Most of the gear that I used during the UFC I was very happy with and would use the same gear if I was doing the event again. My portage cart, however, is one piece of gear that I would not use again. Not that it isn’t a great cart. It is very well constructed and can carry a heavy load. It just requires a lot of assembly and that introduces a risk due to the potential of losing a nut or bolt and it requires a lot of time that I could have used sleeping. Knowing this, I decided to assemble my cart before I went to bed. The other pain with this cart is the wheels. They are bigger in diameter than most which is good, but the tube that the supplier used inside of the wheel severely limits what you can use to inflate the tube. I was thankful that I tested what was the best way to inflate these tubes. A bicycle pump wouldn’t work, a mountain bike tube pump wouldn’t work and an air compressor wouldn’t work. It was the restricted space between the tube inflation connection and the wheel spokes. The only thing that would work was a CO2 inflation device. Before I left on the UFC I had tried to get a different tube with a longer and angled inflation connection but the bike shop didn’t come through for me on this. Lesson learned? Don’t rely on one shop to get you what you need and allow their problems of getting products to become your problem. They swore up and down they would have the tube in plenty of time and I trusted that they would. Well they didn’t and their response was, “Sorry.” Sorry?!?!?! Well sorry will not inflate my tube if I have a flat during the 40 mile portage. So I ended up carrying three spare CO2 cartridges. One to inflate my tires and two for spares in case of a flat. So with my portage cart assembled and my special, top-secret hauling poles installed, I started to get my portage gear sorted out. Light-weight, long sleeve shirt – check. Light-weight hat – check. Light-weight boardshorts – check. Safety vest – check. Two pairs of heavy-duty socks – check. Powder for the feet – check. Gorilla Tape for hot spots – check. Body Glide to prevent rub spots – check. Light-weight gloves – check. Running shoes – ………………….. NO WAY!!!!! I had packed my second set of Merrill Amphibian Water shoes instead of my running shoes. I could not believe it. Confirmation that my packing strategy for the checkpoints was flawed – CHECK!! Oh, and these shoes were brand new. Great, I am getting ready for a 40 mile portage in a pair of shoes that are built for being in the water, have hard bottom soles, very little cushion, lots of mesh for draining water and not broken in at all. I couldn’t believe it but there was nothing I could do about it so I just sorted the rest of my stuff out and went to sleep. Gee, what a major mistake!
What a treat it was to be able to get up in the morning and not have to get into wet paddle clothes. It was a nice change of pace and packing was so much easier on land. Both of us were pretty careful to pack our boats where they would be balanced on the portage carts. With everything secured and packed up we started the portage to meet Chief at a restaurant in St. George called the K&C Oak Tree Cafe. I was so looking forward to some fresh eggs, bacon and pancakes. It was only a couple of miles to the cafe and it gave us a chance to see how our portage rigs were doing. Since it was so early in the morning there was very little traffic so we kind of had the whole road to ourselves which was nice. I was pretty pleased with my setup but I was also stressing over my shoes. I just knew that I was going to have some serious problems with blisters. Chief was there right on time and no one was in the cafe. Well the K&C Cafe didn’t disappoint us. The food was great, the servings were large and boy did I eat. I didn’t care if I was going to feel stuffed. I wasn’t running the portage. I was going to be walking it and that was going to take a lot of energy, and it was supposed to be fairly hot today. The folks at the cafe were great. The owner of the cafe had really gotten into the race and was doing everything he could to help out the contestants. To our surprise, as we were leaving, he came out with two care packages for us for our lunch. A care package of barbeque ribs, bake beans, potatoes and bread. Oh we will be eating good today!
The road that we were taking to Fargo is Georgia State Road 94 which turns into Florida State Road 2. If you look on a map you will see that this road is a straight two lane road out in the middle of no where. The main traffic on this road is big trucks hauling logs and I have a pretty good idea they get paid by the load because they move pretty fast. Getting hit by one of these bad boys could really ruin your day. What made it even more interesting was that there is not a big shoulder on this road. So here are two crazy guys with canoes, walking on a road that is the main road for logging trucks, through a very unpopulated part of Georgia. What Rod and I experienced while on this road was nothing but good ol’ country friendliness. The logging trucks would talk to each other by CB letting the other truckers on the road know where we were. Then they would get over long before getting to us and then blow their horns and wave. In fact, one actually stopped and asked what were doing. Instead of being mad we were on the road they were encouraging us. Folks driving by would also slow down and wanted to know what we were doing. Then the owner of the K&C Oak Tree Cafe pulled up when we were about 20 miles out of St. George and gave us a couple of cold water bottles. The folks in this area were great!
The day turned out to be a hot one which made the road hot. Rod and I had a strategy of stopping every hour to inspect our feet and to proactively put tape on if we were starting to experience any hot spots. In addition to the tape, I was also using lots of foot powder and rotating my pair of socks to keep them dry. Each time I took my socks off I was expecting to see some blisters but each time I didn’t find any. I was shocked and figured God was looking out for me. Rod, on the other hand, was starting to have some problems with blisters forming. He was taping the hot spots but for some reason the blisters kept forming. When we stopped for lunch (which was those awesome K&C Oak Tree Cafe care packages) Rod really worked on his feet. Each hour that passed, things got worse and worse for Rod. We had a long way to go and the rate the blisters were forming was problematic. Now Rod is an extremely tough guy, and I will not go into graphic details of his feet, but I will say that there are only so many layers of skin on your feet before you start getting into nerves and blood vessels. Our goal was to get the portage done in one day but that goal was in jeopardy. As I watched Rod walk, I started to think about what could we do differently. We could stop and get Rod off his feet, get a good night’s sleep and hope for the best tomorrow. My concern with doing this was that his feet would swell, be more painful tomorrow and he would not be able to get on them. I could continue on and this would be the end of our partnership on the UFC. Yes, that was an option, but it wasn’t an option in my mind. Rod had helped me and now was the time for me to help him. That is what team work is all about. The other option was maybe I could pull both boats and then the pressure on his feet would be less. Could I pull both boats? That would be about 300lbs on wheels and a length of 35 feet. We had another 11 miles to get to Fargo. Rod couldn’t take it any more and quite frankly, I couldn’t take seeing him suffering with each step. He was in some terrible pain and for him to allow me to try and pull both boats was an indication of the the level of pain he was in. So we tied the two boats together, did some readjusting of the loads on the boats to balance it out, and I started the pull. I was surprised that it wasn’t that bad once I got the boats rolling. Hey, we just might make it! We had been on the portage all day and we were starting to lose daylight. I have always liked to operate at night and the night was a welcomed change. The temperatures were cooler, the logging trucks had shut down and the visual of looking at this road that seemed to go forever wasn’t there. So it was just Rod and myself walking on this road going through the Okefenokee Swamp. For me, when I am doing something like this, I mentally compartmentalize things such as any pain or uncomfortableness I am experiencing and try to focus all my mental energy into one thing. That one thing was moving these boats forward one step at a time.
Our speed had dropped considerably but the first 4 miles seemed to go by pretty well. Then it changed. Fargo is higher than the section of road we were on going through the swamp. It is also a long, slow rise in elevation and that increased the level of difficulty of pulling the boats. I was getting very tired but at the same time I was determined to get to Fargo tonight. If we could do that, then we would be back in the canoes going down the Suwannee River. Rod would be able to get off his feet thus giving them a chance to heal and we would be making some easy miles since we would be going down river. The other thing that was of concern is that it started to rain so now my feet are wet and having my feet develop blisters now would be a death nail to our attempt. Talk about a bummer to get this far in the UFC and then have to pull out because of some blistered feet. Then through the black night my head lamp caught the flash of a road sign. It was a sign saying how far it was to Fargo. Yeah! When you start seeing street signs with your destination, that is a sign you are getting close. For me that was mentally uplifting. Unfortunately for Rod, it was a sign of just how much farther he was going to have to suffer. I knew we were in trouble when he started to get a head of me and his head lamp was scanning both sides of the road. He couldn’t take it any more and quite frankly our speed was now down to a crawl. We were only a couple of miles out of Fargo but it was also the first time I had seen Rod beat. He couldn’t go on any more, his feet were a mess and the pain was just too much. I do think I could have made it to Fargo, but at the same time I was also very beat, sore and tired so I agreed. I still had the fear that Rod would not be able to get on his feet in the morning but I also knew he couldn’t go any more. So we pitched our tents on this small drive way that was pretty close to the road. There was no traffic on the road and we would be getting up early so it seemed ok. In looking at my feet that night I still couldn’t believe it. Not a single blister and just some minor hot spots that the guerrilla tape was addressing. The only thing I could figure is that the hard soles of the Merrill shoes kept the heat from getting to my feet and the mesh design helped keep my feet dry. I do think there was also some divine intervention going on. Even though Rod was off his feet and asleep, he still moaned through the night. I don’t know how he was able to sleep but I guess it just proves the point that if you are really tired you can sleep through just about anything. Well, tomorrow is another day.