Maryland Challenge, MD, USA

HIKING DISTANCE: 41.5 Miles
VERTICAL: +6,300′ / -5,280′
TIME: 12 Hours 57 Minutes

Call me Ishmael – ehr rather Ethan. It all started with a conversation between myself and Chris Quaka back in December of 2009. I don’t even remember exactly how the topic came up, but Chris mentioned something about a 40-mile hike. A 40-mile day hike?! It peaked my interest. The hike: the Maryland Challenge. The challenge: to hike from the West Virginia border all the way through Maryland to the Pennsylvania border along the Appalachian Trail…in a day. It can’t be that hard if you’re reasonably fit, I thought, I’ll just hike it during TLT before the corps arrives. Of course finding free time and working out logistics for an all-day, point-to-point hike proved a little more complicated than a quick, local jaunt through the woods.

The plan was to be out by 3am on Sunday February 7th, be on the trail at the West Virginia line by 5am, cross the Pennsylvania line by 8pm, and be back to the point by 10pm. That would have given me enough time for a good night’s sleep before the gray shirts started rolling in. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? Absolutely not.

While I was arranging rides for that weekend, Ryan Perket showed serious interest. I’m not really accustomed to bringing people along on these kinds of escapades because I really like to push my limits. Most of you know Ryan, and let’s be honest he’s just so gosh darn cute that I couldn’t say “no.” We were on the fast-track to glory when snowmaggedon hit. We lost power for weeks and no one had access to food or clean drinking water. It just happened so fast…none of us were prepared. Ok it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it was enough to thwart our assault on the AT. We didn’t even get off campus. It was really more of a hiccup than a disaster. Once a few motivated, motivated, down right motivated (hoo-ah!) members of team green get it in their heads to do something, it’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.” That answer came the Saturday over first transition.

We started the hike hard and fast. We were making excellent time for the first 25 miles or so. The scenery was awesome and the downhill miles seemed to outnumber the uphill miles. We talked and laughed most of the morning, while keeping a quick clip. By the time we stopped for lunch, I had a few quarter-sized blisters on my heels – they’re merely flesh wounds! Still we were both in good spirits and day dreaming about closing out the 40+ miles in under 12 hours. If we could have kept that pace, we would have been able to do just that. By the time we hit mile 30 though, it was pretty obvious that 13 hours was a much more reasonable goal (and even that was pushing it). We gave ourselves another 10 minute break (one of the few times during our hike where we took the time to actually sit down) and continued on.

That last 6-mile stretch began with a long, steep incline that towered above us and seemed to say “You. Shall. Not. PASS!” We were more and more convinced of that reality with every step but refused to give up. Ryan definitely led the way on that last section. Neither of us spoke the last few miles because we needed every ounce of energy we could muster. We were bound and determined to be done. It wasn’t even a matter of pride; it was a matter of convenience. We were both just sick and tired of putting one foot in front of the other. We’d even resorted to jogging the downhill sections just so the miles would pass that much faster.

By the time we arrived at Pen-Mar State Park, we could barely move, but we were still pushing. The Pennsylvania line wasn’t nearly as obvious as we’d expected it to be, but we found it signed on a nearby roadway. Thirteen hours flat (2 hours faster than we’d originally planned). We didn’t even take the time to get a picture in front of the sign. Instead we backtracked to a nearby shelter and drifted in and out of consciousness until Jamie arrived a few hours later. I don’t know what summit we were on, but the wind was howling and we were curled up in the fetal position fighting off a case of the shivers until our knight in shining armor arrived. I don’t think either of us cared that much, because we had the satisfaction of having done it. I mean c’mon: “pain heals, chicks dig scars, but glory…lasts forever.”

There was a lot more to it than what’s outlined above, but you get the drift. Basically we were up at 230a, hiked all day, and got back to bed at 130a. By the end of the hike, my energy was completely sapped and I was sustaining myself on sheer conviction. Win big, or go home.

While I set the pace for most of the morning and early afternoon, Ryan really pushed it at the end. I was riding his coat tails. The whole thing is something like 42 miles; we finished in 13 hours flat, including scenic detours and breaks. I remember jogging the last half mile or so. I was on the verge of exhaustion by this point; the thought of being done drove me wild with anticipation. We finished early and ended up waiting about three hours for Jamie and Suzanne to find us, but when they pulled up with food waiting in the back seat, I was all smiles. Besides it didn’t take long for the shivering to subside. We stopped off and picked up some hot chocolate to take the edge off.

This endeavor really took a toll on me. I remember my body, and especially my knees, after my marathon back in November. This rivals that feeling. To top it off, I have a blister the size of a half dollar on each heel, which started forming just two hours into our hike…but I’m not one to quit. Those blisters were already there and I wasn’t going to hurt anything by pushing through ’em, so I did. Of course, today I can barely move, but I’ve got things to do, so I’ve been moseying here and there working on paperwork. I definitely haven’t been moving at my usual clip. I still haven’t even popped those blisters, but I’ll get to it sometime soon.

For the moment, I’m just marveling. I knew I could do it, but to have actually done it is quite a feeling of accomplishment. I believe Vince Lombardi said: "You were given a body that can withstand most anything…it’s your mind that you have to convince." Well, I’m convinced.