Guest Contributor: Kristi Bratton
When planning a trip to Alaska last year, my crazy and “loving” husband mentioned two things. First, he argued that maybe he should go solo. Nope! I shot that down immediately. His next comment was something along the lines of “You know this trip isn’t just going to be hanging out and relaxing, right?”. It was time to buckle up for a one-of-a-kind experience.
I’ve always been a beach girl. I grew up going to Myrtle Beach every year with my family, and I’m more than happy to lounge for hours just listening to the sound of the waves and find myself lost in an endless book. Adam on the other hand, is the exact opposite. We were Alaska bound.
In addition to hikes on Curry Ridge Trail in Denali State Park (Hint: there are better views of Denali vs Denali National Park) and Portage Pass (Overlooking Prince William Sound), and a 24-mile bike ride around Anchorage (my longest ride ever!) on the amazingly beautiful Tony Knowles Coastal Trail … Adam also wanted to visit Seward and hike up the famed Mount Marathon. Somewhat of a confusing name at first, he gleefully informed me that this mountain hosts “The Toughest 5K on the Planet” and is believed to be the oldest mountain race in the country dating back to 1915.
Let me give you the cliff notes. The 5K route features a sprint 3000ft straight up the mountain and then another 3000ft straight back down. The course averages a 34 degree incline. Videos of this race are nothing short of ridiculous for anyone outside of the top .1% of athletes. World renowned mountain runners Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg have made headlines by taking on this race. They even post a “Safety Video” as for those that are silly enough to want to join. This is clearly no walk on the beach.
Thankfully, Adam suggested we link up the Jeep Trail, Bench Trail and Skyline Trail for an alternative 3-mile route to the race turnaround point and that a hike might be more our speed versus a run. Phew!
I’ve always been pretty active, especially since meeting my crazy husband, but this would, without a doubt, be exceptionally challenging. To be honest, for the first mile I thought I had it in the bag. No big deal, I can do this! The skyscraping moss-covered hardwood trees, gushing waterfalls, and endless wildflowers distracted me from the elevation that we had already covered. But we kept going and going.
We eventually poked out above the tree line and into the swirling clouds. Things started to change. Loose shale, an undefined trail, and a significant drop in visibility above and below made for a wildly different experience. Around each never-ending switchback I was hoping we’d be done. Each gap in the cloud cover would painstakingly provide us a glimpse of another impending and intimidating climb.
At one point, I needed a break … a physical, mental, and emotional break. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it to the top. I knew that Adam was going to the top with or without me and deep down I absolutely wanted to get there too. I sat down on a rock to catch my breath and have a conversation with myself. A simple rock within a never-ending slanted sea of rocks perfectly and naturally stacked aggressively above the next. He passed me half of an everything bagel with peanut butter and that bagel, in that moment, gave me life! I stood up and said, “Let’s Go!”.
My achilles were stretched close to their breaking point from the steepness of each step. My hands were pressed into my thighs, my feet were barely shuffling, and my spirits were starting to fade again but we kept moving upward. At one point we reach the edge of ridgeline with a shear drop off on the other side. Was this the right spot? Did we go the wrong way? Adam said there would be a physical marker for the race turnaround point! Please tell me we’re not lost! Where is my beach chair and margarita?!?!
But then, after a few more minutes of walking aimlessly in the clouds, we made it! We found the Mt Marathon 5K turnaround marker and a massive wave of emotions washed over me. I was exhausted and struggling but extremely proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone in such an exhilarating way.
We celebrated our achievement, took a couple of photos, gave each other a massive hug (it was also freezing cold at that point) and took in the sporadically cloud covered views.
I truly felt like I was on top of the world … both physically and mentally. Then reality quickly hit me. It was time for our return trip back down the mountain!! I thought it would be easier in reverse order, but I was woefully wrong. I fell flat on my butt more than once, my toes continually slammed into the front of my shoes and my thighs were screaming for the reprieve of flat ground. Our decent surprisingly took just as long as our accent and in many ways, was just as terrifying.
Two aggressive hours later, we found ourselves at The Lone Chicharron Taqueria in “downtown” Seward with Alaskan style tacos (Salmon obviously) and that margarita that I had been thinking about the entire way uphill. I was battered and beaten, but I was also exploding with pride and a sense of accomplishment of what we just did!
It’s been a year since that hike … by far the most difficult hike of my life … but I still think fondly about it. The fondness doesn’t come from the cloud covered switchbacks, that fateful everything bagel rock, or the thought of smashing my toes into the front of my shoes. The fondness comes from an enduring sense of accomplishment that goes above and beyond that day itself.
I’m proud of being open to that type of challenge in the first place. I’m proud of continuing to move forward, and upward. I’m proud of continuing until we reached the top. I’m proud of powering through the pain on the way down. I’m proud of reaching the turnaround point of “The Toughest 5k on the Planet” in my own way.
It is absolutely cliché, but looking back, there is also absolute truth to it. If I can accomplish the wildly intimidating Mt. Marathon, you can accomplish your own mountain … or marathon too. Just put one foot in front of the other and bring an everything bagel.
About the Author:
Kristi Bratton is the wildly patient and supportive wife of Human Powered Movement's Head Enabler Adam Bratton. She is a former NBA dancer for the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Charlotte Hornets), is a diehard #BoyMom, loves Mexican food and is on a streak of doing some form of human powered activity for 200+ straight days.
Journal - My Mount Marathon
Human Powered Journal
Writings and musings of an active lifestyle
Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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