The next morning, Isaac, a tall, lanky kid with a nasty sunburn and a mop of brown hair, sits by the fire pit. “I’ve had a lot of fun with you this year, Isaac,” Ryan says from across the campsite. “But you’ve just done something that really disappointed me.”
“What?” Isaac asks.
“You put on a New England Patriots beanie,” Ryan says.
“It was a gift,” Isaac tells him.
Of all the kids in the camp, Isaac has changed the most in the last few years. He describes his old self as a mopey, chubby kid who wanted to play video games all day. “The first year, he wouldn’t do anything,” director Steve Harrold says. “The third year, we couldn’t stop him.”
Athlete Noah wakes up cheerful, eats breakfast, throws up, and returns to his tent. Doctor Noah remains in his tent. Neither seem capable of hiking across treacherous mountain terrain.
Though we’re deep in the Rockies, we somehow have cell coverage, so Ryan calls Camp Tahosa to fashion an extraction plan. They discuss various options, including a helicopter evacuation, but eventually decide on a simpler plan. A team will drive to a nearby mountain resort and hike up to meet us on the trail. Then they’ll decide whether the two Noahs need to go to the hospital.
Athlete Noah rebounds, just like yesterday, and Ryan gives him the nickname “Par,” short for “puke and rally.” He tries to talk Ryan into letting him stay on the hike. Ryan tells him that if he carries his full pack to the evacuation point, he can stay.
Doctor Noah, meanwhile, stirs in his tent, his pale blue eyes glossy and only half open. He says he’s cold, so I grab his jacket, the heavy one Cosmo told him not to bring. It’s camouflage, with his last name printed on the breast: his dad’s Army jacket.
He zips it high, sips water from his Nalgene bottle, and nibbles on crackers. Once again, we divvy up the items in his and Athlete Noah’s backpacks. Ryan calls the eight kids to a circle before departing. “It gives me chills to see the maturity you displayed,” he says. “What the Noahs have done is the story of champions.”
All morning, it rains so hard that at times the trail looks like a stream. Doctor Noah cracks jokes while hiking but admits he’s faking it, because if he thinks about how miserable he feels he won’t be able to take another step.
Boston Gilbert (rear), one of Trojan’s sons, was one of the original campers and has returned as a mentor.
During lunch, the storm turns serious. Hail pings off of our packs. Thunder and lightning come scary close. Hikers we had passed going in the opposite direction now scramble back by. They tell us a lightning bolt hit a meadow within 100 yards of them. For a few minutes, the storm reaches biblical proportions.
Then, just like that, it stops, and the sun appears, hovering in the afternoon sky. We forge ahead and reach a fork in the trail. Straight leads to the resort; right takes us to our campsite. Cosmo, the two Noahs, and Yoshi continue straight. The rest turn right. Ryan pulls out his map to plan a new route. This hike, Ryan says, is like life: “You can’t always execute your first plan.”