The Ultimate Hike Experience


I kneel down to catch my breath; my feet aching from what seems like an eternity of walking and climbing. And just as I feel that I might not be able to go on, Sherry comes along and pulls me up by the arm and whispers "we can do this." 

Just four months ago, Sherry and I met at an information session where we both learned about CureSearch’s Ultimate Hike event in Atlanta.  Now, thanks to a very thorough and rewarding program we have become great friends.  All of our hard work is culminating on the Foothills Trail along the Carolinas. We’ve been hiking for about 12 hours now.  I look ahead and in the distance I can make out the finish flag. I can do this, I tell myself as I think of the more than 40,000 children that are currently undergoing treatment for children’s cancer.  If they can do it, I can do it. And with that, I’m off to accomplish what I set forth to do this morning – hike 28 miles of the Foothills Trail.


It all started when I saw a flyer for the Atlanta Ultimate Hike.  Never having hiked before, I was intrigued.  How hard could it be? I wondered.  And, learning that the event benefitted a great cause, children’s cancer research, I was eager to find out more.  I don’t have a personal connection to children’s cancer, but I’ve known a few people with cancer and I know it is a disease I wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially a child. 

I attended one of the information sessions and I got the full scoop about the Hike, what it entailed, fundraising tips, and our goal. I learned that each Hiker would receive their own personalized fundraising webpage, tips for fundraising, a daily workout calendar, and most importantly a specialized training program.  The money we raise - $2500 each - would benefit children’s cancer research.  I learned that 36 children are diagnosed with cancer each day.  Raising this amount of money seemed almost impossible as hiking 28 miles. And then 8-year old Olivia spoke to us.  Diagnosed with cancer three years ago, she has endured more in her short lifetime then any of us ever should.  She spoke bravely about surgery and chemotherapy, losing her hair, missing school, and her return to a "normal" life.  My decision was made. If she could handle cancer, I could handle 28 miles and raising $2500. 

Among those who registered for the Hike were people with no experience at all, like me, and others who are much more experienced, one who had even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro!  This actually worked out to the novices’ advantage. Both the seasoned hikers and our official coaches were more than happy to share their experiences with us and give us tips for training and equipment. In fact, there was even an Ultimate Hike clinic where we were able to learn about boots, poles and backpacks. 

The 13-week training was far more comprehensive than I expected. We trained together like it was a marathon with bi-weekly hikes starting at 5 miles.  The closer we got to Hike day the more intense they got.  We finished our last training hike covering 20 miles of the X Trail.  Along the way, we formed a bond that was indescribable with one goal in mind: to finish this Hike for the children.               

Hike weekend commenced on last night – Friday.  We traveled in vans from Atlanta to our hotel and had a lively carb-loading pasta party to maximize the amount of glycogen stored in our muscles for more endurance during our 28 mile Hike.  This is an important tip I learned one of the Coaches’ Corner articles in our newsletter during training.  The coaches went over last minute trail information and details.  With so much excitement, it was nearly impossible for us to go to bed early, but off we went - we had a big day ahead of us. 

At 5:00 am we were at the starting point of the Hike, proudly wearing our Ultimate Hike shirts and bandanas, gifts we received at dinner last night.  Along the Hike, CureSearch has set up several support stations complete with water, energy bars, candy, sandwiches and first aid responders ready to tape blisters and be of any support necessary. Most importantly, the volunteers at these stations have been our cheerleaders, applauding us as we arrive at the station and motivating us to keep going!

The trail is gorgeous and serene.  Located along the Blue Ridge Escarpment in Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina, the landscape has varied from high rocky outcrops to quite forests in deep valleys carved by bold mountain streams.  I have never witnessed anything like it.  The first Hiker finished in an incredible 8.5 hours!  Needless to say, he was a more seasoned hiker.  Most of us are crossing the finish line between 11 and 13 hours.

I set my eyes on the finish flag ahead, and my fellow hikers who are already there, waiting to celebrate.  We’ll take a van back to the hotel where we will celebrate with dinner, again calling it an early night, most of us exhausted from the day’s activities.  In the morning, we’ll have a victory breakfast, share photos and I’ve heard that there will be an award ceremony.  I am sure this evening and tomorrow morning will be full of sharing our stories of the Hike while we remember our greater purpose in being there: the children. 

I cross the finish line feeling satisfied and proud.  My fellow hikers and I have been triumphant not only in hiking 28 miles, but in raising tens of thousands, both of which were for some of us – myself included -  unfathomable just 3 months ago.  

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Shelby Hammond
Communications Manager
Email Shelby
(240) 235-2205



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