Team J*N Sando (Jeanne, Jen, JuAnne, Karen) set off to attempt this endeavor in 29 hours or quicker on Friday, November 16. I came up with the brilliant idea so I was prepared to take the blame if it was decided part-way through that this was the worst idea ever. When it came down to it, none of us had ANY idea what we were getting into. Jen was coming off an injury. Karen had run a marathon and had been going on 'walks' to break-in her shoes, I had run a marathon and JuAnne and I had walked the perimeter of Manhattan (32+ miles).
So when we rolled up to the start line (with having read training suggestions and packing tips only 24hrs before), we encountered a sea of hikers decked in gear from head-to-toe - all armed with hiking poles. The hiking pole 'must have' recommendation was something Karen identified during the last-minute 24hr cram session for tips, so she picked up poles and Jenn brought her set. Luckily, the Bravos loaned JuAnne and myself poles, as my plan to resort to a long umbrella if need be was fraught with trouble. I am not afraid to go as far as saying that Jess and Lander Bravo saved 2 lives that weekend ;)
Not only did we feel inept on identifying the gear we needed and what to pack for each leg, but we were in the dark on what preemptive body care was required. Should we be strapping ourselves with neon tape across our knees and thighs like the clearly prepared hikers around us? Karen pulled out baby powder and said: "I powdered my feet. I HEARD it helps." Sure, why not, i thought. It can't hurt. And while I was dumping powder on my feet as if i was a pastry chef preparing for a big bake-off, it truly dawned on me that we not only had no idea what we were getting into, we were completely clueless. So, I embraced the notion that ignorance is bliss and that there's no use trying to cram last minute for an exam. As long as we could all place one foot in front of the other, we will get ourselves to the end....somehow.
This 'somehow' took many forms. I would like to attribute 75% of that 'somehow' to the superfans. Mrs Lee (Karen's mom) and Kenny (Lee family friend) were our support crew who met us at 3 checkpoints (and knew the course checkpoint details better than us), transported our excess gear that we used to replenish at the transition checkpoints, nourished us with vegetables, home-cooked fried rice, yams, boiled eggs and more (instead of living off of GU, nuts and peanut butter as originally planned) and served as our momentum to keep us going and keep us up upright (literally) at the end when we were clumsy and swaying with exhaustion.
By saying this, I might be adding fuel to Karen's theory, 'Jeanne, I don't know about your shady math' when i was re-calculating our expected finish time (which for the record was somewhat on-mark), but I would also like to attribute 75% of that 'somehow' to my team members and our laughter. Yes, we probably laughed our way through several parts out of delirium, but whether it was delirium or not, my team made me laugh and as odd as this may sound, I really had fun walking those 100 kilometers with them. The goal was to check-in every 2 hours and create a quote board of classic phrases and moments. This proved to be a bit dangerous in the pitch black and pouring rain, so after i almost ate it twice, i put my handy device away and concentrated on the trail. The common refrain uttered became 'that's going on the quote board.' Including these quotes out of context will likely fall on deaf ears and/or make you question our sanity, but we found humour in discussions over what would cause us to melt-down, when some of us would pop ibuprofen and some Vicodin, wedgies vs butt chafing, sweating balls vs monsoon-like conditions, leaving raincoats and warm gear in the car while its monsooning with dropped temperatures, the strategy of trying to nap while walking and many more.
25% of that 'somehow' was the scenery. We crossed beaches, climbed up steep, rocky mountains, walked through the woods, sauntered through grassy fields, pounded across hard pavement, scaled down rocky hillsides and then climbed up more steep hills with grades so steep that put San Francisco hills to shame. "Couldn't we have picked a flatter country to do this in?" Jen said as we ascended so many steps and down so many more. Our calves and quads were jolted awake and Jenn's knee was swollen like a pumpkin harvesting between her thighs and calves. However, without those steep ascents, we would have been bereft of those stunning 360 degree views with the highest point on the course at 957 meters. Although i rather agree with Jen's second observation, "Hong Kong clearly does not know about the concept of switchbacks." We saw Hong Kong go to sleep, we saw the city slowly sparkle as it woke up and to our dismay, since we were originally hoping to be done by 4pm or earlier, we once again said good night to the sun, watching the daylight disappear as the darkness creep in and our beds remaining a distant memory.
Which brings me to the last 25% of the 'somehow' (i decided that it takes 200% of 'somehow' to finish this damn thing). It takes a mix of mental strength reinforced by stimulants, drugs, along with team unity to persevere through the exhaustion. For me, scaling the endless steps and steep mountainsides was a good physical challenge, but doable. In fact, on leg 3 when we were hitting our first series of mountains in the dark, I sucked down a GU with caffeine and i found myself weaving in and out of people up the mountain to the beat of my music. Once again on leg 6 after 60+ kilometers, I took the same caffeine strategy up Needle Hill, which is a 300 meter elevation increase climb for 2 kilometers and I felt like I flew up the 'hill'. So, physically, i felt great. No blisters. My knees and muscles were holding up. Although my feet were having moments of revolting and sending a shooting pain up the right foot. This is where the ibuprofen came into handy. But what got me was the exhaustion. By kilometer 79.1 (49 miles), I was getting sleepy. The inevitable caffeine crash. The big middle finger from my body saying it is pretty damn pissed off that i've avoided curling up under the covers for 2 evenings in a row. And we were all feeling it. I saw the look on Juanne's face after Needle Hill (60K) and her joke about skipping out on the rest of the hike and hitting up Dim Sum probably partially rang true. The hardest part was coming to the realization of how much the hills were slowing us down and our estimated goal of 29 hours was turning more into 35 or more if we did not step it up. "Do you really want to come in at 1am?" Karen said during her pep talk at Checkpoint 7. Hell no, we all agreed and as a team we rallied. JuAnne led the way and powered us up the final 465 meter elevation gain climb. We fueled up by our Superfans at Checkpoint 8 and all agreed we could tackle the last 13 miles, aiming to run a few stretches since the last 6 miles was 'supposed' to be flat. Ambitious? yes, we were, but at least we were consistent! I started to hit a wall. If a cop were to make me walk the line to test my sobriety I would have gotten a big fat 'F' and landed myself in the slammer because i could not keep straight. Jenn gave me gum to chew. A few times, she startled me awake as I was nodding off, asking me questions to keep me alert. The team was looking out for each other. The last checkpoint was grim. People looked like zombies. And our spirits were deflated when the flat 6 miles we had been dreaming of never materialized. Remember when I mentioned that we were a bit behind on the preparation reading material? Somehow we missed the memo that there was a course change and the last 6 miles were no longer flat. At this point, I was still zig-zagging, Juanne was dizzy, Karen was falling asleep & Jenn was trying to keep us together (perhaps this helped her avoid thoughts about her swollen knee and popping blisters). We pulled over and had a heart-to-heart to see if it was safe for us to continue. The group consensus was to pop more Chocolate covered coffee beans, more ibuprofen & to keep on trudging. The last 1.5 kilometers seemed endless with multiple signs encouraging that we were 'almost there.' We still had humor in us though as I snapped a photo of Jenn flipping off this cheery sign. And karen asked me, on the Scale of 1 to 10 how much do you hate yourself right now for coming up with this 'brilliant' idea. And i laughed and gave in and said, "ok, you're right. i am a 10 for complete self-loathing."
But as much as we joked about our 35 hour and 55 minute 100 Kilometer hike across Hong Kong being the 'worst idea' ever, and although Jen and JuAnne look like cripples as they walk, Karen's muscles are still sore 3 days later, I have lost 1 toe nail with another on the way and another is turning black, Jenn's feet look like she's nine months pregnant with twins, Juanne is swollen and we all are non-stop eating post-event, I would venture to say we had a blast. Karen says, Never again. Jenn says, Never say Never. As i crossed the finish line, I said Never again. But hey, a better motto in life is, 'Never say Never,' right? ;)