Sixty is a lot of miles. To get a good idea of just how long it is, next time you get on the highway going 60 miles an hour, take note of just how far you go in an hour’s time. You are probably many, many, many cities away from where you began – maybe a third of the way through your state. Imagine getting out of the car and saying, “I think I’ll just walk back now”. You will laugh when you witness just how far it is.
I often walk on my treadmill and I can cover 5.5 miles in an hour – no sweat. Even with a nice incline. So I figured it would take us about 4 hours a day to walk a twenty mile route. Three days of that – no problem. But as everyone signed up agreed, the three day mile is not a normal mile, because the course involves eight to ten hours of hard walking time each day, even going at a brisk clip. With lunch and a few breaks, that means you are out on the road for eleven hour days. Perhaps it’s the hills and curbs and endless stretches of pavement that makes it harder. All I know is, I underestimated how difficult walking 60 miles would be. Everyone did.
But I’m proud to say, I walked (and hobbled) the entire route. Many, many people took the sweep vans to a forward stop or all the way into camp as the day wore on. Even Denver had to call it a day after the first ten miles (on day two) when her knees started bothering her. I was determined to walk the entire 60, so I plodded on without her. The next day, she finished the route with me, so it isn’t like she is a slacker – she did walk 50 out of 60, which is still a lot of miles. And she was hurting, let me tell you.
Everywhere you looked, people were injured. The medical tents at each stop were swarmed with people having blisters lanced and strains looked after. Half the people there had wrapped knees and ankles, people were icing ligaments and rubbing sore feet, lying down with wet kerchiefs on their foreheads. I have a pretty hardy body, so by the third day, I only had the normal muscle soreness and one blister on my baby toe. On day three, I noticed my big toenail had turned a light shade of blue, but beyond that, I held up rather well. My most painful day was day three (as it was for everyone) and what really did me in wasn’t walking – it was driving back to our hotel squished into the car with luggage on my lap at the end of the day. It was a 30 minute drive, followed by another hour and a half to drive home. I could barely get out of the car.
I think the thing that made this walk hardest was the fact that you must sleep in a tent on the hard ground each night, which isn’t very kind to a body that has been abused. It is freezing out at night, so your muscles cramp and seize. I would have given my kingdom for a warm bath to get the kinks out each evening, because that is how I endure physical taxing, and always has been. Had I been staying in a hotel where I could have refreshed between each length of the journey, I know I would have covered the 60 with nary a sore bone. But you are roughing it in the three day. After day one, you limp into camp and they hand you a tent which you must put up yourself. You can’t help but think, “You have GOT to be kidding.” But they are about the easiest tents to put up I’ve ever encountered, so even that isn’t so bad. Denver and I were ready to collapse and maybe hobble to the dining tent, when someone said, “They judge the tent decorations in about ten minutes, if anyone is interested.” Eeek. So we quickly slapped together a sorry looking boob infested tent. People were amused. Had we not been so tired, or had we planned in advance, we could have done a better job, but for first-timers, I think we did alright. All weekend after that, people would pass and say, “Wow, can I feel your boobs.” Now, it isn’t like I haven’t had that question asked of me before, but rarely has it come from a bunch of women. We ended up giving away our boobs on the second day to the people who admired them most.
The wonderful organization and the logistics of this event amazed me. They served warm food to three thousand people and it was good. We all had hot water for a short shower in a mobile shower unit each night. They had medical help at the ready. But best of all was the upbeat spirit of those supporting the walkers. Everyone was in a good mood and endlessly encouraging. That made the walk bearable. The best part was the people you continued to meet. Everywhere you look ,you’d see people, young and old participating. Everyone is there for a reason. They are wearing pictures and/or names of loved ones they’ve lost or are walking in honor of, and you hear stories and meet survivors. You pass people and people pass you, so all day you are hit with images of breast cancer victims and hear their stories, good and bad. It is remarkable that this disease touches so many lives.
So it is no wonder so many people are active regarding helping to find a cure. And these are commited people who don’t feel sorry for themselves, who have a sense of camaraderie and love for others. At the crosswalks, volunteers are dressed up in amusing ways, wearing pink tutus and cowboy hats and capes and hula skirts and what have you, and they are cranking up the music, dancing, slapping you five and singing “keep going, keep going,” for hours on end. And when the walkers finally pass, they drive to a forward stop and you see them again. They become familiar faces and they feel like good friends.
Then, there are the walker groupies. We kept seeing one man over and over. He would be at one corner playing the guitar and singing a song he made up about the breast cancer three day. Then, we’d see him an hour later with a little pom pom saying “Woo”. Later we’d see him at another corner with Halloween candy. Denver and I started looking for him in crowds at cheer stations, and he was always there – it was like Where’s Waldo, so Denver and I started calling him Waldo. We decided he must be jumping in a car to hurry ahead of us each time the group finally passed. Finally, on day three as we got to our final destination (and of course he was there at the finish line), we asked him if he had someone walking and he said his wife was out there with us. He devoted the entire weekend to cheering her and everyone else on. He was cute and memorable, so we got a picture with him.
There was a group of older, gray haired women in a decorated convertible that called themselves the “Walker Stalkers.” They appeared over and over dressed in funny get-ups, cheering us on, driving the route and honking obnoxiously and shouting jokes or pelting us with candy. They became our best cheerleaders and we loved them.
All along the route, people honk cars, waved, shouted “thank you for walking!” and offered us tokens, like candy or a drink. It is one endless three day party. Best of all were the cops. They had these handsome cops on motorcycles that looked like Chippendale dancers. They drove around all day in dark glasses, muscles bulging saying, “You ladies need anything?” and we would all laugh as our minds answered the question in the most inappropriate ways. It became quite a joke among the walkers as we wondered how they managed to find so many hard body cops to work one project. They were inspirational in the best of ways.
So many of the traditions of this event are touching. For example, you will be eating dinner two hours after you’ve arrived in camp and suddenly they announce “Our last two walkers have just arrived,” and everyone will stand and clap wildly as they parade these bedraggled, limping women through the dining hall. Everyone is shouting support and the poor walkers are crying with pride and relief, and it is really funny and beautiful all at once. Or when they parade the walkers who are also survivors into the closing ceremonies, and all three thousand walkers hold up their tennis shoes as a sign of respect to remind everyone that we are walking for them. Lovely in it’s symbolism.
Thousands of people came out to cheer us on. I was touched by so many comments and signs of good will and support. Like the Girl Scout troops that stood out by the roads and cheered, handing us candy and holding up posters that say “Thank you for making a better world for young women like us!” These kids decorated our port-a-potties and that was cute too. People came out with their children, sitting in lawn chairs hooting and hollering and clapping as the endless processing of walkers lumbered by. It takes almost 4 hours for three thousand walkers to pass, but the crowds hang in there. While walking through a residential area, a man was sitting at the end of his driveway clapping. He’d made a sign that said, “My mother would have thanked you,” and it had her picture and the date she passed on from breast cancer. (Denver and I both cried over that one. All weekend it seemed we were either laughing or crying.) There was a bald women out there clapping and telling us to “hang in there”, yet it was obvious she is battling cancer, so we shouted back, “You too.”
I could go on for hours with the moving things I witnessed during that long, long walk.
By the end you are on automatic pilot and it seems like port-o-potties and blisters are all life is about anymore. And pink! Everywhere you look you see pink, until you feel like you are in another, parallel pink universe. I don’t much like pink after years of being drenched in it with dance paraphanilia – but it became a color of hope and symbolic action that earned my respect. When we crossed the finish line, we were celebrating with thousands upon thousands of people, all joined together, suffering together, laughing together, for a common cause. It felt like humanity at it’s best.
We signed my Mom’s name to about a hundred signs, the memory tent, and more than a few honor banners.
At the end, we were so tired we could barely stand up (as this picture shows). I guess these pictures are more a bad hair day fashion show than anything else, but what do you expect when you are plugging on without a daily shower to start you up, or blow dryers or makeup or mood lighting. Well, it wasn’t about looking good anyway. It was about feeling good, and that part was a sucess.
It was a good thing to do – a great thing to do with your daughter. Now, I need to wrestle up a foot rub somewhere.
P.S. For those of you wondering, there is still time to donate. We have four weeks to get our money in, and Denver and I are still working on it. www.the3day.org/atlanta07/ginnyhendry
for those of you who did support us in this project – THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.