(One time back in CALIFORNIA) Etna to Seiad Valley
The idea had been rolling around in my head for some time, it seemed I just need the right circumstances to attempt the challenge. Honestly, it may have all started back on the AT. After walking my longest day out there, 30 miles, I had always been curious to know how far I could push that number in a 24 hour period.
Looking over the trail maps while at breakfast in Etna, components started to align. For one, the elevation map appeared flat-ish for this section (spoiler: maps lie). Second, a designated campsite just a few miles out of Etna landed me exactly 52.49 miles outside Seiad Valley- too close to a double marathon distance to ignore. The location seemed perfect, shooting the gap between town meant I would only have to carry a days worth of food, (lighter pack weight), the water reported mentioned many good water sources so no long water carries (lighter pack weight) and I was able to send home some non essential gear in Etna (lighter pack weight).
The more I thought about the challenge, the more I convinced myself not only could I achieve it, but that this was my best idea ever. With every new sign pointing me to take this on, it was no longer a choice, but fate. Yes, I thought, I must be destined to walk these miles. Two things I forgot to keep in mind; Oh how the mind lives coincidence and hindsight is a powerful thing.
logistics: I decided my 24 hour clock would start at midnight so I would do the challenge in one calender day. To keep from cooking meals and loosing valuable hiking time, I brought only bars (like cliff and odwalla) peanut butter and pretzels. Lastly, I planned out my schedule so I wouldn't have to make to many decisions on the fly. Calculating milages for water and snack breaks would probably end poorly with the mental state I'd be in after such a grueling day. Because I'm the type of person that likes checklists, I split up the day into 4 phases. This way I could see my progress with pen and paper (and doesn't everyone love the satisfaction of checking off a listed item?!?!). Also i was abke to trick my mind into believeing i wasnt doing a 50+ mile day, i was only doing a 20 mile day, then a 15 mile day, and so on, managable chunks. And, in worst case scenario, if I was hopelessly behind schedule, I could just stop early and save myself some physical torment.
Phase 1: 21.6 miles
Phase 2: 15.7 miles
Phase 3: 8.7 miles
Phase 4: 6.5 miles
The day went a little something like this:
August 15- 11:30pm : wake up, pack up camp, eat a bar. Time for coffee? Naw, get to walking girl.
12:03 - Begin - screen shot it, in case I make it, there will be the doubters so document everthing. Also, I hope those three minutes don't come back to hang me later on.
Mile 1611 - first break (10 min.) Stop and filter water at small Creek, about 3:45am
Around this time, I seriously considered giving up. I was extremely tired from only getting 4 hours of sleep the night before and the darkness playing games with my mind. Although the section appeared to be flat, it seemed anything but and the hills where made more difficult by the extremely rocky terrain. I swear every third step was a torqued ankle or stubbed toe.
The first miles also seemed to oscillate between an open rocky section followed by a densly forested area and back again.
The near full moon brought some comfort in the open bits, while my only source of light in the forest was the faint beam radiating from my headlamp, growing dimmer with each step. 'Oh, how I regret not taking the extra batteries Hurdy-Gurdy offered,' was my only thought.
Perhaps I would have preferred no headlamp at all though, as I looked out to the surrounding forest, I was occasionally met with pairs of eyes staring back. The previous nights, most of the campfire chatter had been centered around the topic of mountain lions - recent sightings, how they attack, ect. - it was pure adrenaline hiking to put it mildly. The physical pain from the rocky sections had my wishing for the forested parts; the terror of darkness in the forest was mentally taxing, I wished to be back in the open. It was a vicious cycle only remedied by the light of day, around 6 am.
I'm not sure what kept me going during this time. Perhaps shear stubbornness, or perhaps the hope the lies in the rising sun.
Mile 1622.5 - break (30 min.) Stop and filter water, eat a snack, good job at completing phase 1!
Mile 1627- break (10 min.) Stop and filter water at a seasonal stream, eat a snack
Mile 1632 break (25min.) Stop to filter water at Buckhorn Spring, eat a snack. I didn't originally plan to stop here but chatting with a South Bound Hiker earlier in the day, he mentioned this was a good source and not to far from the trail.
Mile 1638.2 - break (15 min.) Stop and filter water at a seasonal creek, eat a snack. Phase 2 is complete!
The next section was the most painful of the day. Although the terrain was no longer as rocky, and the second half of the day was mostly downhill, my feet just flat out hurt and I'm pretty sure I was loosing my mind. At this point I was having delusions that trees where hikers, boulders were cars and I may or may not have been conversing with myself.
Mile 1646.9 Grider Creek and Campground (30 min). Filter water, eat a snack, ice feet in Creek until numb.
Now began the 6.5 mile road walk. At this point I was really glad to be on a road. The hardness of payment, compared to dirt, wasn't pleasant but by now every patch of grass looked like the world's best campsite. As tired as I was, I knew I couldn't camp this close to a road so my only option was to keep on walking.
Mile 1653.4 : 9:33pm stop walking
Delirious, dehydrated and delusional I rolled into Seiad Valley at 9:33. 21.5 hours of hiking and the double marathon day was over. Luckly, there was no hitch into "town" (more a small collection of buildings), the trail goes right through. Before pitching my tent at the RV park, I gave a little smile, a quiet chuckle and the same thought I had at the top of Mt. Katahdin passed through my mind, 'Yeah, I'd do it again.'
Nervous I wouldn't be able to move the next day, I was relieved to feel so good.