The Ultimate day on the trail

Question: How many miles would 42 hikers have to walk in one day to raise $145,000?

Answer: 1,188.6.

Impossible, you say? Many of those 42 hikers might have agreed with you last summer. But by 6:55 p.m. Saturday evening, all 42 were believers— all having hiked 28.3 miles as part of the Ultimate Hike.

Ultimate Hike is the genius fundraising tool of CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. CureSearch funds and supports pediatric cancer research, which for some reason only attracts about 3 percent of federal dollars spent on cancer research. You may not be familiar with CureSearch. For years, it sought funding primarily through grants and philanthropic donations. Only within the past few years has it taken its fundraising to the public. Rather than flood the market with yet another benefit 5K, they decided to do a hike, a really long hike. (Cystic Fibrosis has launched a similar event, the Extreme Hike for a Cure.)

In July, we (I signed on as a coach) did presentations at local REIs and the Great Outdoor Provision Co. to solicit hikers. In August, we started training, which included bi-weekly group hikes that became longer and more challenging. Our second hike, a 6-mile walk at Harris Lake was more taxing than our first, a quick get-to-know-you walk at Yates Millpond. Our third hike was a 10-miler at Umstead State Park, followed by a 14-miler along the Eno and a 16-mile adventure at Hanging Rock State Park that possibly left the group harboring dark thoughts toward fellow coach Allen Davis and myself. New grudges harbored the following weekend when we hiked 20 miles in the rain at Falls Lake.

Our hikers remained undaunted. On Friday, 23 Ultimate Hikers from the Triangle ventured to base camp in Lavonia, Ga., where they joined 19 Atlanta hikers for Saturday’s assault on the westernmost 28.3 miles of the 76-mile Foothills Trail weaving along the North Carolina/South Carolina border. They got up at 3 a.m., were driven an hour or so to the trailhead, and began hiking at 4:30 a.m. — three hours before sunrise. Set off in waves, conga lines of LED headlamps could be seen bopping up Grassy Knob and Round Mountain.

Many of the hikers faced some sort of physical challenge over the course of the hike. Head coach Bob Gabrielson and Oconee County First Responders Scott Krein, Keith Wilbanks, Steven Adams and Scott Loftis were up to their elbows in foot and knee problems at the three aid stations. The most severe of the sufferers was Christy Griffith, who didn’t have a single physical issue during training, but at the 20-mile mark, midway through a remote 10-mile canyon, her left knee served notice. There was no easy evacuation route, so she pushed on with the help of friends Candi and Chris Morton. She had no choice but to make it another 5.5 miles to the next road — which she did, then kept going another 6 miles to the finish. By the next morning she was barely able to move.

Some of the hikers finished in 10 hours, a pace exceeding 3 miles per hour if you don’t count stops at the three aid stations. Most finished between 5 and 6 p.m. Atlanta hiker Amy Bram, doing much of the hike on one knee, brought up the rear, crossing the finish at 6:55 with 20 minutes of daylight to spare. Every one of the 42 hikers who started, finished.

Hiking 28.3 miles on a mountain trail in one day is remarkable enough, especially considering that some of these folks didn’t know a hiking boot from a Denver boot when they signed up. Just as remarkable? Each hiker had to raise $2,500 to participate; if they only raise $1,500, they personally were on the hook for the remaining grand. Some got creative, holding bake sales at work and selling services (legitimate ones) to friends. Newlyweds Beth and Matt Landis asked that in lieu of wedding presents, friends donate to the hike.

A few blisters, a few fewer wedding presents and $145,000 to help fight children’s cancer. Not a bad for a day in the woods.

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate day on the trail”

  1. So glad to see that fundraising was sucessfull and better yet that under your coaching, the group from Raleigh made it to the finish! What an accomplishment for all involved.

    1. It was so impressive, Anne, to see people who struggled on the shorter training hikes blossom and kick butt on the hike. Getting to hang with these folks and see their determination probably benefited me more than them.

Leave a Reply