Posted by | CDS

A CEO Hike on the Foothills

By Dana McConnell, CDS Executive Director

Sitting at the top of an organization chart is lonely. We work our entire careers to get there, then realize there are few people we can truly talk with and relate to. When you add in the events from the past year of a global pandemic, stark political divisions, and rising economic uncertainty, the stress of managing and sustaining a nonprofit can cause significant burnout. Charlie Hall, president of Upstate Warrior Solutions, decided to do something about that.

Charlie and his team organized the first of what could become an annual outing. For five long, hot days at the end of May, our group of nonprofit CEOs hiked the entire Foothills Trail from Oconee to Table Rock. We had five through-hikers and thirteen section-hikers who left our workstations, staff, and families to unplug from reality.

Our veteran hikers breezed right through the 77-mile trip. But for the rest of us, the commitment required months of pre-hike training, several trips to REI, and significant on-line research. There was also an assurance that the hike would be assisted. (Many thanks, by the way, to our support teams who carried our nightly gear to each camp site.)

Setting fears and doubts aside, we hugged our loved ones goodbye and stuffed our over-packed bags into the transport vans to embark on this momentous journey. Our word of the week was “buttercup”, a code for when someone needed to step off the trail for a bit of privacy.

Once on the trail, the terrain quickly became physically demanding. Our mental exertion from the past year was transformed into group therapy by encouraging each other through each step and up the next incline. It was a scenario that played out daily, especially on Heartbreak Hill.

We encountered hornet nests, snakes, lots of lizards, and even an armadillo, thanks to the keen eyes of those in our group. Our collective emergency kit contained a “magic cream” that seemed to cure anything from bug bites to scrapes to poison ivy. And speaking of cures, there was one occasion where a medical procedure was needed on a toe. Since we didn’t have a physician in our midst, we decided that someone in our group who had played a doctor on stage before was close enough. The procedure was performed using tools at hand. We think it worked.

We were surprised to find so many water sources along the trail. This provided wonderful refreshment to our overheated faces and sore muscles. The first two hikers in our group who arrived at Upper Whitewater Falls found the area void of visitors. Taking advantage of the moment, they stripped down to their skivvies and enjoyed a quick dip just as a group of high school students walked up the trail. Their scramble to dry off was a bit comical!

Our trail experience also included a bit of mystery. One evening during dinner, we each had our selection of freeze-dried mountain meals. As the meals were individually chosen and prepared, another member of our group was excited to find her selected meal already prepared for her. As she was enjoying her dinner, the original preparer kept looking around for the meal as if he set it somewhere he didn’t remember. The truth came out later that evening as another beef stroganoff was patiently prepared. Karma had the last word on that, though.

A few other scenarios rounded out the fun week, like coyotes howling one evening near our campsite, Dueling Banjos (song from Deliverance) playing too close for comfort, and discovering a way to buttercup after a thunderstorm rolled in. A few lessons were learned as well, like how mileage on a 1940s State Park trail map may not be current anymore. By the end of the week, our mileage to the next check point ended in “ish”, as in 5-ish miles left. The “ish” was ALWAYS arbitrary.

We are so grateful to the SC Dept. of Natural Resources, the various Boy Scouts and Girl Scout troops, and the many volunteers who help maintain the Foothills Trail. It was absolutely beautiful and is a treasure for South Carolina.

Our time away was incredibly good for the soul. It was never about the destination of getting to Table Rock State Park. Rather, it was about the journey. The trail gave us an opportunity to reconnect with our peers. It gave us space to feel supported. And, it allowed us to renew our passion for our nonprofit work in our communities.