On Saturday, September 12th, Elke and I hiked in the 2009 Pikes Peak Challenge, which is a fundraiser event in support of the Brain Injury Association of Colorado. I have been wanting to do this event for a few years in honor of my good friend Troy Bush, who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) about 8 years ago. In fact, Troy and a bunch of his friends were supposed to join Elke and me this year, but things got in the way, and it ended up being only me and Elke. We had decided, when others were going to be hiking with us, to call ourselves "Team Murdy" (Troy's childhood nickname), but Team Murdy only ended up being a team of two.
The "Challenge" is impressive because it is a 13 mile hike from Manitou Springs, CO up to the top of Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail. This route is the longest and most elevation gaining ascent of any 14,000 foot peak in the USA. Thus to see a host of TBI survivors determined to accomplish this daunting course is very moving.
I have run this course many times in the past, either training for other runs or as a participant in the Pikes Peak Ascent, and this is no easy "hike". It is (again) 13 miles of hiking up 7,500 feet of elevation gain to the 14,115 foot summit. Along the way you pass various shelters and memorial plaques that are dedicated to people who have died on this peak...
...and yet, this does not deter the dedicated survivors of TBI, who in reality, have faced a far greater challenge in their own recoveries. The Challenge for them is simply one more thing that they are able to do again, or, for the first time. Indeed, a sort of theme slogan that many were hiking with was, "Because I Can".
Since this event is not a race, the times are much longer than the Ascent, and therefore, for safety sake, the start time must be much earlier. You have a choice of starting in the first wave, at 5:00am, or in the second wave, at 5:30am. Since Elke and I like to sleep as much as possible, we opted for the 5:30 start.
We actually finally started hiking at about 5:38am, and quickly realized that we would have to curb our desire to move faster in that the trail was simply packed with folks settling into a pace that they would be able to maintain for the next 6-9 hours. So, we walked and talked and just enjoyed what seemed like effortless movement in the dark for about the first 3 miles. Once we hit "No Name Creek" we were able to begin to pick up our pace a bit, and the crowd was clearly thinning out by then.By the time we reached Barr Camp at about 10,000 feet, the hikers had really thinned out and everyone we saw then was part of the first wave starters. During the whole hike we were also running in front of the weather system that was to hit the peak at about noon during the event. We both had dressed light, depending on a certain pace to keep us warm, so we really did need to move at a steady clip.
The week before the event I had talked to Troy, and he encouraged me to make sure I met people and talked with them on the way up, so I made it a habit, as we came up on someone, to ask them what their story was and why they were up here doing this. This was a great exercise and it was really nice to meet various people and hear about their experiences and hardships.
The hours flew by and so did the miles, and by and by, we made the summit. The volunteers were wonderful and thanked us profusely for participating in the event and helping raise awareness and money for TBI. We were struck with just the opposite sentiment, wanting to thank them profusely for all that they had done for the same cause.
At the summit we received our medals for finishing (15th & 16th overall...out of 450), and headed into the shelter building for warmth and to get a bite to eat. As we chatted with a new acquaintance (Tim Allison...who also runs with C.R.U.D.), I noticed that Elke's lips were a deep purply-blue. I asked her if she was cold or if she was feeling bad, to which she said "no". I finally walked her over to the first aid folks and the head doctor said, "Hypoxia". Elke got to be the first to suck on oxygen and since she looked so cute they dubbed her "the oxygen model"!We had a great time and will do our best to be back next year for this event and we hope that many others will join us as Team Murdy rides again...