|Sent on:||Sunday, March 4, 2012 8:59 PM|
Out of Your Comfort Zone, Part 2, Last Annual 25 Miler
March 3, 2012
It was an odd awakening at Tillis Hill campground the day of the hike. Ten minutes earlier than the alarm, just several yards away from my tent, I was awakened by the telltale sound of a whippoorwill repeatedly declaring its name . It was good that happened as there were still duties to take care of before the hikers arrived, the main being driving to the 18 mile bailout point with someone following me so I could leave my car and get a ride back to the hike starting point.
Just before the pre-hike instructions I was somewhat caught off guard, but not uncomfortably so, when asked by a participant if it would be ok if a few of them walked at a faster pace than the group. I hadn't thought about it at that point and said I was ok with it, but once they left the group I could not be responsible and that it might be best to wait until the first water cache. The instructions for all were: there would be two water/ice stations, the first about 12.5 miles into the hike stashed in the bushes near a horse trough, the second locked in my car about the 18 mile point; each hiker received a map of the trail with our route highlighted in yellow; they were told the place where we would take our first 10 minute stop; the rule would be that no one left the trail without telling someone they were leaving and that same someone had to remain on the trail for the person to return; and every one should try to hike at their own comfortable pace, not too fast to burn out, not too slow to have the muscles not in sync.
Our cavalcade of 18 headed out at approximately 8:30 a.m. I led the hike to the 1.7 mile mark and as I stepped aside on the trail to let the hikers regroup, it was as if the gate was lifted on the bull cage at the rodeo, many hikers and their energy surged by before I was aware what was happening. Some stopped at the next road, some didn't. I worked my way up the line but saw that those up front were going far quicker than a 20 -22 minute per mile. At least they had a map and knew where the first water was stashed. From what I understand, up front there were individuals who hung together, fell behind, caught up, regrouped and sub grouped.
This trail has ups and downs, steep and gradual. The section of the forest has slash pines, oaks, palmetto thicket and scrub. Although it seemed most areas had been exposed to controlled burns over the past few years, many areas of the trail were thickly covered in pine needles with large pine cones liberally scattered about. There were the shaded areas of oak hammocks that canopied the trail and left mottled splashes of sunlight patched on the ground. At times there would be dozens of burned oaks that appeared to be the black skeletons of trees.
With regards to the hikers it was wonderful to witness the diversity of style, ability, age, and mental approach. The aspects that made this hike a success were the hikers' abilities for self assessment and from that, the use of solid common sense. Three folks had to leave before the water stop but had arranged for their own car to be parked along the route. Four hikers determined that the 18 mile point was the best place for them to stop. They knew it had been an excellent effort. Regarding common sense, they knew they possibly could have continued to slug it out but due to aggravated injuries, the pernicious effects of the 85+ degree heat with 75% humidity, and the fact that their pace was slowing enough that others in the group would have been inconvenienced to a great degree trying to assist them before darkness surrounded the forest.
Thom and I were the last hikers to finish with the time of 10 hours and 35 minutes. We were cheered in by the screeching sounds of thousands of beetles.
According to the GPS mileage, the full distance was 26.7 miles.
Thanks to those that signed up and could not make it for letting me know - wish you could have joined us. Thanks to Arlene for all her assistance. And special thanks to Neil Fox, the Citrus Section Maintenance Leader, for giving us impeccable trail markings and maintenance.
And we are 18 valiant hikers including 11 finishers (Elizabeth, Lilian Jette, Ron, Sue, Thom, Fran, Lenny, Laura, Duane, Lorne, Gordy) and 7 participants (Sean, Alex, Arlene, Jill, Eva, Brenda, Leah).