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The Longest Day

Day 6 was a continuation of Stage 5. I awoke at checkpoint 4, deep in the jungle, and still had to complete 53 “Brazilian Jungle Kilometers,” but by now I was so tired that I could barely walk.

My new best friend
My left leg from below the knee up to the hip had been in great pain the past few days. I couldn’t let that beat me. I remembered that I just needed to go on placing one foot in front of the other. I used my stick so my arms would help propel me, and on the straight paths I used it like a kayak paddle, pushing off the ground for extra propulsion. While ascending hills, I used my stick as an anchor to pull myself up; and when going down, as a balance.

My stick had now become my best friend. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, not even an all-you-can-eat buffet of fresh food. Although I had tired of eating trail mix and protein bars, I kept at it because I needed the nourishment. But by the fifth day, I could no longer drink my protein powder mix. Actually I’m quite used to protein powder, but at home I normally mix it in a blender with milk and a banana for a smooth and tasty treat. Here in the jungle I only had water to mix it with, using a piece of paper as a funnel to meticulously scoop the powder into a small bottle. Even after shaking the bottle vigorously, the mixture was inconsistent and lumpy at best.

For the first four days, I could stomach it, but by day 5 it began to taste like vomit and smelled like dung. I refused to consume any more of it and gave the remainder to an excited Brazilian soldier, Dos Reis, the one who had cut me the walking stick. I am certain that I got the better part of that exchange.

Dallas heat, Amazon hills
For most competitors, the greatest challenge was to achieve sufficient hydration and replenishment of electrolytes and salt. The jungle heat and humidity quickly deplete us of these necessary elements. But for me, my toughest challenge had been the steep hills. After the race I heard that we’d climbed over 16,000 feet of cumulative altitude gain and loss! My home in hill-free Dallas did nothing to prepare me for this ordeal, but it did train me for the constant sweating and extreme heat.

I grew up playing sports every summer in the Texas heat, and my body must have adapted. Throughout the race I simply drank a lot of water in small amounts and also drank a couple of servings of Gatorade and Sustain drink mix powder along with a couple of electrolyte tablets per day. Although I remained hydrated, my body suffered total exhaustion and I struggled to complete this longest of all days. Mark and Ivan from the support crew walked with me to encourage my movement – and probably to ensure that I didn’t keel over and die!

This part of the course traversed between thick jungle and a beautiful beach that overlooked the sun setting over the ocean-like wide river. Although too tired to take notice of such a picturesque landscape, I stopped and forced myself to look and remember the magnificence of my surroundings. I struggled to drum up the energy just to appreciate it. I had to fight to keep focused on all the beauty about me. My body simply didn’t care, but I willed myself to enjoy it, just as I willed myself to go on.

Miraculously, I completed Stage 5 at 10:15 p.m. on the second day allotted, and was surprised to find several fellow competitors still awake, waiting to cheer me across the finish line.

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