"Jill, it's six-forty. You need to get up. Jill, are you okay?" I heard Beat's voice echo through my pain tunnel.
"Errgh," I groaned. My head was pounding. "I am really dehydrated."
"You okay to start?"
"I guess. I mean, we'll see." I struggled with the simple effort of sitting up in my sleeping bag.
"You don't have to do that," I said. "You shouldn't give up your race for me. I'll be fine. Really. I can just walk it slowly. I won't pass out. Promise."
"We can walk together," Beat said. "It's better that way."
"The cut-off is as 5 p.m., so we have ten hours to walk it," Beat told me.
"Oh, you can do that easy," our friend Steve replied.
"You'd be surprised ... surprised how slow I can go," I sputtered. "I was averaging one and a half miles per hour during my sick point in Susitna, and I felt substantially better than I do right now."
"Well at least this race has a lot of climbing," Steve offered with a wry smile.
"I need to keep some water down first," I said. I took tiny sips from one of my liter bottles and fought the subsequent waves of nausea as I plodded unhappily through the stunning landscape.
My water showed signs of staying down, but the nausea remained intense. We reached the first checkpoint in about an hour, which I thought was not terrible for 4.5 kilometers, but we were definitely at the back of the race — also not surprising as it was supposed to be a running race. I took a few sips of water in front of the volunteer waiting to fill my bottle and nearly lost it in front of him. Involuntary gasps erupted from my throat. I clutched my neck in an reflex to force oxygen back down while water tried to come up. My gasps must have sounded as though walking 2.7 flat miles in an hour was the hardest effort I had ever made in my life, during an easy section of a relatively easy stage in a 210-kilometer foot race through the rugged mountains of Nepal. Hardly confidence-inspiring.
"Um, are you okay?" the volunteer asked.
"Yes ... just ... trying ... not ... to ... throw ... up," I gurgled. I figured honesty was the best policy.
"Beat, I have to stop," I gasped. I hunched over my poles and breathed heavily before an impressive geyser of liquid — I figure about a liter of water and the three Hi-Chews I had managed to force down so far — erupted from my mouth.
The little girl and her brother rushed toward me. "You vomit? You vomit?" the girl said in English.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," I sputtered and turned in embarrassment away from them.
We managed to motivate ourselves to checkpoint two, where the medical volunteers showed little sympathy, in a good way. "Several people seem to have that bug," the leader of the medical team said. "We think it's a 24-hour virus. You'll probably start to feel better soon. Have you been peeing?"
"Peeing?" I said. "How can I pee when all of my liquid is coming out the other end?"
"Well, as long as you're not too dehydrated," the medic said. "Just keep going. You'll be fine. Make it your goal to pee before the end of the day."
I remember glowering at her. I felt really awful, and now Beat was sick as well. He mentioned quitting the race, and I wanted to quit, too. And I wanted the medics to give us a guilt-free excuse. At the same time, I knew the volunteer was right. What we were doing, walking slowly through sickness, wasn't going to kill us. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't going to kill us. Beat knew this as well, so reluctantly we got up.
Low energy didn't feel as bad as nausea and vomiting, however, and my mood began to improve. It was about this point that three Nepali women carrying triple their mass in grain stalks — while wearing flip flops and skirts — passed us on the climb. I could only shake my head at my own good fortune. "Just when I think I have it tough, Nepali porters pass us again," I said to Beat. "We have it so easy."
We crossed the finish line at 3:38 p.m., for a stage time of eight hours and 38 minutes. Of the 215 or so people who started Stage One in the morning (seven never left camp), only ten people came in behind us. One person dropped during that stage. Another seven would drop out before the race finished. "The bug" was waging an impressive war, and the race hadn't even really begun.