The Long Walk for Odie: A 77-Mile Marathon Hike

It was two weeks ago when The Hiker Yearbook’s very own Odie lost what few material belongings he treasured in a house fire.  Many of us in the hiking community associate Odie with his hiker bus that he travels in up and down the East Coast visiting different parts of the trail and offering lifts and assistance to the hikers he loves so dearly.  Over parts of the winter, however, he stayed with his family and stored both personal artifacts as well as the hard drives that contained all the data for The Hiker Yearbooks from this year and past seasons.  Now it’s all gone, and it’s time we step up as a community and offer help to one of our very own trail angels.

The Plan

The goal was simple: a 77-mile marathon hike on the Foothills Trail to help raise some money that would go to Odie for whatever he needed.  I would leave before dawn and walk like crazy, all through the day and all through the night, as long as it took to conquer the trail in one burst.  I brought no camping gear, no change of clothes (aside from a rain jacket and extra socks), and very minimal food such as bars and electrolyte packets.  I wanted my pack as light as possible so that I wouldn’t be hampered by any unnecessary weight as I climbed almost 14,000 feet across the span of the trail.

My Spooky Start

I took my first steps on the trail at a quarter of 4, and things immediately got silly.  Since it was so close to dawn I didn’t bother putting my bear bells on my trekking poles. Big oof.  It wasn’t 30 minutes in until I rounded a corner and spooked two boars that instinctively charged my way, luckily being blinded by my headlamp and missing me as I climbed up on the bank beside me.  They hit the bushes behind me and lay in them snarling away as I tried to regain my composure.  My hands started shaking with adrenaline and I hoped to press on immediately and create some space between me and my sword-faced companions.  To make things all the better, and because I happen to have the best of luck in all things that life offers, the very next turn housed a bear, a small bear, but a bear nonetheless, that seemed irritated by my headlamp.  Other than some headshaking and sleepy eyes, the bear didn’t really seem to have any interest in me, and it certainly wasn’t aggressive, but after having just been charged my anxiety skyrocketed.  I waited for it to wander down the mountainside, and I made my escape, pushing hard to get to the road crossing so I could take some time to breathe again.

After the sun came up and I regained my composure, it was smooth sailing for a long time.  I felt strong and soared down the trail, often getting an extra burst of energy when I passed a familiar spot from the time my dad and I did the Foothills the year prior.  I reached the halfway point at 15 hours, and it felt so good.  My legs were hurting, but I wasn’t showing any significant signs of slowing down.

Making a Friend

I met a hiker who tackled the AT back in 2014.  He was eating dinner at the Horespasture River just as I had planned to, so we ate together, I chatted him up on some info regarding the Foothills Trail and where the best camping spots were while he shared stories of his experiences both on the trail and in life.  He was stoked about the lakefront campsites farther down the trail at the Toxaway, so he joined me with the hopes of taking a leisurely morning the next day and enjoying the water and scenery being some eight miles ahead of his schedule.

The companionship was nice, and definitely needed considering my night-hiking experience from the start of the trail.  This time I would have my bear bells ready to go before the sun even set, and after receiving prayer and blessings from my new friend (he’s a very religious man), I pressed up Heartbreak Ridge, hungry to kill some mileage in the coolness of the night and then hoping to slow my pace for the hot day ahead. But it didn’t go like that.

The Solo Night

Around 3 a.m. I was basically sleepwalking, and I took a bad step on a loose piece of trail and fell sideways, knee-first, onto a boulder. Bigger oof.  The swelling started immediately, and I was already complaining some to my friend about how my left knee was having some issues as I hit mile 40 or so.  As bad as that fall hurt, it did wake me up again, so that’s good thing?  Maybe?

I hobbled till dawn at a significantly slower pace, taking an unplanned nap just before sunup when I took my boots off to let my feet breathe.  I wonder if anyone at the Laurel Falls campground saw the guy passed out sitting upright on the swinging bridge at 4 in the morning.  It wasn’t long, though, and as much as I wanted to just lie back down it wasn’t an option, so I pressed on into the daylight.

The Final Day and My Exploding Nose

So I have chronic nosebleeds.  It’s a thing about me, and always has been.  Normally it’s not an issue on trail; just one very bad week on the AT when I had an acute sinus infection.

Some time around mile 60 something must have happened inside me, though, and I’m still not sure what it was.  My nose burst on the climb up Chimneytop, and, me being the incredibly intelligent human being I am, I first imagined it to be a stream of sweat or maybe just a little runniness in my nose from the exertion.  Well..NOPE.  I did whatever you would call that thing where you put your bottom lip over your top in an attempt to blow all the sweat away as mist, and something about the small cloud of red vapor that appeared before me made me think it probably wasn’t sweat.

Before I go on, I want to let people know that the back-to-back climbs up Chimneytop and Sassafras typically have next to no water running through them.  The springs were completely dry when my father and I hiked it last September, and despite the rain from the day before, they were also dry here too.

So I find myself walking up two dry mountains with blood running down my face and dripping onto my shirt, shoes, trekking poles, shorts and all.  I’m not going to waste my precious water to clean my face until I get to another source, so I decide to just own it and keep hiking.  Families pass by with horrified looks on their faces and body language that reminds me we’re in a COVID pandemic as I casually smile, wave, and keep trekking onward while keeping my distance from them.  Seven times, that’s right, SEVEN FREAKING TIMES this happens to me.  My nose would plug, the bleeding would stop, the redness would cake and dry to my face, and I would keep hiking on.  This is over just a couple hour period as well, and running on no sleep for over 30 hours.

Eventually, I started growing faint atop Pinnacle Mountain, the last mountain to be conquered on the trail, and while I wanted to push on over and down to the finish line, I was moving at a sub 1-mph pace, and that just didn’t sit right with me.

I sat down for a few minutes and engorged myself on all the blackberries growing atop the mountain, and after a bit of time, I really did begin feeling better.  Not good, note you, but better.

Finishing at Table Rock State Park

I found the means to get walking again, and I was pleasantly surprised to find an old friend of mine was waiting for me to walk the last mile by my side.  We finished the trail at 37 hours and just a few minutes, I shed a tear when I crossed the bridge, knelt down and kissed the wood paneling that signaled the end of my journey and hopefully a step toward supporting Odie like how he supports so many hikers.

Please don’t let this work be for nothing.  Give a few bucks, spread the word, or whatever you feel obliged to do in supporting a member of our community.

Check the GoFundMe , it closes Sunday

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