Monday, April 5, 2010

Why the 3-Day is now the highlight of my year

This is a slightly edited version of what I posted on a blog my best friends and I keep so we can stay in each other's lives easily. It's totally wordy and long, but even four months later I'm too emotional to edit it down any more, it was all that important to me.

Okay, so... I'm my mother's daughter in many ways. Including my least favorite, procrastination. I was behind Wednesday but took a nap after my opening shift instead of packing, knowing I still needed a few things from Target before my flight Thursday, but you know. I wound up packing last minute Thursday and. . . wait for it. . . missed my flight. By 30 seconds. Yep. I have a bone to pick with the TSA for needlessly holding me up over a frigging ounce of water in my CamelBak, but whatev. My Southwest connections can't really do anything in that particular situation so I ponied up another $112 to book a later flight because she assured me that it would fill up so it would be quite a risk to take standby (for the record the seat next to me that flight was empty. . . thanks, Southwest!), chilled in the airport for four hours and got into San Diego around 10:00, showered and was in bed by 11:30.

I got up at 4:30 Friday morning, took a cab to the opening ceremonies at Del Mar. I cried like a baby, and then we set off walking! I somehow wound up pretty far back in the group Friday, despite my best efforts to be towards the head of the pack. I'll know better where to position myself next year. The first couple of miles the sidewalk was literally FILLED with people cheering us on. I was itching to go faster but you can't exactly jump ahead of a thousand people, unfortunately. I walked for a mile with a girl named Tiffany who had decided to do the 3-Day THREE WEEKS before the event. She managed to raise all the money necessary, but I don't want to think of what her feet must have felt look or looked like with only three weeks of training. I trained for six months and mine were still killing me by the end. I honestly can't describe the support you feel this whole weekend -- crew and volunteers and cheerleaders (literal and figurative, two high school squads were out on the route too!) cheering for you and high-fiving, motorists leaning on their horns and waving, hot bike cops riding along with you, tough bikers wearing pink directing traffic, young, old, men, women, kids, dogs, other walkers, everyone cheering everyone else on. It was intense, especially for a grumplestiltskin like me!

There were pit-stops along the route every 2-3 miles where you could refill your water bottles, get medical attention if you needed it (mostly blisters and some knee and ankle issues for most people), eat (lots of eating! keeping strength up and keeping the salt balance in check -- the pit stop motto was "eat, drink and pee; no IV!" we ate bagels, bananas, salty chips, string cheese, uncrustables, oranges, animal crackers and other stuff -- just on pit stops.) and stretch. And stretch and stretch and stretch.

After the second pit stop I ran into my old friend and volleyball teammate from high school, Kristin. She walked in a 3-Day a few years ago and now she and her friend come out every year to cheer, dressed all in pink with long blonde wigs, signs that say "my ken wears pink." they go by "barbies love boobies." I think I saw her five times all weekend, she kept my spirits up a lot. It was hard (but don't get me wrong, totally rewarding) to walk alone. I made friends, but most people were part of a team or a group or at least a pair, so I'd walk with them for a bit and I or they would speed up a little and we'd part ways. I didn't meet my new 3-Day family until the last few miles on day 3.

Anyway, after seeing Kristin we headed up Torrey Pines. I thought about taking a sweep van to pass it up and I kind of wish I had. The views were INCREDIBLE, don't get me wrong, but it was hard on my back and my knees. I had the added concern of taking care of my back all weekend (I had two surgeries as a kid, and I still have two ruptured discs in my lower back), it is sometimes hard to listen to and anticipate what your body needs or will need. I got to pit stop 3 and rested for a good 20 minutes, I wanted to give my vicodin a chance to kick in before pushing on.

I got to lunch around noon that day, I wish I had a better sense of where I was exactly but I didn't care because I literally ate lunch about 20 yards from the ocean. That was also where I made my first of many stops in medical. I had a couple hot spots already and one baby blister, so I got moleskinned up. I push my feet harder than I should most of the time (I'm blister prone, I should be doing more prevention than treatment, but I'm also stubborn and kind of stupid). Lunch on Friday was around the 10 mile marker, and after resting my feet and talking to my lobster (Friends reference, yup) I was in great spirits, very "I can totally do 50 more miles, this is nothing!" The next 10 miles were gorgeous, walked along beaches and had breathtaking views (every time I'm near an ocean -- San Deigo, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, wherever I think to myself "how could anyone ever leave this?"). The last 3 miles on Day 1 were the hardest miles of the whole event. My feet were sore, it was getting closer to dark and I was so tired running on less than 5 hours of sleep. The sign that said "camp 1 mile" was a joke. Another walker and I decided that there are "Komen miles" like a football minute. Just because there's a minute left on the clock doesn't mean the game's almost over. In all seriousness, I'm willing to bet the last "mile" was around 1.75 miles. After 6 months of training I like to think I'm a pretty good judge of a mile. One of the San Jose bike cops (yes, San Jose! they come down every year, and they are CUTE too) rode alongside me for a good portion of it, just chatting and promising me that camp was "just around that bend."

Getting into camp Friday was emotional, people cheer you on and hug you just for getting home. I knew I needed to set up my tent, get my gear, shower and probably visit medical. But I wanted to eat dinner first. I was tired and weak and emotional as hell, so I hobbled over to the dining tent, got my dinner and talked to a couple of nice women while taking stock of my aches and pains. It was nice to eat hot food and sit in a chair (and really, the food is NOT bad. Friday night dinner was spaghetti and meatballs and Saturday night was chicken and wild rice). After dinner I found my gear truck (running into another girl I went to high school with, Jessica, who was crewing after walking last year. She lost her mom to breast cancer in 2007 or 2008 I think), set up my tent (I wound up without a tent mate which was okay with me, I didn't want to make conversation by the time I got done with dinner, I was in a lot of pain) and went to shower. I don't think I can stress this enough. My feet were KILLING ME. My major blisters (the bottom of my left heel, it was at least the size of three quarters. and one that wrapped around the entire OUTSIDE OF MY RIGHT ANKLE. Like inside to outside) were from Friday, so standing in the shower truck was nothing short of excruciating. I wanted to die, no joke. I should have gone to medical friday night but I was just exhausted so I crawled into my tent, talked to Daryl for a few minutes, took another vicodin and went to sleep. I'm guessing I was asleep by 8:45 or so.

Saturday morning I honest to God didn't know how I was going to get through the day. I got up at about 5, limped to medical (it should have taken maybe five minutes to get from my tent to medical, it took me 15), had my blisters lanced and wrapped TIGHT (also I had my knee wrapped. I don't have knee issues, but it was swollen). The nurse who lanced my feet that day made it possible for me to continue at all. She took good care of my feet and hugged me before she left which made me cry (of course). After medical I shoveled down a hot breakfast and got out on the road. I took sweep vans twice on Saturday. From right after pit 2 to pit 3 so I could get my ankle wrapped (I DO have weak ankles, this didn't surprise me at all) and ice it a little bit, and then probably about a mile to lunch a little later. I was just tired. One of the sweep van drivers was talking to me about it and he said that he can tell when a walker should be getting in a sweep van but doesn't and that those walkers lose sight of what the 3-Day is about. It's not about walking all 60 miles without stopping or getting help. I wanted to make sure I would be able to walk Sunday, so sweeping was totally an option for me. There's zero shame in it. After eating lunch we walked through a couple of really cute neighborhoods and along the way there'd be people giving out candy or stickers or whatever and a couple times on the weekend we saw the "titty tavern," a little cheer station set up where the lovely proprietors served beer, jell-o shots and tequlia. Yes, there was a crowd five walkers deep around that particular table. Yes, I had a couple shots of tequila. They even had lime and salt how could I say no?! The early part of day 2 was a bit longer, we only had 5.2 miles after lunch, so I managed to stick with it and limped back into camp later than I did on Friday but feeling quite a bit better than I did Friday night too. I showered, stretched at the yoga mats, ate dinner, danced a bit (yeah they played Journey I didn't have a choice! plus it is an awesome way to stretch and keep your muscles from turning against you) then went to the remembrance tent.

I knew going into the 3-Day that the remembrance tent would be incredibly emotional for me. I didn't count on just how emotional it would be. There are white tents for every event location, covered in messages to loved ones that walkers have lost, then the tent for the current event is inside a larger white tent. The walls are adorned with pictures of walkers and crew members who lost their fights with breast cancer, there are journals to write in. I wrote a 2 page letter to my grandmother and I absolutely sobbed through the whole thing. It had never hit home so hard why I was doing the 3-day and what I was putting myself through and how sad it makes me to know that I don't have her and my dad lost his mom before she was even 60 and it sucked. I mean in the good way, it was good sucking, but my God. It was so hard. I cried and cried while a woman I can't even remember hugged me and I held on for dear life and then I sat down on the grass outside the big tent to cry some more. I think all told I sobbed for about an hour until my friend Sierra saved my life and texted me about Felicity or something. I swung back by medical on the way to my tent to get a few bags of ice, threw one under my back, one on my knee and one on each (elevated) foot and went to sleep.

Sunday was a rough morning. I was so tired that I overslept a little and woke up knowing I had to hit medical and eat and break down my tent AND get out of camp by 7:30, otherwise I'd get bussed to lunch. I managed to do all of it, eating my breakfast in about 3 minutes and walking as fast as my feet would allow me to get out of camp. The first 5 miles Sunday sucked. We had a short day, less than 15 miles total (they stack the first couple days so we can have closing ceremonies before dark), but the first five were awful. Not a lot of cheer-traffic, and the people cheering you on are what makes you forget about blisters and aches and pains. I decided after pit stop 2 that I would take a sweep van to lunch, but where I was had no sweep access for a good mile. I was probably in the last 200 walkers at that point. One of the bike cops rode with me and talked to me and basically escorted me that mile. He made my day, was super cute, made me laugh, helped me through it and gave me a a big old hug once we finished that mile. I'm pretty sure he knew I was on the verge of tears and he really helped me in a big way. So I took the sweep van to lunch, cutting off 2.25 miles and a HUGE HILL. HUGE. I give mad props to the walkers who walked that hill, I could never do it with my feet the way they were.

After lunch the energy was crackling through the air, we all knew we were close to finishing, there was more dancing, more singing, more laughing while we were walking. The path became more and more lined with cheerleaders, you couldn't go 10 steps without someone claping for you. One of the girls I'd met Friday was sitting in a bar (yeah, tequila cures what ails you!) and as I walked past she yelled out "KACIE FROM TRACY!" and cheered for me, it made me smile and burst into laughter. A little later there was a little girl holding a sign that said "I never knew my grandma and my grandma never knew me. Thank you for walking." I cried as I walked past her , she hit home for me. About 3 miles before holding I felt a blister on my left pinky toe pop. That is such a gross feeling. I'd had them lanced all weekend but none of them had popped on their own. I sat down on the sidewalk, took off my shoe and sock and bandaged it up myself, got up and walked through the pain. Sitting down to bandage that blister was pretty much the best thing I did all weekend because that's how I met my new friend Jill.

About a block after that I was limping forward and about to step off a curb when a woman gripped my shoulder. I didn't think anything of it for two reasons. 1, my mom's arthritic and will often grip my shoulder to step off a curb. 2, it was day 3. You think we weren't all holding on to strangers? We struck up a conversation and somehow in the next 2 miles she and her team became my new 3-Day family. Jill's feet were so badly blistered Friday that they cautioned her about finishing the walk at all. She said she didn't come from out of state to not finish, so she walked ALL of day 2 and day 3 in REEF FLIP FLOPS. NO JOKE. She cut the toes out of socks, had her blisters wrapped and rewrapped at every pit and she did it. Homegirl didn't take any sweep vans either, she is my new hero. She and I were both sore, tired and walking slow. We walked into holding arm-in-arm, picked up our victory shirts and immediately laid down in the grass while the last walkers came in (about an hour after we did, score! I know it's not a race, but it made me feel better that we weren't dead last).

After we were all in holding we got organized to walk into closing ceremonies. The crew went first, to ear-splitting applause. I have said SO MANY TIMES that we couldn't get through this event without crew, and I meant it. I'm going to crew in 2011 for sure. They were amazing people. Then the cops, then medical, then "regular" walkers (all 3800 of us!), then finally the survivors, in pink shirts. We walked past at least 2000 spectators (including my friends Alexis and Tiffani, I'm SO glad I had somebody there for me), cheering, wearing signs, tween boys wearing pink bras and cheering for their moms, the cops (including mine from earlier Sunday, he reached out and hugged me, kissed my cheek and with a huge grin on his face and said "You made it! I knew you would!"), a survivor who is clearly still fighting her battle held a sign that just said "thank you" while tears streamed down her face, a sweet old man holding a sign that said "I'm a boob man," all of our favorite cheerleaders from the weekend. I cried and I kept crying. I was tired, SO HAPPY and so proud of myself. Everything that I was afraid of happening didn't happen, or if it did it was okay. I didn't want to take sweep vans, but once I got there it didn't matter. I was scared my blisters would get the better of me. They came, but I worked through them. As the survivors walked into closing we all held up a shoe to salute them, it was one of the most worthwhile moments and experiences I've ever had in my life.

They announced at closing that we raised 9.5 million dollars that weekend. It is truly an amazing feeling to know that you've been part of creating a better world. If not for my generation then for my kids. The closing ceremony speaker (I wish I'd paid better attention to names and stuff like that, I can't remember her name if you paid me, but she works for Komen) made some remarks about how for three days you live in a bubble that shows you what the world CAN be like. Where everyone is kind, and helps each other and you do something AMAZING and get no reward for it except for thousands of people cheering for you, and having a hot cop escort you across a busy intersection, and people laying on their horns as they drive past and survivors, family, friends, whatever, thanking you and MEANING it and sharing a feeling that we don't just have to strive for human decency, but that we can strive for something beyond that. The world looked different after that. I can't really do it justice, but I do know that it's something I never want to forget, and something that I want to experience over and over again as long as my feet will let me or until there's no reason left to walk to end breast cancer.

I have never been as sore as I was after that. I took my feet over two weeks to fully recover. I went 10 days before I wore shoes other than my 3-day shoes (they're a size bigger than my regular shoes to allow for swelling) or flip flops. I can't wait to sign up to walk San Diego again this year, and I wish my school schedule allowed me to crew another event, but I will be out there on the cheer route for you, San Francisco!

It was epic, it was amazing, it was hard, it was everything I wanted and so much more.

Exhausted, sunburnt, blistered and the happiest moment of my life. Swear to God.

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