The event started with the opening ceremony in Corte Madera. I was a flag bearer in the ceremony carrying the “My Mother” honor flag. When the spokesperson for the event started the walk by marching off stage and down the center isle, the flag bearers followed and that was it. The walk had started, I following the spokesperson with the other flag bearers and 400 other walkers behind.
As I passed the opening chute, my badge was scanned to put me in the computer as started and they handed me a “route card.” I was surprised the route card did not have the route on it at all, just the mileage to each pit stop, and lunch and the various designated cheering spots. “Where do we go?” I thought to myself. It wasn’t much of an issue because there were walkers in front of me. I could just follow them. Soon it became clear that I was just to follow the arrows at each intersection. There was also a security volunteer at these intersections to point the way.
Not knowing the route created a guessing game for me as to where we were going to walk. This was kind of fun and surprising. The downside was that I could not contact friends along the way to let them know where I would be.
Right away I started talking to another walker and walked with her the first few miles to the first pit spot. She was a veteran walker, having walked in nine 3-Day events. I learned a lot for her. At the pit stop she said, “Nice walking with you,” and we parted ways. I started to understand how this worked. You walk with people for a while and then move on, usually at the pit stops.
So the day went, sometimes I walked alone, sometimes with other people, getting to know them and hear their stories.
On this first day, the hardest part was between mile 5 and 9 as I was starting to question myself, “What is this all about?” I could feel the blisters starting to form on my feet and I was thinking about the numbers of miles and time I still had ahead of me. I felt depressed. Wasn’t there something better I could be doing?
At the mile nine pit stop I doctored my feet with Moleskin and fueled up. Lunch was at mile 15, just 6 miles ahead. We had the familiar route through the Mill Valley bike path and Sausalito that I had biked many times. As I drew nearer to lunch I picked up my pace to what I came to know as my “lunch gait.” This also came with much enthusiasm.
After lunch we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Presidio where camp was. The last two miles, once across the bridge, was also tough. My feet were sore from all the pounding and with each step they were being pounded a little more. I’m sure there was a mental affect as well, know I was so close, I’m sure my mind was finishing ahead of me.
I was happy to finish, but then had to set up my tent in the cold windy weather that we were faced with. A volunteer helped me, after which I climbed in my tent and fell asleep for a short nap.
When I awoke I explored camp. I found the showers and took one, ate, and discovered the massage chairs that Bank of America had set up for us. I relaxed in one for about 20 minutes. The rest of the evening I relaxed in the dining tent where they had a show for us. I was back in my tent at 8 PM where I fell asleep.
The next morning I prepared myself for the 22-mile walk that we had ahead of us and headed to breakfast. I have to admit the 22 miles seemed daunting so I was a bit nervous.
I grabbed my breakfast and a seat alone in the dining tent. I look around for some people that I might be able to join, but mostly I see people in groups talking to each other, that I don’t want to interrupt. I went to the far side of the tent where I knew there was a heater and had my breakfast there. About half way through a youthful lady came up to me with her breakfast, ready to eat. She commented about me being alone. I invited her to join me and introduce her to the heater nearby, “Oh,” she said, “now I know why you are here.”
The standard questions we seem to ask each other, “Is this your first walk?” and “What is your inspiration to walk?” From there the rest of the conversation can unfold … of not. Like myself it was Jody’s first walk. She told me the story of her month passing away last year after a battle with breast cancer. The first part of the story was so similar to my own mother’s; a small lump was found that had spread to the lymph nodes. Yet in her mom’s case, after it was removed it came back all over her body (stage 4 breast cancer). “It just a question of ‘how long,’ after that,” she said to me. This was sombering, as I thought of my mom. The doctors told us, with the estrogen blockers that mom was taking that there was an 11% chance the cancer would return stage four, like Jody’s mom. The doctors say, at that point, that there is very little they can do. Jody lost her mom. The future has yet to unfold with mine. We try to increase her odds by focusing on a better diet, but that is not always easy.
Soon Jody’s sister-in-law, Lynn, joined us. I liked the two of them. I returned to my tent to make my final preparations for the day and then joined the crowd waiting for the walk to start. There was Jody & Lynn so I stayed with them as we walked. I walked with them most of the day. We had a nice time laughing and telling stories. They were from out of town so I became their tour guide showing them the sights as we passed them.
It was around mile 15, after lunch as we were walking down the Great Highway that it hit all 3 of us at the same time, tired, sore feet. We started dragging a bit, yet we still managed to joke and laugh. One of our ongoing jokes for the day was to try to extend the walk in our minds two miles because the last two miles is always seems to be the worst. If we extended the walk in our minds two miles then we would “trick” ourselves into not finishing mentally before the end. But, as Lynn said, “That trick has gone to hell,” as we were already miserable at mile 15 with 7 left to go. We just had to plug away.
We circle up the hill by the Cliff house and through the trails at Lands End. That was when my left shin started really hurting, shin splints, I thought. Also I could feel my left calf tightening up. I didn’t think I would be able to finish. Jody said something to me that really brought home the purpose of the entire event, she said, “I think no matter what, I would finish. It doesn’t matter about the pain. I just would have to think of my mom and what she went through to realize the pain is hardly anything.” True and that’s is the point. We are intentionally choosing to suffer to honor those that do not have the choice. It is a small token of relating with them and hopefully bringing awareness to others with our sacrifice. Still there is a fine line between pushing through the pain, accepting the suffering and damaging one’s self. I was not sure where that line was with me.
I made it to the next pit stop and visited the medical tent. They did not impress me. They said there was not much they could do. They could give me ibuprofen and some ice rub to put on it. They recommended when I get back to camp, still a few miles away, that I visit “sports medicine.” I accepted what they had to offer. After a while I felt better, but was aware of the fact that I was just masking the pain. I walked on gingerly as if it was still there.
Back at camp I ate, showered and spend about 15 minutes in the massage chair before visiting the medical tent. I had to fill out an intake form, which made me realize this was a serious set up. It was not just a bunch of amateurs volunteering for an event. They had chiropractic on one side, massage and taping on the other. In the tent next door they were tending to people’s blisters.
I expected to go to the massage side where they would work on my calf and tape my shin, but they directed me to the chiropractic side. I explained the issue and he worked on my foot a bit. After a few adjustments I could feel the calf relax. The pain in my shin went away. I still had pain in my ankle, however. He told me if it didn’t go away in the morning to come back before the walk. They would be there at 6 AM. Overall I felt good and confident with them and happy about it.
As I left the tent I was greeted with my mom, father and brother who had come to visit. It was nice to see them. We went into the dining tent and visited for about an hour before they grew tired of the cold and wind and went home. While the dining tent was protected from the wind, it was still cold and we could hear the wind rattling the tent and howling outside.
The next morning I still had the pain in my ankle. I was at the med tent right at 6 AM when they opened. He adjusted my foot one more time and then taped it. He explained to me that because I was walking on an injury I was favoring one side of the foot over the other, thus creating an imbalance in the muscles. The tape would help make up for this imbalance. He had me walk around. The pain was gone!
Overall I felt enthusiastic about the day. The bulk of the walk was over. We had only 14 miles to go today. While I knew most of that would be on hills and concrete (as opposed to yesterday, where about 50% of the walk had dirt trials), making it a tough walk, it still had the feeling of being nearly finished. My enthusiasm was high. As the walk started, however, I discovered my energy was low. I was just exhousted from the two days before. That seemed to be the energy with the other walkers, yet we marched on. There did not seem to be as much talking … just focus on walking.
I did not see Jody & Lynn that morning so I walked alone. I missed them. On occasion I would strike up a conversation with another walker … briefly, but mostly I took this day alone.
We walked from the camp at the Presidio, towards the panhandle of the park. I sent a text message to my friend that lived there, but did not get a reply until after we had passed.
We walked down Height Street and up the hill, half way up Twin Peaks. I kept wondering if they were going to take us up there, but we turned down the hill towards the Castro. This was a difficult stretch going downhill on the concrete. My feet were pounding.
We went through the Castro and wound our way through Noe Valley, getting ever so close to my old neighborhood that I had just moved out of 3 weeks prior. I sent a text message to my friend nearby, but did not receive a reply until we had passed.
Lunch was at mile 10, leaving only 4 miles to go on the day … on the entire event. The excitement of being finished began to overpower everything else, the pain as well as the desire to eat and drink. I spent only 15 minutes at lunch. I did not change out my socks and moleskin like I did at lunch the days before. Who cared if I got blisters now? The days ahead I would be home relaxing!
After lunch I continued on with my pre lunch gait that I had adopted the previous days … maybe even a little faster. I completely skipped the next (and last) pit stop. We crossed Market Street passed Geary and wound our way through Japan Town before turning towards the Civic Center where the event would end. This last stretch was all downhill. My excitement was so great that if we were allowed to run I would have been. Instead I was walking at a pace just below jogging. I kept reminding myself the difference between running and waling. In walking there is always at least one foot touching the ground. In running, or jogging, there are points where both feet are off the ground. I was focusing on going as fast as I could while keeping one foot always on the ground … a walker!
I was passing other walkers left and right as we passed the City Hall and turned the corner. I could see the finishing line. I was not going fast enough, but as fast as I could. I drew nearer and could hear the cheering. There was a chute of human volunteers leading me into the finishing coral, all cheering for me and giving high fives, I was a bit emotional as I told them, “If were allowed to run I would be.” I made my way into the chute and finished!
I looked around, the place was empty, but for a few walkers and the volunteer staff. “Where is everyone?” I thought. I was one of the first ones to finish. I had 3 hours to kill before the closing ceremony. I drank some water and Gatorade and ate a few snacks before heading back up the course a few blocks where I would spend the next two hours cheering the other walkers as they came in, sometimes shedding tears of joy with them having finished such an event.
So I met some friends, heard some stories and challenged myself. I raised some money that will hopefully do some good. It’s a small dent in the overall awareness and progress against this disease through our western paradigm. I believe in progress. I believe in a time that paradigms will come together and the world can be free of, not just this disease, but also all.