But I've finally got a bit of time this week and I wanted to sit down and put metaphorical pen to paper and finish up my thoughts on the Twin Cities 3-Day.
First off -- I really enjoyed the event. It was really only my second full 3-Day, since my official second walk, Philadelphia 2009, had gotten essentially rained out by horrible inclement weather. We'd only gotten to walk one day out of three. And the walk before that -- my first walk, Washington DC 2008 -- had been marred by massive foot problems. Blisters and heel fissures caused mostly by wearing absurdly poorly suited hiking boots on the streets of northern Virginia and DC. (They may have been excellent boots for the hiking trails of Vermont but were not at all appropriate for pounding away on asphalt for sixty miles.) The Twin Cities 3-Day was everything I had hoped a 3-Day could be in terms of the physical, actual, walking. When I crossed the finish line each day at camp, I had no blisters. No stiffness either. No pain. No wobbly legs. Nothing bad at all. And I hadn't achieved this by walking slowly and deliberately and doing lots of stretching and drinking tons and tons of sport drinks and water. Quite the contrary: I had essentially race-walked sixty miles... and yet, had no physical ill effects to speak of. The only sign I had, at the end of sixty miles, of the physical wear and tear of the event, was a slightly disturbing looking purple blood blister under the nail of my right big toe. I was actually somewhat nervous about the prospects of losing that toe's nail, given how distressed it all looked with that giant eggplant-colored blotch underneath the nail.
But you know what? I didn't lose the nail. The blood blister's actually still there, though it's finally started to fade a bit. It seems sort of odd, in a way, that I race-walked an entire 3-Day, never really sat down to stretch at any point, and yet, had no blisters, no muscle pain, no joint pain, no nothing except a couple of blood blisters, one large, one small.
There are other things about the event that also stand out.
For one: the cheering stations were phenomenal. I can't speak from many years' experience since, after all, my first 3-Day was in DC in 2008 -- and there had not been a 3-Day in DC for several years before that. The crowds in 2008 were somewhat sparse at some of the cheering stations, though plentiful at others. In Philadelphia in 2009, we only got to see one day's worth of cheering stations -- and while we definitely did see a lot of people come out to the official cheering stations there were very few people between. In the Minneapolis/St Paul/Vadnais Heights/Maplewood/North St Paul arc we walked, you could barely sling a sock full of lutefisk without whacking a group of supporters out on the sidewalk in front of their house offering freezer pops and cold water and orange slices. Just incredible. I can recall only a few stretches with few supporters out -- notably a long stretch on the St Paul side of the river on Day 1 when I was so far out in front of the pack that there was absolutely no one visible behind me and no one visible in front of me and for most of an hour only a random occasional bicyclist or jogger to relieve the monotony. I assume that later in the day, when the large main body of walkers came through, the crowds came out there as well; it wasn't their fault that I had rocket jets on my ankles that day. The cheering stations and community supporters were just incredible.
For another: I had the rare opportunity provided by my early arrival at camp each day to really see what camp is like when the walkers aren't there, and to cheer in large numbers of walkers as they arrived. When I arrived at camp on Day 1 I was literally the first walker scanned into camp -- an accident of fate caused by being among the first off the first bus into camp. (We were all bused to camp at the end of Day 1-- the actual route ended in St Paul but camp was in Maplewood.) I quickly set up my tent, located my gear bag, changed out of my kilt and kilt hose and into shorts and a clean t-shirt, and then got ready to help walkers with their gear bags and tents... only to find that a huge cadre of football players from a local high school had beaten me to the punch. No sooner did walkers come off the bus than they were collected by the players, who carried gear bags and tents and pretty much made the life of a lot of tired ladies (and men) much easier. I won't say that every walker got a player's help but it wasn't for lack of trying on the players' part.
So, with the arriving walkers well in hand, I wandered around camp passing out Nutter Butter cookies and thanks to the various crewmembers present. I had walked all twenty miles that day carrying a backpack full of four-packs of Nutter Butter cookies, with the goal of handing them out to walkers in need of a snack and so forth, only to find that walking way out front of the large main body of walkers made it, um, somewhat difficult to carry out that plan. And when I tried to give cookies to arriving walkers, they didn't want 'em. They'd been snacking all day and mainly just wanted to get their tents up and rest. The crew were another matter, though -- the various camp-based crews such as Camp Hydration, Camp Logistics, and Camp Services had little to do until the walkers got to camp and were sitting around boredly waiting for the work to begin when I showed up and began doing my Mr Nutter Butter act. (My wife, who worked as Camp Services crew in Boston this year, tells me that there's actually not much food around for the crew to snack on during the day... and so that might explain why the crew fell on the Nutter Butters with glad cries.) I didn't just hand out cookies, though. Once they were all gone (and I had a lot of cookies to hand out -- besides the ones in my backpack, I had a lot more in my gear bag), I waited near the inflatables and cheered the walkers in.
On Day 2, I got to camp 19th overall -- the result of my trying to walk more slowly and spend more time at pit stops and stuff. Honestly, I have no idea how I finished so high up - but nonetheless, 19th out of 2,400 meant that I had a lot of opportunities to cheer walkers into camp. And after all, what else was I going to do? I got to camp around 1:30 in the afternoon, two and a half hours before dinner would be served, so I could either loll around on the grass near my tent, or I could cheer walkers in. I cheered walkers in. And that was a lot of fun.
On Day 3 -- ah, Day 3... a weird day if there ever was one. I found myself in a giant mob of walkers leaving camp all at the same time, right at the crack of seven a.m. -- the result of everyone having gotten up early, packed up their tents, and gotten organized and to the start line pronto so they wouldn't wind up getting bused to lunch or anything ignominious like that. Nonetheless, everyone was walking really slowly. I can't imagine why, other than possibly having walked 24 miles the previous day and maybe being a bit tired as a result. And there I was, sorta/kinda intending to walk slowly too... but bit by bit, I found myself out in front again. Short pit stops, long legs, natural long stride, I don't know. But then I wound up walking with some fellow walkers who were just as inclined as I was to walk quickly -- and with us walking together, all reinforcing one another's tendencies, we really made time. A pack of us -- Kendall, Sally, Michelyn, me, Kevin, Chuck, Sue, and a few others -- got to lunch before it opened. And got held for a half hour as a result along with a lot of the walkers who had been bused directly from camp to lunch as a result of either not being ready when camp closed and the deadline to start walking came, or because they were simply in bad shape with bad feet or bad shin splints or bad something. The crew and staff simply won't let walkers leave a pit stop or grab 'n' go or lunch before its official opening time and there was a bunch of us waiting at the exit to the pit, all staring at our watches, all trembling with the excitement of skittish racehorses. It was a classic case of groupthink, if you're familiar with the term -- all us speedwalkers reinforcing one another's urges to be off on the route and moving at good speed, and none of us thinking "um, what difference does it make?" We had the same thing happen at Pit 4... a scene of high comedy if there ever was one:
See them? That's the gang I was walking with. Absolutely lovely people. Very fit, too. And fast. (The kind gentleman at the left in the red shirt was the Medical crew captain for Pit 4 that day -- he was the guy who had to keep telling us "Not yet, guys.")
It was one blistering hot day that Sunday in the Twin Cities. The legendary "black signs" came out, the ones that remind us that the heat danger is extreme and that we're all supposed to keep eating lots of salty snacks and drink lots of extra drinks. I actually found the going a bit rough as we headed up some of the hills near the final cheering station and Pit 5. At that point I was walking with just two other walkers: Kevin, who's visible on the far left in the picture above (some of you may know Kevin -- a Massachusetts resident attempting to walk all fifteen 3-Days this year), and Michelyn, an oncology nurse from a local practice. We were not the first on the route -- Sue and Chuck and Kendall and Sally were ahead of us for sure, and a couple others whose names I don't recall. But we were sure enough pretty far out in front that people were still setting up cheering stations as we came through. And Michelyn, bless her soul, had bad knees -- and found that downhill descents were only tolerable if she half-trotted/half-jogged 'em -- and Kevin and I, not wanting to be poor sports, kept up with her. That really started to take the fight out of me, jingling along in my kilt and tie-dyed cotton t-shirt and woolen kilt hose in that heat... but then there we were, out of the hills and down through Mounds Park and into the streets of Lowertown... still making good time. We started to see the signs informing us that we had two miles to go... one mile to go... and then, up ahead of us we could see the pillars of the large veterans memorial or whatever it is to the southeast of the state capitol building proper, and beyond them, the giant inflatable cubes marking the finish line. I hung back and let Kevin and Michelyn go in ahead of me -- because, frankly, they could have left me behind at any time over the last four miles, and didn't. When I finally made it to the scanners at the line for the victory t-shirts, I was ninth walker in.
Which meant, of course, that I had a long long long wait for closing. It was just around noon and closing was not due to happen until 5. I flopped down on the grass, took off my kilt hose and reorganized all my gear and chatted with the volunteers and crew who were there waiting, with us, for all the walkers to come in... but then I started to feel really guilty for sitting on my tuchus when I could be cheering my fellow walkers in. So I grabbed my gear, and grabbed my victory t-shirt and the legendary 3-Day Mug that I'd walked all sixty miles holding, and got my butt over where it belonged: right there at the inflatables where I'd be able to see the walkers coming in. Behind me was a long line of crew with pom-poms lining the path to the scanners and the victory shirts... to my left was the sound booth and the big "Day 3" sign where people could pose for photos.... to the right was the snacks and beverage tents for the tired, thirsty walkers... and in front of me were, arriving a few at a time and then more and more in larger numbers, the heroes of the hour: the 2,400 footsore walkers of the Twin Cities 3-Day.
And I felt awful.
"Wait, what?" you ask.
You read correctly. I felt awful. I felt incredibly guilty that afternoon as I stood there for hours that afternoon, enthusiastically clapping, doing my best to welcome all the walkers to the finish line.
The whole weekend I'd felt sort of bad about speed-walking the event. The 3-Day is not a race. And the first to finish aren't the ones that get the biggest round of applause. Don't believe me? Hang around at the scanners at a 3-Day some day when the last walker is within sight of camp. Or at the finish line at closing when word arrives that the last walkers are half a mile down the street. People go absolutely bananas when the last walkers arrive. The ones who didn't get swept, didn't catch a bus or a van to camp. The ones who, despite whatever physical ailments, or age, or infirmity of condition, kept them from going any faster, but never stopped walking. Sweet Lord, those are the ones you want to be walking with on a 3-Day. Not the people who breeze through the walk and don't have a blister to show for it, the ones who get to camp and still don't feel challenged enough and decide to go out rock-climbing or kite-surfing or something.
But on the other hand, it was nice, in a way, to really let myself loose for one 3-Day. As I've said so many times before, this was the first chance I had on a 3-Day to really just let myself go. I couldn't walk 90 miles per hour in DC in 2008 because a) I was wearing stupid mountain hiking boots and blistering as a result of all the pounding on pavement, and b) I was walking for part of the way with members of my little four-person team, two of whom were anything but fast movers. I couldn't walk 90 miles per hour in Philly in 2009 because a) well, the event got shortened to one day by weather, and b) I was with my wife and my friend from college and once again, had to walk at their pace. No such restrictions existed this time around: I had trained well, I had good shoes and excellent sock liners to protect my feet, and I had no teammates to carp about my long-legged stride. I found out something I'd idly wondered: what would it be like to absolutely go at my own pace and get to camp and to the finish line really really early?
And now I know the answer to that question.
And I don't think I need to do that again.
Closing ceremonies in St Paul were a bit different from what I've seen in Boston, Philly, and DC. For one, the survivors -- ALL of 'em -- massed backstage at closing and came up and over the stage and down toward the masses of walkers -- in all four other events I've been a part of, the survivors come from the back of the crowd, fill the center ring, and then the members of the survivors circle come from behind them, taking their position on the center ring stage to join hands and raise the flag. Not so in St Paul -- they came triumphantly onto the stage, across it, and down the steps in full view of everyone. Not lost in the back of the crowd, hidden from the view of the people up front, as in other cities. That was pretty dramatic... but it got more dramatic in a hurry. Just as in other cities, we all raised one shoe in the air as the survivors made their march in --- but unlike the other cities I've been to, everyone simultaneously dropped to one knee as they did so. I wasn't expecting that at all -- but it's rarely said that I'm slow on the uptake. Down I went. (I must have been quite a sight -- pink helmeted, in a kilt, holding a rather large men's running shoe in one hand, holding a pink latte cup in the other, on one knee, right smack at the front of the crowd.)
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the survivors burst into tears at the sight of 2,400 walkers down on one knee. A few survivors had a bit of trouble making it down the stage what with all the teary eyes and heaving shoulders, but crew and staff were there to assist them. There were a few tears being shed by my fellow walkers, too.
Another favorite part of closing was more or less unchanged from other cities. The honor flagbearers came out, as always, carrying their banners reading "My Wife" and "My Hero" and "My Mother" and so forth. Most lined up along the back of the stage, but the ones who had their honorees there with them lined up at the front, flanking Jenne' Fromm, the national Komen 3-Day spokesperson. I was directly in front of the gentleman carrying "My Wife" and had a lump in my throat as she came out to join him. I was very proud of that guy and the obvious love he felt for his wife. He looked down; I looked up. We exchanged nods. But then I looked to my right at the girl -- I say that because from where I stood she can't have been much over eighteen. Say 'young woman' if you like. She was carrying the "My Mother" flag and weeping openly... and I had an inkling of what was about to happen. Let's put it this way: her mother did not join her on stage. Her brother did. She wept through pretty much the whole closing ceremony and I just ached inside at how sad she looked.
Country music star Candy Coburn then came out to sing 'Pink Warrior' to the assembled walkers, crew, survivors, friends and family. I honestly wondered how the honor flagbearers would feel, having a full-fledged Nashville production number taking place right there among them on stage at a time when I know some pretty serious emotions were present. But then, partway through the song, I saw the young woman holding the "My Mother" flag look over at Candy singing right next to her. The young lady smiled hesitantly, then openly, then reached up to brush away her tears... and I knew it would be all right.
Too many memories of special people lost. Not enough survivors. That's why we all walk, right? I just hope that the day comes soon -- the day we salute with the final part of the closing ceremonies... the raising of the "A World Without Breast Cancer" flag. And until that day comes...
Say not in grief that 'she is no more'
but say in thankfulness that she was.