaching the summit road, my legs begged for a break, my heart thumped and my lungs protested. My mind was full of regret – not for hiking that day, but for not training.
As I made the final ascent, my thighs knotted up, first one, then the other. I rubbed and punched at them as I hiked. I willed them to stay loose despite the cold – my adversary. I continued climbing as team members zoomed by on their descent. The joy on their faces could not be contained, the toughest part of the day behind them.
I smiled, said hello, but on the inside I was mad – mad at myself for not keeping up, for not properly training, for dropping the ball, for letting my physical fitness stoop to such a level. I used this self-chastisement to propel me to the top.
At the summit
The peak was shrouded in cloud as the rain began to fall and wind picked up. Finally, I released the straps of my backpack and it fell to the cold, wet pavement. I slapped the rock building. I was thrilled to have the climbing behind me, but soon found that the downhill was even more torturous on my seizing legs. On the backside, I found a small patch of grass and fell to the ground. My legs screamed in agony and I contorted, giving rise to the saying “hurt so good.” While I stretched, I slipped into last place.
Consulting my watch, I willed my legs to continue to the single-track section where poison oak reached out with the kiss of agony. With each tug of my shirt or brush of the hat, I instinctively pivoted to determine if the offensive plant had made contact.
The temperature climbed as the sun broke through the clouds and moisture on the surrounding foliage began to evaporate. Flies and bees buzzed nearby. The sudden warm humidity was reminiscent of hiking the tropics, so I fantasized as I continued.
The muscles in my legs quivered, threatening to give up. I forced my mind to ignore the protest. Every 30 seconds, I referenced my watch. There was plenty of time if I kept moving, but I couldn’t afford any more breaks, or allow my legs to quit.
My spirit lifted and pace quickened upon the sight of the eucalyptus trees marking the trailhead. I fired my after-burners with thoughts of an Epsom salt bath and an ice-cold beverage.
Finally, I passed through the gates, wishing there was a ribbon to break or spraying milk. My bag and boots were off before anyone had a chance to say hello. Under my socks, the blister was now a bloody mess.
Driving home, I contemplated the day’s events, not sure what hurt more, my legs or my pride.
Forget about the DEH (Diablo Endurance Hike); we should rename this the DRC (Diablo Reality Check).