Day 87 – Marathon Week, Day #4-State Challenge Debacle

My alarm went off at 2:30 after maybe two or three hours of “sleep” (tossing and turning). I had my quickest tent take down turn around yet, and I was on the trail within 30 minutes. It was slow going in the dark on the rock and boulder strewn trail down to Harpers Ferry. Some wrong turns we’re also made.

My morning was fueled by sleep deprivation and fucking rocket fuel (Monster energy drink, and Mountain Dew). After winding my way in the dark through Harpers Ferry, WV, I ran along the flat P&O trail that parallels the Potomac. I flew up the mountain on the Maryland side of the Potomac. I found some cruise-y softer dirt that I was able to continue some running on not get too tripped up by rocks.

Clouds kept the temperature below 70 pretty close until 9:00. I knew keeping my sodium levels up were going to be a big concern. Even the night prior, as I was heading into camp I was cramping. I only had a few hydration packets to spare for the day and figured I’d use every one of them. I was hoping to save them for later in the day when the temperatures got close to 90. As disgusting as it sounds, I tried to maintain my sodium levels by licking the sweat off my arms. The thought of drinking my own urine crossed my mind, but was never a serious consideration. Although Patches O’Houlihan from the movie Dodgeball would have approved saying, “it’s sterile, and I like the taste.”

I stopped for my first real snack break around 7:30, 4 1/2 hours into my morning. By this time I had already done 13 miles. I was on pace to get to my goal of 26 by noon.

The second part of my morning was fueled by Adderall, and the sultry sounds of Fall Out Boy. I was alternating running and walking as the terrain allowed. I felt like Naruto, if Naruto had a Fall Out Boy soundtrack. Also I know nothing about Naruto except that he runs like a freak. Which I’m sure is exactly how I was running down the trail with my trekking polls.

By noon I had knocked out 23 miles but was behind my goal of 26. I wanted to throttle back and ease into the hotter afternoon. I was still battling to keep a decent pace (which I was accomplishing) but concerns were afoot. For one, I was low on sodium/electrolyte replacement and needed to start rationing them to make them last the rest of the day. I even asked passing hikers if they had any and none came such prepared.

Water resupplies were also a logistical nightmare. Sure, there were a couple convenient campgrounds with showers, flush toilets, and water. But most other sources were off trail at least 0.3 miles adding more distance to an already huge mileage day.

Despite all that I felt strong. There was one break shortly before lunch where I felt rundown and frustrated by all the rocks on trail. It required a lot of mental stamina to direct your foot placement to the right spot, step after step, mile after mile. Stepping on the rocks leads to early foot fatigue/blisters/etc. at best, or a rolled ankle/fall/death at worst. Death always has to be an option, we’ve all seen prescription drug commercials. I got to the intended shelter for lunch and after some food I felt renewed.

I had roughly 28 miles by 2:00 p.m. when things were not quite 100% anymore. Not awful, I was still running when the trail allowed and walking at a brisk pace otherwise. But I was having some very mild GI cramping and cold soaks were only a temporary reprieve from the heat.

I was needing a water resupply at turned down a trail with a spring listed at 0.25 miles away. 0.25 turned into 0.3, then 0.4 and then 0.5 (all downhill mind you). I was feeling pretty defeated. My feet (or dogs as Sip would call them) we’re not barking, but rather howling. I took my shoes off and cold soaked my feet in the icy water for 15 minutes.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was feeling, but something was off. I went into differential diagnosis mode trying to find the exact problem to remedy. Was I dehydrated? Drink water. Was I low on salt (Probably)? Add what you can spare. Was I hungry? I was, but the candy and protein bars I’d been eating did not sound appealing. I forced myself nonetheless. Was I overheated? There’s a distinct possibility I had some mild/moderate heat exhaustion (understandably so).

I had been at it for 12 straight hours at this point (in east coast July humidity). I was hot, mentally foggy, sweating less, mild stomach discomfort, and rundown. Fairly classic heat exhaustion, that’s what I landed on (although no muscle cramping, which I found interesting). It appeared the four-state challenge was probably out of reach. I was a little sulky about it, the day had started so strong and with so much promise. I pulled myself out of my funk and figured I’d throttle back and just do what I could.

After about a 20-25 minute break in the stream off trail, I headed back with zero urgency. I felt an abrupt contentedness regarding the situation despite how I felt immediately prior. The next shelter was six miles away, which seemed like a good break spot, and I could get a meal in town. I didn’t make it that far.

I got to the next water source less than two miles away feeling fine and I drank what I could there. The next four miles were very flat, so I decided to forgo the weight of additional water and cold soaking my shirt for once. Within the next mile I felt hot and weak. I had to sit down twice and consider this was more serious. I took my shirt off completely. I was radiating heat more than usual.

I had to step back and ask, “Ok, what would you tell yourself if YOU were the patient?” The next shelter was only 3.6 miles away, but the water source there was potentially dry. Also, you’re feeling like this after one mile from your last stop… I decided to turn back and camp near the last water I passed up before. Effectively ending my day.

The first thing I did when I got back was cold soak. Several times, actually. I even sat down in the spring for a moment. I was soaking wet from head to toe, but my body warmed the water on my clothes within minutes. The military would call this a “heat injury.” After drinking more than my fill and consuming what hydration packets I had left, I went to set up camp.

It was slow going and it felt better to just set up with my shirt off. I sat in my tent, alternating placing my cold water bottle in my armpits and groin area. After an hour or so I felt normal-ish temperature-wise, but now I was nauseous. Before bed, I went to use the privy and after a runny dump, I threw up. Let’s add potential Norovirus to the differential diagnosis also.

I went to bed early for once, although I didn’t sleep well. I took a muscle relaxer to ensure I would, but I think that came up before it had a chance to take much effect.

Ultimately the four-state challenge was a failure. Failure, however, is where we set our right and left limits that lead to successes. I was woefully also underprepared. I needed more hydration packets, better water resupplies, and more sleep. Weather cooler than 90 degrees in July might have helped too.

Silver linings though, we made up more ground on Rabbit and helped out our Marathon week numbers slightly. Let’s look at those:

We started the day at 54.3. After today:

Chasing Rabbit Tracker: 43.3 miles

Let’s recap marathon week this far:

Day 1: 27.6

Day 2: 22.6

Day 3: 23.7

Day 4: 33 (not counting the addition miles off trail for water and back tracking to camp at the end of the day)

Average: 26.7

We’ll see how I wake up and feel in the morning.

Stay tuned and stow away in my pack for day 88 of the Appalachian Trail.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 6

  • Chris : Jul 13th

    On Instagram, you left us with a cliffhanger, not knowing if you finished or not. I’m glad you stopped to take care of yourself. Doing the 4 state challenge during the middle of the summer here is not something I’d want to attempt. I’ll leave that for the fall 🙂 More importantly, I’m glad to see you’re catching up to Rabbit.

  • thetentman : Jul 13th

    Slow down in the heat crazy man.

    Nice honest post.
    Consider night hiking.

    Chasing wabbits. LOL

  • Russ Hobgood : Jul 13th

    Hey Derek; man I have felt that heat injury before, twice. Ft. Bragg (mmm Ft. Liberty) in MOPP4 and AT couple yeras back. Really Doc, take care of yourself. Looking forward to your blog over breakfast daily. Seeing in my mind your location. Honestly have not been north of Harpers Ferry. Keep trekking, best of trail luck. Note; I am 73, recovering from total knee, just starting out again with a 15# pack.

  • CB : Jul 13th



What Do You Think?