By Jodi Weiss
Roughly 122 miles in to the Brazil 135 ultramarathon—just 13 miles short of hitting our finish line destination of Paraisopolis— Steve, Chip and I opted to nap on three couches located in a hostel in the town of Consolacao. 20 minutes was what we needed to rejuvenate and recharge before our final climb and descent to the finish line. Mauricio, our English-speaking crewmember, was asleep in the crew car. Ricardo, our driver and crew extraordinaire, who didn’t speak a word of English, was awake and had the task—or so we thought—of waking us up. When I popped up from my stupor, frozen stiff and disoriented, my watch indicated that we had slept for over 40 minutes. “Guys,” I said. “Guys, wake up!” No one seemed to know where we were – what was happening. Then all at once, Chip and then Steve, my running mates, scrambled to their feet. We took our bathroom turns, and groggy and determined, we were off on our final trek, which consisted of approximately 3 kilometers on road before we arrived at a gate that led us back onto the Caminho da Fe, or Path of Faith. My teeth shattered in the pre-dawn chill, but with the sun coming into full bloom, I warmed slowly, and steadily. Once back on the trail, we climbed the clay and muddied path deliberately, awaiting the one big final ascent, which everyone had warned us about. Horses lined the way, and soon after the dogs were trotting along behind and beside us. I glanced a few cats sitting on rooftops. Some 47 hours in, we were so close to being done.
Brazil 135 History: the result of failure
Mario Lacerda’s vision for the Brazil 135 occurred after his failed Badwater 135 attempt in 2005. Although Mario had not summited Everest or won any 100 mile races—questions on the earlier Badwater 135 application—he had been on extensive pilgrimages. It was this experience that gained Mario admittance to BW135, and he dragged his two children and wife, what he calls “his professional crew,” with him as he attempted the grueling trek through Death Valley in July of 2005. He quickly realized that his training was not up to par for the blistering Death Valley feat, and at mile 42, he dropped from the race.
I have had the good fortune to meet Mario over the past few years at various ultra-running events, and in the past year, we intercepted at Badwater Salton Sea in Borrego Springs, California, and at Badwater 135, where he was promoting his Brazil 135 race. We met again at Daytona 50, which he participated in as a runner, bringing two friends—both of whom had never run more than a 5K—along with him on their first 50-mile journey. Some twenty hours later, Mario and his gang of newbies crossed the Daytona 50 finish line.
It is perhaps that same determination that caused Mario to complete the inaugural Brazil 135 in early 2006, in which, according to Mario, “he was the first runner, the first race director, and the first and only place finisher.” That finish led to his reapplying to Badwater 135 in 2006. Mario explained in his application that he wanted to return and try again, as he never left anything he did unfinished. In the summer of 2006, Mario completed BW 135 in some 50+ hours, and became part of the Badwater family. Today, completing Brazil 135 in 48 hours is a qualifier for Badwater 135.
To say that Mario is a joyful, loving, passionate man is an understatement. Mario is an aficionado of life, an inspiration and motivation to others, and he carries himself with a joy and love that is contagious. To hear him talk of the Brazil 135 and his commitment to helping others by way of the race is moving. For Mario, BR 135 is not a race, it is a spiritual and transformational journey. And it is not only the entrants and their crews that the race enlightens and empowers, but also the local communities. Aside from our entry fees, each participant is required to donate 3 kilograms of nonperishable food, as well as 5 reais per runner and crew member. Furthermore, by way of the Brazil 135, Mario and supporters have been able to raise funds to build a gymnasium to keep female orphans off the streets and thus steer them away from a life of prostitution.
Why we do the things we do
With 30,000 feet of climbs and some 20,000 feet of descents across the Mantiqueira Mountains, Brazil 135 was not my idea. I am not a mountain runner. I do not love ascending and descending peaks. If I never ran another trail race up in the mountains, I would be fine. I like roads and heat and paved paths. Badwater 135, which I ran in 2015, with temperatures in the 115-120 degree range and some 15- thousand feet of climbs, was my idea of the hardest race in the world. But as with all things ultra, a conversation we had after my two running buddies had just completed Leadville 100 led to applying to Brazil 135, which led to getting accepted, which led to signing up for the race, and eventually training for it. “The countryside is beautiful,” race alumni shared. “It is the hardest race I have ever done,” others said. “Those are real mountains!” I heard. If I have learned anything from running ultras, it is to listen to those who know and heed their advice, but not to drown in the sideline commentaries. We all have our own fears and joys when it comes to races and adventure, and only we know where our respective comfort zones end and our fear and dread commences. The one thing that kept me sane whenever I thought about running in Brazil was that I would be with my buddies, Chip and Steve. No matter how bad the race was, I was sure that being with them would make it better, safer, and full of laughter. And so I took a deep breath and let it all go – the panic, the angst, the dread, and I committed to run Brazil 135.
Training for Brazil 135 was a feat in and of itself. For a Florida flatlander and former New York City girl, it required extensive hill training at our local dump in Fort Lauderdale, otherwise known as Vista View Park. Every Saturday and some Sundays, not to mention weekday workouts that consisted of hours of tire pulling, stair-master sessions, and running on treadmills at a steep incline, we practiced powerwalking up hills and running down them. A few weeks into the training, I was losing the faith – my legs felt heavy and sluggish. I felt slow and sloppy. I ran a 100 miler in late December, my 20th race of 100 miles or more, and emotionally, I bottomed out. Getting to that finish line took all that I had in me. Was I ready for what was seeming to be the hardest race of my life a few weeks later? I wasn’t sure, but I trusted in my coach and persevered, and prayed for the universe to conspire and work its magic.
Then there was the logistics of racing in a foreign country. Once Chip, Steve, and I were accepted into the race in August, we didn’t do much other than pay the entry fee, obtain our visas, and purchase our plane tickets. It wasn’t until two days prior to our departure that we realized we needed a place to stay when we arrived in Sao Paulo late Monday evening. This was typical of how it would be for us for the duration of our travel, but somehow, it all worked out, and on Tuesday morning, ten-time Brazil 135 finisher Professor Julio and his 18-year old daughter Gabby, who had also completed Brazil 135, arrived at our hotel to transport our threesome to Sao Joao da Boa Vista, the race start. Like everyone else that we encountered in Brazil, the professor and his daughter were gracious, loving, kind, and accepted us into their lives, making us feel at home, instantaneously.
Arriving in to Sao Joao da Boa Vista (SJBV) at the Hotel Mansao dos Nobres on Tuesday, the reality of the race set in. I was really going to be doing this! We were thrilled to learn that the majority of other Americans running the race were at the same hotel. The topic of conversation that Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday, was the storms and rains which had flooded much of the course. The threat of more rain loomed. The roads and trail, we were told, were in the worst shape they had been in for 20 years. Floods had created mud paths and bridges were down. I panicked at having to wade through water and worse yet, what that would mean for the down hills and climbs. I envisioned myself slip sliding away. Chip sang “Raindrops keep falling on my head,” as we organized our race supplies. Doom was in the air.
Tuesday night, after dinner at Restaurante Casarao, which became our favorite restaurant in SJBV, we hung out in our hotel lounge discussing the race. The other runners, mostly veterans, shared the details of the course and stressed the importance of familiarizing ourselves with the names of the towns we were passing through. Our threesome had not even looked at the course map. As three professionals who are detail orientated, we were not clear how or why we had not done our homework. Timing most likely – all of us were working nonstop for months leading up to the race. I felt slightly panicked that I was so unprepared, but there wasn’t much time for anything at this point considering our intermittent internet connections. Besides, we had one day to get ready to rock and roll and we had not yet gone food shopping or met our last-minute Brazilian crew.
The race meeting took up most of Wednesday. There were packets to pick up, food donations to drop off, race bibs and tracking devices to obtain. That was when we got to meet our crew and shop with them to purchase the endless bottles of Coca Cola and water. We seemed to have hit the jackpot with our crew leader Ricardo, who was Andre Nader’s father – Andre being as close to professional crew as you could get. Both Andre and his father were well versed on the course. Although Andre was crewing our American comrades, he watched out for us the whole race. Andre shared that his father was like MaGyver and it proved to be true. Our second crew member was the newbie Mauricio, who was Andre’s personal training client.
The night prior to any race, I typically do not sleep well. The unknown is a great insomnia inducer. I tossed and turned, playing over the worst scenarios in my mind. I didn’t know what I feared the most: floods? Mountains? Downhills? The trail at night? Stomach issues? Getting lost? My mind was a tangle of nerves and fear. I prayed to my mom to protect me, to watch over me. To get us all through the race. I prayed to the universe to guide us, keep us safe, and then it was morning, and I felt tired and anxious and my stomach was in knots. I don’t always understand what propels me to do things that I fear at a core level, but perhaps it’s my belief that on the other side of the fear, there will be a gift of serenity, of acceptance, of growth.
The story of 56
In 2002, when I was at a crossroads in my life and had decided to leave an 11+ year career in the NYC world of publishing, I went through a phase in which everywhere I looked, there was a license plate that had the number 56 in it. I was born on the 6th of May, or 5/6, and as long as I can remember, 56 has been my lucky number. So back in post 9/11 NYC, when it was 56 everywhere, I took it as a good omen that I was moving in the right direction. I even started to take pictures of the 56 license plates. Eventually, I came across a license plate that said 56 End and after that, it seemed that I had docked.
As soon as I arrived in Sao Paulo, everywhere I looked, there was a car with the number 56 in its license plate. Once I pointed it out to Chip and Steve, it became indisputable – 56 abounded. Even our crew car had 56 in its license plate. I was sure that there was a magic surrounding me in Brazil, be it my mom, or something in the universe conspiring for me to be on the exact path I was on.
Perhaps most significant is the fact that I am once again at a crossroads in my life, after recently leaving a 12-year corporate career to start up my own business. I cried more than once alone, silently, at the impossibility of this coincidence. Some things in life do not always make sense to us; some things are beyond our wildest dreams and imagination. But I knew in my heart and soul that 56 was leading me in the right direction.
Caminho da Fe (Walk of Faith)
It was in 2002 that the Caminho da Fe was connected into the trail it is today. Mario shared with us how a Brazilian man, who had been on pilgrimages in Santiago, was trying to construct a clear path for others to travel straight across. The man labored, with limited funds, until November 2001, when he unknowingly intercepted the President of the Brazilian Federal Bank on the trail. At the banker’s beckoning, the pilgrim came to Sao Paolo to meet with him, and got the money to connect the path, which traverses fields, woods, and mountains. The rest is history. In 2002 a group, to include RD Mario, set out on their first pilgrimage across the newly connected Caminho da Fe. Along the way, there are pousadas, or inns, which allow pilgrims to rest and eat. According to Mario, people travel the path for a variety of reasons – to grow, heal, and seek. It is a Christian pilgrimage but clearly all benefit from traversing the lush green landscape and intimidating mountain ranges.
The Brazil 135 starts off at the Unifae or university in downtown SJBV. The event includes a few races – a relay, a 135 mile race, and the option of 160 miles, which runners are not allowed to commit to until they reach the 135 mark. There’s not too much fanfare at the start line, but the crowd of athletes are upbeat and excited. There were pictures to be taken, good lucks to be wished, and then we were off! The first four miles or so are run through town, before we came upon the Caminho da Fe trail which was to be our course and guide for the next 130 or so miles. At the onset the trail was runnable and easy to navigate – we spotted the yellow arrows marking the path and followed them. Then came the first significant climb. I had been having fun taking in the country side, and the magnificent skyline which was a vibrant pool blue. So far, rain was not an issue. The steepness of the climb was not expected. Yes, I knew we would be climbing all day, but when that first uphill hit, reality took hold of me. I slowed down, watching the guys push on ahead. We intercepted with many runners at this time. One by one, they passed me. One of the runners, Andre, who had no legs and was bravely attempting the race in a wheel chair, was one of the few runners that I passed. Then we were into the 2km of single-track section. We had been forewarned that this would be the hardest section in terms of footing. Chip stayed back to help me navigate the climbs and leaps and bounds of this tight and treacherous portion of the trail. Mud, rock, tree stumps, roots, and slippery terrain, and then we were through it, all alive and well. It was downhill from there – literally, miles of downhill over rugged terrain, and we bounded down until we hit our first town, some 12 miles into the race. There was something in that tumbling and freefalling downhill that caused a shift in me – what was to be one of the many shifts I experienced throughout the race. The sun peering through the reaching trees, the sky its azure blue, I knew that I was going to be okay. I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. I knew that this adventure would keep unfolding moment by moment, and that tucked within it, there was something for me to learn and experience.
Onward and beyond
After overcoming the first climb and technical section, it was all about tackling the first marathon at the race’s highest point—Topo do Pico do Gaviao. I had created simple goals for the race: survive the two kilometers of technical single track, survive the highest peak. Although the entire race consisted of mostly climbs and downhills, I knew I would rest a bit easier after Pico do Gaviao. But first we would have to traverse some 20 miles until we headed up 3 miles to the peak and the 3 miles down, completing the first marathon.
Big scary races always serve as a reminder to me of my place in life. I am always humbled to look out at the world and realize how small and insignificant I am. Being in the great outdoors reminds me that no matter how large my problems may loom to me, in the landscape of life, they don’t compare to the scope and depth of the mountains, of the sky and moon and sun and stars. The race enabled me to take it all in – the vast and changing panorama that life is, with its movement and simultaneous peace and serenity. This is what I saw: endless rows of 10-foot tall trees reaching towards the sky and the sun peeking through their leafy rims; lush greenery all around and pastures of cows and horses grazing throughout the country side. At any one time there were dozens of stray dogs that followed us for miles and looked at us with the softest and sweetest expressions. “Love me,” they seemed to say. “I will guide you,” they seemed to promise. For me, the animals were the guardians of the path, leading us and seeing us safely through.
From each mountain peak, the world loomed impossibly vast. Fighting, killing, wars, hate, and evil all seemed so far away; but beyond that, they seemed impossible when being surrounded by so much natural beauty. I wondered why we crowd ourselves into crevices when so many wide-open spaces exist.
The towns we passed through were a medley of cobble stone streets and quaint alleys. The modest houses were in close proximity and a jumble of dogs, roosters, parrots, and cats coexisted, yelping and cackling away, day and night. In the daylight hours, I felt a longing each time we arrived at a town and witnessed the mothers and children idling about on town benches, on house stoops. I wondered why I needed to be toiling away. I wondered what my journey was about – where I had been, where I was heading.
At night, the towns we hit were often like ghost towns, with not a sole around. We searched for the yellow arrows to guide us along. Throughout our journey, the number 56 persisted—it was on many license plates we passed each time we entered into a town. We hit our second marathon in the wee hours of the morning without much fanfare: there was a young boy and girl in a small deserted town who checked us in and told us we had completed the second marathon, and then we were off, once again seeking the yellow arrows that led us to the trail. Sometime around 4:30 am on the first night/second morning, sleep became an issue. When we arrived in the next town, Chip opted to sleep with his head on the sidewalk, his legs propped up on a chair. I sat inside the hostel, and witnessed runners sleeping on makeshift beds on the floor. When Chip woke up, he instructed Steve and I to keep going, assuring us that he was going to sleep for an hour and would catch up with us. I disagreed with this idea, but Steve and I got ourselves moving forward. About twenty minutes later, Steve and I were bottoming out. We needed to sleep. When Chip caught up with us–apparently, he abandoned his idea to sleep another hour—we opted to pile in the crowded and cramped crew car to nap for 15 minutes, with Chip again sleeping outside. And then, we were off! After daylight, around 25 hours in, we all opted for our next nap. Our threesome put our legs up on a pasture fence, and slept for another 20 minutes. Chip and I repeated this the next day, around 40 hours in, when the blistering heat made us both exhausted.
We hit the third marathon mark—at Inconfidentes—Friday afternoon, as we plummeted a downhill road in what felt like scorching hot temperatures. I didn’t know the exact temperature during the race, but it felt somewhere in the 80 degree to 90 degree-range, with high humidity. We arrived in Tocos do Moji before nightfall set in, and knowing that we were approaching our second night out on the trail, it was time for us all to freshen up and change clothes, and nap. The sky was threatening rain and wind, so we also made sure to grab some warmer clothes. Crewmate Mauricio helped me to gain entry to the local hostel and waited for me outside while I changed my clothes. Chip and Steve changed clothes in a random town woman’s home. Chip decided we were all going to eat rice and beans, which Mauricio found for us at a restaurant in town. After a few bites, I felt ill from the beans and so did Steve. Chip somehow managed to get them all down.
We were all feeling less than optimal as we climbed out of town, towards the majestic church and back onto the trail. With our first major climb, the nausea vanished and the mountain high set in. I was learning that the climbs woke me up – sweating, focus, and heart pounding – they instigated an adrenaline rush and always rejuvenated me.
By the next town we hit, nightfall was rapidly approaching. They guys stopped at our crew car to fix their feet as they always did – it was becoming a compulsion now for them to take off their socks and shoes and apply Trail Toes and such to their deteriorating feet. After Ricardo took Steve into a bar to use the bathroom, and the guys searched for our music from the overstuffed crew car, I too had to use the bathroom. Ricardo, in true MacGyver form, waved me away from the bar, and after walking to a nearby home and communicating with a family, he motioned for me to go into their house. There were a few younger girls, a mother and father and what seemed to be grandparents, adorning the porch and sitting in what appeared to be their living room. I walked in, and they pointed me to the bathroom. The image that stared back at me in the mirror was horrific: my face had dirt and dust on it, my eyes were red and puffy, and my hair was plastered to my head under my hat. I looked as if I hadn’t slept in days, which was accurate. When I came out, the family all smiled at me, until I slipped on the mat outside the door, which sent it flying across the slippery cement floor, which induced laughter. In my exhausted state, I couldn’t control my own laughter. I waved, bowed my head, and as I made my way out what I believed was the door leading outside, I walked straight into a bedroom, which again induced yelps of laughter. I was doubled over in a fit of laughter myself at this time – a deep laughter that reminded me of my mom and how she often laughed with a reckless abandon. Finally, I made my way out of their bedroom and outside, and hearing the family still laughing behind me, deepened my own laughter. It was a laughter of freedom, of joy, of love, of happiness. A laughter I pray I come upon again and again on my journey in life. For the remainder of the race, whenever that episode returned to my mind, I would start laughing. The gang and I ventured back out onto the trail with our music beaming out over a speaker that Chip carried, and the tunes put a bit of good cheer in our step.
When we eventually hit the fourth marathon mark in Estiva, I realized that we would not be on this trail forever. That there was an end, and that we were closing in on it. Aside from that event, though, I was in the moment more often than not during this journey. This race didn’t permit me to jump ahead. There was always another climb to tackle first. Another downhill to survive. I didn’t wish I was anywhere other than where I was, because I was so busy living in the moment. This was a shift for me. For many races this year, I bribed myself with thinking about the next day, when I would no longer be running. About the next week, about all that I had ahead of me. At Brazil 135, I focused on what I was facing, what I was feeling, what was in the moment, rather than the future.
Before we slept at the hostel in Estiva, one of the volunteers asked me, “What color is your pee?” I went to the bathroom and assured him that everything was perfect. The guys were back at their obsessive foot care, and I finally let them both have it, telling them that their constant tampering was useless at this point. To forget about their feet. Then it was naptime, and while I slept face down on a table while sitting in a chair, Chip slept outside on the sidewalk again, with his legs up the wall. This was becoming a habit for him. Steve wrapped himself in a silver reflective marathon wrap and slept in a bed that I am sure thousands of others have slept in before him.
What we talked about
I don’t think that I have ever laughed as much during a race as I did during our trek on the Caminho da Fe. We took turns telling stories, and there were numerous times during which Chip made up his endless and ridiculous stories, which you were not quite sure were make belief until he really got going. Steve told a few jokes, and Chip and I shared our favorite Carl Weiss stories – Carl being my dad. My dad’s favorite phrase is “the show must go on,” and often, when Chip would look at me, I told him “the show must go on.” Sometimes, when Chip offered me food to eat, I would say, “I only eat what I like to eat,” another Carlism. It was our way of including my father, who has been on almost all of my ultra-journeys with me. We talked to the cows often, and to the horses, and there was not a dog that didn’t receive a greeting from us. Chip was especially chatty with the cows along the way. Once, after the endless Tocos do Moji climb in which a dachshund-resembling dog trotted behind me for over an hour, I created a soliloquy on pain, which I recited to the local cows.
We talked about our discomfort and suffering at some points – but in a detached way, as if we were talking about someone else’s pain. When you are continually climbing and descending, your feet tend to take a toll. We each had our share of aches and pains, and Steve had countless blisters. My right arch felt broken and my small toes began to burst out of my shoes early on in the race. And yet, I felt strangely good for the most part of the race. The lows I tend to feel at other ultras were not there. The doubt and fear were absent, too. Early on, I had moved into the race—its steady ups and downs, its heat and humidity and evening winds and cool temperatures. Its rocky miles and thick muddy clay; its slick limestone and brick pavers that made my knees shutter on some of the downhills.
I was constantly amazed at the beauty of the course. The clear and vibrant blue skies and the abundant and rich green pastures. More than once, we talked of our journey, how we couldn’t believe we were in the midst of this race, how we would never again wish to do this, and how thankful we were that so far, we were all healthy and moving along. Sometimes, specifically the second night in, we cursed the climbs, asking one another how it was possible that there was yet another climb to combat and yet another downhill. But we managed them, one by one. Amongst us, there was a love, a generosity of spirit, a desire and will to help one another through, a commitment to the race and to our team.
What we ate
The three of us typically shared a miniature bottle of Coca Cola every three or four miles, and often we shared chocolate Ensure protein shakes; in keeping with the theme, we ate mini-cheese sandwiches prepared by Ricardo (I should note that I had not eaten white bread since I was four years old until this race). Chip ate a few Kind bars and I nibbled on Quest bars as survival food when we faced a major climb and I needed quick fuel, and Steve swore by his chocolate nutrition shakes. I used three chocolate Accel gels pre significant climbs and two scoops of Tailwind for the first hour. We drank adequate water throughout the race, and I took an endurolyte every hour throughout the majority of the race and I used magnesium and potassium tablets every other hour.
Aside from that, the only other real food I ate was a few tastes of the rice and beans I noted earlier, which didn’t work well for my stomach. To survive some 50 hours with minimal sleep and nonstop movement, we learned to listen to our bodies and ate when necessary, and let our stomachs rest when they could. It was one of the first long races for me in which stomach issues didn’t prevail.
Approaching the final and fifth marathon, there was no fanfare. As we made our descent into town, I lagged behind the guys and had my cry. I didn’t know what any of it meant to me anymore, but I knew that finishing this race had transformed me in ways that other races had not—mostly because I confronted those mountains. Scared, insecure, doubting me, had tackled those mountains with my own two feet and body and soul. I am often asked why I run 100-mile races, and the answer is because they enable me to grow. They push me to struggle and find my way. They empower me to lose the world and delve into myself. They remind me of what really matters in life and teach me to find that granite within me that I so often misplace in my daily humble jumble of living. They remind me that I am made up of so much more than I ever believed. They show me a version of myself that I don’t always encounter when I am working in my office or teaching a college class or writing an article. Someone stronger than I could have ever imagined. They teach me to be humble. To be kind. To accept life a bit more. They instruct me to turn the channel when others preach their excuses on why they can’t do this or that. They remind me of my desire to live, to take hold of my life and shape it, instead of letting life happen to me.
When we hit town, we could not find our way to the finish line. “It’s a different place than last year,” someone directed us. “The second town square.” Which was perfect, because we had no idea where the first town square was. We scrambled along the steep brick pavers and cobble stone looking for someone, anyone, a yellow arrow, and as we descended into town, one step at a time, we came upon some of the race staff waving us over, and then it was over. Done. 51 hours of battle, of sleep deprivation, of prayer, of grace, of love, gratitude, commitment, devotion, perseverance, grit. We made it. The guys held back to let me cross the makeshift finish line first. Our time was 51:56.
The after party
Once we arrived at the glorious Pesca na Montanha hotel, the party was on. We showered and then walked over to the barbeque. The resort was magical with roaming horses, breathtaking views, cool, crisp clean air, and chalet-style rooms that were comfortable and cozy. There was an other-world-ness to the mountains of Brazil—a blend of English and Swiss charm.
After two nights of minimal sleep—most likely a total of 1.5 hours— it is hard to imagine that we spent all afternoon and evening at the race party, eating, drinking, reminiscing with fellow racers and crew, and laughing. There was a deep sense of camaraderie at the after party. To have survived Brazil 135 was unlike other events – it is something beyond strength, beyond perseverance that gets you to that finish line. It is about believing – in yourself, in the universe, in your journey.
Why we do the things we do revisited
There’s a saying that you can have courage or comfort but not both. This race exemplified that for me. This race took me out of my comfort zone in all respects – having to trust strangers to look after my well-being. Not knowing where we were staying, who was picking us up when, what the race was going to be about. I felt proud of myself for each climb. Amazed at my spirit, at how happy I was, how much fun I was having. There was nowhere else I needed to be or wished to be during the race. I felt immersed in the experience, not someone surviving it. I had a deep-rooted determination to keep going. When I felt horrible, which was often a reality, I pushed on. I laughed and joked and trusted and believed. The yellow arrows leading the way were a gift—so often in life we trudge forward blindly, alone and undirected. For this journey, I had a path to pursue, a place to arrive at, a destination carved out for me.
The Caminho da Fe was long and winding. It was full of ups and downs. It was smooth in some places and tattered and rocky in others. Just when we thought it was impossible to get any higher on some mountains, they kept us climbing upwards. Then there were the views. The ability to look down at the world from our safe and remote spot. And down and down and down we went, into the towns and villages, into the hearts and lives of others, into our own hearts and souls. And we kept going, until it was time to stop, rest, take it all in, and appreciate all the great things and people this wonderful world has to offer.