29029 Part 1 of 2, The Story

Posted by Ashley Thompson on

29029  Part 1 of 2, The Story

The lessons I learned from hiking up a mountain for almost 30 straight hours.

I am an ordinary person.   I believe that I was blessed with a few extraordinary gifts.  By in large, I don’t fully understand the gifts.  That is part of my life journey – to gain awareness, maximize and share these gifts.  Two weeks ago, I traveled to Utah to participate in an event called 29029.  During this event two of those gifts were unlocked in a magnitude that scared and excited me.  This is The Story.  The Life and Business Lessons will be shared next week in Part 2.

 29029 is an event unlike any other that I am aware of.  This is the brain child of Jesse Itzler and Marc Hodulich.  Two amazing people that have a diverse and successful background in family, business and endurance sports.  The basic premise of 29029: they rent an entire mountain for a weekend, the participants are provided plush amenities and care, and all the participants need to do is hike up the mountain as many times as they can in 36 hours.  The ultimate goal of the event is to climb 29,029 vertical feet, or the height of Everest. Hike up the mountain, ride the gondola down and repeat 12 additional times (yep, 13 total climbs up the mountain).  Sounds easy enough…right???  And oh by the way, this particular event started at 6,500 ft altitude and ended at 8,800 ft (just like rural Ohio).

Friday morning at 5:45am, 110 of us gathered at the starting line for a stirring and hilarious speech from Jesse.  Then at 6:00am, we started hiking.  My game plan was simple: finish the event and not die.  I was scared and wanted to start slow and make sure the altitude wasn’t going to impact me too much.  Oddly, I couldn’t stop smiling.  When people asked how I was doing that morning, I answered “amazing” and meant it.  I felt a level of love that is typically reserved for my family and very close friends.  I was surrounded by strangers and felt a love energy that was only building.  I wanted to share it and elevate others.  Again, outside my very close circle of loved ones, this is atypical of epic proportions.  Note: This love I am talking about isn’t physical love.  It is a feeling/controlled emotion/bigger sense of being.

 Love coursing through me, we climbed toward the first summit.  The group of people that sign up for this type of event are top notch individuals and conversation on the first ascent came easy and plentiful.  As we neared the end of the first ascent I had settled into a group of 8 or so.  Among that group was Emily, a gregarious lady that danced into aid stations, smiled at everyone and knew everyone on the mountain.  We finished the first ascent together, rode down the gondola together and that was it, new friend for life.  When said and done, Emily and I spent 29 hours and 44 minutes together climbing the mountain.   

Throughout the 11 hours of daylight, we climbed with numerous different groups and continued to meet people that blew my mind.  Different backgrounds, varying levels of fitness, all walks of life with one common dominator: find that next physical and mental level that lurks beneath the surface continually suppressed by comfort.

On the last hike before sunset, Emily and I connected with Deirdre on the trail.  She was looking for people to continue climbing into the night.  [Mental reference to Dumb and Dumber: Look a hitchhiker!  Well pick her up!].  Our crew grew and life was good.  I looked at our team and said, “You guys want to climb through the night and see the second sunrise of the day?”   Without blinking, they both said yes and that was that.  An all-nighter was in store.  Little did we know the suffer fest that was about to be unleashed upon us.

 We entered the complete darkness of night with headlamps on and smiles plastered on our faces.  The mountain was pitch black with only our labored breathing and crunching foot/trekking pole strikes to keep us company.  This is the part of the event where the mind takes over.  I chose no ear buds for the duration of the event.  I wanted the mental solitude that comes with night hiking.  It is you vs. you.  One of the few times in life where you get to dig as deep into your physical and mental being to see if you can push past the quit button (in the middle of the night, it is the warm bed and closing your eyes).

 The three of us kept climbing.  The smiles faded as the hours passed.  The doubts crept in.  The fatigue set in.  The altitude got to Emily and she felt sick for over 8 hours, yet she kept putting one foot in front of the other and moved towards the finish line.  We eventually picked up the fourth and final member of our suffer fest, David.   We met him at the second aid station deep into the night/early morning.  As the three of us got to the aid station, David asked us how we were doing, I responded “great.”  Damn.  I slipped from Amazing to Great.  The love was still pumping through me as my next gift was being tested – grit/grind/hustle.  From a young age, I realized that if I decided to do something or someone told me I couldn’t do something because it was “too hard” or “I wasn’t a good fit”, I did it.  This crazy drive that come from an indescribable place.  In Utah, this drive was alive and well.  Not only was I going to finish and see two sunrises in one day, I was going to finish side by side with my new friends.  Now might be a good time to share with you that neither Emily nor Deirdre had ever done a 5k, let alone an endurance event.  Both badass in their own right, just not 30 hour endurance athletes.   A new gift was bubbling to surface: coach/teacher.  I didn’t understand it at the time, I just went with it. 

 The four of us plodded on through the night and celebrated when the sun rose.  We made it to the second sun rise as we finished hike 10.   David rushed through the summit and final aid station to secure a leg compression (read life saver) seat for all four of us.  We vs. Me is alive and well.  We ate breakfast while sitting with our legs being compressed to levels I didn’t think possible.  The last six hours of hiking flew by.  The sun was out.  We were sweating.  We were smiling.  The end was right in sight.  Then the final summit came.  The four of us ran across the line: David, Emily, Deirdre and me.  Goal achieved.  I finished and was alive.  Alive took on a new meaning.  Not a physical existence but one of a new level.  Thus the journey continues with a new level of awareness.

Be Amazing,

Brendan

 Next Blog: The Life and Business Lessons learned through this experience.

The Crew of Four - Brendan, Emily, Deirdre, and David

Aaron - That amazing person you just happened to meet on the trail.

The starting line - it doesn' t look too hard here, but most of the mountain is hidden!

Final aid station where we ate PB&Js and ramen noodles that saved our lives.

Just another Saturday stroll...

      FINISH LINE!

3 comments


  • Incredible story and I found your attitude/humor towards the challenge inspiring. I just helped a friend of mine complete the World’s Toughest Mudder (24 hour, non-stop Tough Mudder) and saw first-hand what it takes to overcome a mental/physical challenge like this. Awesome job and thank you for sharing!

    Jake Hagglund on

  • Brendan, congrats and great story, makes me want to give it a try next year.

    Robert L. Hager on

  • Fantastic job boss!!

    Sharon Woods on

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