I don’t know how I got into this. No, wait. I remember.
My wife, that’s how I got into this. That’s how every crazy, halfcocked idea in my life starts. With her. Bungee jumping in Mexico is only one example.
Right now I am at a Birmingham hotel, with a lot of other insane people who are filtering into the lobby, carrying heavy duffle bags of hiking gear and expensive all-weather clothes. These people are all in very good shape and have no adipose tissue.
We are all here because tomorrow we will be hiking 26.3 miles up a mountain.
It’s important to note, we are not in the military. Nobody is holding a bayonet to our backs and forcing us to march onward. In fact, we paid good money to be here. Take my wife. Her hiking boots alone cost more than a three-bedroom beach condo.
“Are you ready to hike?” says a trim, super peppy fitness-looking guy, clapping my shoulders violently, and smiling like he’s having a febrile seizure.
This man is a complete stranger.
“I’m ready,” I say.
“I can’t hear you!” he shouts.
“Then get hearing aids.”
Tomorrow morning, hours before sunup, 268 clinically deranged Alabamians will be awoken by an alarm, whereupon we will all be taken to the Pinhoti Trail, riding in Soviet style buses, and dropped off naked, in the remote darkness of the mountains, just outside Talladega, whereupon we will hike until we are either dead or sincerely wish we were.
We are doing this hike for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alabama. This organization grants the wishes of children with critical illnesses.
This Alabamian hike raises more money than all the other Make-A-Wish organizational hikes in the nation. By far. These people are doing some real good stuff.
When the Alabama Trailblaze Challenge hike started in 2017, there were less than 75 hikers, and they raised about $200,000.
The hike has since grown considerably. Last year, the Trailblaze Challenge enrolled enough hikers to fill up a small city, and they raised 1.2 million for kids in need.
This year, my wife and I are two such hikers.
Tonight is the pasta dinner before the event. We hikers need carbohydrates because carbs are fuel. And we all need fuel so that we can walk a very long trail which has no restaurant or bar at the end of it.
I will say this, however: These are some committed hikers.
They’ve come from all over. I meet one woman from north Alabama. She is here because her son once received a wish.
“It changed our lives.”
Another man has come from Gulf Shores. He knows multiple kids who have received wishes.
“When you see a terminal child receive his lifelong dream; when the child knows he’s going to die; when everyone else knows the kid is going to die; and still everyone comes together to make the boy’s biggest dream come true, it alters the lives of everyone involved.”
I meet Tina, an on-call nurse who has been hiking with the Trailblazers since the hike began.
Tina is the woman who will resuscitate me on the trail tomorrow provided my wife doesn’t sign and submit a DNR request.
“It’s fun,” says Tina. “I started hiking this event after my son and my son-in-law died two weeks apart. I was a wreck, mentally. I hiked this trail to honor their memory.
“After that, I was hooked. So I go out there and make sure novices who look like they won’t finish the trail don’t die.”
“How about me?” I say. “Do I look like I’ll finish?”
She smiles. “Don’t leave your group.”
I meet lots of people like Tina tonight. People who just want to help others. These are ordinary people who raised millions for kids with serious illnesses. And they’re excited.
There is a lot of laughter around bowls of penne pasta. And I am surrounded by a lot of folks who are much better human beings than I am.
At one point after supper, my wife leans over and says, “Did you sign the waivers?”
“What waivers?” I said.
“The stack of papers in the lobby. You were supposed to fill out the death waiver.”
Then she laughed until her gums bled.
“Don’t worry,” says a fellow husband. “This hike is actually pretty fun. You definitely won’t regret it. If you live.”
Pray for me.
stephenpe - May 6, 2023 9:30 am
Great story about a great event. I expect some wonderful insights and more discussions with the people that hike a marathon UP a mountain. Bless you and the wife, Sean.
Wendy Green - May 6, 2023 11:01 am
I spent a week at Cheaha State Park geocaching while my husband built a Garand at the CMP in Anniston. The mountains in Alabama are no joke. Good luck and have fun.
Derek - May 6, 2023 12:24 pm
You can do it Sean. Roll Tide!!
Anne McKinley - May 6, 2023 1:33 pm
Great hike for a wonderful cause. If a 60 something year old woman, and fellow red head, from Huntsville can complete this hike (in 2020) You Can Too! Have fun!
Sylvia B Gullatt - May 6, 2023 4:38 pm
Praying for each of you, and thanking you for giving of yourselves!
pattymack43 - May 6, 2023 7:00 pm
Prayers and applause for you, Sean, and ALL of your fellow hikers!! Blessings!!