Back in the fall, shortly after our 2nd daughter was diagnosed with CF, my husband said he wanted to do the CFF Xtreme Hike. I thought it sounded like a great idea, one I had even contemplated doing myself just a couple of years earlier. This would be our 3rd CF Fundraiser but the biggest that we have been a part of so far. This time, we took it to another level of commitment, one we still haven’t quite recovered from.
Nathan chose to sign up for the Charlotte Chapter’s Spring Xtreme Hike which consisted of a 30.1 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail in a single day. We started preparing back in November and spent hours upon hours drafting letters for Christmas cards and writing out our story for the online fundraising page. We gathered addresses from old friends and extended family and tried to reach out to anyone who might want to support our efforts. Then in January, Nathan’s training began.
The very first training hike proved to be too much too fast and Nathan suffered a nagging knee injury that would plague him from there on out. He went to almost weekly physical therapy appointments, (and sometimes more), visited an orthopedic doctor a number of times, stretched, strengthened, iced, rested, hiked, and worked his tail off to prepare for this thing.
The knee never got better. But his determination to do it got stronger. And I am so incredibly proud, and yes, even surprised, that he pulled it off! The last few weeks before the hike, Nathan became more discouraged than I have ever seen him. The knee pain was as bad as it had ever been. Just a week before the hike, he was only able to make it 7 miles before he could go no further and had to take a shortcut out of the woods. Still, on the day of the hike, he geared up anyway with the goal of starting and going as far as he could.
I had told him all along to just go for it and do the best he could. I never gave up hope and never stopped encouraging him to just keep trying. But I will admit, as much as I had believed in him and as hopeful as I had been, seeing the day approaching with no improvement in the knee, I secretly gave him a near zero chance of being able to finish the entire 30 miles. And he will tell you that he didn’t expect to make it very far either. His goal was mile 12/13 which was where the second Aid Station was located. He even told me to plan on being there to pick him up. So that is what we did. And that is when the logistical chaos began.
To give some background the hike took place in Virgina, just north of the NC state line. It started in Damascus and they hiked east 30 miles to Grayson Highland State Park. Their hotel however was in Bristol which was 30 minutes west of the starting point. We had a hard time deciding where to stay – near their hotel or near the finish line, which were about 1.5 hours from each other. Because Nathan’s mom and I wanted to be able to attend the celebratory breakfast with our husbands the following day, and because I still exclusively breastfeed the little one (who was not allowed to attend the breakfast since she has CF), we decided that we had to stay closest to the hotel in order for me to be able to leave the baby long enough to attend the event (she still won’t take a bottle). My parents, sister and brother-in-law came along to help support Nathan (and thankfully babysit as well) so we all rented a cabin. The only thing I could find near there was 20 min WEST of the hotel in Bristol putting us quite far from the finish line. This made hike day quite challenging.
The morning of, Nathan texted me around 3:00 am saying they were about to depart for the hike. He sent me this wonderful picture.
Needless to say, I had a hard time sleeping that time with all the anticipation. The next morning came quickly. I woke up in a scurry trying to figure out when to leave so that we could meet up with them at the aid station an hour away. I was also frantically thinking logistics – how to manage 2 children, including a breastfed baby, nap times, feeding times, a mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law in a post-op knee brace from recent surgery, mother-in-law, 2 vehicles, only 2 car seats, meals, and getting from aid station to aid station in the middle of nowhere without cell service or places to eat. This being our first time, we weren’t prepared. Not knowing the area or what to expect, we didn’t even know how to plan so we just had to wing it all day.
My mother-in-law and I left at 8:30 that morning and drove an hour to Aid Station 2. Nathan had a brief moment of cell service and texted me at 7.8 miles telling me his knee was hurting and for us to be there to pick him up. However, he said he hadn’t decided for sure if he was going to stop or keep going. After we left, I called back to my parents and told them they would need to just come on as well so I could feed the baby. So they packed the girls up and all 5 of them loaded up in my van to meet us for the day.
Cathy and I arrived around 9:30 and thankfully the men had just come through Aid Station 2 so we were able to visit with them a couple minutes. Nathan said he was hurting but took 2 more Aleeve and said he wanted to keep going. The next aid station was another 9 miles away. I was amazed but so excited for him. I knew he wanted to do this more than anything. So I hugged him and we sent them on their way.
Cathy and I then walked back to our car and with no cell service and in the middle of nowhere, we wondered how we would meet up with the rest of my family so I could feed Mackenzie. Thankfully, and miraculously, they were pulling in the parking lot as we were leaving. So with no idea where to go, we just started driving east. We needed to eat lunch – again, we were unprepared, if we were to do it over again, we would have packed food – but we didn’t know where to go so we drove to a small town and happened upon a small rural restaurant/gas station. We were there for a while then drove back to Aid Station 3. Here is a picture of the girls at the restaurant. Another way I was unprepared — I saw the forecast showing temps in the mid 70s when I was packing…but the weather turned out to be low 50s and drizzly at times! Kelsie did have a sweater which she took off at the restaurant, but my worried mommy mind left me frustrated the entire day that I didn’t have more weather appropriate clothing. Oh well, they survived. You live and learn right!?
We rushed back to Aid Station 3 and arrived at 1:30 pm. I was expecting them back around 2:00 pm given the pace they had hiked the first 12 miles, but wanted to get there early to make sure we would catch them. When we arrived, they weren’t there. Kelsie had just fallen asleep in the car, and Mackenzie had just woken up. So my mother in law sat in the car with Kelsie and I, anxious to get out to do something, told my dad I wanted to hike up the trail to intersect with Nathan and his dad, Barry, as they were coming down. So I put Mackenzie in the carrier and my mom, dad, and sister joined us.
We hiked a good distance but still couldn’t find them. We started to worry that maybe Nathan’s knee had given out and he was struggling to make it out. Concerned of getting too deep in the woods and getting caught in the rain with the baby, my mom and I kept stopping. I even nursed Mackenzie on the trail for 20 minutes without anyone passing by. My sister had walked back to the car to keep her husband company (since his post-op knee prevented him from walking the trail). And my dad decided he would keep going deeper into the woods until he found Nathan and Barry. My mom and I kept going as well and eventually we ran into them!
We hiked out with them and at the end of the trail, just before the aid station, we were surprised to see Kelsie, my mother-in-law, sister, and brother-in-law. Kelsie was so excited to see them and get to run out behind them!
Nathan rested for a few minutes, ate a banana, rehydrated, filled his water pack, took more Aleeve and said he was going to finish. He wasn’t as perky but he was determined. And my father-in-law was equally resilient.
They were in a hurry and knew they needed to keep moving to finish by dark so it wasn’t long before they were off again.
I wanted to snap a picture with him and the girls in front of the Xtreme Hike sign but he wasn’t in the mood for that at this point so I took one with them instead. (And yes, if you are wondering, Kelsie has a black eye – maybe I’ll have time to post that story later!)
By the time we followed them down to the 3rd aid station, it had been 2 hours past my original estimate. They came in around 3:35pm and took off again at 3:45pm. At that point, the rest of us didn’t know what else to do. I knew Mackenzie would need to be fed and the rest of us would need to eat before they were expected to arrive 4 hours later. So we drove back to Bristol, which was an hour and a half away, visited the Cabela’s store (per dad’s request), I fed Mack, we grabbed fast food, ate it in the car, and drove straight back. I underestimated how long it would take to get back and sadly, we missed seeing them finish. I still feel so much regret and disappointment just thinking about it.
I really didn’t expect them back until 8:00 but they finished around 7:20pm. I also misjudged how long it would take us to drive there and calculated the distance from where we had left Aid Station 3 rather than the finish line. There was just SO much to think about from morning until end that I was bound to make a mistake. There were also so many variables that made it extra challenging. But it was our first time and we did the best we could. Even though we missed seeing them at the finish line, thankfully, we still pulled up just as the group van was pulling away. I jumped out as fast as I could, gave Nathan a big hug and apologized for not being there sooner. It was quite cold at this point- 48 degrees – so both of them were shivering and beyond exhausted as you can imagine. But I did get this picture before I let them get in the car and ride back with us.
All in all, it was a great and memorable weekend. I have never been more proud of my husband for his strength, perseverance, and determination to finish that 30 mile hike despite that grueling knee injury. I know that the heart and strength it took to accomplish this challenge came both from God and the immense love he has for his girls.
Not only am I proud of Nathan and Barry for their physical performance, but also for the amount of money we were able to raise for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. So far, we have raised almost $16,000 through this experience (there is still time to give here if you are interested). To those of you have supported us over the past several months and donated to this cause on our behalf, we THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts!! You will never know how deeply we appreciate you and how loved we have felt through your acts of generosity. The fundraising isn’t something we enjoy. It is uncomfortable and it is extremely time consuming. It has honestly been a challenging time for both of us in many, many ways. But we really believe that money will make a difference in the lives of our children so we will continue to make the effort, the sacrifices, and exert the mental, physical, and emotional energy it takes to raise substantial funds for the CF Foundation. And we will continue to ask you to partner with us from time to time until a cure is found. Thank you again!
Here are a few more pictures from our weekend:
She kept saying this is so fun!