“You alright there, sport?”

It’s been about a year since my big adventure in the Adirondacks. It got pretty bleak by the end, pretty dark, and though the experience ended on a high note, what followed was twelve of the most emotionally tumultuous months of my adult life.

It wasn’t all bad, but it did kind of reignite an internal conflict I thought I had won ten years ago. The creeping emotional darkness that plagued me through adolescence saw a crack in the door and stuck its foot right in. It plopped right down next to me in the passenger seat, and all of a sudden, the unwelcome hop-on became an incorrigible backseat driver.

 

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I don’t want to belabor the issue here. I hate writing about this shit – I just haven’t been able to write about anything else for the past six months. I have pages and pages of half-written diary entries, hasty angry letters to my brain, and sappy confessionals like this. I’m done. I want to write about something else.

Way back when, I had some pretty serious self-hatred issues. Right now it’s mostly ‘what is even the point of me existing?’, but when I was younger it was more like ‘what is even the point of me existing for another minute’? Through a bunch of pain and suffering and one hell of a lucky break, I beat back those feelings and relegated them to some hidden space in my brain where I figured they would eventually starve and die.

Since coming back from the Adirondacks last year, though, things changed. I had to tell people about these feelings, and how I had been depressed as a kid. This is something I had never shared with anyone ever. Anyone. Ever. It didn’t make me feel better – I didn’t want people to know in the first place.

 

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Talking about it, writing about it, acknowledging it – that gave it relevance and meaning. Weight. It’s invisible as long as I don’t look at it. Now that other people know, it’s like…it’s as if I wished it back into existence just by talking about it. Maybe it’s the healthier option down the line, but right now I’m not so sure.

I’m sitting in my apartment the Friday night before the Whiteface Skyraces, where the bulk of those endlessly patient people I call my friends are. An event that gives me the perfect excuse to escape to the mountains, to have some time away from life and enjoy myself. I’m gonna skip that though, doesn’t sound like much fun.

 

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Instead, I’m going to hole up here and try to cut a swath through this heavy, scratchy sheet that’s weighing me down. People always say you should try to talk about this kind of stuff with people, and I am SUPER bad at that. No thanks. I am not a good talker. I’m going to monologue into the void of the internet instead and hope that makes me feel better.

And I’m also here because I can’t stand the thought of facing my friends right now. I feel like a chump and a failure, and the more I feel that way, the less I want to be around people I care about. The less I want to be around people I care about, the more I want to talk about it. And the more I want to talk about it, the more I feel like a chump and a failure. They’re my problems, I’ll handle them myself. I always have. Is it my brain or society that makes me think that way? Who cares?

Now, I should point something out really quick. Though I tackle these kinds of problems solo, I don’t do it alone. I always strive to be better than I am, and I’m extraordinarily lucky to have a lot of great mentors who lead by example. I strive to be Strat’s carefree attitude. I strive to be Jason’s bottomless font of positivity. I strive to be Welden’s unerring moral compass. Laura’s rock-solid composure. Pete’s easy laughter. Liz’ capacity for stepping outside her comfort zone. Mertsock’s kind patience. Mort’s stubborn determination. Huckle’s unswerving dedication to bettering himself.

Corinne’s brazen confidence.

Mel’s willingness to speak her mind.

Mom’s empathy.

Dad’s curiosity.

The list goes on. By being the best parts of all the people I know, I make myself a better person, a stronger person.

 

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Anyway, the point I’m trying to get at is that this is not as dangerous a situation as it used to be. When I was a kid, I felt like I had no one. No one who knew how I felt, no one who cared, no one who’d notice if I was gone. I had to face up to those demons all by myself. That is definitely not how I feel anymore, and that alone is a huge help.

Still, feeling like this sucks. Moods come and go – some days I feel completely empty, and can’t rationalize my existence. I feel like a pity case to my friends and family, a whiner who can’t just let shit go. A coward. It’s more than I can bear sometimes.

 

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There was another point in there that got totally blasted to the wayside. That little persona that’s been riding shotgun this whole time is part of who I am. We can’t really exist independent of each other. I could have written an entirely separate thing about a different me sitting in the passenger seat. Maybe I should, that sounds like it would be a lot more fun.

It can be tough to live with this snide, petty side of myself sometimes, but that’s really the only choice I have. All I can do is nurture the other facets of my personality to provide counterweight. It’s worked so far, anyway.

At the end of the day? I know it’ll get better. I can see cracks of sunlight through the walls of this shitty Jeff egg, and it won’t be long before I hatch into a beautiful butterfly/eagle hybrid. How that turned into a bird analogy I’ll never know. Bottom line: I’m good (as in ‘I’m okay’, not ‘I’m good at analogies’).

To you, I’ll say this: thanks for hearing me out through all of this ‘me me me’. Thanks for your patience. It means more to me than I could ever tell you. Someday I hope to repay the kindness you’ve shown me through the days, months, and years I’ve been lucky to know you. There’s no need to worry – if I need help, I’ll ask for it.

And – because this is something I would worry about – don’t take my shittiness personally. If I’m being grouchy or moody, it’s not a reflection of how I feel about you. Promise. I love you! Probably, anyway, I don’t know what kind of randos read my blog. Get hits in Turkey every once in awhile, don’t know what that’s about.

Now, yeesh, now that yucky serious stuff is out of the way, hopefully I can get back to writing some silly stories. I’ve got a bunch sitting up there in the old noggin, just waiting to be slapped on…the waffle iron…of this blog. Shit. You know what I mean.

 

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Be awesome.

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“What was the winning beer mile time?”

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Well! Another successful mile in the books. Will have plenty to say about it in the coming days, but I thought I’d throw up the results in a timely manner. Though considering I didn’t post any results from last year, what’s the rush?

Before I get too deep into it, I want to say the biggest of thank yous to everyone who participated in the event, whether they were runners, volunteers, spectators, friends, family, or Gambit. Events like this are put on by people, for people, and seeing everyone work together to make this track meet come together is really touching.

Without further ado, the results of the open mile:

  1. Daven Oskvig – 6:24
  2. Jamie Hobbs – 6:32
  3. Jeff Green – 6:48
  4. Mike Welden – 6:53
  5. Jason Vidmar – 6:53
  6. Mike Mertsock – 7:05
  7. Mike Meynadasy – 7:42
  8. Laura Rekkerth – 7:44
  9. John Green – 8:05
  10. Sean Scarisbrick – 8:49
  11. Ben Metcalf – 9:20

If those numbers seem high to you, take into account the fact that the course was long, over frozen, rutted ground with multiple feet of elevation change. Not exactly a PR course. Add on to that below freezing temps, and you’ve got a competition that really gets my blood pumping. Lots of people gutting it out – gotta love that.

And now, the challenge mile results. All challenges are completed on a per lap basis (1 beer/lap, etc.). Here are the results:

  1. Kevin Sager – 11:04 – Beer
  2. Jamie Hobbs – 11:59 – Beer
  3. Sean Scarisbrick – 12:24 – Beer
  4. Daven Oskvig – 12:37 – Beer
  5. John Green – 12:52 – Limericks
  6. Mike Welden – 13:11 – Beer
  7. Jason Vidmar – 13:14 – Pushups/Beer/Growler carry
  8. Billy Frey – 13:26 – Beer
  9. Mike Meynadasy – 14:37 – Beer
  10. Jeff Green – 15:44 – Beer
  11. Griffin Lavine – 17:38 – Beer
  12. Sam Devine – 21:31 – Beer

Huge congratulations to our race winners, and to everyone else who participated. It was not an easy day, and the heart and courage shown by the athletes is truly inspiring.

To participate in the event, athletes needed to write a short memorial to 2016. Something that made the year memorable or significant. I’ve compiled them below. As you read through them, think of something that’s made 2016 memorable for you, and what you’ll do to make 2017 memorable as well. It’s going to be a good year, I think.

Dear Melanie,

You made sure that 2016 was memorable for me. For that I thank you.

Since before I was married (that is a long time ago), I have had a dream of sorts… that once I was old and stodgy, and that beyond expectation, a grown-up kid of mine would invite me on a vacation. I thought of it as a validation of achieving a kind of gold star in parent-to-grown-kid relations.

I kind of felt that I’d earned it when you and Jeff and I spent a few days in the Great Range. But that also didn’t really count as much in my mind for some reason – it was a mutual thing more than an invitation for a kid.

Then, in 2016, you invited me on… A ROAD TRIP across the US! OMG! It was a true post-college adventure, right down to every detail like depart in the late afternoon, drive all night, sleep in the car, eat nothing but Taco Bell burritos warmed on the dash in the sun, 3600 miles in 7 days kind of trip. And YOU invited ME!

Thanks for inviting me to share your celebratory adventure. Thanks for putting up with me through all those miles. For the better part of four of those 7 days we shared a phone booth size space and came out of it happy!

You made a dream of mine come true! Love, Dad

I’d like to thank the tenderhearted Billy Frey for a sensual night in the honeymoon hike at Mt. Marcy’s base

My memorial is to my faith in the American electorate. Maybe it was naive and misplaced, but it gave me comfort and made my world seem better. And now it is gone.

The old man said “Hello” as I stepped from my car at the CVS in Brighton. It was one of the few cool days in the summer of 2016 so weather was the subject of the start of our conversation. We agreed that something was “off” and it was going just the way the scientists had predicted.

I found that he was a Korean War Vet and after the service had enjoyed the life that the big yellow box offered. He considered himself lucky because in his view those days were gone. “I don’t think he’ll win, but I think this Trump might be on to something.” As I stumbled saying I’ve got to get going” in fear of what was coming. He started to outline with great empathy the desperation of the working class and his worry about the future.

He gave me some perspective on the year and a bit of hope. Donald Trump is a fraud, but the people who voted for him are not.

2016 was fine I guess. Obama crushed it and I graduated college! But what really got me through those long, lonely nights was the thought that on January 14, 2017, I would get to see the one and only Jeff Green!

Happy Beer Mile =)

During my running career, I’ve been influenced by all sorts of people, but two stand out most in my mind as shaping me as an athlete and, to some extent, as a person. Through 2016, Josh Rossi made a strong bid at being the third. He did something that people don’t often do these days – he kicked my ass and didn’t apologize. He challenged me to get better. And I did.

Somewhat.

Either way, Rossi expanded my athletic career in a new dimension, and that certainly made the year very memorable. Thanks man.

some mething that made 2015 memorable: “so many adventures with friends. Those times spent just experiencing life, challenging ourselves and each other together. With no judgment, only acceptance.”

f. That sounds so embarrassing. Can’ it j anaontlos or something?

-anonymous **

I wish to memorialize the death of the US Political System as we once knew it.

  • No longer will Republicans just disagree with the Democratic President instead attempting to govern.
  • No longer will Democrats avoid paying attention to the needs of the gernal public.
  • No longer will investors enjoy the stability of a stalemated congress.

No folks, those days are gone. The benefits of not having to pay attention are gone. We citizens will now be required to actually pay attention to the forces that shape our world. It’s a new day.

I never get really sick. The sniffles, a bad cold, or a twenty four hour bug is about it.

Pretty good for a teacher who deals with 150 fetid, verminous, diseased little bastards every day.

And then I spent all of December with bronchitis, which just leveled me. Today is the 31st of December, and I just did my first run of the month — a perilously slow three miler on the snowy trails of Bond’s Lake. My body responded a few hours later with a crippling case of the shits, and shivering cold sweats, which sent me back to bed and a three hour nap, which I just woke up from and from where I write this missive.

But I’m gonna be OK. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And that’s the key of my message. There is, thank God, light at the end of the tunnel.

I don’t know how I’d have handled the weeks of lethargy, the one and a half hour sessions of coughing just so I could go to sleep at night, the days at work where I minimised every movement to conserve the energy I didn’t have because I wasn’t eating, the endless hours on the couch when I got home watching those I love living, the feeling of living a sort of in-between half-life, the unsettling amphetamine-like rush of Dayquil and deadening soul-bunt of Nyquil.

It was bearable because I knew that I would, eventually, get better.

In the midst of it all, however, I began to think about those I know, and those I do not, some I’ve heard of and most I will not, who do not have that light at the end of the tunnel. Those real people with chronic conditions, or disease death sentences, for whom the only real release is the final one into what Shakespeare calls “The Undiscovered Country, from whose borne no traveler returns.”

They have, now, my more than academic love and respect. And my pity, though most never ask for nor desire it.

I don’t know how they do it. They are stronger than I am. If it is, perhaps, ‘only’ because they have to be, it doesn’t change my feelings for them. My hard-won understanding that suddenly does not seem so hard-won.

And that is my memorial to the December of 2016.

I am greatful for the buffalo bills. They did not shatter my fragile perspective of reality and make the playoffs.

To Jeff,

Thanks for the inspiration in attempting the unfathomable in 2016…and for always dreaming big.

Also…thanks for not leaving me to die on NYE MOUNTAIN. (That was cool of you.)

In memory of the times we’ve had.

The hours in the woods.

The laughs.

The silence.

Lifes hard.

You’ve made my life have best days.

Best memories.

The most love.

Maybe the only love Ive ever truly felt.

Thanks friends.

❤ Run fam ❤

Be awesome.

“Haha, let’s do that again!”

I had a plan. There’s always a plan. Then adventure happens. This is a brief (ha, sorry, no, it’s long as shit actually) collection of thoughts I had in the wake of my trip. Thanks for reading through all these posts. It means a lot to me to be able to share this experience with you. Digest what you like at your own rate, and feel free to offer your own thoughts. I’d love to hear them.

Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Reflections

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So what’d I take away from this whole thing?

 

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I didn’t drink enough water. I didn’t eat enough food. Everyone knew that before I even started. Moving on.

 

When I started this hike, I had only climbed around half of the high peaks. I wasn’t familiar with the trails or the conditions on the peaks, and being unprepared cost me. I probably hiked over 20 extra miles just backtracking or taking wrong turns. That’s almost a whole day of hiking. That’s way, way too much.

 

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but I had set a time limit for myself on this hike. I wanted to finish in seven days, and I pushed myself too hard early on to stick to that time estimate. I love the idea of conquering the unknown, but trying to conquer the unknown on a deadline is dumb. It’s something Zapp Brannigan would do. I should have been more clear with myself which way I wanted to approach this adventure. Take my time and explore, or…buckle down and race, really.

 

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One super awesome thing about the hike was that it gave me genuine feelings of joy, panic, fear, and giddy relief. Whether things were going wrong, right, or I was just being emotional, the raw honesty of the things I felt was refreshing. The night after I finished the hike, I walked out to the edge of a thirty-foot cliff, sticking my toes off the end, and looked down. The vertigo shook me, and I had a brief rush of adrenaline, but they weren’t as strong as the ones I had felt in the woods. You can’t create those feelings, they have to happen to you.

 

It’s taken me a long time to recover from my time in the mountains. Physically, I was fine. Aside from a lingering discomfort in my foot, I recovered very quickly. The biggest hit I took was a mental one. I’ve all but stopped running. I ran the relay to Boston, and have sprinkled a few other runs in here and there, but for the most part, I haven’t been able to get myself going. My goal of doing 4,000 miles this year is all but sunk, and who knows how Twisty Branch is going to go (I ate another DNF at mile 28).

 

Battling your inner demons is never fun, and can be pretty intense. The idea of facing down my worst fears and insecurities used to get my blood boiling, but not anymore. It’s not cool, or dramatic. You might win, but you don’t walk away a winner. It just sucks.

 

I was forced to come face to face with a young Jeff, who wrestled with some pretty brutal self-hatred, and vague threats of suicide. He got better, and became me, but I guess I didn’t expect those feelings to linger. I don’t like to think of them as part of who I am now. I like believing in the probably mythical me, just an absent-minded, adventurous screwball with a tirelessly positive attitude. There’s no room in there for shaky self-doubt or dissatisfaction. But…

 

I guess the reality is that we’re all human, and many of us have to deal with these things on an almost daily basis. Accepting them as part of who we are, good or bad, I think that’s the way to find contentment. Fighting so hard to be people we’re not can’t be good for us. What did Mertsock say to me? Hang on, let me see if I can find it.

 

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Good one, Mertsock. I don’t have to act like that lonely kid from 2002, I don’t have to act like that arrogant prick from 2006, and I don’t have to act like the huge wuss I am today, but I do have to accept them as all being me. I can learn from the people I’ve been, and become the people I want to be. I don’t care what the story of my life reads like so far. I’m the author! I can write whatever I want moving forward. Who will I be next? Who cares?

 

I owe so much to my friends and family, who are endlessly, tirelessly supportive of my shenanigans. Jason lent me the precious DeLorme unit, and met me on the trail, sacrificing his own grand plans to hike with me. Laura did the same thing, hiking with me despite a neuroma flare-up in her foot and a race a few days later. Everybody who sent their well-wishes through the airwaves to reach me in the depths of the mountains kept my spirits lifted. Jan and Angela shared their experiences with me, and gave me valuable advice that I only heeded about half the time, to my profound detriment.

 

So what now? I’ve got Twisted Branch and Ossian coming up, but after those, I think I’m going to stop racing for a while. I’ll turn my focus to building a solid foundation for 2017, and planning trips and adventures for that year. I’ll still be doing fun things this year, but probably no more big stuff for a while. I’d like to do the beer mile again in January, and the Wegman’s (ultra?)marathon. I don’t know, I’m spitballing at this point. Moving on.

 

I’m very happy with my life right now. In fact, I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. That’s thanks to you, probably. Thank you. I appreciate your friendship, your patience, and your genuine, honest effort in life.

 

I’ll try this hike again, without a doubt. Next time through, I’ll be able to finish. I’m sure of it. I’ll be stronger, faster, better prepared. Many of my friends want to give it a shot as well – perhaps enough to race a bunch of two-person teams. And after we finish, I’m sure it won’t be long before we have some other crazy scheme cooked up to top that one, because that’s just what we do. Maybe Jason had it right all along. Who needs a reason? Just get out there. Just do it. Just…

 

Be awesome.

 

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“Why am I doing this?”

I recently attempted to thru-hike all 46 of the high peaks in the Adirondacks, unsupported and entirely on foot. This was far and away the most difficult and dangerous thing I’ve ever attempted. The trails through the high peaks region are some of the wildest and most rugged in the country, and certainly the toughest trails I’ve ever been on.

 

I had a plan. There’s always a plan. Then adventure happens. Although this is day five, it reads more like Act IV. It might get tough to read. I try to keep things light when I’m writing, since most of the shit I do makes me want to douse myself in gasoline and leap into a volcano, but in the interest of sharing my experience with you, we might have to visit some dark places. I’m not trying to scare you – just offering fair warning.

 

Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Reflections

I didn’t dream, and woke early in the morning. I snuck out of the campsite, saying goodbye to Laura, who was awake (obviously), and Jason, who had six shiny new staples holding his head together. I strode back towards the Loj, feeling confident. I had relatively easy miles ahead of me, a full night’s sleep, and the giddy rush from seeing my friends. I could do this.

 

The plan was to hike back to my stuff over Phelps and Table Top, then hit the peaks on the south side of Marcy. I would meet Jason and Laura on the Great Range somewhere, and we would figure out where to go from there. I was pretty sure I could make it over the Great Range that day. Hiking it with a full pack would be tough, but I could handle it.

 

The Loj flew by, and so did Marcy Dam. Before I knew it, I was on Phelps, climbing the steep, short trail to the summit. I didn’t linger at the top, but immediately began descending. I had miles to go, after all. I was feeling pretty good. My body was still aching and sore, but I had acclimated to it, and it didn’t hinder my hiking at all. I returned to the trail and was off like a shot for Table Top. This was just what I needed! A little momentum, and I could do anything.

 

As the miles wore on, I started to lose some steam. My calorie-deficient brain began to despair. The numbers didn’t add up, my pace wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t making good progress. I tried to tell myself these things didn’t matter, but I didn’t want to listen. I just wanted to be miserable, to justify my despondency. It was right around this time that I hit Indian Falls. When I heard the crashing water and saw the sign, I groaned. I should have seen the turn off for Table Top by now. I turned around and headed back down the trail, searching for the trailhead.

 

I walked about a mile down the trail before getting frustrated. I must have missed it again! There was no way it was back this far. Why couldn’t I just navigate these trails properly? Why did I have to go through the song and dance of getting lost or taking a wrong turn for every single fucking peak that I climbed? There was no way this was going to work! I wasn’t going to finish if I couldn’t even stay on the route!

 

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I stormed back up the trail towards Indian Falls, checking every miniscule opening in the vegetation to see if it was a trail. Finally, finally, I found the turn for Table Top, labeled plain as day with a large wooden sign that said ‘Trail to Table Top Mt.’ I didn’t laugh it off, I didn’t smile in relief. I just started running up the mountain. I couldn’t think, I was so angry. I ripped through thick, wet spiderwebs as I climbed, covering myself in clingy, sticky thread. I didn’t take the time to brush them off, I just kept going. I couldn’t tell if the heat I was feeling was from the sun or my own desperate rage.

 

I reached the top of the mountain, slapped the summit sign, and was on my way back down faster than you could say ‘But Jeff, I thought you LIKED the mountains!’ I flew back down to the main trail, biffing it more than once along the way. I think that was one of the very few times I’ve known what “reckless abandon” feels like. When I reached my stuff, I threw it on, and got ready to tear off down the trail.

 

Instead I sat down and burst into tears. Again. I buried my head in my hands and sobbed. I have no idea how long I sat there, but it was long enough to get bitten on my upper thighs a few dozen times. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and my hands shook. I was thirsty, but I was out of water. I was hungry, but I was out of food. I was so tired. Of what? Why am I doing this?

 

I was pretty sure that I was done with the thru-hike at this point, but I decided to hold off on that decision until I reached my things at the Uphill lean-to. Regardless of what I did afterwards, I had to at least get there. I nodded, sniffling miserably to myself in agreement.

 

My watch died.

 

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I’m not sure if that’s significant, but the remaining three miles I had to hike to get back to my things were some of the strangest, most profound miles I’ve traveled in my entire life. Seems fitting that they were in a GPS dead zone, as if they were off the record. No one would be watching, no one would know. I got up and started walking.

 

I stumbled down the trail to Lake Arnold and thought. I thought about my life. Where I was, what I was doing, who I was doing it with. I realized that I was almost 25, nearly at the quarter-century mark. A turning point? Would this effort close the book on one chapter of my life and start another? Was I happy with the way it was written? What kind of story would it be?

 

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I wasn’t really sure. I felt as if I had been running my whole life. I mean, running running, obviously, but also running away from stuff, or towards things that always seemed just out of reach. I couldn’t remember at any point being completely content or satisfied with my life.

 

Then I got really fucking mad. It sure must be nice to have the luxury to be dissatisfied with my life, which had allowed me everything I needed and most of what I wanted. What a disgustingly charmed life I’ve led! A life that lets me leave everything behind and complain about a walk in the woods. I’m a joke, a hack. I didn’t know what hard was. Hard is not knowing when you’re going to eat next. Hard is not knowing if you’re going to live through the next sunrise. Hard is doing everything, anything, to keep the people that you love alive. That’s hard. This was masturbation.

 

And I was quitting. Couldn’t even make it to the climax. I gritted my teeth. I could feel my face getting hot, and tears welled up in my eyes. I shook my head. Crying again! Come on! Just keep it together for twenty minutes, you asshole! I gave myself a little nudge in the jaw to snap myself out of it. Then I jabbed myself again, a little harder. Then I pulled my arm back and threw the hardest punch I’ve ever thrown in my entire life.

 

My head snapped back, my neck cracked, and I wobbled and collapsed. I lay there on the trail, head craned against a boulder, and felt all of the anger sheepishly seep out of my system. I stared blankly at the trees in front of me. Everything was awkwardly still and silent. It felt like time had completely stopped.

 

Why am I doing this?

 

I hate myself.

 

My 5:03 mile. My 3:07 marathon. Finishing Pike’s Peak. My DNF at Twisted Branch. My first 100 mile week. Running from Buffalo to Rochester. All phenomenal achievements. None of it had been good enough. Nothing was ever good enough. I’ve been able to impress and inspire others, but I’ve never once felt satisfied with myself.

 

Is this the way it goes? I thought. Is this just the way it has to be for me to keep chasing goals? Always hungry, never satiated? Or am I really pushing myself to the brink just chasing self-approval? I feel like it shouldn’t be that hard to get. When will I be good enough? When will I finally be happy with what I’ve done? When I’m hurting so much I can’t continue? When I can’t move? When I’m crippled? Maimed? Dead?

 

I shifted slowly. My body felt like it was a thousand years old. I reluctantly pulled myself to my feet and started hiking again.

 

Would this be good enough?

One foot in front of the other. Control your breathing.

If I finish this hike, maybe that’ll be good enough.

Correct your form. Pick up your feet.

No. I can do better, I know I can do better.

Balance your pack. Plan your line.

Or maybe I’ll just throw myself off the top of Marcy.

 

What?

 

I stopped dead in my tracks. It had been a long time since I thought anything like that with any ounce of sincerity. Not since I was a kid. That was the last straw. I knew how deep that hole was, and I had no desire to slide back into it. The thru-hike was over.

 

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I was a little relieved. It didn’t wash over me, and I didn’t feel like a weight had been lifted, but it was there. I was mostly just tired, cranky, and sore. I was still reeling from Durdening myself, and disappointed that I wouldn’t be finishing the hike. I felt guilty for hijacking my friends’ plans. I felt like a tool for making such a big deal out of this endeavor. I was in a pretty foul mood.

 

So when I heard bright, cheerful whistling behind me, I stopped. I didn’t want to be near anyone right now. I’d just sit down and let them pass me. After a couple minutes, a young woman popped out of the trees. She started when she saw me, and I realize now that I probably looked like a vulture suffering from indigestion staring up the trail, as if I had been expecting her.

 

She smiled, and greeted me. She took off her pack (What are you doing) and asked me how I was doing (God dammit). I said I was alright (I want to die), and asked her what she was up to (Wait no, shit). She said she was going to the Feldspar lean-to (Well you probably oughta get going then), then heading up to Cliff or Redfield (Cool, well it was nice to meet you bye). I said that sounded like fun (Or something). She nodded. We sat in silence for a couple seconds. I waited for her to leave.

 

She sat down across from me. When she did, I stood up way too quickly, stuttered a stiff farewell, and practically ran off down the trail. Looking back on it, it was hilarious, but probably pretty rude. I just wanted to be alone. It had only been a few minutes, though, when I heard her whistling behind me again. I redoubled my efforts. She was so fast! I decided to try letting her pass me again. As she passed, she smiled and again asked how I was doing. I twisted my face into what was hopefully a smile and made sounds in her direction.

 

Every so often, I would hear her up ahead, talking in a soft voice to herself and the animals on the trail. She stopped once to show me a toad that was hopping around on the rocks. Since I was still being shitty, I mentally rolled my eyes. It was the fiftieth toad I had seen over the past few days. She was delighted, though, and I couldn’t help but grin.

 

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A little while later, I arrived at the sunken boards I had hiked with Pete, Liz, and Danielle a month earlier. The young woman was there, and asked if this was really the way. I chuckled and nodded a confirmation. She scrunched her face up, then decided to take her boots off before heading across. She started singing softly to herself as she crossed the boards in her bare feet.

 

All of a sudden I realized I was in a good mood again. The air of playful wonder that this girl was giving off was infectious. This stuff was supposed to be fun, after all. I laughed and congratulated her when we had both made it across. I stood by awkwardly as she pulled her boots on. It wasn’t until she motioned me forward that I realized I was waiting for her, as if we had been hiking together all along. I blinked, said farewell, and headed back to the lean-to. As I folded back into the trees, I heard her whistling, bright and clear in the sunny afternoon.

 

When I finally got back to the lean-to, I partied hard. I drank, ate, and passed out for almost an hour. When I woke up, I thought about what to do. I was ready to be done. It would be a six mile hike out through Avalanche Pass. Laura and Jason had gotten in touch as well, and said they would try to catch me on Marcy or the Great Range somewhere. I sent them three messages as I whiffled back and forth between meeting them and wimping out, but in the end, I decided to try and meet them at the top of Marcy.

 

I pulled on the big pack, bid a sarcastic farewell to Cliff and Redfield, which I would have to come back and bag at some point, and headed up the Opalescent to the backside of Marcy. As I climbed, the air cooled, and by the time I reached Lake Tear, it was almost refreshing. Before long, I was at the base of the final Marcy climb. The mountain towered above me.

 

Why am I doing this?

 

I looked up at the steep rock face. My friends were probably up there somewhere. Large cairns dotted the mountainside, giving form to the trail ahead. They had been built by people who loved the mountains. People like me. I could see other hikers looking down at me from the peak. They looked like ants. It was a long ways to climb. Grinning, I tightened my pack and started hiking with everything I had left.

 

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Yeah, I know, I know, that’s obviously not the end of the story, but come on. How much more of my writing can you even read, anyway? I’ll give you the abridged version: I met Laura and Jason at the top of Marcy. We stayed on the trail that night, and hiked out in the morning. I spent the rest of my week in the company of some of the greatest people I’ve ever known, capping it off with the Whiteface Sky Races. We ate, drank, and were merry. I still love the mountains, and I still love my friends. Everyone lived happily ever after.

 

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“Wow I am so glad to see you guys!”

I recently attempted to thru-hike all 46 of the high peaks in the Adirondacks, unsupported and entirely on foot. This was far and away the most difficult and dangerous thing I’ve ever attempted. The trails through the high peaks region are some of the wildest and most rugged in the country, and certainly the toughest trails I’ve ever been on.

 

I had a plan. There’s always a plan. Then adventure happens. Things are getting rough at this point, but don’t count me out yet! Failing now wouldn’t be nearly spectacular enough.

Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Reflections

I woke up relatively late, sometime around seven. The sun was shining brightly, and the first thought in my head was how much daylight I had wasted already. I got moving quickly, and was on the trail before long. I was going to move camp that morning to the base of Cliff and Redfield to prepare for the following day. The plan then was to hike to the Loj over Colden, Tabletop, and Phelps. I had been in touch with Laura and Jason, and they said they would try to meet me at the Loj somewhere.

 

As I sat and filled my water in the Opalescent, I realized that the song that had been stuck in my head for the past three days had disappeared. I raised my arms to the sky in mute exultation. Not that Kickapoo is a bad song, but when you’re trying to enjoy a quiet walk in the woods and a young Jack Black is screaming in your head, ‘GOTTA SUCK A CHODE IN THE PARTY ZONE’, it can get a little distracting.

 

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The move went relatively quickly, and I was headed up the backside of Colden before long. I had a lot of deja vu the day before, hiking familiar trails and passing the usual spots, but today the feeling was even more profound. I had only hiked this trail once before, years ago with a friend of mine from high school. It was the last morning of a multi-day trip, and we were trying to hike out in time to get a McGriddle from the D’s. The peak proved to be far more difficult than either of us expected, however, and we missed the breakfast menu by hours.

 

Now, years later, I could still hear and see Luis talking to me, hiking up the trail, clambering over rocks. Those memories kept me company on the way up to the peak, and faded as I reached the peak. Last time I stood on top of Colden, it was a foggy, dreary morning. Today it was totally clear, and I could see the MacIntyre range stretched out in front of me. Being able to see every step of the mileage I had traversed the day before was motivating, and I swelled with pride as I descended down the other side of the mountain.

 

I hiked for a couple miles before realizing I had missed the turn for the other two peaks on my way to the Loj. At this point, I couldn’t be shocked, surprised, or frustrated. I mean, of course I was going to miss the turn. That’s what I should have expected in the first place. I just shook my head and continued on to the Loj. Worst case scenario, I would hit the peaks on the way back.

 

I reached the Loj late in the afternoon. As I was walking over to the spigot to refill my water, I heard something. Chatter. Familiar chatter. Loud, raucous laughter. That was Strat. Had to be. I took a couple hop-skip steps around the corner and found Josh and Jason at the spigot filling water bottles.

 

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Euphoria. Joy. Relief.

 

I hugged them and yelled a lot about how glad I was to see them. We laughed and talked all the way to Jason’s car, where Laura was also getting ready for a day on the trail. I sat and had lunch while the others packed and prepared. I was so happy just to be around people that I loved. They say home is where the heart is, and I think they are totally right. Sitting in that dusty parking lot with my friends. Laura fussing with her pack. Jason converting his zipper pants into shorts. Strat bouncing around despite a bum foot. I was at home.

 

After a little bit, Laura, Jason, and I said our farewells to Josh and headed out to Street and Nye. We were ahead of schedule by my estimation, so I was feeling pretty good about the day. I’d knock these peaks out relatively quickly, then be back at my camp before it got too dark. The miles passed by easily. The three of us had plenty to talk about.

 

As we hiked, Jason and I discussed the question I had been asking myself over the past few days. Why do we do this? What drives us to push ourselves further and harder than we need to? We bounced some ideas back and forth, but nothing really struck me as a good solution. Jason postulated that there was no ‘why’ at all – that we only do these things because we do them. That’s how I understood what he said, at any rate. That was pretty interesting to me. It would definitely explain why I couldn’t come up with a reasonable answer for that question.

 

An hour of hiking had passed when we reached a sign that would bring us to Rocky Falls. That would- wait. We weren’t supposed to be going by Rocky Falls. Oh…oh no. A quick look at the map and trail guide confirmed it: we had taken a wrong turn and hiked two miles out of our way. Nothing to do but head back. I was disappointed, but I was starting to not feel the sting of these navigational miscues. You can only get so frustrated so many times before your brain stops giving a shit. I was nervous for Laura and Jason, however. It was bad enough that they had given up their hiking plans to meet me, and now taking a devastating wrong turn on top of that? I suddenly felt awful for dragging them out there with me.

 

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They took the whole thing in stride, which was really fantastic of them. We made our way back to the correct trail and made our way over to Street and Nye. The trail was not quite as easy as I remembered, but it was nowhere near as bad as some of the others. Relatively free of rocks, and only climbing at a moderate grade, the trail quickly brought us to the split. The flies had come out to feast, so we didn’t waste a lot of time on top. We were up and down Street before too long, and then we went after Nye.

 

As we approached the summit of Nye, Jason called up to me and Laura, saying he had smacked his head and was bleeding. Upon investigating the wound, we found that he hadn’t just hit his head, he had ripped it wide open! Laura was concerned, I was unimpressed. I think my fatigue kept me from fully appreciating the gravity of Jason’s wound, because it was bleeding profusely, and Jason seemed like he had been concussed.

 

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We made our way urgently down from Street and Nye. It was starting to get late again, due to our wrong turn earlier in the day, and I was dreading the idea of doing two more peaks that evening. To be honest, I was fed up of hiking in the dark. Hiking through the night a couple days earlier had offset my sleep schedule with daylight hours, and I hadn’t corrected it yet.

 

Laura and Jason encouraged me to stay at the Loj that night and get an early start the next morning. I could reset my daylight schedule and get some much-needed rest. I wrestled with this a lot more than I should have. It made perfect sense in the context of my physical, mental, and emotional well-being, but…I would fall further behind. It struck me what a stupid fucking internal struggle this was. One one hand, I could make a good decision for my health and the perpetuity of this adventure, but on the OTHER hand, I could continue throwing myself at the mountains like a maniac in pursuit of an impossible goal, expecting them to move for me. Why am I doing this?

 

I agreed to stay. I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, and I couldn’t stop crying. I had wept more in these four days than I had in the past year, and not for lack of weeping. I just realized I’m a huge crybaby. Damn.

 

Anyway, this would be good for me. Reset, get moving at a reasonable hour, and catch back up. That made sense. When we got back to the Loj, Jason said he would drive over to Josh’s campsite at South Meadow to start getting things set up. Still wanting to hike the whole way on foot, I walked over with Laura.

 

We had a really nice walk into the setting sun. Laura and I chatted the whole way, with me mostly dominating the conversation with complaints and rants about the way the hike had gone and how I was feeling. She was patient with me, and by the time we made it to Strat’s campsite, I was feeling much, much better. Jason had set up his tent and sleeping bag, and offered it to me. He wouldn’t need them, he said, because he was going to urgent care(!!!) to get his wound checked out. Wide-eyed, I stammered a thanks.

 

I laid down to sleep was out in a matter of minutes.

 

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“Buh…this was a mistake.”

I recently attempted to thru-hike all 46 of the high peaks in the Adirondacks, unsupported and entirely on foot. This was far and away the most difficult and dangerous thing I’ve ever attempted. The trails through the high peaks region are some of the wildest and most rugged in the country, and certainly the toughest trails I’ve ever been on.

 

I had a plan. There’s always a plan. Then adventure happens. In the wake of my toughest day in the woods, I was finally getting back to familiar trails and peaks. Today would be easier, right? It had to be.

Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Reflections

The sun woke me an hour or two after I had nodded off. My head hadn’t been swiped from my shoulders by a hungry bear, so that was already better than expected. It was pretty chilly, and I was lying in a bunch of wet grass, so I prepared everything for the day and ate breakfast from the warm shelter of my bag. I taped some of my toes, wrung out all my wet stuff, and was back on the trail before too long. I had a few miles to make up before starting the next day’s loop, so I didn’t want to waste any time.

 

Hiking north from the Allen junction to the Flowed Lands proved more difficult than I thought. The trail was rocky, and climbed quite a bit more than I had anticipated. I realized with dread that this was the first climbing I had done with the big pack, and it did not feel good. This wasn’t even the bad stuff. It was going to get a lot worse by the time I was finished.

 

Hard or not, I made it to the Flowed Lands before the sun was too high in the sky. I dropped my pack in the lean-to at the base of Marshall and picked up the day pack. After the navigational fuckery of the previous day, I resolved to not try anything too sketchy, and stick to trails that I knew. I chose to reverse the order of the loop I had planned, starting with Marshall and the MacIntyre range (aka the hard stuff), and ending with Phelps, Table Top, and Colden (aka the less hard stuff). That way I would be on familiar, gentler trails at the end of the day, rather than having a repeat of the night before.

 

I popped up Marshall without too much trouble, marveling at the cairns people had built all the way up the brook. On the way down, however, I realized that I was completely out of energy. It wasn’t even close to noon, and I was already beat. All I could think was that I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, and that I hadn’t eaten enough that morning. Nothing to be done about it now. I pounded some more food at the base of Marshall and headed off to climb the backside of Algonquin.

 

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I’ve clambered up the streambed behind Algonquin a few times now, and it sucks, but that day was just brutal. I reached the open rock face just as the sun was reaching its zenith in the sky. I could feel the relentless heat on my back as I climbed, sapping me of any remaining strength. By the time I reached the col between Iroquois and Algonquin, my steps were heavy and my breathing was ragged. I trudged up Iroquois, stopping only long enough to snag a summit selfie before trudging back down. I practically crawled up to the summit of Algonquin, collapsing at the top in what was most certainly an overly-dramatic fashion.

 

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The summit steward tiptoed over to where I lay splayed out in the sun like an iguana. She asked me nervously how I was doing. I thought about it for a while, then said, “Not too bad.” She bought it, and we chatted for a little while. By the time we had finished, I was on my feet and feeling better. I thanked her for the boost and started down the trail towards the Adirondak Loj. I ran up and down Wright pretty quickly, but the remaining miles to the Loj passed like molasses. I was coming down from the high of interacting with another human being, and I was back to running on fumes.

 

By the time I reached the Loj, it was 6 PM. I realized with dread that I didn’t have time to do anything else that day. My pack and supplies were six miles away, and it would be dark before I reached any of the remaining peaks. On the other hand, Jason and Laura would be on the Great Range the next morning, and I really really wanted to see them. I sat down and ate my dinner glumly, mulling over my options. By the time I finished and was thinking of hitting the trail, the sun was sinking in the sky. I knew my only option was to head back to my things and get a real night’s sleep for the following day. I slung my vest back over my shoulders and headed back into the woods.

 

I decided to head back via Avalanche Pass, since that would be the driest and flattest way back. I passed through Marcy Dam relatively quickly and reached Avalanche Lake by nightfall. Traversing the boulders and bridges through the pass was tricky, but I had my headlamp shining like a miniature sun on to the trail in front of me. I’m pretty sure that thing could melt steel if I let it go too long.

 

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As the night started to black out the trail around me, I started to slow down. My steps shortened, stiffened. My breathing was slow and deliberate. The breeze made me shiver. My mind went blank, and I shuffled slowly onward. Then, in the middle of the mountains, during a cool summer night with brightly shining stars, I asked myself the last question I’d ever expect: Why am I doing this?

 

I realized I didn’t know the answer. I was pretty surprised that I didn’t – that’s the question people always ask. ‘Why do you run so far? How can you do that to yourself?’ It’s something I always wave away with a joke or a ‘Dude, I don’t know’. I’ve never thought seriously about why I do these things, or what draws me to them. Glory? Money? Babes? Probably none of those (well, actually-). I thought and thought as the miles crawled by, but nothing really stuck. I was probably too tired to really think about it anyway.

 

Eventually, I made it back to my camp and jumped in my sleeping bag. My goal was to get a solid night’s rest, even if I sacrificed a few hours of daylight tomorrow. The lack of sleep the night before had trashed me for today, and I couldn’t keep going on that way. I shut my eyes and was asleep before I even had time to worry about bears eviscerating me in the night.

 

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“This can’t be the end! I can’t be done already!”

I recently attempted to thru-hike all 46 of the high peaks in the Adirondacks, unsupported and entirely on foot. This was far and away the most difficult and dangerous thing I’ve ever attempted. The trails through the high peaks region are some of the wildest and most rugged in the country, and certainly the toughest trails I’ve ever been on.

 

I had a plan. There’s always a plan. Then adventure happens. This, the second day of the trip, proved to be more adventure than I was expecting, and almost too much for me. Things get hairier from here on out.

Day OneDay Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Reflections

The first night’s sleep in the woods is usually tough for me. I jump at noises and shadows, thinking everything is a bear. That first night was pretty easy though. Hiking almost thirty miles during the day probably had something to do with it. I woke early feeling refreshed. After a quick breakfast, I set off for the Santanonis with Justin, who I had talked to the night before. It wasn’t long before we found the trail over Bradley Pond, and soon we were working our way up, up, up into the mountains.

 

After a steep climb, we found ourselves at the top of the range. From here, the trail splits three different ways, with each branch leading to a different peak. Justin had only planned on doing Couchsachraga, so we set off to the west to go grab it. Along the way, we discussed all sorts of things about the world, about religion, about friendship and engineering. It’s interesting to me how the people you meet so briefly can pull the most meaningful conversation out of you.

 

After a long, soggy hike, we finally reached Couchsachraga. Justin and I hung out for a second, then headed back to the three-way junction. Upon returning, he said he had to go back down the trail to grab some water, but he would do the other two peaks with me. I was nervous about the daylight, and I said that I’d have to keep pressing on. He graciously understood, and said he’d meet me back down by our packs to say farewell.

 

The trails to Panther and Santanoni are significantly shorter than the one to Couchsachraga, so I knocked them out pretty quickly. On the way back down to the lean-to, my watch read 10 miles, much longer than I thought it would be. Definitely a good thing that I waited for the morning. When I arrived at the lean-to, Justin was gone, but there was a note stuffed in my pack. “GOOD LUCK”, it read. It was so simple, but such a nice and touching thing to get. Thanks Justin, that was awesome.

 

I ate a little food, then got moving again. I still had to hike over to Allen before the day was through. It was a long hike, but it started out very easy. Grassy trails, roads, all relatively flat. Before long, I had made it to Upper Works. From there, I just needed to cross Lake Jimmy on the approach to Allen, climb the peak itself, and hike north to the base of Mt. Marshall for the next day. Easy! I was making great time.

 

Not far from Upper Works, I reached Lake Jimmy. It’s a small, round pond, with a tiny neck at one end about 100 feet across. Along the densely packed earth that made up the shoreline, fallen trees were scattered this way and that. I could see – you know what, this is gonna get complicated, let me just draw it up real quick.

 

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Through some shrewd detective work, I reasoned that a bridge once ran across the small neck of Lake Jimmy. After the bridge was destroyed in a storm, hikers intending to hit Allen were forced to circumnavigate the lake. Footprints in the mud leading around the lake shore further corroborated my theory, so I set off around the lake, picking my way over dead trees and trying to avoid slipping into the water.

 

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It wasn’t long before I found myself stuck. I had reached the broken bridge, but from there it looked as if my only option was to move from rock to rock to avoid most of the water. To get to the first rock, though, I’d have to take a few steps through the lake. I looked down. The water was clear, but the lake was filled with an algae that obscured my vision of the bottom. I took a deep breath and stepped in.

 

It was only ankle deep! Phew! The water was warm, and the plant material was thick. I could feel it wrapping around my leg as I tried to take another step. The footing was unstable, so I moved slowly into the water. I was getting close to the first rock when all of a sudden the ground disappeared beneath my feet. I stumbled, and fell forward into the lake.

 

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The fall wasn’t too bad, but fighting to stay upright was difficult with the heavy pack. Luckily, all my gear stayed dry. I realized this wasn’t going to work, so I turned and began fighting my way back towards the shore. Impatiently, I tried to take a shortcut. The water was knee deep at this point, and squishing through all the organic matter was becoming a chore. I had almost made it to the halfway point when I was grabbed by the plant life and pulled into the water again.

 

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This time my entire body went in. Miraculously, I was able to catch myself with my hands and keep my pack dry, but I came up with a face full of lake water. I gritted my teeth, pulled myself out of the water on to the rock and sat there for a minute. Then I got up and started yelling. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I said fuck a bunch of times in regards to a bunch of different things. Lake Jimmy, the Adirondacks, myself, my hopes and dreams. The normal stuff. I punctuated all of that with a final, powerful “FUCK” that I directed straight into the sky, echoing throughout the mountains. Noise pollution. I’m not proud.

 

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After I had calmed down, I made my way back to the beach where I had started. I was going to figure this out, one way or another. There had to be a way across. People have been hiking Allen still. My friends, Pete and Liz, hiked Allen just a few months earlier. It had to be possible. I could see planks from a bridge submerged in the water. Maybe the water was shallow enough here to just walk across. That had to be it. I walked out on to the underwater planks until they ended. I looked down at the water in front of me. Couldn’t see the bottom. I took a deep breath and stepped in.

 

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Whoa. Ankle-deep. Everything was fine. Okay! Cool! Maybe this was it! I confidently took another step.

 

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All of a sudden, I found myself submerged in Lake Jimmy up to my navel. I splashed around, clawing desperately for dry land. Dragging myself back to the shore, I flung off my pack, which had finally been submerged in the water, and began pacing furiously on the shore. This can’t be it! I thought to myself. This can’t be the end! There was no way I was ready to quit, but I couldn’t figure out how the fuck to get across this fucking lake. I sat down, put my head in my hands, and sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes. I was a real mess. It was embarrassing.

 

I resolved to have dinner. Get some calories in me, improve my mood, figure out what to do. I calmed down as I ate, and switched on my satellite tracker to let everyone know what was going on. When I sent my message, a bunch of others from earlier in the day came in. Encouraging messages from friends and family who were looking out for me. Nothing turns my mood around faster than someone I love telling me I’m doing a good job. I could do this. This was nothing.

 

I decided I would try taking a step back. Maybe there was some information at the trail register. Maybe a better map, at least. Leaving my pack for a bit, I walked down the trail towards the road. I hadn’t gotten far when I realized that taking a step back was exactly what I needed to do.

 

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I stopped and stared at the trail for a while. Then I shrugged. Okay. Alright. That’s just how it goes. I had no one to blame but myself. I returned to my pack, heaved it up on to my back, and started making tracks towards the mountain.

 

From here, things went smoothly on the approach to Allen, but now the problem was that I was running out of daylight. I had made it to Upper Works by mid-afternoon, but by the time I had finished my swimming lesson, it was getting to be evening. I began to worry that I was not going to make it to Allen. I didn’t want to fall further behind, but I also didn’t want to hike an unfamiliar trail in the dark.

 

I flip-flopped back and forth on this all the way up to the junction with the Allen trail. When I got there, it was seven PM. The sun was starting to set. I had maybe two hours of light left. I looked at the sign towards Marcy, and tonight’s camp. I looked down the trail to Allen. I sighed, and set down my pack. I had to get Allen today. I just had to. I suited up with the daypack and trudged into the trees. It wouldn’t take more than a few hours anyway. No big deal.

 

The sun crept slowly down to the horizon as I moved through the trees. I reached the slides at twilight and began to climb. The moss that covered the open rock face was as slippery as ice, and I had a lot of trouble at first making my way up. I soon got the hang of finding traction, however, and was able to move confidently up the slide after that. As I neared the top, I knew I was going to run out of daylight before reaching the summit. A nervous energy began to take hold. I didn’t know how I was going to get down these slides at all, let alone in the dark. One slip and it would be all over.

 

I decided to take a moment to watch the sun set. If this was going to be my last night on Earth, I wasn’t going to waste it. The wide open sky went through a dazzling series of colors before finally turning a deep purple. I sat there for quite a long time, now that I think about it. I thought about my life, and the people in it. I wished that I could share that moment with the people I loved, but I was out there by myself instead.

 

After I was done with my hammy introspection, I got up and climbed to the top of Allen. I had the headlamp on now, and the sign at the summit shone brilliantly through the trees. I tapped it and turned around, eager to get down off the mountain. It was 9 or 10 PM at that point, and I was eager to get back and get some sleep.

 

I made a deal with myself as I descended towards the slides. I wasn’t going to take any risks, and I was going to be sure of my footing before I made any moves at all. In return, I would stay alive. With the moss and the darkness, it was slow going. I placed each step carefully, and inch by inch made my way. There were moments where I lost my footing and slid for a few feet before catching myself. Good thing my esophagus is too narrow for my heart to squeeze through, otherwise that thing would have popped right out of my mouth.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached the flatter section of trail. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was through the worst of it now, and all I had left was a few miles back to my gear over passable terrain. And just in time, too. The air around me was starting to cool down, and I was ready to hop in my sleeping bag.

 

I hiked slowly, being careful not to lose the trail in the dark. I crossed a few brooks that looked way bigger at night, and did circles around a mud pit that I called the Fucking Swamp before realizing that the trail had gone an entirely different direction. After hiking like this for a while, I realized something was wrong. I could hear rushing water. As far as I could remember, I was hiking away from any water like that. I rounded the corner and found myself at the base of the Allen slides.

 

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I couldn’t believe it! I had gotten turned around somehow and made it all the way back to the mountain! An entire hour of hiking had been completely wiped out. Really getting worried at this point, I did an about face and started back again. I meticulously checked every twist and turn on the way, determined not to mess it up a second time. I passed landmarks and marked them aloud. I obsessively checked my compass to make sure I was indeed heading west.

 

Then, about half a mile later, my headlamp flickered. Low battery. Fantastic. If my headlamp went, then I would really be in the shit. I switched it off to see what hiking in the dark would be like. I don’t know if you’ve ever hiked at night during a new moon, but if you haven’t, shut your eyes really tight and bury your face in a pillow. Then imagine something ten times darker than that, and that’s pretty much what it’s like.

 

Now I had been thrust into a stressful balancing act between carefully observing the trail and getting out of there as soon as possible. I would take a few really purposeful strides, then stop abruptly and squint at the trees in front of me before striding powerfully forward again. The air was getting chilly now. I shivered as I stomped through the woods. Where was the damn trailhead?

 

I must have walked halfway around the world by the time I finally popped out at the trail register for Allen. It was seven hours later than when I had gone in. I sat down in the vast dirt lot and threw my head back towards the sky in a silent scream. From the clearing, I could see the heavens lit up with stars. The arm of the Milky Way cut gently through the twinkling lights. All of a sudden, the universe didn’t seem like such a cold, unforgiving place. I was warm and happy and relieved. I had survived.

 

survival

 

After a few minutes, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and hiked back to my stuff. I threw the sleeping bag down right there, just off the trail, and leaned back on my pack. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, since I was lying on my bear canister, but I did sleep.

 

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