There was a screaming, black-and-blue bruise covering a big part of my thigh. My lower legs were etched with scratches and scrapes. I had sliced my toe. But I didn't mind. I wore them like badges of honor.
They've mostly healed now, but the feeling of camaraderie and accomplishment I felt after completing the Wild Canyon Games still feels like I'm wearing a medal around my neck.
I'd taken on the games' slogan "What Limits?" And found mine were greater than I thought.
I was anxious about the games and tried to find every excuse possible not to accept the invitation from my friend, Suzanne Hayden, to join the Nike Fuel Executive Challenge.
The Nike challenge included 56 corporate executives and community leaders from the Portland metro area.
We were part of the bigger Wild Canyon Games, a three-day extreme adventure race with 130 teams from all over the country.
My kids nudged me into saying yes, telling me it would be fun and make me more interesting.
Nearly five months later, standing on top of a shale-encrusted mountain that I'd climbed with my geocaching partner, Ron Simon, I was in awe. I took in the wide ranging view of Oregon's breathtaking Antelope Valley.
There wasn't another person in sight and I was filled with gratitude that I'd been given this opportunity and followed my kids' advice.
We'd trained since January. My team (pictured above) included Suzanne, the President of the Citizens Crime Commission; Discovery Channel's Ron Simon; Portland police Chief Mike Reese; Rogue Venture Partners co-founder Tom Sperry; Colonel Rick Wedan, the Commander of Portland's Air Base; and Emily Boscacci, the Wellness Coordinator for Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Our team got close over the weeks of preparation, but the challenges of the Wild Canyon Games (WCG) brought us even closer.
Four hours of geocaching through the Central Oregon wilderness is one of the games' events.
My teammate, Ron Simon, lives in Maryland. He and I plotted our strategy on the phone and by email. We practiced how to use our GPS apps and Ron mapped a route for us to find high-value caches and still get back to camp by the deadline.
During our hourlong climb up the shale mountain monster to find our first cache, we realized we might have been overly ambitious in our plan.
I got my beastly bruise when I took a hard fall during our treacherous descent from the slippery shale mountain top. We came up with some colorful descriptions for that sedimentary rock that you won't find in the dictionary.
We modified our map and decided not to go after the 1,200-point cache two miles away, as the crow flies. We knew we wouldn't get there as easily as the crow.
Each cache we found, whether it was a canister hidden in the trunk of a tree or a metal medallion mounted in the earth, we rejoiced like we'd found long buried pirates' booty.
We ended up finding fewer caches then we'd planned, but a respectable number still, and we survived.
Ron and I ran across the finish line five minutes under the deadline, with our hiking poles in the air, exuberant that we'd successfully completed our first challenge together.
That was in the morning. The afternoon events included challenges for our entire team. Together, we needed to finish seven of 10 events, each with different point values, as fast as we could in the three hours allotted.
They included among other things: the longest zip line in North America, a high ropes course, a run up the steepest "hill" I think I've ever seen, a cliff jump and something called "Mud Madness."
That was the one I volunteered to do. What's a little mud? I don't mind getting dirty, I thought. Plus, it had a high point value.
When I arrived at the start, I was told it would be a good idea to take off my shoes. I ran barefoot across the rocky ground to some hay bale obstacles. Oh, and I had to carry a 20-pound ball full of water. They called it a "burden."
The hay bales proved tough for me to get over without kneeling to balance my burden. That's where I think I got the scratches.
The next obstacle was a waist-deep mud pit under a canopy, so that I had to swim through it. I was afraid I'd lose the ball in the mud.
Once I got through the slimy swim, I looked up to see what they called the "Mudderhorn". A tall ladder that, to me, did look like a mountain. I looked at a volunteer and asked, "I need to go OVER that?"
She said, "Yes, with your burden. And don't drop it."
As I slowly maneuvered my way over the Mudderhorn, a lithe young guy seemed to fly over the ladder next to me. His burden looked like it was weightless. I kept plodding my way over.
There was still more mud. Another deep bog. I jumped in. My foot hit hard on a rock hidden underneath. Then there were more hay bales and finally a car wash of sorts to rinse off the mud. I looked at my bleeding feet and felt proud I'd done it.
If I'd seen the challenge ahead of time and had the option to back out, I would have. I'd have thought, "No way, I can't do that." But I did. And my team was there to cheer me on through the muddy madness and greeted me with open arms at the end.
One of the other events in the team challenges was a run up and back on "Communications Hill," with a total elevation of 2,140 feet and a 45-degree pitch. It had the highest total point value.
Police Chief Mike Reese volunteered to do the run up and back. This was after completing the mile open water swim in the triathlon that morning. He ran the hill in just over 14 minutes, one of the fastest times of the day. I called him an "athletic beast." And he is.
Our team got to know each other in ways we wouldn't have otherwise. Spending time together plotting strategy, eating meals together, overcoming obstacles we didn't think were possible and finding out about each others' families, background, and hopes and dreams.
There is no cell coverage at the Washington Family Ranch where the Wild Canyon Games are held. At first, that was unnerving to many, who are used to being plugged in. But it allowed us all to relax and really get to know each other.
While I was waiting for my relay event the final day, I chatted with another Nike Fuel Executive Challenge team member. Katherine Cowan is the General Counsel for EID in Hillsboro, Oregon.
She said, "Look around. No one is on a cell phone. How often do you see 1,000 people, many of them young people and business people, not a mobile device?"
She was right. It was strange to see and wonderful. Instead of pulling out our phones to check messages, we talked with the people around us. It was refreshing and enriching.
The Wild Canyon Games is a nonprofit organization. All the proceeds go toward youth activities and supporting the military. Nike executive Mike Yonkers started the event six years ago.
Everything he does for WCG is all volunteer. I admire what he's done to build it into a nationally recognized event. He makes a special effort to recognize our veterans and recruit companies to sponsor teams made up of our service men and women.
This year, there were 23 military teams. At each meal, Yonkers made sure that we all gave them a round of applause. On the final day of our great adventure, the morning began at 7 a.m. with a Color Guard, presenting the American flag and a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" that boomed across the canyon and gave me goose bumps.
That was the momentous way we began the "Creek-2-Peak Relay." We each had one leg of the seven-leg relay that started with a sprint across a military-style obstacle course, traveled through a Bike cyclocross, delved in to a swim across a lake and ended with a run up the now-infamous Communications Hill.
I had the sixth leg. Fortunately, the run up the hill was divided in to two parts this time. So I had to only run up half the hill. Tom Sperry took the hardest section, the nearly straight-up run to the top.
At the end, Tom and I ran back down Communications Hill together. There were our "Usual Suspects" waiting at the bottom to celebrate our team's accomplishment. We had pushed our limits individually and as a team.
We ended up finishing in the middle of the overall standings. We felt pretty good about that. But no matter where we ranked, we all agreed the weekend ranked as an exceptional experience.
Our team carpooled home together and stopped in Hood River to show Ron the glories of kiteboarding and the goodness of Oregon microbrews. We reminisced about our Wild Canyon Game weekend.
As we said our goodbyes and dropped Ron at the airport to head back to the DC area, I got teary eyed. It was hard to say goodbye to these teammates who'd become my friends.
Colonel Wedan and I exchanged emails later and I think he expressed well what happened that weekend.
"Maybe it's just one of those weird, once-in-a lifetime types of things that come along, where something becomes really meaningful and it takes you by surprise," he wrote. "But whatever it was, I saw it in you, when we dropped you off. But the crazy thing was that I actually got all mushy myself, when I was telling my wife, Liz, about the weekend. It was really hard not to get choked up telling all the darn stories."
I still feel choked up. I almost didn't take this challenge. But thanks to my children using my own words to inspire me ("create your own life stories"; "don't be afraid to challenge yourself"), I found out what happens when you say "yes."
You may just have the time of your life, meet great people and answer for yourself the question, "What limits?"