50 Miles to Diakon

by Chris Morales. 0 Comments

1 Voice Trekking participates in long hikes in order to bring awareness to and raise funds for abused, neglected and under-privileged children.  The organization’s members have already completed 27 and 41 mile hikes right here in our back yards.  For this hike we would be taking on the Appalachian Trail between Waynesboro, MD and Boiling Springs, PA.  This would include 50 miles of rugged Appalachian terrain, spanning almost 24 hours from noon on Friday until 11 am on Saturday, without stopping!  The end point of the trip was at the Diakon Wilderness Center, which is a refuge of sorts for young boys in need of attention and nurturing.  If you take the path we chose to Diakon, it is also a veritable fortress in the sky!   


We started at noon on Friday, September 30th, 2011 on a journey that many of us thought would be purely physical.  Little did we know that what lay before us was a challenge of endurance, persistence, faith and comradery.  Little had we guessed that the potential for serious danger lay within the confines of a seemingly peaceful and serene woodland forest.  If there was any indication, the fact that we headed off on the wrong trail for two miles might have clued us in.  But the jovial spirit of the moment had us laughing and joking about the lapse in judgement...at least for the time being... As we trekked through the forest, up and down over the hills and through the meadows, we were engulfed in the sounds of playful brooks as they meandered along their way.  Ferns and mushrooms and Mountain Laurel dotted the edge of the trail like whimsical gnomes, heralding our approach. We 14 were elated to be in the woods and on the trail for such a worthy cause and it showed in our lively pace.  We hammered through mile after mile, some of us seemingly driven by internal steam engines, chugging and chanting the sounds of gravel under foot.   But Mother Nature had not shown her hand to us completely!  The veil of darkness soon had its grip on the canopy above, and then it wasn’t a moment before this enchanting place became the womb where nightmares are born.  As the last headlamp went on, so too did the last flicker of sunlight slip through the leaves.  And it was in complete darkness that we would spend the next grueling hours, bathed in the chill of the night.  The tree limbs that were at once a picturesque backdrop to an early Autumn afternoon were now creaking and curling in toward us.  Like the spinney fingers of a witch they dared to entangle us in their tricky trap.  And so too did the forest floor seem to open up and Grendle himself appear with outstretched arms, clawing and gnashing at our feet.  Many of us would sleepily stumble from rock to rock and bounce from tree to tree.  So dark was it that we might as well have been in a deep dark cave, spelunking our way toward some unseen light.  Some trekkers tell a tale of demonic gremlins peering from just outside the reach of our spherical lights, while others experienced sights of magical prancing ponies with wings.  Whatever the case, the lack of sleep and the extraordinary expense of calories had us all on a haunting trip through the darkness.  Had it not been for the superb efforts of our support team none would have emerged from that hell.  Instead we were fed, re-hydrated, reinvigorated and even saved from certain peril thanks to Team O’Connor who graciously drove through the night to meet us at intervals along the way. As night finally gave way to to a chilly and damp morning we found ourselves at the cusp of the last leg of a long hard journey.  Yet, Diakon lay still many miles ahead of (and above) us.  This last 7 miles would be the ultimate test of grit and determination.  As if the long hours, sleep deprivation, the blistered feet, and the aching bones were not enough torture, we had still more obstacles to surmount, the main one being elevation.  As we departed the comfort of an impromptu roadside den, that fortress in the sky called down to us from high atop a wooded ridge.  Between us and it were rocky inclines, stair-cased switchbacks, cold mountain water,  and what will forever be known to me as the Great Pennsylvania Rock Maze.  We climbed and climbed and climbed.  And when we didn’t climb we plodded down steep faces that seemed to grind every bone in my weary legs.  I felt as if my knees were going to explode and my calves burned from the never-ending climbs.  As close as we thought we were to victory and rest, Diakon always seemed just out of reach.  At each turn we were met with yet another rock scramble, or another staircase, or a flooded creek bed that whisked away our hope of a dry finish.  That last mile and a half seemed to repeat itself while false images of buildings and camp sites disappeared like desert mirages. Finally!  Real structures appeared and the trail gave way to a paved driveway that led right to an inviting cafeteria.  The smell of warm food flirted with my nostrils and finally I got my wish for a real seat to sit in!  We were treated to a hearty Shepherd's Pie, cheeseburgers with all the fixins, orange juice and hot coffee - a real feast for the weary woodland trekkers, and a welcome change from the monotony of water and granola.  At last the long journey had come to its end.  We were reunited with the open arms and smiles from friends, old and new.   Its fun to tell a fantastical story of an epic adventure.  Its great to get outdoors and do something challenging for a good cause.  But the real heroes are the people who take there time and efforts to give meaning to lives that may be hanging in the balance.  My inspiration are the people like Anthony Brau who are committed to the success of these youths; people like Greg Blair who organize and contribute through volunteerism; people like Gabe and Heidi, Billy and Don who push past their limits for a cause greater than 14 crazy people walking through the night, and to gracious givers like Jackie, Keen Footware, Really Raw Honey, REI Rockville,  and Galaxy who find ways to play their part in an effort to build and support the lives of our future leaders.  Last I heard, somewhere close to $5,000 had been raised in conjunction with this effort!  I am so proud of what we accomplished and I thank God that I was blessed to cross paths with everyone at 1Voice Trekking/Diakon Flight Program/HikingUpward.  This is a Get Up, Get Out...I won’t soon forget!  Stay tuned, 1 Voice is already planning the next big adventure...  


Leave a Reply