Taking Team Building To The Extremes
The crunch of boots on gravel and dead leaves sounds eerie in the darkness. The sun is an hour or two from rising. Puffs of air from hikers form little fog pillows that drift past the light.
"Are we there yet?" Someone jokes from the back of the pack. "Five miles down, 35 to go," is the perky reply from the front of the line.
Since 2008, Zappos has participated in the Mark Fulton 8,000 Meter Challenge, a grueling invitation-only competition held every September for outdoor retailers.
Hiking alongside employees from REI, JanSport, Marmot and others, the 40-mile, single-day expedition is an exercise in self-discovery, group bonding and service that takes place across three iconic mountains in Southern California, known as the "Three Saints."
The day's course begins at 5 a.m., trekking nine miles of winding trail up Mt. Baldy (San Antonio); then 18 miles up San Gorgonio; and finally, 13 miles up San Jacinto. Trail hikers must complete the course by 11:30 p.m., before the last aerial tram descends down to the valley floor, to be successful.
The Challenge was created in 1995 by former JanSport Sales Representative Mark Fulton. What began as a small group of friends who loved the outdoors has expanded into a full-blown industry event, with fundraising efforts benefiting Big City Mountaineers.
Many events of this caliber—whether its marathon running or trail running— lean towards "every person for themselves," but for Zappos employees, the 8,000 Meter Challenge means something more. Training and participating in the Challenge builds trust, camaraderie, and a team building spirit away from Zappos' office walls.
"Hiking a trail for 12 miles with an employee who you don't know that well, and getting to learn who they are and what drives them, that's a pretty important part to our teams at Zappos," says team captain Chris Peake. "This Challenge is just a vehicle for a company like Zappos to do something with somebody in a team-building environment."
For many Zappos participants, training begins as early as March. It allows veteran trail runners the opportunity to share preparation tips, nutritional information, and bond with first-timers several months leading up to the event.
"We all got each other's back, and we all push each other to do incredible things," says Peake. "I've made great friends over the years and become close to people just because of this event."
Cross the finish line or not, the real success of the 8,000 Meter Challenge is not what place was won. But how many meaningful connections were made along the way.