Margaret’s Walk Journal 2002: Day 3

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:20 pm

Day 3 “The Final Act”

Actually 5:30a.m. wasn’t much of a shock. We had been told that the route would close at 3:30 in the afternoon (closing ceremonies were scheduled for 4:30) and everyone left on the route when it closed would be picked up and driven to the closing ceremonies. We were determined not to be driven the final miles so once it started to get even barely light we were getting ready to go.

Laurie had registered, on some level, that I had gotten back the night before so she wasn’t surprised to wake up and find me in the tent. Since Steph was in a different tent, she was a bit shocked to walk around a corner and find me standing in line waiting to brush my teeth.

We got breakfast, ate, and went to get our stuff packed up. All three of us ran up against a snag in getting our walking shoes back on though. Our feet were so swollen that we had to completely unlace our shoes before our feet would fit in them.
The route opened at 6:30a.m., we were walking by 6:40. We had only about 15 miles to cover on Sunday but we wanted to ensure that we weren’t picked up at the end of the day. At that point we were walking on stubborn pride which quickly changed to exhaustion and endorphins again and we started to enjoy ourselves.
The south end of Bellevue is very quiet early on Sunday morning. There was barely any traffic, we were walking along the lake and in and out of the business parks down that way. It was cool, the path was empty except for walkers and except for the hills it was quite pleasant. For the record, after 40 odd miles, going down a hill is as strenuous as going up one. We were excited, too, about crossing the lake and walking along the freeway. I was sure that we were going to be crossing the 520 bridge. We were so close to I-90 that I thought there weren’t going to be enough miles if we crossed at I-90. I underestimated the twining path the walk planners had for us through south Bellevue. I’ve lived in and around Bellevue for most of my life and still wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how it took us nearly 3 hours to walk from Newport High School to the pedestrian walkway at the east channel bridge.

They were kind and managed to find us a spot to get on the bridge that didn’t involve taking stairs. We wandered up a gradual spiral, got one last blast of Gatorade from the volunteers standing at the top of the pathway with pitchers (it was nearly 5 miles between pit stops, they wanted to be sure we had plenty to drink) and were once again out in traffic. The difference between being on I-90 and being on a backwoods two lane highway, however, is terrific. On the plus side, there was a waist high concrete barrier between us and the cars and the view was spectacular. It was bright, clear and warm and you could see a LONG way. On the down side, however, people drive like freaking maniacs. We spent a lot of time walking single file and hugging the rail and were glad to get off on Mercer Island.

People on Mercer Island weren’t exactly sure of what the hell we were doing. I guess they hadn’t watched or listened to any of the news reports over the weekend, but we got a LOT of weird looks walking through Mercer Island. It’s not a bad area to go walking through, lots of wide sidewalks, nice shade, way too many damn hills. Going downhill really started to hurt.
At the crosswalk before our pit stop at Luther Burbank Park, Grampa was directing traffic again. I have this mental snapshot, sadly I didn’t get an actual photo, of him from behind holding up traffic for a group of us to cross. Once again, jeans, bright orange t-shirt and safety vest. Once again, the blue baseball cap, the white mustache, and the whistle. Only this time, imagine Sousa marches and this portly older gentleman standing in the middle of the crosswalk waving his rear end, shooting his arms up in the air in time with the whistle, and a Mercer Island matron in a Lexus giving him an absolutely foul dirty look. I kind of got the impression that while she didn’t approve of what we were doing, she could at least accept the fact we were doing it for a good cause. What he was doing, however, was thoroughly undignified for a gentleman of his age. The giggles kept me going for miles.

About half a mile before the last pit stop for the island (a parklet on the northeast end of the I-90 bridge) we were able to see through the trees and get a first glimpse of the downtown skyline. I don’t think I’ve ever been more happy to see the Space Needle. Everyone was pointing it out, but what really got us going was the sign that someone had placed there –6 more miles. We were ecstatic. Six miles is so short a distance and we were further buoyed by the fact that we knew the walking was going to be interesting. The slog through Boeing the previous day had us a little wary, your feet tend to hurt a lot more if you have time to think about what you’re doing. Everyone stopped and took pictures at the six mile point.

Then there was the final grab and go before the bridge. Occupying both sides of the pedestrian path that crosses the bridge we were zigging and zagging between other walkers, random pedestrians, and people on bicycles. Some of the cyclists were the sweep riders who had graduated (I’m not sure that’s the right word for this particular metamorphosis, but it works) to bicycles and were patrolling the bridge for walkers in distress. The rest were the serious cyclists out for their serious exercise on the weekend and they resented the hell out of us taking up the lion’s share of their cycling path. At that point none of us were walking in what could be called a straight line. The muscle power to stay moving was about all we had left and the cyclists were extremely resentful of the fact that we were weaving side to side across the path. Now to be fair about it, they had as much right to the space as we did, they were traveling at much higher speeds than we were and a collision with a wobbling walker could have been disastrous for both parties. That having been said, however, I heartily resented the attitude of the woman that decided that screaming at us was an appropriate method of expressing her displeasure.

The I-90 bridge is a helluva lot longer when you walk it than when you drive it.
It was nice because it was cool, the water was pretty to look at, there were spider webs strung between nearly every upright on the railing, the view of Mt. Ranier and the city were first rate and the facing of the tunnel on the west side of the bridge is really quite attractive if you have the leisure to stop and look at it.
It is, however, an extremely long bridge.

And then we were in south Seattle. There’s a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel that parallels the I-90 tunnel which has some really slick artwork along the walls and ceiling. We blazed through the tunnel, knowing that lunch was on the other side and there it was, we were in the city. We could see it, we could hear it, we could smell it (diesel fumes! Yum!). Up along the northern edge of the freeway, through a small section of residential neighborhood and we were waltzing with the lunch greeters whose faces were entirely obscured by the Italian flag (for the record, the guy in the wheelchair wasn’t waltzing in the strictest sense of the word. He had a boom box on his lap that was playing horrible plonky bad Italian restaurant music for his more mobile partner to waltz to.)
Lunch, hmn, lemme see. Lunch –chicken sandwich, fruit cocktail and bandaids. Flattened cardboard boxes to soften the asphalt, the shade of a random semi-truck to park our carcasses in (all the soft spots, the spots on the grassy hill, were too sunny for our tastes), and a woman claiming to represent the company that was responsible for the food service asking us odd questions about the food while we were busy stuffing ourselves. I had some blisters that were acting up and so when I went to change my socks, a procedure that absolutely required a chair (if I had tried to change my socks while sitting on the ground the involved bending would have put me into a cramp I’d only just be recovering from) I went over to the nurses’ tent so I could pilfer blister supplies, get my feet stuck back together and get my socks changed in comfort. I honestly did ask one of the volunteer nurses whether or not she thought my toes would fall off when I took my socks off. She laughed and walked on, but I was mostly serious when I asked the question. Endorphins seem to be getting a lot of the blame for some of the more bizarre behaviour we exhibited on this trek, but I really do think that a prolonged consistent endorphin high can make you just as loopy as some of the non-endogenous opioid compounds can.

We left lunch, again well in the vanguard of the crowd, and started trailing through the tail end of the industrial district. Places I have always driven by, but had never stopped at. The Oh Boy Oberto and Schilling spice factories smelled really good. We headed west towards downtown ending up facing the new Seahawks’ stadium. Workers on the roof were waving at us, seemed to be cheering too, but they were up so high that there was no way we could have heard them. I was struck by just how blase they were, waving and jumping around up there. I was too far away to see the safety lines that I know must have tethered them, but it sure did seem to me like they were capering around up there with very little regard for the fact that they were WAY UP IN THE AIR.
One of the pit stops in the industrial south end, the parking lot of some nondescript business, had a little table with a huge sign advertising “TEMPORARY TATTOOS”. We were all enchanted with the idea, but they were out by the time we got there. That was the same pit stop where there were women near the exit making a tunnel of spray bottles and fans through which we were delighted to walk (pavement and buildings increases the ambient temperature a bunch). At another of the pit stops along that end of the city there were a couple of volunteers by the exit with spray bottles full of some lovely herbal body mist.

Then we turned right and were walking right through the heart of downtown. We were headed north up 4th Ave. as I recall. Closed office buildings, the county court house, and whole bunch of those trendy little downtown bistro and bar combinations out of which we were getting some really strange looks, a lot of applause, and not a few offers of free beer. I hesitate to think of what the effect of alcohol would have been on our systems at that point. Talk about being a cheap date.
The entire trip through downtown was really kind of a blur. We were enjoying ourselves to be sure, there were plenty of people to cheer us on, but I really only remember being in the south end near the court house, being offered a beer by a woman in a bar we were walking past, and then being at Westlake. There was an enormous crowd at Westlake. Balloons, bubbles, confetti, spray bottles, the expected pit stop (and the last, the very LAST bottle of Gatorade), a podium with people shouting support into a microphone, a high school band fer’ pete’s sake……. It was a zoo. We bypassed most of it, not wanting to stand in line at the Ben & Jerry’s cart that was giving away ice cream to people with walker credentials since at that point the line for the portapotties was about the only one we were willing to tolerate.
And we kept walking. Skirting Belltown, we walked past the Cinerama (at each landmark we got more and more excited) and past the Seattle Fire Station that’s at the north end of 4th. The firefighters that were in residence at that point were all out clapping and waving. They also had a mist nozzle going on one of the hoses so we got another little dampening before we ended up facing the northeast gates of the Seattle Center.

Jubilant can’t even begin to describe it. We were done. Actually we weren’t and we knew it, we still had to walk across the center and check in at the final check point in the Northwest Rooms, but when we crossed through that gate we knew that even if one of us fell down and broke a leg at that point, we’d all three be able to finish. Exhaustion and pain and stupid, dogged, pig headed determination gave over to mounting excitement with each step and with each cheering supporter. I remember every single step.

We walked past the Science Center, down past the food court, through the crowd of people clapping, waving balloons, and throwing confetti around the International Fountain. A man, just some random guy, bounced out of the crowd lining the sidewalk at that point, gave me a big hug and said “You’ll be glad to know that it’s all downhill from here!”. I appreciated his enthusiasm (although he may have regretted the hug, at that point I was pretty soggy), and he was right, it was all downhill from there but he OBVIOUSLY didn’t know the rule about downhill being as bad as uphill. Then the crowd that was lining the sidewalks turned into finished walkers and they were the best crowd of all.
Seattle F.D. had sent one of their chemical decontamination units (I was amused by the implication) so the very last steps were taken through a misting tunnel. We and everything we were carrying ended up soggy again, but at least some cleaner than before. There was a woman with a camera, I don’t know if she was official or casual, taking photos as we came out of the tunnel and there was the walk official with the bar code reader and a little tally counter. She read the bar codes off our credentials, clicked her tally counter three times and we were officially done. 1:30p.m. and we were officially finished as numbers 643, 644, and 645 out of 3000.

The finale of the whole event wasn’t scheduled to begin until 4:30 so we had a bit of a wait. We checked in at the last pit stop (inside one of the Northwest rooms) to see if there was anything worth eating and decided that we were bored with bagels and PB&J graham crackers. We got our official “I Finished” t-shirts, had a ball enjoying actual honest to goodness flush toilets and then we just sacked out. Lying flat on the floor with our feet propped up on the chairs I know at least I slept a little despite the chaos surrounding us. Unique perspective from that angle, the ceiling was an interesting thing to stare at while our feet deflated. Another little trick that I’ll remember when I do this again. On the last day, I’ll remember to pack a pair of loose sandals so that when I finish I can take off my walking shoes and let my feet free. There were women who had brought slippers with them and their feet must have been singing their praises.
Lying prone, however, makes drinking from a squirt bottle an interesting challenge. Since we knew we’d cramp if we stopped drinking abruptly, we were faithfully emptying our water bottles (so thoughtfully and continuously filled by volunteers patrolling the piles of bodies with pitchers) and since we were tired of having to lever ourselves up every half hour or so to find the restrooms, our collapse didn’t last long. We were not, by any means, willing to actually stand anywhere for any length of time, but we did manage to find ourselves an open spot in the line of people greeting the finishing walkers and had a lot of fun hooting and hollering for a while. Laurie and Steph actually had the flexibility to sit while doing this, but I was convinced that if I sat crosslegged on the ground that I’d never get up again so I was standing behind them thinking daggers at the guy next to us who hadn’t done the walk and was occupying one of the available chairs so he could stand above the crowd and take pictures. The amusement of this activity wore off rather quickly, however, so we wandered off and found ourselves a nice sunny spot with a bike rack to lean against and just sat. It’s amazing how satisfying just not moving can be.

Around 3:30 or so they started to round us up, asking us to get our finish shirts on and make our way towards the walkway that leads towards Memorial Stadium. We were pretty close to the front of the crowd again, but all that that meant was that we were behind a bunch of tired, sore, WARM women and we had to wait, standing up, while they herded a whole bunch more tired, sore, warm women in behind us. The long sleeved, dark blue t-shirts that were to be our communal flag of victory started to get distinctly uncomfortable and there was considerable squirming while people stripped off layers of clothing underneath them.

From somewhere near the gates of the stadium they started to play some good thumpy music. People started to move, at first just weaving to the beat, then walking. In a gleeful, sweaty, pink and blue clad wave we filed into the stadium, filling the field with shoulder to shoulder triumph. We were near the front, but there were hundreds of women on the field when we got there. We turned to stand and watch while the rest of the field filled with bouncing, dancing women.

The closing ceremonies were, mercifully, brief. Realizing that once the music stopped they were unlikely to be able to hold our attention, and we were unlikely to hold our upright posture for long, the walk organizers were short in their thanks to us. The cancer survivors were celebrated, and one of the researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (who was the first recipient of some of the grant money raised by our efforts) got up to offer his personal thanks. All told 2688 walkers raised, after the costs of the walk were met, nearly 4.5 million dollars.

There was a moment of silence. I closed my eyes and was touched by the spirit of a powerful woman that I know felt my triumph.

I was sad, of course, to hear the news that Mom had for me when she and Andrew and I met up a few minutes later. But not surprised. I wish I had been able to tell Gram about it, to show her the photos and give her a running dialog (even if she hadn’t been able to hear it). I’m sorry she wasn’t around to hug and show my oddly decorated feet and calves to.
I am glad she had, at the last, a part in my determination to finish and I will cherish her memory as part of my determination to do it again.


I had to work the next morning. Andrew drove me home where I had a prolonged, HOT, shower and tub. For the first time in three days I was able to walk barefoot which was a distinct sensation in and of itself considering that the bare feet in question were more than a little upset with my care over the previous 3 days.
I ate an enormous dinner, fell into bed and slept the sleep of the exhausted. A bed is a distinct improvement over the ground, a Thermarest pad and a slightly damp sleeping bag.
Monday morning I hobbled to work in my thickest, softest socks and my widest Birkenstocks. Only a few clients noticed my, to say the least, odd gait. It was strange to have other things to talk to people about besides feet (although through some odd quirk of fate I did see mostly lame dogs that day).
I have a massage therapist who I see quite regularly and she had been following along with (and massaging the results of) my training for several months. During my appointment the Tuesday before the walk, she worked on my calves and feet telling me that she was going to be sure I was in the best shape possible for the walk. I also had an appointment the Tuesday after the walk having thought, correctly, that I would probably need a massage after something like that. When she started to work on my calves on that Tuesday after the walk her exact comment, as I recall, was “Oh my God, WHAT did you do to yourself?”. Apparently my muscle tone was something quite unexpected.
And then there was the appetite. As much as we ate all weekend, for about the next 2 weeks all three of us noticed that our metabolisms were working overtime. Veterinary medicine is, by no means, a sedentary profession, however the usual amount of exercise to which we are subjected on a daily basis was leaving us ABSOLUTELY STARVED. Weird.

Yes, I do plan on doing this again some day. The management company that was in charge of logistical support for the walk got into some big falling out with Avon in the fall of 2002 so several of the late year 2002 3-Days and almost all of the 2003 3-Days were canceled. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is the new sponsor and the new recipient. The management company has reorganized financially and has had to decrease the number of events offered for late 2003 and 2004. Currently Laurie, my partner in lunacy (Stephanie having traitorously packed up and moved to Colorado), and I are debating whether to walk the San Diego or the Chicago 2004 3-Day. If it ends up happening, be assured you’ll be notified of my return descent into the depths of insanity in the 3-Day Part II.

Margaret’s Walk Journal 2002: Day 2

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:25 pm

Day 2 “The Plot Thickens” (or, at least, “Our Feet Thicken”)

We got up way too early the next morning. We wanted to be walking by 7a.m. The sun was just coming up, the football field where we had slept was misty and we were starving.
As we dressed and hit the portapotties we had a chance to look around at the tents in our section. They had told us that we should bring something that we could attach to our tent to make it distinctive since all 1800 tents were identical. The thought was good, getting up to pee in the middle of the night and then trying to find your pale blue tent in a sea of pale blue tents without risking death by flashing your flashlight into peoples’ faces through their tent wall would have been challenging to say the least.
The tents wore costumes as entertaining as the people did. There was one in our row for the team “Moms for Mams” that was decorated in jumbo size black lace bras, there was a team that had rigged a set of Christmas lights to run off a battery and had decorated their tent in flashing boobs (I bet their neighbors just loved that), there were multicolored cyalume sticks, team flags, and pennants flying from center posts. Our green cyalume sticks and little plastic fish molds, while decorative and distinct from our neighbors, paled in comparison.
I felt better Saturday morning. Sleeping helped, and the knowledge that I had convenient opportunity to throw in the towel mid-day made me a good deal more determined to finish at least the second day. We got our breakfast, put our gear back on the trucks, broke down our tents and were on our way.

Saturday was, unofficially, costume day. The organizers had asked us to wear our official 3 Day tee shirts the first day and most people did. We decided to save our team shirts, a custom designed Andrew Lenzer original, for the second day. To be brief about peoples’ reactions to the shirt, I’ll just say we got a lot of laughs. We started seeing the shirts for the “Babes for Boobs” (a hysterically bright blue shirt with an upside down heart across the chest in a suggestive location), the “Chicks Walking Four A Breast” were in bright yellow, and there was a team whose name I never did get that had to have won the costume contest hands down. They were decked out in good walking shoes and socks. loose pajama bottoms with pink hearts, pink tank tops, pink feather boas, and pink sparkly deely bobbers (the headbands with the springs and styrofoam balls on top? Yeah, those things. They wore them all day.) We walked behind a woman for a while who had a Washington state vanity plate pinned to her pack that read “Feets for Teets”. There was a considerable amount of booby humor.

We walked through Auburn and took a turn on to the south end of the Interurban trail. This is about where I stopped being lost and where the pit stop crews started getting really crafty. I grew my first blister before the first pit stop that morning. I had two pairs of shoes that I thought I had broken in sufficiently before the walk, but the pair that I was wearing that morning was just a smidgen less wide in the toes and my little toe started to protest. When we got to the pit stop I had to stop and doctor my toe so I sought out an actual chair to sit in and got a chance to take a good look at the way the pit stop was put together. The Interurban is a moderately wide (about four bicycles across) paved trail. At the entrance to the pit stop, all foot traffic had to stop abruptly because they had put the row of portapotties just off the trail to one side and there were lines of people at least 5 deep in front of each one. Once you were through the gauntlet of portapotties you had to swing over to the other side of the trail to get to the hand wash station, and before you could leave the pit stop you had to pass in between the first aid tent and the food and refueling tent. Once again, my hat is off to the organizers, they really know how to keep people going.

The vehicle traffic was considerably less Saturday morning which was pleasant. It was still a little cool and since we were walking along through farm land at first (at least mostly farm land, some business developments are along the route) we had a chance to gawk while we walked without the risk of getting smished by a logging truck. People started picking blackberries from the bushes along the trail. As we got further along, and later into the morning, we started having to dodge other trail users most of whom thought we were completely bats at best, and a pain at worst since 3000 or so pedestrians tend to take up a good deal of space. The team with the feather boas and deely bobbers were playing a game of poker as they walked along.

Saturday was really when we got to appreciate Linda. As a sweep driver we really didn’t see much of her during the morning, but she made sure that she was at most of the spots where the trail crossed a road, shouting, blowing bubbles at us and waving one of those magic wands with the sparkly liquid inside and ribbon streamers coming out of the end. We came to the conclusion that someone had spiked her Gatorade. We couldn’t come up with any other reason that she could consistently have so much energy. But at that point we hadn’t encountered the Knocker Walkers either so it seemed to make sense at the time. After we met the Knocker Walkers we figured that, like everyone else involved in this endeavor, that Linda was just flat out nuts.
The fun, silly, and utterly over the top cheering that a lot of people took time out of their weekends to do was really a great part of what made this so special. There were an older couple that we saw multiple times along the route each day who had an enormous flowered fabric banner reading “We’re Proud of the Whole Bloomin’ Bunch” that they’d sit and hold up for hours, there was a group of people that weren’t even associated with the walk who took it upon themselves to sit at one spot on the Interurban in Kent and hand out Gatorade while directing people to pass under the pink and white balloon arch that they’d constructed over the trail. And then there were the Knocker Walkers. The Knocker Walkers were a pair of women who had walked the San Francisco 3 day a few weeks earlier and had decided to DRIVE up to Seattle for the express purpose of cheering for the Seattle 3 day. They had their car decked out in neon signs, they were both wearing horrid neon flower print mini-dresses, bright pink wigs, and they were blasting music with a good walking beat from a boom box in the back seat. It was all utter madness.

So we walked out of Auburn, and through Kent. We took to the street again just a smidgen north of Kent and tied up traffic along the East Valley Highway. People were honking and waving, walkers were leaving the route and running into convenient Starbucks and 7-11s and it started to get HOT. None of the three of us managed to keep our team shirt on much past the time we got off the trail.
At 10 miles out we were in the south end of Renton and ready for lunch. We had twisted and turned so many times that I’m really not sure where we were, all I can say is that we were lunching in the parking lot of a building right across from the offices of Wizards of The Coast. That may have started the surreality of the meal (WOTC being the rather surreal company that it is), but it sure didn’t end it. Once again we ran the gauntlet of the lunch greeters, this time singing loudly and badly in Italian, snagged as much food as we could carry and were looking for a spot to sit that was out of the sun when we saw the belly dancers. Belly dancers? Go figure. Entertainment is entertainment after all and I guess the organizers figured that while we were lunching in a parking lot we needed something to look at but where they got the belly dancing idea I do not know. We walked past.
We really scored in that we found a shady spot in the grass which had a recycling dumpster that we could lean up against and started our discussion on feet again. I took a bunch of pictures of feet during lunch the second day. Andrew didn’t post them to the website because he didn’t see the interest in bunches of feet. Andrew wasn’t walking. By lunch time on the second day you could talk feet, shoes, socks, blister remedies, blister prevention, foot powder vs. baby powder, foot lotion, bandaids, duct tape (keeps the bandaids on), and whether it was better to doctor your own blisters or wait at the medic tent for one of the nurses with anyone and everyone. There was a woman sitting just up the hill from us who had more mole foam than foot showing when she put her socks back on. I was still only at one blister, but then I had dry socks twice a day and well fitted, if somewhat less than ideally broken in, shoes. Laurie was turning into the blister queen despite her shoes, Steph was sunburned in a distinctly odd pattern, and I still had prickly heat along the backs of my legs that would fell an ox.
For the uninitiated, after walking 30 miles in 14 hours, a patch of grass with a little shade and something to lean on is a wonderful thing.

We wandered through office parks for a while then crossed over 405 on the bridge that’s just west of 167. Coming in contact with a freeway as a pedestrian gives one a distinctly odd perspective. It makes you realize just exactly how small you are and how fast 60-70 MPH can be when you’re not encased in a ton or so of steel and plastic. Someone had tied pink ribbons around each of the uprights for the railing along the sidewalk.

Not too far into Renton from the freeway we started running into the cheering stations again. Now there had been a fair crowd at the cheering stations Friday morning, but Saturday afternoon boggled the mind. Balloons, bubbles, confetti, spray bottles, a charming young man running along the sidewalk with a supersoaker asking people if they wanted to be squirted and then hosing them directly in the backs of the knees, people handing out goodies again (the lady with the Costco box full of Eskimo Pies was extremely popular), Gatorade, pitchers of ice, stickers, and a lot of clapping and cheering. We met up with Andrew, my parents, and Sheri. Dad took me aside and gave me an update on Gram. Her condition hadn’t changed, and it was partially that and partially the fact that the endorphins and the adrenaline had kicked in again that kept me going past the cheering station (which, just for the record, lasted a good 3/4 mile).

So here we are wandering through downtown Renton. If you’re headed northeast through Renton from Kent, there’s not much of Renton before you start getting into Boeing territory, so we started marching through Boeing. It was at this point that the afternoon became distinctly tedious. At first we were still hyped up from the cheering station and from being in close contact with downtown. We speculated on how many psi we were putting on each of our feet and decided that whatever the number it was way to damn many. We started noticing distinct differences in the relative softness of concrete vs asphalt vs painted asphalt (in order of hardest to softest), and we tried very very hard to keep ourselves from wandering off the concrete sidewalk and on to the grass strip or bark beds that follow the sidewalk. After we had exhausted those conversational topics, it just got dull. We were still scouted by the sweep drivers every 10 minutes or so, but there wasn’t much other traffic to keep us busy, everyone was tired, it was hot, the line was strung out over miles, the endorphins wore off with a clunk and walking through a Boeing facility on a Saturday afternoon is just flat boring. It can’t really have taken as long as I remember it taking, but it seemed like it lasted well into hours.

The light at the end of the tunnel was the grab & go at Coulon park on Lake Washington just north of Boeing. It’s the park where Sheri and I were thrown into the lake fully clothed during our joint birthday party in 1985, and it was very reviving to speculate about being thrown (or jumping) in. So were the bags of ice and herbal foot soak that someone was handing out. We left the park at least somewhat revived, our endorphins geared up and we started off northwards through an extremely fancy neighborhood along the lake. The endorphin rush didn’t last very long and we crashed again, but at least we had the lake to look at (we didn’t dare leave the route to go swimming, none of us were sure we’d have the energy to start walking again), and the Knocker Walkers blasting past every 15 minutes or so.
Eventually we were walking along the trail that parallels the southbound lanes of 405. It was very comforting to be somewhere familiar, especially since I had some sort of idea of how much longer we had to walk to finish the day. It was also comforting that some group of walk crew had been through with chalk and had left goofy messages on the trail for us. My god we were tired.

We were plodding along (there’s no other word for it) discussing the fact that all 30 of our toes had a different personality and that each of them, at that point, was a lousy personality when a small snake crossed the path. The three of us were enchanted and spent a few minutes trying to catch it. We didn’t want it to be squished and it didn’t seem to have much of a chance to escape the feet and find a hidey hole in the rock wall along which it was crawling, but it did find some crack to wedge itself into. The women around us, however, thought we were nuts.

So we got to the spot where Coal Creek Parkway crosses the trail just south of Factoria, we took a right and were within sight distance of Newport High which was where camp was for the second night. This is where Grampa comes back into play. Remember Grampa? He was the sweep rider with the touring bike, and he had energy to spare. We plodded up the hill (it may not seem like a hill when you’re driving it, but when you’re at the end of 40 miles, it’s a hill) from the freeway and had to wait at the intersection before we could get into camp. Here’s Grampa, whistle at the ready, blasting Sousa marches while he guides us across the crosswalk. It’s difficult to describe adequately. Here’s this older, probably quite distinguished in his regular life, white haired and mustached, somewhat portly gentleman in jeans, a bright orange tee shirt and yellow reflector vest with a whistle in his mouth blowing to beat all while standing in the middle of a busy Bellevue intersection marching around waving his arms to guide us through the crosswalk. It was awe inspiring (well, it was at least inspiring. It got us in a much better mood as we got into camp. The awe I’ll leave for his performance Sunday).

Saturday night we spent camped on the football and baseball fields at Newport High in Bellevue. Our tents were out on the baseball field, but we didn’t even take the chance to go that far before the three of us collapsed (a shady grassy spot is a wonderful thing), hauled out our bags of herbal foot soak and sat with our feet on ice for about 20 minutes. When I end up doing this again, I’ll have to remember that one of the essentials that a prepared walker will keep in her pack is a pair of flipflops. Taking off the shoes and getting the feet somewhat happy again (or at least numb) then having to put the shoes back on to get to your tent so you can get your stuff and go take a shower is truly a horrid thing.

Once again, though, the showers were astonishing. For one thing, they were placed so that while you waited you were in the shade, for another the lines were moving faster.
There was an older woman in the changing room peeling off her sweaty clothes while I was changing after my shower. She was wearing one of the pink “Survivor” tee shirts and had had a double mastectomy. She wasn’t (no big surprise) too shy about taking off her shirt in public, but what astonished me, and a number of women in the changing room, was the absolutely gorgeous tattoo she had on her chest. She noticed us noticing and had the presence to be pleased by the attention, and the courage to let this group of younger women gawp while explaining that reconstructive surgery hadn’t been an option for her and she had wanted something to look at when she took her shirt off. Really cool lady.

Once again Andrew met us at our tents after we showered (a note to the wise: don’t use peppermint foot lotion on blistered feet, it stings). He was accompanied by my parents with chocolate and his laptop computer so he could empty the memory stick on the camera.
The news from my folks was static. Gram was on oxygen, was comfortable, but was comatose. She had been feverish earlier in the day but the fever had responded to medication so she was doing as well as could be expected at the time. I decided that I was going to go ahead and finish out the walk, but that I wasn’t even going to stop at home Sunday afternoon, I was going straight to see her. Mom & Dad left, taking the chocolate with them since there wasn’t any place for us to keep it where it wouldn’t melt and we went to dinner.

It’s strange how certain parts of the walk are so very clear even this much later. The kitchen facilities were amazing. There were something like 10 serving lines for meat eaters and at least 5 for vegetarians. We had some form of stir fry that the menu referred to as “Chop Suey”, the meat version was uninspired, but the vegetarian version looked pretty palatable. The thing I remember clearest though was the fact that the women in the serving line were letting people sneak into the end of the line and score extra eclairs for dessert.

Andrew ate with us and we were back at our tents looking over the photos from the previous day when Dad called. Gram was feverish again, her caretaker and the visiting nurse were worried. Did I want to go and see her? I told Laurie & Steph that I had to go and I didn’t know whether or not I’d be back that evening.
To his credit, I don’t think Dad broke any laws getting from their house to Newport High to pick me up but he sure didn’t waste any time. Andrew and I got in the car and suddenly I was moving but I wasn’t walking. It was a really weird sensation.
I remember getting to the retirement home, in clean clothes, but truly disreputable sandals, lotion and baby powder all down the backs of my legs, and my still wet hair all over the place. I had to wonder what some of the ladies thought seeing me come in like that.
I remember sitting with her. Andrew brought a chair into her room so I could sit but he knew that I needed some time alone with her so he didn’t stay. I remember how warm and how thin her hand was, and how for the first time in my life I could be with her and she couldn’t use her Grandma sense to hear and see me like she used to do when I was little and thought I was getting away with something while she was asleep. I remember the weird stillness of it all, her breathing the only motion she had left.
Dad had called Matt (it’s handy having medical professionals in the family) before he left to come pick me up so Matt showed up not too long after we did.
“How you doing Sis?”
“Ah, not so bad. How you holding up kid?”
“I’m okay.”
He checked her pulse and her breathing then kissed her and went to talk to Dad.
The only thing I had left was a kiss, I couldn’t hug her for fear of never letting go, and the fervent plea I left with: “Say hi to Gramps for me.”

I got back after lights out –this being a relative measure since, as with the previous evening, we had no interest in, and no energy to stay awake once we were showered and fed. Suffice it to say that it was past 9 p.m. and we were planning on being up at 5:30 the next morning so we could be on the route at a little after 6. The fact that there were still lunatics up and about, even up, about, and dancing, was of no moment. Laurie was asleep when I got back and I didn’t last much longer.

Margaret’s Walk Journal 2002: Preface & Day 1

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:28 pm

For those that I’ve managed to pretty much permanently piss off by being over a year late with my thanks, I offer this:

The people who have known the whole story will perhaps have understood my tardiness in getting this written. To those who haven’t known the whole story, I hope for your understanding and forgiveness for my delay.

To all, I offer the most heartfelt thanks. Your sponsorship made it possible for me to be a part of something powerful and wonderful. It wasn’t just the money that was raised, it was spirit. Being part of something that unique was an experience I’ll treasure forever.


While I was walking I learned that my grandmother was going downhill. Friday evening she was failing. Saturday evening she was comatose and feverish. Herma Vera DeWoody Hammond died at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday August 11th, 2002 a day short of her 90th birthday. I was sitting in the medical tent on the grounds of a south Seattle elementary school collecting blister supplies and trying to decide whether or not my toes were really going to fall off if I took my shoes off to change my socks.
Say what you like about exhaustion, hallucination, and the goofiness of people claiming to be in contact with dead family members, but I felt her spirit touch me at the closing ceremonies later in the afternoon. I felt her there and I know she knew that I loved her. I have dedicated my triumph, and the determination that got me there, to her memory.

I got blisters, I got sunburn, prickly heat, and sore muscles in places where normal people don’t even have places (did you know that there’s a muscle that runs up the outside of your shin?). I developed a pathologic fear of gatorade, porta potties, sunscreen and anything having to do with peanut butter. I had the time of my life.

Registration/Day 1

We started Friday morning late Thursday evening. Thursday was the day that the three of us were supposed to present ourselves to the King County Fairgrounds in Enumclaw for a registration process that was reportedly going to take between 3 and 4 hours. Registration opened at 1p.m. and closed at 6p.m. All very well and good, easy enough to do. Except that all three of us were scheduled to work that day and we couldn’t leave the practice without a doctor. Long story short (I prefer not to dwell on the clusterfuck that Thursday became) we all ended up getting registered and getting tickets for a shuttle bus that would leave a hotel at least close to our hotel and take us to the fairgrounds Friday morning. We all ended up being signed up for “towel service” (which was the organizers providing us with two towels apiece each time we showered. MUCH more convenient than packing soggy towels around.) and we all ended up with tent assignments. These were all things that were somewhat in question as of about 2p.m. Thursday (by the way, did I mention that a considerable portion of Thursday was a clusterfuck?).

But by 8:30p.m. Thursday we were all in the same place, my house, at the same time and we were scarfing down some truly spectacular fettucini. We had reservations at the Mariott Courtyard in Federal Way for that evening so that we could catch a shuttle bus and none of our innocent relatives would have to get up at oh-dark-thirty to take us to Enumclaw. Out of a sense of strict paranoia I had called the Mariott earlier in the evening to confirm that our reservations did, in fact, exist. I received the welcome news that not only were they expecting us, they had agreed to open their restaurant at 4a.m. so that all the walkers that were staying there Thursday night could get a decent breakfast before the shuttles left. This took one of the potential kinks out of Friday morning (we had been planning to grab our gear, leave our hotel and go for a brisk morning drag to the local Denny’s). We still had to manage to get from our hotel on 320th to the Best Western on 317th at 4:30 in the morning since the shuttle that was leaving the Mariott had sold out by the time we were purchasing tickets (remember Thursday?), but we figured that three blocks wouldn’t be too much of a haul even considering the amount of gear we had and so it was all falling into place.
We finished our terrifically starchy dinner and started the hustle to get down to Federal Way so we could go to sleep. We were planning on getting up at about 3:30a.m. Friday so we could all shower, get breakfast, and have enough time to get to the Best Western to catch the shuttle at 4:30a.m. We ended up having to make a brief detour for gas, and back to work to pick up a shirt and a water bottle that had been forgotten, but it was only a little after 9p.m., we figured we were in plenty of time. We had neglected to consider that it was still Thursday (remember Thursday? It was a clusterfuck.). The highway department was doing nighttime construction on I-5 from Midway (just south of where we got on the freeway) to just slightly north of the exit we needed to take to get to the hotel. We didn’t hit the Mariott until 10:30 and when you’re planning on getting up at 3:30 then walking all day, 10:30 is NOT an acceptable bedtime.

Fortunately, that was about the last hitch in the day. Friday morning, or as we saw it, a continuation of Thursday evening, dawned at way too damn early. We got showered, stumbled to the elevators with our gear, tripped our way into the restaurant and were suddenly facing more food than I ever thought I would consider eating at 4 in the morning. The walk organizers had recommended that we have a breakfast consisting of at least 1000 calories, about 60% complex carbohydrates and about 40% protein. Have you ever contemplated a plate, a large plate, of scrambled eggs, sausage, croissant, fruit and cereal at 4a.m.? It’s repulsive. It was a matter of sheer bloody minded pig headedness that got any food into me at all and it was primarily because I figured that if I ate a big breakfast I’d get all sleepy (okay, sleepier) and I’d be able to catch a quick nap on the shuttle.

So here we all are at 4:30a.m. in shorts, walking shoes and our walker credentials; hats, water bottles, and what seemed a lot more like seven thousand pounds of gear than it had an hour earlier after we discovered that the Best Western at 317th was closer to a mile rather than 3 blocks away from the Mariott on 320th.
Panic ensues.
We stopped at the front desk to ask them to call the front desk at the Best Western and have them delay the shuttle so we could get our brisk morning drag done. A savior came into our lives in the form of the Mariott airport shuttle driver who volunteered to take us over to the Best Western and we thanked him for almost the whole trip.

I have these weird little flashes of memory from the first part of the walk. While I was walking I remember pretty well what was going on, but getting there and getting started is patchy.

The next flash is the shuttle bus. This was not your standard school bus, nor was it even a municipal transit type bus. This was a BUS. Plush cushy reclining seats, foot rests, arm rests, individual overhead lights, the works.
Unfortunately it was also equipped with a PA system and a very chatty driver. She felt it necessary to continuously have discussions on the PA with the person seated behind her and as we got further out into the tooleydingles she had a lot of fun pointing out various points of interest. The three of us were grouchy and trying to sleep, but at least we were better off than those people who had stayed at the Best Western the night before. We had had breakfast, but the BW hadn’t opened their restaurant so those people who had stayed there overnight were picking at peanut butter sandwiches and yogurt cups while we were trying to sleep off fruit and Belgian waffles. I guess it all came out equally.

The King County Fairgrounds in Enumclaw is a beautiful place to watch the sun rise on a clear summer morning. On the other hand, the fact that you’re there to watch the sun rise indicates that you’re up way too damn early in the morning. Being sleepy stopped really mattering once we got off the bus and were standing! waiting! ready to go! God we were hyped.

The crowd was actually pretty thin at 6 a.m. so we managed to get way up close to the front near the stage where the opening ceremonies were held. We got to watch people pour into the field in singles, in groups, and in teams. Wearing team tee shirts, waving signs (it was there that we first saw the “Chicks Walking Four A Breast” sign), wearing buttons and stickers, carrying waist packs, water bottles, walking sticks and cameras. People were stretching, testing laces, reorganizing their packs and talking and talking and talking. Stephanie was wearing a pair of convertible pants, the legs zipped out above the knee to make shorts, and she got into a very interesting conversation with a cute little grandma who asked her if she wasn’t going to get too hot walking in those “knickers”.
As the crowd thickened and the day lightened, we noticed the helicopters. KING 5 was the channel that had the biggest presence throughout the weekend, but at one point that morning I counted at least 6 news helicopters circling over us.
The organizers started the opening ceremonies about 6:45. They told us what the program was going to be and then turned the stage over to some obnoxious exercise guru who was going to teach us how to stretch. Aside from the fact that there were nearly 3000 people packed into a space that was only just large enough for us all to stand relatively still (and so expecting all 3000 of us to bend and stretch at the same time was a little foolish) this woman had one of those annoying quaalude soaked voices, that I’m sure she considers soothing, but I just found irritating. She was also fond of finishing individual stretching routines with the phrase “Now put your shoulders back, center your head and adjust your pelvic (no, I didn’t misspell that, that’s what she was saying) forward.” I don’t know if her teaching actually helped anyone that was there, but those of us towards the front were getting a little antsy by the time she finished.

They gave us one last safety warning. The ceremonies wound down, the music started and we were off! The three of us grabbed each other’s hands so as not to get separated in the crowd and we started walking.

It was very exciting. As we left the fairgrounds there was a huge crowd of people along the sides of the path clapping and cheering. We were nearly halfway to our first rest stop (about one mile out) before the crowd died out. I was simply amazed at the number of walkers. The line stretched for miles. We were walking along nice quiet country roads, talking to (and apparently being extremely interesting for) the cows in the fields, picking blackberries, energetic and bouncy. We were amazed when the first rest stop came up, we couldn’t believe we’d already walked two miles.
This is not to say that we didn’t, at that point, need the portapotties. In addition to pounding into our heads the idea that we were going to be needing huge amounts of additional calories to keep us going, the organizers made it VERY clear that we were going to be engaging in hard exercise during the summer, and we WOULD drink. There wasn’t any question about it. They wouldn’t let you leave the fairgrounds without a full water bottle and at each and every rest stop the pit crews made sure that you were filled up before you left.

It was odd. too, that most people waited for the privacy of portapotties to strip down the layers that they were wearing. It must just have been that at the rest stops everyone was, well, stopping for at least a few minutes and you could strip conveniently without having to watch where you were going at the same time. My wardrobe for all three days was shorts, a tee shirt over a sports bra, and an overshirt. Generally I managed to loose the tee shirt before the first rest stop each morning, but I always put it on in the morning thinking I’d be cold (I don’t know why). Until the overshirt became too disgusting to wear I’d keep that on too. I was the only one in our team that didn’t end up super sunburned by the end of the weekend, but this deficit was filled by prickly heat so I didn’t lack for skin irritation.
The minimum age for walking is 17 years and I think that’s a good thing. If there had been any boys younger than that in the group (and actually there weren’t that many men walking to begin with which was probably also a good thing) they would have consistently been walking into poles or off bridges because a good half of the women walking were stripped to shorts and sports bras by about 11 a.m. each morning.

We turned off the back roads and started up the highway. It was one of those rural two lane two direction highways so walking along it was interesting to say the least. There was a lot of walking single file, there was a lot of skirting roadside ditches. We started playing a roadkill identification game among the three of us called “name the squishy”. I think I won by making everyone laugh after pointing to a roadside ditch and calling out “squishy tree” for a tree that had fallen into the ditch. The amount and variety of roadkill would only have been interesting to people working in the veterinary field, but we found it quite interesting (and distracting once our feet started to hurt). Just outside of Buckley there was a squishy coyote in the ditch that had obviously been there for a while. One whole half of its lower jaw had been scoured to clean bone.

All along the route cars were honking and people were waving. There was one family in a van east of Buckley that was circling along the main part of the line of walkers. We must have seen them 10 or 15 times. Come to think of it, there was a young man in the van, mid teens maybe, who was very enthusiastic in cheering us on. He would stick the whole upper half of his body out the window and wave and hoot and holler while his mom drove along the highway honking and his little sisters hung out the back waving. I now wonder if some of their dedication was due to him and the fact that, as I said before, most of us were stripped down to shorts and sports bras by that point.

On the highway we started to notice the first of the sweep vans and sweep riders. These were safety volunteers either in big vans or on motorcycles and when they went past you were supposed to give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down depending on whether or not you figured you’d be able to make it to the next rest stop. The sweeps provided a lot of the support that was so essential in keeping us from actually thinking about what it was we were doing. The vans were all decorated, from the Mariners theme van with Linda and her bubble wand (more on her later) to the van that was decorated, for some inexplicable reason, with paintings of the Rocky Mountains and was blaring John Denver music all weekend, There was also, literally, everything in between.
The sweep riders were a random group of motorcycle nuts who had their bikes decorated, one of them was carrying an Elmo doll in a crash helmet, and would alert the van drivers if someone seemed to be in trouble. The sweep riders were really quite a hoot. They ranged from Grampa, who was hauling around on an E-normous touring bike, all the way down to a guy who would only introduce himself as “Bubba” who was tall, narrow, weatherbeaten and rode an exquisite Harley. I mean, down to the ape hanger handlebars, chrome trim and everything. It was cool. He wore a bandana and shades all weekend, looked like he hadn’t had a square meal in months and here he is, his bike decked out in pink ribbons with an American flag flying off the back. The sweep riders also doubled as crossing guards. At one traffic light just before lunch on the first day “Bubba” had us convinced that if we stretched enough while we were waiting (“You must stretch 5 minutes for every 60 that you walk!” echoes the voice of the exercise guru) that the light would change in our favor. Endorphins do odd things to one’s capacity for rational thought. Turns out his wife had died of breast cancer and he spent a good deal of time up and down the west coast volunteering for events like this.

We walked into Buckley and got our first taste of the community support for the event. There was a little girl and her mom who obviously had some story to tell, although I didn’t have the chance to stop long enough to hear it, who were first along the route in a park in Buckley handing out candy. Mom appeared to be primarily the transportation and the money behind the endeavor, the little girl was wearing a bright yellow tee shirt that read “My Future Breasts Thank You” and was grinning fit to burst. As we walked up out of Buckley towards (I believe) Bonney Lake, we were passing along a strip mall. Many of the merchants in the mall had stands set up along the sidewalk and were handing out juice, smoothies, candy, and the Starbucks guy had Frappacino samples (he was very popular). There were also just regular people. I don’t know if they were out there because they were supporting someone in specific, or if they were there to witness the spectacle, or if they were just simply nice people supporting the cause. But there they were, handing out Gatorade (which was welcome because it was of different flavors than that with which we were being provided), collecting trash from us, giving us ice, offering to spritz us with spray bottles and being just all around supportive. I wonder how many ended up with sore throats. We couldn’t really spare the breath to hoot and holler to the extent that some of the spectators were doing and even still we ended up hoarse by the end of the day.

It was just before lunch on Friday morning that we met the dinosaur lady for the first time. She was another of the crossing guards, had a safety vest with several dozen buttons on it, a baseball cap with 5 across the front (I believe that meant that it was her fifth breast cancer walk) and she carried a little squeaky dinosaur. She probably would have made a good baseball player, she sure had the chatter down. I don’t think I ever heard her stop talking. A consistent susurration of cheer, greetings, nonsense, and commentary on some of the more outlandish costumes and decorations the walkers were wearing. All accompanied by the incessant squeaking of her little squeaky dinosaur. Dinosaur lady would hand out squeaky dinosaur kisses to anyone who walked close enough to her. Stephanie has a tattoo on her left shoulder that would always get a dinosaur kiss as we went past.

We started walking Friday morning at around 7:30. We hit the lunch stop (just a little over 12 miles out) at somewhere around 12:30. At each rest stop along the way there was a crew, and each crew was the same from day to day. The lunch crew were something else. We walked into the driveway of some Metro Park & Ride outside of MiddleofNowhere Pierce County (I spent the entirety of the first day absolutely lost) and met, for the first time, the lunch greeters. I don’t know if that was their official designation in the crew, or if they just took it upon themselves to be the lunchtime cheer delivery device, but they were great. A middle aged man, para- or quadriplegic, in a wheelchair and his buddy, a younger (early 20’s) somewhat stubby guy that would ride around on the back of the chair. They were decked out in chef’s hats and aprons, the chair was proudly flying the Italian flag and they both had the Italian flag painted on their faces. It got larger each day to the point where, at lunch on Sunday, it covered their entire face. The younger guy was greeting us with a hysterically horrible fake Italian mamma accent. He spent a lot of time assuring us volubly “I LOVE you, you’re BEAUtiful”. By the time we left the lunch stop on Friday, he was pulling people out of the crowd coming in and waltzing a few circles with them.
I’d like to take a moment to comment on exactly how hard this actually was. I thought I was in pretty good shape. I exercise regularly, I’d been training, increasing my daily walk time to up to two hours at a time, for 6 months and I thought I’d do pretty well at being able to keep up with a 2 1/2-3 MPH pace for 20 miles a day. As it turns out, I did. I did not, however, realize exactly how many more calories it would take to walk 2 1/2-3 MPH for 10-11 hours a day than it does to walk the same speed for only 2 hours a day. I ate what for me is an enormous breakfast at 4a.m. I was snacking on protein bars by 8:30, and at each rest stop after the second (only 6 miles out), I was taking down snack bags of pretzels, half bagels with cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly graham crackers and a fair amount of fruit. I was washing this all down with 32 ounce bottles of gatorade interspersed with 32 ounce bottles of water and by the time we got to the lunch stop I was still fair starved and willing to take just about anything in the way of food that anyone offered to hand me.

We found a spot to sit up against a fence at least mostly out of the sun. It was at that point that we got our first inkling of what we were actually doing to our feet. We all peeled (literally) our shoes and socks off and suddenly, and for the rest of the weekend, the conversation always came back to feet. I didn’t have any blisters yet, but my feet were exceptionally happy to be unconfined, resting and cool. It’s amazing how comfortable just the physical act of not standing can be.
We ate (we engulfed) we changed our socks (ah, happy socks, cool socks, dry socks), and then we made a mistake. We stood back up again. We discovered the worst kept secret of events like this; it’s the stopping not the continuing to move that’s the hardest.

After we got the kinks worked out though, the afternoon became the best part of the day. We headed off into the suburbs and were wandering around being spectacular. I use that word in the sense of “we were being a good spectacle” not that we were being any more stupendous or energetic (definitely not more energetic) than we had for the rest of the day, simply that there were more people around to watch us doing whatever it was we were doing. It was a hoot! The YWCA’s afternoon day camp was out practicing their cheerleader routines on us, people were sitting in their front yards waving at us, people had set their sprinklers up on the sidewalk so we could run through them, it was great. There was one family –grandma and a horde of grandkids– that were sitting along the sidewalk with spray bottles and squirt guns asking if we wanted to be squirted. This is in addition to the sweep vans running up and down honking at us and the nearly frenetic enthusiasm of the afternoon pit crews. I don’t remember where the first stickers were passed out that afternoon, but after that every pit stop and every grab and go became a search for new stickers. I do remember that my first was a little smiley face just over the section of my ID badge that read “meals” (put there with the intent of distinguishing between the vegetarian and carnivorous walkers, but I thought the smiley face and the position were good irony considering my appetite).

For almost the whole afternoon the scenery was better (suburban neighborhoods are a considerable improvement over rural two lane highways if you ask me), the traffic was less nerve wracking and the promise of the end of the day was just that much closer. We started noticing the “theme” pit stops. There was one that was all decked out like Gilligan’s Island…palm trees, costumes, theme song and all. I think the ones that morning had been less entertaining simply because there was less to work with. At the morning pit stops we were shunted off the highway into, as one notable example, gravel pits and so forth. During the afternoon we got small parks, empty lots etc. Much more entertaining.
Later in the afternoon we got to the point where we were walking along Lake Tapps. At this point, the water wasn’t so tempting. Looking back on it we should have taken advantage of the fact that we were so close to the water if for no other reason than we REALLY needed a swim 24 hours later and didn’t have the energy to leave the course and jump in.
Then, right in the middle of what we thought was the last bit of energy we had for the day, we had to stop and get on a bus. We asked the closest crew member why. We weren’t exactly enthusiastic about standing in line to wait for a bus so we could get off the bus and then walk another five miles. It turned out that the walking conditions between where we were and where we needed to be were poor, no sidewalks, the neighborhoods weren’t exactly good, and so forth, so we stood and waited. And STRETCHED! Stopping, and standing for half an hour or so (fortunately we were in the vanguard of the crowd when we got to the bus, by the time our bus left there was a line a half mile long) then sitting on a bus for about 10 minutes is guaranteed to cramp every single muscle in your entire body if you’ve preceded your bus trip by walking 15 miles. One woman on our bus pulled a calf muscle getting off and was still flat out in the grass getting massaged after the three of us had gotten through the portapotties and were ready to go again.

The rest of the afternoon was mostly downtown Auburn. We were walking from the elementary school where the bus dropped us to the middle school where we’d spend the night. It was hotter because of our proximity to so much pavement so we started gathering handfuls of ice at the pit stops and putting it down our shirts, under our hats, and wrapped in bandanas that we tied around our necks. We got to be a very drippy group of people.
The last pit stop was at 16 miles. There was a grab and go (a mini pit stop) at 17.5 miles. We were so hyped at that point that it was only another 2.5 miles that we skipped the last grab and go. We pulled into Cascade Middle School in Auburn at just before 4p.m. By our clock (we didn’t count waiting for the bus and the bus ride) we’d managed to walk the first leg of our journey in just a little over 9 hours including pit stops and meals.

Seeing the camp that first afternoon was absolutely mind boggling. Tents, tents, everywhere tents. We expected to have to put up our tents, but they’d managed to get a pack of hyperactive boy scouts to set the tents up for us (all 1800 of them). Semitrucks spewing steam and lines of women waiting with their shower gear outside of them. More portapotties than I’ve ever seen in my life. Portable sinks with running water, a fleet of U-Haul trucks jammed with our equipment, and three full sized field kitchens with an anthill of kitchen workers dishing out food as fast as they could. What was even more amazing to me was the line of ambulances outside the medics’ tent. Outside of the random accidents –I know one woman got tagged by a car and one silly git was 81/2 months pregnant when she started and went into labor during the first day–, and the women who were in questionable health to begin with –generally the cancer survivors– the way the walk was organized actually made it very difficult to get yourself injured or sick. There were at least 8 ambulances, they each left and returned at least once between the time we got to camp and the time we went to bed. How the women who got themselves hauled off for heat stroke, hyponatremia, and dehydration managed it I do not know. Feh! Silly people.

We found our assigned tents, got our gear and the very first thing we did was get our shower things so we could hit the showers. We weren’t only sweaty, we were gritty, sticky in spots (there was lots of PB&J at the pit stops), and so muscle sore that even though it was hot outside we were dying for a hot shower. We had to sit in line for a while (the operant word here being sit) but the line actually went pretty quickly.
I’m not sure how it works, but when they promised that everyone would have a hot shower, they delivered. You climb in to the back of this semi and there are…….full sized shower stalls. Rubber traction mats on the floors, little dressing rooms outside of each stall so your towels and clean clothes stay dry and blessed, blessed hot water. I’ve never been so glad for running water in my entire life.

Our second goal after getting cleaned up was to get something to eat. Once again, I was amazed at exactly how hungry I was after eating all day. We went back to our tents to drop our things and Andrew was there. I’m not sure how he managed to winkle my tent assignment number out of the officials at the entrance without my having put him on the “official visitor” list (a mistake), but there it is. He asked if he could talk to me in private for a minute, Steph and Laurie went to get some dinner and that’s when he told me about Gram.
He said that he and my parents had discussed not telling me He gave me all the information that was available –she was failing, had been in “a bad way” since the previous Wednesday and wasn’t expected to last another week.

My heart broke.
I was exhausted, I’d been up since 3:30 that morning, had walked all day, and was starving, and the only thing I wanted to do was to pick up and leave to go see her.
More than physical conditioning, you need to have the mental strength to be sure of seeing something like this to the finish. My determination to finish left. I wanted to leave. I wanted to finish, but I needed to leave and I was in tears. I called Mom & Dad and was told that there was nothing I could do if I did quit, that Gram would want me to finish, and they still didn’t know how long she had left. I agreed that I’d at least sleep on it and make my decision in the morning.
I walked to dinner in the circle of my husband’s arm, tears streaming down my face, and perfect strangers asking if there was anything they could do, was there a problem, could they call someone for me.
I discussed it with my teammates after we had eaten and were back at our tent pasting up our blisters and smearing various types of skin goo on sunburn and prickly heat. I told them I didn’t know if I could finish, but that I would at least stay until the next morning and probably go until after lunch the next day since we had to trot out our team shirts. At that point I’d pretty much decided that I’d quit at the cheering station where my folks and Andrew would be meeting us after lunch the next day.
It wasn’t very late, but it was getting darkish. We had absolutely no interest in the evening programming — “news” and entertainment (including dancing for some damfool reason. Who was the prat that thought we’d be interested in dancing after walking all day?) at the main stage– so we just called it a day and fell into bed. I had brought a book, but didn’t have the energy to read.

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