Hiking long for a good cause

Last July 23, a Saturday, I was standing in front of about 40 people in the parking lot of Historic Yates Mill County Park in Raleigh. It was shortly before noon, the temperature was 101, and Allen Davis and I were on a 12-week mission to lead these hikers to ultragreatness. But first, we needed to lead them on a mile and a half march around the lake.
“Follow me!” I yelled — and promptly led our charges down a dirt path that dead ended within 50 yards. “Follow Allen!” I yelled, pointing to the back of the pack, where Allen exhibited the international palms-up sign for, “Me? Where?”
It was an inauspicious beginning to a journey that would affect, to varying degrees, the 28 who would make it through basic training.
The group was the inaugural Raleigh contingent of Ultimate Hikers. Ultimate Hike is the fundraising genius of CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, a non-profit that until recently relied on grants and philanthropic donations to raise funds for research into children’s cancer. Three years ago it started doing fundraising walks, then hit on the idea of the Ultimate Hike: Train for 12 weeks, then do a monster dayhike. In the case of the Raleigh hikers and hikers throughout the Southeast, a 28.3-mile stretch of the 77-mile Foothills Trail, which straddles North Carolina and South Carolina.
A few of the hikers who showed up that first day were of the hardcore variety, athletes in search of a good challenge made all the better by the chance to help a good cause. But the vast majority seemed drawn more out of curiosity: Could I possibly hike 28 miles in one day? Me?
Most had never hiked more than 5 miles. For them as well, it was a test.
To get them down that trail, Allen and I led them on increasingly longer hikes throughout training. After our get-acquainted sweatfest at Yates Mill, we did 6 miles at Harris Lake, 10 miles at Umstead, 14 miles along the Eno River, 15 at Hanging Rock (our “elevation” hike) and 20 on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at Falls Lake. Allen would typically lead the adrenaline junkies off the front, I hung with my stop-and-smell-the-flowers gals in the rear. We’d swap Clif Shot Bloks (“Trade you a citrus for a strawberry”), “we” talked about how uncomfortable female undergarments could get on a long, hot hike, we stayed as a group when one of us was dragging and needed encouragement. I assume the folks at the front of the pack, who typically were driving home by the time we finished, had a good time. We had a great time.
When Oct. 1 and the Ultimate Hike rolled around, we were ready. We got up at 2:45 a.m., were on the trail by 4:30. The speedsters were done by 2 p.m. I came in with the last hiker just before 7 p.m., with precious little sunlight to spare. We partied that night (until 9:30!), we dragged ourselves to breakfast the next morning, we drove home. We’ve kept in touch.
It’s an experience I would repeat in a heartbeat. And lucky me, being the hiking coach for Raleigh, I’ll get to, starting two weeks from today with our first information meeting for the 2012 Ultimate Hike season. Here’s part of what we’ll be telling you at the five sessions slated for the Triangle (see details on each meeting below):
Sign up and you’ll get:

  • 12-week training program, which includes every-other-week training hikes led by me and graduates from last year’s UH class. And those are just the officially scheduled hikes; I also led a number of night hikes to get folks accustomed to hiking under a headlamp (and to beat the heat). And group members frequently met on their own and hiked together.
  • Weekly newsletter with hiking and fundraising tips.
  • A T-shirt!
  • All-expense paid Ultimate Hike weekend, including two nights of lodging at a swell hotel, meals and support stations (with all the trail food you can eat) on UH day.

In return, you agree to raise $2,500 for the battle against children’s cancer.
I know. That’s what I thought the first time I heard it: $2,500?
It is a lot, especially if you’re used to fundraiser runs and rides where you only have to raise $100, $250 tops.
But here’s the amazing thing: Only one person last year struggled to reach the goal. Everyone had to work their fundraising behinds off, almost everyone was sweating their goal going into the last week, but all but one met or exceeded the $2,500 goal by the deadline — and the one who didn’t got an extension.
It’s hard work, the hiking and the fundraising. It’s also for a cause that is second to none. You’ll hear stories along the way that will make you cry. But then you get to do something about it. A great opportunity.
Come and here about that opportunity at one of the sessions listed below. And if you can’t make it, drop me a line and I’ll answer your questions.
This year’s Ultimate Hike on the Foothills Trail is on Oct. 27. Hard to imagine a better way to spend a fall day.

Above: Check out the slide show from last year’s Ultimate Hike.

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Ultimate Hike info sessions

  • Tuesday, July 24, 6:30 p.m., REI North Hills, 4291 The Circle at North Hills, Raleigh.
  • Wednesday, July 25, 6:30 p.m., REI, Cary 1751 Walnut St., Cary.
  • Thursday, Aug. 2, 6:30 p.m., REI Durham, 6911 Fayetteville St. #109, Durham.
  • Friday, Aug. 3, 6:30 p.m., REI Cary, 1751 Walnut St., Cary.
  • Saturday, Aug. 4, 9 a.m., Umstead State Park, 8801 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh.

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