Those who donated to the walk will be receiving this in the mail in the next few days.
If you'd like to read it now, get a beverage and settle in. We'll be here a while.
And for the rest of my blog visitors, if what you read moves you and you'd like to help, you can contribute to the cause by clicking the link for my 3-Day page, to the right under "Links."
Family and friends:
The walk, it was amazing.
Doreen, the dear, provided accommodations Thursday night and, in a demonstration of true friendship, set her alarm for 3:30 Friday morning to make sure I didn’t oversleep.
I didn’t. I never sleep well when I know I have to be up early the next morning. My brain can’t stop thinking that I’ll oversleep and throw off all the events of the day, so I wake up every hour to check the clock. At 3 a.m. Friday, I threw in the towel and got ready.
Doreen emerged from her room at 3:30 a.m., squinting in the light of the bathroom. Hugged me, told me she loved me, went back to bed.
I arrived at Union Station about 4:20 a.m. to catch the shuttle to St. Charles. While it is hard to get a cab at that hour in Chicago, once in one, it is very easy to quickly get where you’re going.
The chitchat with my shuttle seatmate quickly dwindled as we made our way out to the Kane County fairgrounds. I was tired, but also focused on the next three days and what I hoped to accomplish.
We arrived in darkness and rain. I schlepped my gear to the gear truck and donned a disposable rain poncho as I made my way to the stage area for opening ceremonies. A crew member squeegeed water off the stage. The sky was solid grey. Somewhere beyond the clouds, dawn had arrived. It was lighter, but the sun was nowhere to be seen.
Nancy, the woman who gave the main opening address, informed us that Chicago’s 2,410 walkers had raised, to date, $6.5 million. We’re able to continue fundraising for four more weeks, so hopefully, that total will substantially climb.
We took our first steps.
Day 1: 22 miles, St. Charles to Glen Ellyn
Before I’d even left the fairgrounds, I was walking and talking with Linda. She was doing the event by herself, too, her second walk of the year. She does both the Avon event and this one, bless her heart.
We walked and chatted and she started to slow. I asked if she was OK. Her arthritis was starting to flare up. She had been hoping it wouldn’t notice that she was walking, but it had gotten wise.
At a pit stop, in line waiting to use a “restroom,” I found myself standing in front of Uma, the wife of a coworker I’d met at Doreen’s parties several times. I knew she was doing the walk but we never hooked up beforehand. I thought I’d never find her in a sea of nearly 2,500 people. But there she was. I don’t believe in coincidence. I took our meeting as a good sign.
Linda and I walked on. By the time we made it to the second pit stop, she knew she had to sweep. Sweep vans circle the route, looking for walkers who need a ride to lunch or camp. Linda was upset – disappointed – that she needed to sweep so early on Day 1, but did the smart thing and headed to a van. She hadn’t fully checked in yet, so she didn’t have a tent assignment. I hoped I’d find her again.
Uma and her friend and I made our way along the route, but as we neared the third pit stop, they opted to keep walking while I decided to stop. A few minutes later, I rejoined the stream of walkers along a wooded path. As walkers pass each other, most turn to whomever they’re passing and greet them, usually with some variation on “How you doing?” I walked up alongside a woman and made the usual small talk, but we kept chatting. Her name was Catherine. She was from Dallas, walking in Chicago to see someplace new. We walked together for the rest of the weekend.
All along the route, people cheer. Some hand out candy or water or pink ribbons. As Catherine and I made our way later in the afternoon, a group of small children greeted us on the path, offering Dixie cups of something blue. Some held the cups far out from themselves, as if we were runners who needed to grab them and go. I stopped in front of a little boy.
“Is it Kool-Aid?” I asked.
“It’s Gatorade!” he said, beaming as if he was offering me a cup full of magic.
“Blue Gatorade is my favorite!” I said. “Thank you so much!”
Blue Gatorade is hardly my favorite, but it tasted great compared to the sports drink at the pit stops. I understand the need for it, but it was yucky. Slightly salty weak lemonade. Ick.
Catherine and I made it to camp about 3:30 p.m. A good day. We met for dinner and spent a couple hours chatting with two women who came in from Michigan to do the event. It’s amazing how quickly everyone feels like your best friend on a 3-Day.
Nancy, the woman who gave the rousing opening speech that morning, took the stage with updates about the day, media coverage, recognition for donors who had raised extraordinary sums. She also introduced three walkers who told their stories. One woman told her tale and announced that after years of surgery and treatment, she was one year cancer-free. The entire tent – and it was a big tent – stood to applaud her. Another walker is a father who lost his wife last year. He spoke of his son, and his hope that someday, no son will need to stand at his mother’s bedside with his hand on her shoulder and say, “It’s OK, mom. You can go.” He walked to honor her, wearing her survivor hat from the event the year before.
We stood to applaud him. Long, heartfelt applause. Tears were streaming down my face.
As if that weren’t enough emotion for one night, the announcer, the guy who was running the lights and sound for the event in addition to his other crew duties, interrupted Nancy at one point to say he had a phone call we needed to take.
A team of walkers had been unable to make it to Chicago for the event. They live in Baton Rouge. I’ve said in the past that nothing stops the spirit of a 3-Day. Apparently, not even a hurricane. These women plotted their own 60-mile course in Louisiana and walked with us. They were calling to report on their day’s progress. The sound guy put his cell phone on speaker, and held it to the microphone. Each woman spoke, everyone with something funny to say. But we were all too aware that what they were doing was truly monumental, most of all when they told us that at the end of their walk, they would be collecting shoes to donate to the victims of Katrina.
The sheer goodness of people is overwhelming in the 3-Day universe.
Spent, I returned to my tent to meet my tentmate, only to find no one there, not even gear. I had a tent to myself. It felt luxurious.
Lights out was at 9 p.m., but I couldn’t sleep. The ground was hard. I was cold. No, I was freezing. I set my alarm for 5 a.m., but I hardly needed it. I was up every 15 minutes. So much for sleep.
Day 2: 21.6 miles, Glen Ellyn to Hanson Park, Chicago
Catherine and I met for breakfast. I was once again amazed at the event organizer’s ability to provide surprisingly good food for nearly 3,000 people.
(A quick word about food on the 3-Day. Everyone jokingly refers to it as the 60-mile buffet. You eat constantly. You’re encouraged to eat at every pit stop, and the snacks are plentiful: Potato chips, pretzels, peanuts [you need salt], Pria bars [the mint chocolate bar tastes exactly like Girl Scout Thin Mints], orange quarters, banana halves, bagel halves, peanut butter, Smuckers crustless PB&Js, animal crackers, raisins, baby carrots. Crew members meet you at the entrance with Jelly Belly jellybeans. You literally eat all day. Guilt-free eating.)
Walkers leave camp at their own pace. We left camp toward the top of the order, somewhere in the 600s. (There were 2,410 walkers, and crew members kept count along the route and told you – if you wanted to know – what number you were, arriving at a pit stop. Catherine and I were as low as the 900s at one point, but as high as the 500s at our best.)
The crew is amazing. At pit stops, driving sweep vans, helping cross walkers at major intersections. Two guys, a father and son, were dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat. Two other guys – I never did get their names – would pop up at various points along the route to clap for us. I dubbed them “The Guys Who Clap” and wrote a little thank-you sticker to them and put it on the big banner of thank-you stickers in camp. It’s amazing how a little bit of encouragement goes a long, long way.
Speaking of which, Day 2’s route took us through many towns, including Oak Park and River Forest. My very good friend Dave (you may know him as Dave, Music Dave, Composer Dave, or Kurtis Dave) lives in River Forest, and met Catherine and me along the route with his dog, Eddie, and walked with us for a few blocks.
Day 2 is hard. Excitement helps carry you on Day 1. But by Day 2, your body gets hip to the fact that you’re trying to walk 22 miles – again. There were several moments that afternoon when I thought about sweeping, but Dave and Eddie provided a much-much-needed boost.
At the last pit stop, a very smart man parked his ice cream truck nearby. He received many visitors. When you’ve hit mile 18.6 of a 21.6-mile day, you feel entirely justified in eating an ice cream cone.
Back at camp, Catherine and I ate dinner and retired to our tents early. The Afrodisiacs were the night’s entertainment though, so I hauled myself out of my tent and made the trek to the stage area to check them out. They were fabulous. Disco tunes. One guy on stage said, “I don’t care how far you walked today, you have to dance!”
That night, I actually slept long enough to have a dream and remember it. It has faded now, but I know it was about Bill Kurtis.
Day 3: 14.3 miles, Hanson Park to Montrose Harbor
My right knee hurt.
Catherine and I had breakfast. Bless the food crew: We had cheese blintzes (along with another surprising array of offerings). In my world, cheese blintzes are excellent encouragement.
Still, the blintzes weren’t distraction enough from the pain. I took what drugs I had on me and decided I would walk as though there was nothing wrong. It seemed to work.
Our route took us through areas of Chicago I know rather well. I was dismayed that we kept heading south, as we ultimately needed to head north. On Day 3, you don’t want to walk more than you have to. But the last leg of the walk was along the lakefront. The color of Lake Michigan changes. Yesterday, it was a beautiful turquoise.
One guy on the path, not one of us, said to Catherine and me, “Thanks for walking. My wife is a survivor. I should be doing this.”
“Next year,” I said.
The Guys Who Clapped appeared toward the very end of the route, clapping still. I hugged them both. They’d kept me going for three days.
As Catherine and I passed through a tunnel in Montrose Harbor, we emerged to a crowd of spectators and walkers alike, clapping and cheering for us as we took our final steps. The crew of Pit Stop 5 from the past two days greeted us at the end, dressed in their Elvis glasses and sideburns, and hugged us. Catherine and I hugged each other, crying; we’d just walked 57.9 miles.
With our water replenished, we walked back to the tunnel area to cheer for other walkers. Kids hopped around on either side of the tunnel, waiting for their moms to emerge. Walkers hobbled in with ice bags Saran Wrapped to their knees. We clapped for them. They clapped for themselves.
Catherine met up with her sister, who had flown in from Dallas. My mom and dad and Doreen appeared out of nowhere. It’s good to have people there at the end.
Everyone lined up for the last leg of the walk to closing ceremonies. The walkers wore blue shirts and walked the route lined by the crew, who applauded us one last time. And we applauded them, our pit stop crews, the medical crews, the safety crews, Thing 1 and Thing 2. The Guys Who Clapped received enormous cheers. When the walkers had filed in, the crew joined us, and we all turned to welcome the survivors.
The survivors wear pink shirts. A sea of pink-shirted women streamed into the center of our ceremony, followed by a circle of five women, holding hands. At opening ceremonies, their circle represented all those who have been lost to breast cancer. At closing ceremonies, their circle held hope. Walkers held one shoe aloft in salute, one shoe in one hand, Kleenex in the other.
I’ve decided that in addition to walking, I need to make it my business to get more people involved in the walk, a 3-Day evangelist of sorts. A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. Globally, 410,000 women will succumb to breast cancer this year. And, in this country, 1,500 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and 500 of them will lose the fight.
I encourage all of you to consider participating next year. Yes, it’s hard. But it is hard in the most rewarding way. You will marvel that your body will carry you 60 miles and you will change your relationship with your health. You will see yourself in a new way. And the accomplishment you’ll feel will fuel other parts of your life. Give it a thought. You can get more information at www.the3day.org.
The last time I walked was October 2001, three weeks after September 11th. This time, I walked three weeks after Hurricane Katrina. I have seen the goodness in people in the face of those tragedies and during the past three days. And as I walked, I wondered why desperate times or special circumstances rouse us so. Why can’t we always support each other in such remarkable ways?
My friend Gemma’s sister says, “I want to live in the 3-Day universe.” It is my sincere hope that one day, we all will, not as walkers in a weekend event, but every day.
My love and thanks to you all, as ever,