It’s the morning of our last day. God Drop wakes up at 5am, beginning by taping up his ankles, moving to his feet, and then tending to the other aches his body was communicating to him. He wasn't alone, most of us were at that point. The rest of us were pretty slow to rise. The mountains were waiting on us though, 12 miles in total for the day. It was just over 9 miles to our destination, the North Carolina border.
Top of Georgia had breakfast waiting for us in the common room, 5 different types of cereal, bananas, and coffee. Although tempting, passing on the Cap’n Crunch this morning, the heartier granola will likely serve as a better fuel source.
Spencer taped up his blisters under the guidance of God Drop. The efficiency and quality of the moleskin and duct tape applied had significantly improved over the last 4 days. Virginia was tending to her rolled ankle, hobbling from place to place, doing what she could to be helpful. She was not hiking today. Instead, she would spend the day in Blue Ridge with Momma Bear. Carden was achy, looking forward to getting back to a comfortable bed, and a state of privacy she hadn’t had for 8 days. Marshall was hurting and ready to get home, but also excited to finish strong. Clay, well maybe Clay was the only one who really seemed physically ok.
The people working for the hostel delivered several laundry baskets back to us, freshly folded, primarily athletic, gear with a hint of mountain trail meets mountain spring dryer sheet. We geared up, and carpooled over to Dicks Creek Gap to set off on our final day.
Because the guys had set the SUVs in place at Blue Ridge Gap the night before, we didn’t have to start the day off by losing Clay and God Drop. Huge. Additionally, we had a clutch reinforcement come to our aid: Richard Davy (“Tank”) from day 5. Boy were we glad to see him and his oddly shaped calves ready to help carry Carden (and don't worry, he knows about his calves, it's cool).
We set off with Carden, Spencer, Dad, Marshall, Bryan, Clay, Shannon (Clay's friend), God Drop, Richard, and Travis.
Spencer began the day with a nice mile+ chunk.
Bryan jumped in for another.
Dad made a nice push with the harness.
Clay jumped in for a long, treacherous bareback stretch.
Then Richard stepped up to the plate, called his shot, and homered. He proceeded to carry Carden for an entire hour, the longest ride duration thus far. No one, except Richard, really knows how much power in those little baseball-sized calves near the knee. He had to have shaved off well over 2 miles during that run. It was such an uplifting moment for the team because it bit off such a large chunk of mileage for the day.
By the time Marshall got to carry, we had already reached our 5.8 mile mark at Dicks Creek Gap.
We broke for lunch - taking some time to enjoy the fact that we were only 3.1 miles away from the North Carolina border… then of course now we also started to think about the 3.1 miles back to where we currently sat eating, but no need to think about that just yet, we could practically see the finish line. We were met at lunch by Jay, a cattle farmer we had met at the end of Day 8. He brought with him donuts and chocolate milk, what an amazing carbo-load combination, best donuts ever. In addition, the team gulped down sandwiches Momma Bear had prepared. Bryan cut up sausage and cheese, distributing the large chunks to everyone. We reflected on our last leg, how far we had come, and what that car ride was going to be like leaving here - we had heard some rumors about its rough terrain.
After lunch we said “happy trails” to Jay, and Marshall started carrying again, a nice push to start the last leg. Next, Spencer led a strong 30 minute section for about a mile.
With about 1.5 miles remaining, Bryan took over carrying duties. He had in mind that he was only going to carry Carden for 0.5 miles, but the team from behind kept yelling, pushing him onward - telling him fantasies like, “Just 0.3 miles to go!” Clay ended up running ahead to film us reaching our destination. We turned a corner along an open ridge, and surrounded by towering oak and maple trees we spotted Clay standing next to a small sign signifying the North Carolina border. An unbelievable run by Bryan ended with him reaching the finish line with Carden. The team was celebratory, but we weren't really hooping and hollering. It was a calm, proud, yet also humbling moment for the team. We had set out and accomplished something no one has ever done before. Those intrinsic rewards are priceless and can have a compounding effect.
It was such a surreal moment we were all able to share together. The journey ventured to get to this point proved to be so incredibly worth it, and it happened right before our eyes in that moment. Resting against trees and soil, we reflected on how incredibly vital the teamwork had been this week - this was in no way a brother carries sister story like the 2015 Piggyback Spartan Race or how it was portrayed on American Ninja Warrior. This was a symphony orchestra of feats and efforts only accomplished on the backs of many. There was the day to day support of our Trail Angels: C.K. & Susan. The trip logistics, gear support, product sponsorships, supply truck supervision, and food preparation of Marshall and his company Vestigo were absolutely vital. The placing of carpool vehicles by Clay and God Drop allowed for volunteers to join us each day by providing them with a reliable way back to their vehicles at day's end. Virginia’s carrying ability, sisterly love, and being a female helping Carden do all the female things was a God send. Carden’s incredibly positive, upbeat demeanor and intense commitment to the goal, despite being tremendously sore, kept each carrier’s spirit, belief, and motivation high. Our ever-changing day-hiking supporters provided fresh legs, strong backs, and high spirits each day, keeping the core group out of the hospital.
Simply, it was entirely a team accomplishment. Something much bigger than the sum of our parts.
The 3.1 mile hike back to Dicks Creek Gap was relatively quiet. Everyone seemed to be reflecting, taking their moment to take it all in, because soon this we were going to step out of those woods and re-enter the world we left behind 9 days prior.
We get to the cars, relieved at knowing everything was finished - time to celebrate? The ride back lived up to the crazy hype, it was an truck/SUV only terrain, complete with sharp turns filled with uneven, rocky gravel that sometimes splashed through up to 2 feet of stream.
Finally, we arrived to Dicks Creek Gap, where Virginia, Momma Bear, Kevin and Caroline Wyckoff, and fellow hikers were waiting for us with hot pizza to eat. Champagne was passed around, photos were taken, Marshall gave a charming closing speech, and we shared in the final moments of this adventure together.
Tomorrow would be a lot different. We wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the woods and have some double-digit mile piggyback hike to rationalize our thoughts around. Our lives were soon to be a little more complicated once again, we were coming back the week before a presidential election after all. There are a lot of open ended, creative questions in the air at this time: What can be next for this mission going forward? Can it be scaled? Can the world be made more accessible through these types of shared experiences? So many questions remain and only time will tell how they get answered.
We hope we’ve inspired you to plan your next big adventure with your friends and loved ones, no excuses! Possible is what you choose it to be.