Carole and I took part in the San Francisco 3-Day For The Cure almost six weeks ago and it occurred to me last night that I never actually sat down and wrote up a recap of what the event was like and whether we enjoyed it or not. I did post many, many photos from the event at http://picasaweb.google.com/jayfurr
, for what it's worth, but no actual recap.
The San Francisco Bay Area 3-Day was unlike any other 3-Day For The Cure that I've taken part in, and I've walked in six, crewed three, and have two more coming up this year alone. My mother passed away nine days before the event, not of breast cancer but of complications from congestive heart failure, infection, and pneumonia. Instead of flying to San Francisco for a week's vacation prior to the walk, I headed abruptly to Florida in hopes of seeing my mother one last time before she passed. I wasn't in time. We helped arrange her memorial service, then stayed around my father's house helping with the aftermath for several days. Our tickets called for us to continue on to San Francisco for the 3-Day, but it wasn't until a couple days out that I finally said "You know what? We might as well go." Even though we both knew my head wouldn't really be in it.
We got to San Francisco on Thursday, September 8. The weather was sunny, cool, and very very windy. So windy, in fact, that it felt about twenty degrees cooler than the actual temperature on the thermometer. We took part in opening ceremonies rehearsal at the Cow Palace coliseum in Daly City, south of San Francisco, since both Carole and I had been invited to be flagbearers in opening and closing ceremonies. We didn't actually get to practice with the flags because it was so windy they'd probably have turned into airborne projectiles, snatched out of our hands. Then we raced off to the REI store in south San Francisco to purchase additional cold-weather gear: gloves and long-sleeved technical shirts that we hadn't thought to pack. Silly us. Then we got back to our hotel, decided what would be going with us on the walk and what would be packed in our gear bags that we'd drop off at opening ceremonies, and what would be staying in the car. Fun times!
Day 1 began misty, cool, but not as windy as the day before. Carole and I did our flagbearer thing, coming out from behind the stage at the appropriate time, Carole carrying the "My Aunt" flag and me carrying the "My Neighbor" flag, honoring the people we're walking on behalf of. Carole's Aunt Debbie is a ten-year survivor and quite a few people at my office and church are survivors. A nice side benefit of being flagbearers in opening ceremonies is that we're the first ones on the route. Carole and I are accustomed to setting a fast pace when we walk, but if we'd been at the back of the pack and among the last scanned out, it would have been impossible to walk at the speed we prefer. Or really, at any speed at all. You can only go so fast on sidewalks in bunches of humanity numbering in the hundreds, and it drives Carole nuts when she's having to shuffle along, barely able to move left or right because of all the walkers. We didn't stay at the very front all day long but we were generally well ahead of the main pack.
We were fairly noticeable as we walked. I had on my usual pink hard hat and we were wearing vivid purple technical t-shirts with a giant pink map of Vermont on the front and the words "TEAM OTTER & LEMUR" emblazoned across the chest. (Carole likes purple.) And we were carrying a pink teddy bear with us, one of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company's breast cancer bear collection. Our little bear was named "Hope" and had a pink ribbon "birthmark" on the bottom of one foot; she was a big hit with spectators and other walkers, many of whom posed for photos with her.
The first part of Day 1 was gray and overcast and a bit drizzly and it wasn't anything to get super-excited about. We were walking through neighborhoods in Daly City and the southern outskirts of San Francisco, then by Lake Merced, a large reservoir. I perked up considerably when our path from the Cow Palace, which had been trending generally west by northwest, finally took us over to the Pacific coast and the long stretch of coastal road called the Great Highway. Gray it may have been, and overcast it may have been, but I've always liked walking next to the ocean. We walked north along the western side of the peninsula, up to Ocean Beach, where we had our first cheering station of the day. It was lightly attended, but Friday morning cheering stations aren't usually crowded. :) We rounded the turn at Cliff House and had our lunch stop at the parking lot for the Coastal Train through Lands End. If you've never walked through Lands' End, the rugged coastal woods and cliffs area at the northwest corner of San Francisco, and looked out on the Golden Gate and north to the Marin Headlands, you're definitely missing one of the great city walks anywhere. I've done the Lands End trail many times before, but it was especially special to be doing it as part of a 3-Day.
Carole began feeling some pain in her hip around lunchtime as we worked our way through some especially hilly sections of San Francisco such as Presidio Heights and Pacific Heights. But on a more positive note, the sun finally managed to burn away the fog and let daylight in, and from that point on the weather was warm and the mood cheerful. Our second cheering station of the day was at Alta Park on Jackson Street, best known as the park where Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal drove a VW Bug down the steps in the zany, madcap movie "What's Up, Doc?" It was also lightly attended, but again, it's not easy to leave work early and fight your way into a crowded city on a working day. We were grateful for the people who did come out.
I felt gloomy at times along the route. Partly because it'd been such a gray gloomy day until the sun finally came out sometime after noon, but partly because, well, less than a week earlier I'd given the eulogy at my mother's memorial service. I tried not to spend the whole time thinking about it, but unfortunately, enough 3-Day crew and walkers had heard about my loss from Facebook or Twitter and would see me along the route and feel compelled to give condolences. I appreciated the spirit of what they were trying to accomplish, but it tended to drag me back down into the dumps.
At some point along the route we'd encountered some crew who were former residents of the same little Vermont town, Richmond, that we now live in. As far as I can recall, we didn't overlap with them at all -- they moved away before we moved there. But while you can take a Vermonter out of Vermont, you can't take the Vermont out of a Vermonter. When they saw our Vermont maps on our shirts, the couldn't help asking where we were from, and when we told them, they went "Small world." Then, for the rest of the weekend, whenever we saw them, we got big cheers and hollers from the former Vermonters for all we were doing to uphold the honor of Richmond, Vermont. I told them my mom had passed away less than a week earlier, and unfortunately, that
got brought up a lot as well.
After the cheering station at Alta Park we worked our way north and east along the marina area and into Fisherman's Wharf. Because we were relatively far out in front of the main pack, we didn't get to enjoy the experience of large gangs of 3-Day walkers plowing through aimlessly milling mobs of tourists -- mostly, it was just a few of us, fighting our way through oblivious crowds stopping to take photos of one another in front of anything that wasn't actively moving around. Once we made it to Fisherman's Wharf we had an experience unlike any other we've had on a 3-Day walk: we had to wait a half hour or so to catch a ferry
to camp. The 3-Day organizers had, somehow, gotten permission to put camp on Treasure Island, an artificial island and former Navy base, halfway across San Francisco Bay. And they'd persuaded the Red and White Fleet ferry company to shuttle walkers and crew to and from camp at the end and beginning of each day. It was a very
scenic way of getting to camp... although strictly speaking we didn't go directly to camp. We were dropped at the end of the island and had to walk another mile and a half or so to the actual campsite.
The campsite, in a nutshell, was windy
. I didn't get an actual Beaufort scale reading, but the wind was blowing hard enough that even with our sleeping bags and sleeping pads and pillows and clothing and other gear inside, the tent practically blew away. It got better once more walkers got to camp and set their tents up too and served as kind of a windscreen for our tent, but yes, before you ask, we did
see a few tents literally blowing away when walkers carelessly didn't put their gear inside the minute the tents were up. And we had to reassemble our neighbor's tent when we got to camp at the end of Day 2 because it had, well, collapsed under the force of the wind and wound up half on top of OUR tent.
It was a scenic place for a camp, but not exactly the best camp we've ever had. The wind was one factor -- it was so chilly and windy out there that I actually went to the 3-Day gear store and bought a pair of fleece pants because I, naively, hadn't packed any. And the showers -- well, I have no problem showering in a stall in a tractor trailer. I've done it many times before. But the whole social concept of people waiting patiently for a shower breaks down a bit when one of the shower trucks, er, breaks down. They couldn't get the heater to work and that took 20% of our shower capacity out in one fell swoop. I'm not sure that we couldn't have used more shower trucks, period -- the lines were unreal and I don't know if having one more truck would have made that
big a difference.
On the evening of Day 2 they decided that since so few men were participating in the walk -- and I'll be honest, percentage-wise I think I've never seen such an overwhelming women-to-men ratio at any of the other events I've done -- they'd have the men take turns using the "ADA shower" -- a single, wheelchair-accessible shower that was built out of the same plastic shell as a large porto-jon. It had no lighting inside and only a shower curtain stretched diagonally across the interior to separate a chair to pile your clothing up in from the handheld shower nozzle. There was no drainage, either, other than right out the door, and with three inches of water swimming around beneath your feet, you prayed
that none of your clothing would slide off the chair while you were precariously balancing, getting undressed and getting dressed again. And, as I said, we had to take turns. I hope I never again have to wait for two hours in a stiff wind to take a shower in conditions like that. :) If that's the worst thing that ever happens to me, I'm golden -- in any case, it beats the heck out of chemotherapy, right?
Friday evening we had to take Carole to sports medicine in the Medical tent and get her worked on by a chiropractor, iced, and, if memory serves, taped up. And we were advised to get more ice and more tape on the following morning, but the lines for medical (blister care, taping, etcetera) were LONG when we got over there early on Saturday. As a result, we decided to get Carole taped up and iced at the first pit stop along the route.
Day 2 started with a ferry ride across to the Berkeley Marina. It was, once again, gray and cloudy in the morning. Our walk wended its way steadily uphill through Berkeley to the University of California campus. The constant climbs and descents took a real toll on Carole. We'd trained in Vermont on hilly routes, doing 4 miles an hour for 20 miles, several times during the summer... but for some reason Carole wasn't feeling as strong as we thought she would have been. Perhaps it was the walking in crowds (which we did for much of Day 2) altering her stride, and perhaps it was just the sheer AMOUNT of climbing. Carole says we should have trained by doing nothing BUT hills in Vermont. Perhaps she's right. In any case, we slowed down a LOT on Day 2, trying by hook or by crook to walk all the miles and not wind up having to catch a sweep van.
The high point of Day 2 was the huge cheering station at the California campus. A LOT of people were there, including one group of women we learned to expect every few miles, women who took pains to appreciatively smack me on the butt every time we went by. We had Hope (our teddy bear) out and the people there to cheer went crazy giving her high 5s and giving her pink plastic bracelets to wear and posing for photos. A camera crew filming the cheering station went backpedaling along getting as much footage of Hope, 3-Day Superstar, as they could.
After the cheering station, we began working our way back down, with occasional climbs, toward the coast again. Lunch was at Lake Merritt, a big lake in the middle of downtown Oakland, and Carole's mood began to improve after lunch. The route wasn't super-scenic for most of the afternoon -- just neighborhoods in Oakland. Periodically employees of the Safeway supermarket chain came out to give us eclair bites at unofficial cheering stations they set up along the route. Those, we liked. But they also handed out bags of dry granola -- and no one really much wanted to walk the route eating dried granola out of bags. When we got to the next pit stop we found a giant mound of granola packets on a table where walkers had gone "ah, so I'm not the only one who wanted this." Verdict: more eclair bites, less granola. We were grateful for the Safeway employees' support, though, and their enthusiasm.
We were also most grateful for the members of the San Jose Police Department who served as route safety; we had actual Route Safety crew members working the route and managing traffic at intersections, but the SJPD also had a sizeable contingent out, all on police patrol bicycles. They weren't getting paid to help; they'd all taken time off to go to the opposite end of San Francisco Bay and help out in San Francisco and Berkeley and Oakland and, on Day 3, across the Golden Gate in Marin County.
The afternoon of Day 2 was also noteworthy because we met a number of really interesting people, some of whom had not-so-happy stories to share. We walked for a while with one walker who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, had radiation, had chemo, had gotten tentative good news, then had gotten the full how-ya-doin' series of tests, then had gotten some pretty bad
news -- the day before the walk. She was BRCA positive -- she has the gene for breast cancer -- and the odds are high that her daughters will have it as well -- but they can't get checked for it because as soon as it's shown that they carry it, their insurance will drop them due to a "pre-existing condition".
We also wound up walking for a ways with Jim Hillman, this year's guy-who's-doing-all-the-walks. Jim managed to raise enough money, $2,300 times 14 events, to enter each 3-Day this year, and was able to take the time off from work and cover the travels costs and so on, to come to every
event. You may remember this post
where I talked about a particularly poignant photo of a sad little girl, taken along the 3-Day route in Boston this year. Jim was the guy who took the photo. Jim told us the amazing news that while walking in San Francisco some walkers behind him had recognized
the girl in the photo and wound up telling Jim her name and some fairly sad, depressing facts about her situation. Jim hopes to reach out to the family and see if collectively, we can help.
Day 2 finished at Jack London Square in Oakland, just after a medium-sized cheering station. The weather was sunny and warm and people were cheerfully enjoying refreshments at waterside restaurants before taking the ferry back to camp... in fact, some of them enjoyed themselves SO much that they wouldn't leave until the staff of the 3-Day said "this is the last ferry. it's leaving WITH or WITHOUT you." We weren't on the last ferry, but heard several stories about the excitement later on. We were on a very crowded ferry, probably about halfway back in the pack. Lots of walkers were already in camp when we arrived, but we got Carole some ibuprofen and some ice and she seemed better once she wasn't having to put her weight on her left hip.
Unfortunately, the evening of Day 2 was the day the shower situation just went to heck and I wound up sitting in line for a couple of hours just to shower in, basically, a porto-jon. And I thought I had it bad -- when I got back to the tent Carole was there, frustrated and sad, unshowered... she'd given up waiting because the lines for the women were hours long as well. I told her that by the time I'd left the area by the showers the lines were very short and she needed to come with me and get cleaned up so she'd be able to sleep well.
On Day 3 we had to pack up everything, hand our gear bags back over to the Gear and Tent crew, take down our tent, hand IT in, and then catch a ferry to Tiburon, north of San Francisco in Marin County. We moved slow
on Day 3. I chafed a bit at the pace because I hate walking in a slow-moving mob just as much as Carole does, but on the other hand, I knew how important it was to both of us that Carole not have to ride a sweep van, so I said I'd walk just as slowly as she wanted me to if it meant she wasn't in pain, felt happy, and felt able to keep going. This was Carole's fourth 3-Day walk, after Philadelphia '09, Dallas '09, and Tampa Bay of '10. She'd never gotten to walk all sixty miles... once because the event was shortened due to weather, once because she just went so slowly that she got swept, once because she felt so sick that she wasn't physically able to walk all the miles... so this time, we both really wanted her to be able to look back at the end and say "I did all sixty miles!" Her left hip ached severely at times and tape and ice only did so much to help. We probably fed her more ibuprofen than was really good for her, too, and somehow she managed to summon up the will to keep going.
Day 3 was VERY hilly. Especially as we were nearing the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, walking through Sausalito and Fort Baker. We had some very well attended cheering stations, which perked us up, but we also had some climbs that seemed just about inhuman. Still, we knew that once we were actually on the Golden Gate Bridge proper, we only had a short distance left to go... and that kept us going. Hope continued to be a huge hit with walkers and spectators and wound up with about as much pink swag (beads, bracelets, buttons) as one little bear could possibly fit on her body.
We had lunch at Fort Baker, just before the Golden Gate Bridge. The coordinator for the group of teen crewmembers known as the Youth Corps had lined her charges up cheering the walkers into lunch. As we came into the lunch stop, she came up to me and said "Hi, Jay. Can I tell them about you?" I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, so I said, "Um, sure!" She said "This is Jay Furr. His mother passed away less than a week ago and he's walking ANYWAY!" Big cheers from the kids. Me, I felt sort of gut-punched, but I know that wasn't her intent. I felt bad
about going off to do something fun like the 3-Day before she'd even been dead a week. My brain was just negatively-inclined enough to turn what she said into a reproach, even though I absolutely KNOW it wasn't intended that way.
Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge was scenic as all-get-out, thanks to the sunny, warm weather and the incredible vistas that a fog-free day afternoon presented. On the other hand, the bridge was crowded as all-get-out... zillions of tourists on foot and on bicycles, all walking without a sense in the world that there might be anyone in their path going the other direction. The Bridge has a dedicated, protected bike lane on the western side of the bridge, but lots of tourists couldn't be bothered to ride in the bikes-only lane and instead insisted on pushing their way through on the pedestrian side. Annoying, to say the least. It wasn't as splendid a "We'll turn the Golden Gate Bridge PINK" experience as I'd dreamed of. But we made it. Carole had to stop several times along the way to stretch -- getting her some hard looks from bridge pedestrians who didn't want to have to walk around anyone for any reason, and I got to practice my hard-stare bad-ass persona right back at them. :)
Once we crossed the Bridge, we had only two and a half miles left to go to get to the finish line just south of Marina Green. I think it was when we were walking along the waterfront in San Francisco, looking at people playing frisbee on the green, that it finally hit us -- Carole was going to make it. She might not be walking four miles an hour with a spring in her step, but she was going to make it
. I didn't even ask
her to take a picture of me as we got to the final five hundred yards -- I've done these before, I've never had the slightest urge to catch a sweep van. It wasn't about me. It was about her proving to herself that she could do
this. At times, she sourly said she was continuing just to make me
happy, but the fact is, she acknowledged that this was an important goal of hers and that she was grateful for being firm about sticking with it so long as she was physically able. And despite the achiness, she did make it. I took photo after photo as she neared, reached, and went through the big inflatable cubes that represent the finish line. Hope and I were both very proud of her.
As it happened, we were pretty far toward the back of the pack when we finished, and we still had flagbearer duty at closing ceremonies to take care of. Closing ceremonies were actually a few blocks north of the finish line, and we weren't to wait to march over at 5 pm with all the other walkers... WE had to be backstage and accounted for at 4:30 pm. So we sighed and picked our backpacks up and got over there ... and THEN we rested.
We didn't get to see all of closing, as we were backstage hunkered down on equipment, resting, while the walkers and the crew marched in to the holding "corrals". But when the Survivors marched in, and we saw all the walkers and crew doing what walkers and crew always do -- taking off one sneaker and holding it in the air to say "We walk for YOU, survivors!" we flagbearers looked at each other and wondered if we
should. I mean, we were backstage; no one in the crowd could see us. I settled the matter by whipping a shoe off and holding it up ANYWAY, whether we could be seen or not. Most everyone in the flagbearer contingent promptly followed suit. What difference does it make if we could be seen? We'd all walked to honor those who've battled breast cancer ... whether they knew we were honoring them, or not.
We'd both been involved in opening ceremonies, as I said above, but closing is much more ceremonial, especially for the survivor flagbearers and the "honor" flagbearers. At opening, we'd just come up onstage, crossed, and gone down to stand with our flags on either side of the audience. But at closing, we came up onstage and stayed there ... and several of the flagbearers had the person or people they were honoring there with
them. It never fails to bring a few tears out when someone carrying the "My Wife" flag is joined onstage by his wife... or by their kids if he was walking in memory
of his wife. Carole's Aunt Debby was not with her, and none of my co-workers from church or work were with me, so we stayed at the back of the stage with our flags while those whose honorees were present took the stage.
After that, and after the final flag of the event, the "One Day Closer To A World Without Breast Cancer" flag was raised, well, I'd like to say we quickly got back to our hotel, got cleaned up, had a good night's sleep, and flew home the next day. But I can't. We had shuttle passes to shuttle all the way back to the hotel we'd stayed in the night before Day 1 and it took us at least a half hour for that blasted bus to even get OUT of the Marina Green Parking lot ... and about 75 minutes more to get through traffic to our hotel. But make it we did -- and THEN we got cleaned up, repacked, and got a good night's sleep. Next day we flew home... and somewhere along the way it came crashing down on me that I couldn't lose myself in my 3-Day world any longer. My mother was gone and not coming back... and that was not a happy way to spend eight hours on planes and in airports.
Mortality's a frustrating thing. We're all going to go sometime, and my mother had a long, full life, but I just wasn't ready to say goodbye. I'd fully expected to see her alive and cranky as ever in October when I flew down after walking the Philadelphia 3-Day. Unfortunately, that was not to be. But in the end, I am going to get over the blue feelings... and emerge, I hope, even more strongly motivated to do what I can to make sure that everyone else's mom, sister, aunt, grandma, wife... brother, husband, co-worker, neighbor, and friend as well... has just as much chance for a full, happy lifetime as my mom did.