Team Carden – Day 7 – God and Humanity
Friday, October 28, 2016 – 11 miles of the Georgia Section of the Appalachian Trail – Unicoi Gap to Addis Gap over Rocky Mountain and Tray Mountain
My young friend Carden is a former neighbor, UGA graduate, and professional at Salesforce. She also battles a disease known as facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy or FSHD. It has left her unable to walk and with minimal use of her arms and hands. No matter what course it has taken with her, Carden continues to chart her own – straight and steady. She has not, and will not, let FSHD define her. Rather she has decided to use it to raise awareness and funds so that someday there will be a cure. In addition, Carden is committed to equal access for persons with disabilities. She is the reason there are curb cuts in Athens Georgia on UGA’s campus, and is pursuing similar endeavors now in Atlanta.
Carden is successful meeting her challenges to overthrow FSHD and create equal access because she is fiercely independent. Her success is also due to her intellect, humor and grace. She has never met a stranger. I’m convinced this is due to her knack of pulling you in with her thoughtful conversation the minute you meet. I found this to be the case when we first met as neighbors in 2001 – before diagnosis – and find it even more so today.
It is no wonder Carden is who she is. It is in her DNA. The Wyckoff family has always demonstrated a positive can do attitude and strong faith in God. Life challenges, no matter how severe, just don’t seem to slow them down. They remain positive and their faith never seems to waiver. They are solution oriented.
So I wasn’t surprised when Carden told me she was going to hike 79 miles of the Appalachian Trail through North Georgia with her brother and sister, Spencer and Virginia, to raise awareness of FSHD. I wasn’t surprised either when she told me how. She was going via piggyback. Beginning sometime around 2009, as the FSHD progressed and started affecting her ability to walk, piggyback is how Carden has attended various events with her family and friends. Not just any events either, Carden and her brother Spencer completed an obstacle course race in 2015 via piggyback. When Spencer’s friend and Vestigo co-founder, Marshall Mosher, presented Carden and Spencer with the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail they were all in and Piggyback Adventures and Team Carden was born.
When I heard that this was going to happen I knew I had to participate one way or another. As it happened, it all worked out and I was able to join the hike on Day 7 – 11 miles from Unicoi Gap to Addis Gap on the Georgia Section of the Appalachian Trail. Up and down two mountains, both over 4,000 feet elevation. I initially anticipated being part of the piggyback crew and was happy to learn that the organizers had considered me for it as well. As it happened there was ample help that day with others more capable.
It was a long day. I left the house at 6:45am and got home at 10:30 PM. The drive was 1 hour and 45 mins up and 2 hours home. We started hiking out of Unicoi Gap at about 10:30 AM after being briefed by Team Carden organizers on what to expect and how to use a piggyback harness that was specially made to carry Carden. 15 hours and 45 minutes – 9 hours of which was hiking. If I even thought about complaining all I had to do to adjust my attitude was think about the core group of hikers – Team Carden – out on the trail for the 6 previous days, AND remember that they would continue for 2 more days afterward, AND not forget that the previous day – Day 6 – hiking had been a 14 miler – 3 miles longer than day 7. Keeping this in mind quickly squashed any notion of complaining on my part.
Needless to say, I had the opportunity to participate in something extraordinary. Only by being there could I understand the enormity of their endeavor. I saw first hand the thought and effort that went into planning each carry transition. The willingness of each person to step up two, three even four times to piggyback Carden, and the grace with which Carden accepted being carried. Only by being there could I witness God’s work through the humanity of caring, giving people who think of others over themselves – knowing there is a higher calling – something bigger and grander than themselves. God was always present.
The hikers who joined Team Carden came from different backgrounds and places. By the time Day 7 rolled around, 14 or 15 of Spencer’s colleagues from Home Depot had joined the hike at various times. 10 all together on Day 5. On Day 7 two more Home Depot employees joined in, Jesse and Hut, both Dads in their 40s. Each carried Carden three times. Additionally, at one point as I slowed up going up a steep incline, Jesse stayed with me and made sure I made it back to the group.
People who didn’t know Team Carden or anyone else associated with the hike came out just to be involved with something good. Three young women from UGA read about the hike on a UGA website and came out because they thought it sounded like a good idea and wanted to show support. They did this without knowing or being at all familiar with anyone else in the group. They fit in so well that I thought they knew Carden until half way through the hike.
Then there were people who were God winks. A hiker called “God Drop” (his Appalachian Trail name given to him by a Trail Angel (that’s another story) ) joined Team Carden Piggyback Adventures Day 5. He had asked to join because he was already on a hike just to get away, and saw an opportunity to help be part of something bigger than himself.
I had to ask myself, was it coincidental or God in his wisdom that God Drop joined up with Team Carden. God Drop’s wife has suffered for over 20 years from an auto-immune disease that can cause up to 20 symptoms a day. They had just been together the week before in Blue Ridge enjoying their annual stay there. She returned home, and he stayed to hike on his own. As it turned out, God Drop ended up fighting for both his wife and Carden, helping in every way he could from carrying Carden to rallying the crew who was struggling from behind.
On Day 7, God Drop was my God send as I became part of the crew struggling from behind. After about three-quarters of the way through my knees ached with every step, especially on down slopes. Although I kept going, I was slower than the pace kept by the group. God Drop stayed with me the whole way telling me I was doing him a favor by keeping him from going along too quickly. He said he fully intended to continue on with Team Carden the next day and going slower gave his feet much needed rest. Who was I to argue?
God Drop and I made it to Addis Gap – the end of Day 7’s hike – at about 7:30pm. The group was just finishing their traditional end of hike discussion on the highs and lows of the day. Each hiker expressed one high and one low of the day. God Drop and I were each given a turn. What I said pretty much sums up my entire experience: “The high for me was witnessing the incredible bond among strangers that was forged out of Carden’s strength and her desire to raise awareness of FSHD and the lengths she and her siblings will go to do that. The low was knowing I had another half mile to hike out to the car that would take me back to my car at Unicoi. That is another story in and of itself!
You can read more about Team Carden and the stories associated with each leg of the hike here. Please also consider making a small donation of one dollar a mile for the 11 miles we hiked on Day 7 of Team Carden’s Piggyback Adventure to support Carden’s efforts here. Thank you.