Cold, wet weather did little to dampen the spirits of participants in the third annual Reach the Peaks event on Saturday.
A total of 384 hikers and runners showed up to conquer the five main peaks in Hanging Rock State Park over the course of an 11-mile hike, despite a day filled with rain and low hanging clouds which obliterated the normally gorgeous views at the peaks.
“Surprisingly there have been no complaints,” said Rebecca Gibson, who helped organize the event. The event is put on through a partnership between the Friends of the Sauratown Mountains, the park and the Stokes County Arts Council. “The folks who participate in these types of events are hard-core, dedicated individuals who are not going to miss this for the world.”
The wet weather did decrease participation some, as organizers were expecting up to 700 participants if there had been nice weather, but even with the rain the event came close to matching last year’s total participation numbers.
“We were just happy to have as many people as we did come out for this amazing event,” said Gibson, noting that participants had come from as far away as Chicago, San Diego and Florida. “A lot of the folks who had registered to run decided to hike it because of the conditions.”
Gibson said organizers had tried to make the event as festive as possible.
“We have Christy Ferguson out there being our ultimate cheerleader and we have Antoinette Carter assisting her,” she said. “We want the hikers to have an accomplished feeling when they come in.”
Hiker Rick Scott, who traveled from Florida to participate in the challenge with his son Shawn, said they accomplished that goal.
“You felt like you had just completed a marathon,” he said. “They were all cheering and it made you feel important. That was the icing on the cake, I want to do this every year.”
Shawn Scott, who moved to the area several years ago to be in the mountains, said he really appreciated all of the events the arts council puts on.
“I did the Polar Plunge in January,” he said. “Doing a polar plunge had been on my bucket list and it was so cool they did one here. And all the organizers did a great job with this event as well.”
Rick noted that it was nice that the event attracted hikers of all ages.
“There were people hiking this who were probably 70 years old,” he said. “It gave me a little more gumption to keep going. When you are starting to hurt and you see them doing it it gives you a reason to keep going.”
This year the hiking challenge also had spaces for local business to set up tents at the finish line, and while some were rained out the ones that showed up said they did well.
“Rather than set up a normal display, I opted to bring nothing but closeout rain-wear and have have had very good sales,” said Village Outdoors owner Don Wright.
Park Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger said the rain had done little to dampen spirits.
“It went way better than I expected given the weather,” she said. “I sure there was not a view from any of the peaks, but everybody was just as cheerful as they were when it was sunny on previous years.”
Many hikers said the rain just added to the challenge.
Sister-in-laws Justine and Randi Luswick, of King, said it had been a wonderful event and one they plan to make an annual event.
“We just womaned-up,” said Justine. “It was awesome. We are going to come hiking here more often.”
One group of hikers from the Cary area said they had been training for the event for months, but not with the same amount of elevation changes.
Another Cary resident, Loel Vaughen, brought his two sons, aged 10 and seven, on the hike. He said he had recently moved to North Carolina from Washington state and said Hanging Rock compared to some of the best scenery out west.
“You don’t have the snow-capped mountains, but you have beautiful parks,” he said. “We are trying to visit all 39 state parks.”
Another group of hikers from the Winston-Salem area said they were doing the challenge as part of their training for to become yoga instructors.
No matter what drew the hikers to Saturday’s challenge, Gibson said she appreciated them braving the elements to participate.
“It has been horrible weather, but a great event. Thank you for coming and supporting Stokes County,” she said. “We are looking for this event to become better and better each year. We hope to get more events like this within the county and we appreciate everyone who drove here to participate.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.