Today’s going to be a good day – yeah, we have to do 16 miles, but we get breakfast! A hot breakfast! At the breakfast place at the NOC!
Great idea right?
I kept repeating that sentiment to myself as I sweat rivers up the mountains of North Carolina. Kal had a point; the breakfast WAS awesome. But this was a hot day. “This is gonna be one of those days I drink liters upon liters of water,” said Pineapple.
For me? This is one of those days I fantasize about living in the crick. Let me die there, so long as I am happy and cold.
We start our 16 mile hike at 11:30am and immediately we know it’s going to be a late one. But we had a real breakfast, so.
5 hours later, sweet and sweaty Jukebox has stayed behind with me. We pass through a campground and see Buzz Lightyear and other friends. “Oh yeah we saw your buddies!” said one woman. “Yeah they passed through hours ago. You got about another 5 miles!” Hours? They were moving FAST.
Later we would find out this was Kal’s plan. He asked her to say that they were way way ahead so we’d get freaked out. Well played, sir.
It’s about this time that I start playing Moana. Juke put out his arms in the wind and put some pep in his step. I yelled the lyrics emotionally. Let me tell you that soundtrack is INSPIRATIONAL. God DAMN it’s good, it’s so good. Have you seen it? Go watch it. Right now.
So we stumble down the hill, down down down and eventually make it to a valley. Hark! Is that friends? Why yes, ’tis! There at the picnic benches were our dear friends waiting for us to arrive with lemonade from some random dude. That lemonade was the best there was. Nectar of the Gods.
“Good news is we only have 2.4 miles to go!” Kal says. He keeps his over enthusiastic sunshiney demeanor as he says, “Bad news is .5 of that is going to be straight uphill bullshit!!”
He was not kidding. 1.9 miles in and we’ve reached it: Jacob’s Ladder.
Let me paint this scene for you: you’re walking with your four friends happily trotting until you gather at the base of a steep path. It doesn’t look so bad. “Does anyone need their headlamps out now?” It’s 7:30pm. The sun is rapidly setting. You are together. You are strong. You are ready.
Then you start ascending and your ankles are at a constant acute angle for .5 miles. If you stop moving, you slip down hill. Sometimes you’re leaning so far forward you touch the trail with your feeble hands and wonder if this really is the worst there’s been on the trail.
When you get to the middle there is a small flat area where everyone is waiting to regroup and you realize there’s no one else you’d rather be scrambling up a mountain with as the sun sets.
Jukebox turns on the Radiohead. Almost immediately into the ascent I feel my soul separating from my tattered body and connecting with the forest. Music can do some crazy shit to you.
For the second half of the ascent, Kal turns on “SOB” by Nathaniel Ratecliff and the Nightsweats. We’re spread out over the terrain screaming, “SON OF A BITCH!! Hand me a drink!!” It’s funny listening to music in that situation because it makes you realize how quickly the climb really is. At the same time, what was such a joyfully quick song became an excruciatingly long, painful reminder that you’re not done climbing yet.
I slowly make my way to the top and the sun is gone. Headlamps are out. Except me and Pineapple? We decide not to use them. No, we go slowly on through the lovely, deep, dark woods while he whistles a wandering tune.