On May 1, 2011 at just after 8 pm, I was standing on a rudimentary stage at the Dirt Cheap Sound Stage staring at a sea of amazed and happy faces. Tears were collecting in my eyes and it was often difficult to speak without choking up. I felt an immense sense of pride and completion. Since October of the previous year, I had been telling everyone I knew that I was going to walk for 24 hours around a 100-foot circle and raise $25,000 for a charity called Children’s Hope Chest. Amazingly (especially to me), that’s exactly what I did. During those moments on stage last year, I honestly didn’t know if I was ever going to want or be able to do something like that again. It was so mentally and physically exhausting that part of me just wanted to tap out and say, “I did my thing. Have a good life everyone.”
Within a few weeks, however, I was pretty sure that there was going to be a Hell Walk 2 and on Independence Day I announced what it was going to be: a 100-mile walk throughout Los Angeles. I knew it was a daunting challenge, but that’s exactly what I wanted to have: an impossible obstacle standing in front of me that I would have to get past. I did it before. I could do it again. I decided to raise money to fund college scholarships for the children of military personnel who had lost a parent in combat. Exactly who those kids were going to be, I had no idea. How I was going to find them? No idea.
I have rarely discussed this with people before, but the training for the first Hell Walk really ground me up into dust. In fact, a month before it was supposed to begin, I basically stopped training altogether and retreated into a pretty tight cocoon in my apartment in Los Feliz. A cocoon that consisted mostly of Juicy Burgers and Rum and Cokes. My body and mind were just done before I had even started. For Hell Walk 2, I knew I would have to do something different. Though it would take me awhile to find the right cocktail of exercise, I eventually did: a good amount of walking but a huge amount of yoga and bicycling. For months, those three things consumed a huge amount of my free time, but unlike the year before I actually felt myself getting stronger instead of weaker. If you had told me in July of 2011 that in less than a year I would be doing back-bends with my head off the ground and biking 50-60 miles at a clip, I would have said you had a fucking screw loose. But that’s exactly what I ended up doing.
The months passed far too quickly. I was having trouble figuring out WHO was actually going to get these scholarships for which I was raising money. Time was passing far too quickly. Before I knew it, Hell Walk 2 was less than two months away, and I still had no idea where the money was actually going to go. Then, a bolt of lightning hit. A woman with whom I work — Athena Wickham — suggested I look into the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Their mission was creating scholarships for the children of special operations warriors (Green Beret, Rangers, SEALs) who had lost their lives in service to their country. I spoke with a woman named Wendy Bourland over at SOWF and — before I knew it — Hell Walk 2 finally had its charity.
When June 30 arrived, I was ready to get going. The day before I was so jacked up at the Albertson’s off Hillhurst Avenue that I actually started crying in the grocery store. It was obviously strange and embarrassing, but there you have it. I couldn’t wait to do this. There was so much “stuff” coursing through my mind and body. The morning of Hell Walk 2 arrived a little warmer than I expected. I should have known that for the warning sign it was, but I was still just ready to get going. At 8:01 am, I started walking on the track at the University of Southern California. Joining me for the first lap was Taniya Wright, a former recipient of a SOWF scholarship (pictured with me above). The next few hours passed in a breeze. I was joined constantly by teams of walkers who kept me company as I bolted through downtown Los Angeles. Everything was going as well as I could have expected, with one glaring exception: it kept getting hotter.
Sweat was pouring off me by the early afternoon. I have no idea of what the actual temperature was but it had to be in the upper 80s and the concrete under my feet had to be 100. I was drinking and eating as much as I could, but in the back of my mind I kept coming back to the same conclusion: it is too hot out here; I’m going to start cramping eventually. That cramping started around 7:30 as I was walking through Hollywood. I raised up on my big toe at a stoplight and pain shot through my left calf. I tried to stretch it out over and over again, but it wasn’t getting better. I was dehydrated and probably suffering from some heat exhaustion. All I could do, though, was keep drinking and keep walking.
Over the ensuing hours, the cramps would occasionally mellow out, but always came back and always came back worse than before. Exhaustion coupled with dehydration was just grinding me down. By 1 am, I wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I texted the RV and car that was following me and told them I needed to talk. I sat in the darkness on a corner off Montana Avenue and started crying again. I felt like I had totally failed. I was ready to stop then, but — weirdly — letting those tears go gave me a second wind. I stood up and started walking.
I’d like to say that everything turned out well in the end, but less than two hours later I was back to rock bottom. I could barely move. I was having to hook my left foot in towards the middle of my body so that my calf wouldn’t cramp, which in turn was creating blisters all over my left foot. Around 2:30am I had to stop after 52.48 miles and 18 1/2 hours. I climbed into the RV and was driven back to Bad Robot. My friend Brandon drove me home, and less than 30 minutes later I was lying in bed, drained but completely unable to sleep.
The next day, I went to the finish line of Hell Walk 2 — the Dirt Cheap Sound Stage. In my absence, the teams of walkers had continued, and I was able to watch a huge gauntlet of them turn the corner at 26th and Olympic and march towards us. It was an amazing sight. We all entered the sound stage together and did a few ceremonial laps together. After that, everyone enjoyed some beer, food and music for the next few hours. It wasn’t the afternoon that I expected, but it was so fantastic in its own unique way. A few hours later, Hell Walk 2 was over. I was sound asleep by 9 o’clock that night.
There are so many people I would like to thank for all of the extraordinary help they have offered over the last few months. First of all, thanks to Melanie and Karen for being such a crucial, incredible part of the Hell Walk 2 team. Thanks also to Brandon, Scotty, Jelly Woo!, Mike, John, Jon, Melanie Carpenter, Olivia, Grant, Jason, Taniya, Sam and anyone else who I am forgetting. Also, thanks to all of the folks who walked with me for Hell Walk 2 and all the amazing people who donated. None of this would have been possible without you. See you for Hell Walk 3.