While in the past several weeks I have extensively blogged about my ACL recovery, this week I am going to do something different and focus my energy on two special guys in the midst of an incredible journey -- Mike and Dave Frazier.
One morning last winter, I met Mike working out at the WVU Student Rec Center. He noticed I was wearing a shirt from the Highland Sky run, came up to me, and struck up a conversation (he had also run the race). During the conversation, he told me that him and his brother Dave intending on hiking the entire Appalachian Trail (AT) this summer, a so-called "thru hike". This was music to my ears, and Mike and I became friends from that point on. We met a few times for dinner to go over gear and food lists and talk about stuff that hikers talk about. My initial impression of Mike was that he was a very nice guy with a quiet determination and a big heart, an impression that turned out to be spot on.
The day came and went earlier this summer when the two brothers departed Maine heading south for Georgia. It is vital here to understand the sheer enormity of what these two guys are doing. Sometimes I am unfortunately guilty of patting myself on the back for running an ultramarathon, but the reality is that many people have run ultramarathons and, given enough training, many people can and will run ultramarathons. The same holds true for century bike rides, triathlons, and almost any other sporting event you could think of really. While I would obviously never minimize accomplishing any of the aforementioned (I hope to do a triathlon someday!) and they are all great accomplishments in their own right, the pain involved with participating in any of these events is relatively short-lived. For example, I know that when I toe the starting line of a 50-mile ultra, at the end of the day, a pizza, a beer, and a warm bed await me. However, the AT is a different sort of challenge.
What would you do if I told you that you were about to hike approximately 83 marathons pretty much in a row? And that you had to do it with a 30-pound pack on your back? Now let's up the ante and add in long stretches of rugged, mountainous terrain. You say you ran out of water a few miles back? Well, there ain't no race aid stations out on the AT so you better suck on a piece of hard candy and think about something else besides how parched you are. Are the bloody blisters on your feet bothering you? Too damn bad; keep walking. It's been raining for several straight days and all your gear is soaked through? You can pray for the rain to stop that evening as you lie in your wet sleeping bag. In summary, what Mike and Dave are doing is tough ... really tough.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see the guys as they winged their way south. Their friend Mary Kreis and I met them just outside of Duncannon, Pennsylvania shortly after sunup on Sunday. What with my knee still healing, I did the next best thing I could do to help the guys; that is, I took their packs so that they could hike without them and I drove "sag wagon" support. While Mary hiked/ran with them, I periodically met the trio every 5-to-8 miles at strategic road crossings with water and plenty of food that Mary and I had brought along. What a truly wonderful day it was! I had a chance to review a nettlesome manuscript that had been sitting on my desk at work, play my guitar, chat with other hikers, etc. Every couple of hours, here they'd come trotting out of the woods with smiles on their faces ready to tell the tale of what they had seen in the previous section of trail. All told, about 38 miles were covered as we ended the day at Boiling Springs.
What is the point of recounting all this? The energy of this day made my week. It felt good to feel like I was helping others rather than focusing on my own self-pity brought on by my knee surgery. For this, I am humbly grateful to Mike and Dave for letting me share in their vision quest. Life is so spectacularly beautiful and its truths are stranger than fiction. We do not know the reasons our paths are intertwined nor do we know what the future holds in store for us. But if my claim that we were put on the earth to push each other forward, to simply help each other enjoy the pleasures of life and get through the pains of life is even remotely correct, then I definitely felt that sense of kindred last Sunday. And this was the first time I ever met Dave!
Towards the end of day, Mary graciously spelled me on the sag wagon and gave me the opportunity to walk a few miles with the guys (I swear, Doc, it was only "a few" and they were level!). I did not sense any ego. I did not sense any machismo. What I did sense was a simple, innocent joy in hiking amidst the typical hiker chatter. There was no angst over bills yet to be paid, no talk of unrequited love, no worry about what the future might bring. There was talk of hope, of dreams, of adventures, of their commitment to the Wounded Warrior Project, their love for their family, of mountains to be climbed, and more trails to be hiked. In a word, awesome ...
I am glad you are and forever will be my friends, Mike and Dave. You've been a beacon of light for me this summer. And if "The Effect of a Flaxseed Oil Enhanced Diet on the Product Quality of Farmed Brook Trout Fillets" ever gets published, then you will be at least indirectly responsible. This is your time, brother hikers, to rise up! You're over halfway there! Shine! YAHOOOOOO!