Monday, August 11, 2008

The Chicago 2008 3-Day, The Day After ...

Warning: As in years past, what you are about to read is extremely long. And may require the use of a Kleenex.

For those of you who are readers and who contributed to the walk, printed copies will go in the mail this afternoon, if you'd like to save your eyes and read it in letter form. It should be there in a day or two.

Everyone else, settle in.

August 11, 2008

Family and friends:

Every year, I sign up for the 3-Day alone. I'm not part of a team. I'm not even part of a pair. But I know that I'll meet amazing people on the event. You can't be alone when you're walking with more than 2,000 other people.

This year, of course, was no exception.

I camped out at the Renaissance in Northbrook Thursday night. My friends Sue and Gary popped by the hotel for a drink. We hadn't seen each other in far too long and they live in Wheeling which, turns out, is right next door to Northbrook. My geographic knowledge of the suburbs is pathetic. The only reason I realized they were so close is because I forgot a few things and was looking at a map in a phone book, trying to figure out how close I was to a Walgreens or CVS. (I ended up asking the concierge.)

When I checked in, I requested a 4 a.m. wake-up all. The next morning, my phone rang at 3:50 a.m. Ugh. At that hour, 10 minutes makes a difference.

But I got up and got ready and headed downstairs to the shuttle. I sat next to Mary. She had tried to get a group together but she was the only one who ended up signing up for the event, so she decided to do it herself. Good for her. We hung out together, waiting for opening ceremonies to begin. Amy appeared near us and mentioned that she was doing the event by herself, too. So then we were three.

Crewz'n 60, the biggest 3-Day team, was assembling near us. Barry, one of the team, was wearing a Mr. April sash. Like a beauty queen wears. Turns out, there’s a Men of the 3-Day calendar. (To see for yourself, visit Though in Barry’s case, “60-mile man” is a misnomer. Barry, you see, is walking all 14 events this year. That makes him the 840-mile man. That also makes him awe-inspiring.

And speaking of awe-inspiring, this year the All-Abilities team participated in wheelchairs. How cool is that? If you’re wondering, “Well, wouldn’t that be easier than walking?”, consider the strength and tenacity it must take to wheel your way up one side of a highway overpass and then the control it must take to wheel yourself down the other side.

We kicked off the walk, once again, to U2’s “Beautiful Day.” At the first pit stop, I was walker 275. Later, I was 375. Then 302. Valerie joined our band of three somewhere before lunch. Back on the route, Mary and Valerie pulled ahead of Amy and me. One of the keys to completing the 3-Day is to maintain your natural stride. It’s a bad idea to try to speed up or slow down to match someone else’s pace. So you might start the event with a group, but as everyone walks at their own pace, the group segments accordingly.

Day 1’s route was 21 miles. The weather for this year’s event was perfection. Last year, we slogged through heat indices of more than 100 degrees. This year, all three days were slated to peak in the upper 70s or low 80s. Walking heaven, weather-wise. Still, walking 21 miles in the sun takes its toll. Amy and I completed the route about 3 p.m. We got our gear, some angels set up our tents, we ate dinner in the afternoon, and then we returned to our tents to rest. Amy and I eventually met up in the dining tent to drink weak coffee and nosh on Mint Milano cookies (Pepperidge Farm is a sponsor of the 3-Day) and listen to contestants perform karaoke as part of “3-Day Idol.” When one particularly off-key woman took the stage, we decided to call it a night.

Sleep is elusive on the 3-Day. On the one hand, you’re exhausted. On the other hand, you’re sleeping in a tent. Next year, I am bringing one of those mondo inflatable mattresses. (I get my own tent every year, not because I’m a veteran walker but because I’m 6’3”. Though this year, my coach said she had to clear my single-tent request through medical, which made me think, “I don’t have a medical condition. I’m just tall.”)

There’s no need for an alarm clock. Once a few people start moving about, getting their days started, the slow-motion bustle spreads. (Nobody moves too fast on the morning of Day 2.) We had breakfast and started the 20-mile day, walking a similar route to last year’s Day 2. The Mt. Prospect police helped us cross at major intersections while wearing pink shirts. Awesome. Seriously, real men wear pink.

But our pace was slowing. At one point, I believe I used the word trudging. Which led into a riff about zombies. Amy and I stuck our arms out in front of us, our wrists limp, and cracked ourselves up. Later, whenever we were feeling draggy, we’d break out our zombie walk. Laughter is fuel on the 3-Day.

As are cheers. The 3-Day coordinates with local communities not only to secure the rights to walk but also to set up cheering stations. Of course, some people just break out lawnchairs in front of their homes along the route, but on the afternoon of Day 2, we came upon the best cheering station I’ve ever encountered. (This was my fifth 3-Day.) Both sides of the sidewalk all along Woodland Trails Park in Prospect Heights were packed. The Mix 101.9, another event sponsor, was there, handing out packets of sunscreen. But the throngs of community members who turned out to cheer blew my mind. And when we got to the corner to cross, I realized that the cheering continued on the other side of the street.

I always make it a point to take candy or other treats from the kids along the route. They’re so excited to offer them. So at the end of the extended cheering section, I reached down to take a piece of candy out of a very big basket being held by the cutest little blonde girl in a summer dress. As I straightened up to keep going, she said, “HERE!” and waved a little piece of paper at me. I took it and thanked her then looked down. She gave me a Barbie dollar. I turned to continue walking and started crying. It’s pink, of course, with pink flowers on it and the famous Barbie B in the middle with 1s at all the corners. I have no idea what a Barbie dollar buys, but it is one of the priceless memories from those three days.

Somehow, Amy and I made it back to camp. After we scanned in (every walker’s credential contains a barcode that is scanned every time a walker leaves or enters camp), we found the nearest chairs in the dining tent and sat. We didn’t speak. We just sat. Eventually, we hobbled over to the dining lines to get dinner and hobbled back to our table to eat. A handful of the dining crew put on a performance to us outside the dining tent, starting off with a little choreographed number, complete with top hats, to “All That Jazz” which segued into the Electric Slide. At least 20 walkers got up to join them. Somehow, on the 3-Day, no matter how much your feet hurt, you manage to find the energy to dance.

After dinner, Amy and I hobbled to our tents to rest. Later, I made my way to the showers. There is no better shower than a shower on the 3-Day. It’s as though we’re all dehydrated plants and the water immediately restores us. I stopped by Amy’s tent. She had showered, too. We made a plan to meet up in the dining tent later.

I returned to my tent intending to rest but I heard honking on the road that bordered our tent city. (Like last year, Oakton Community College was our host.) The last walker was almost back to camp.

Being the last walker (or walkers) is a very big deal. The last walker into camp raises the flag that signifies that everyone is home.

Many people need to sweep (i.e. hop a van to camp), especially on Day 2. But for those who can persevere, when they’re spotted on the last stretch of the route, walkers and crew start clapping. I made my way toward the flagpole just outside the dining tent to cheer. More and more people collected in a large circle around the flagpole and everyone in the dining tent stopped eating to stand up and cheer. By the time the two walkers arrived, at least 1,000 of us were clapping in unison along with, once again, U2’s “Beautiful Day.” Tears streamed down my face as they walked up to the pole, both crying. And after they raised the flag, walkers and crew from the crowd gathered around to hug them. The ceremony surrounding the last walker is a 3-Day microcosm, all the spirit and emotion that defines the event compressed into a handful of minutes. Imagine what life would be like if we all took a few minutes now and then to zealously cheer for a friend. Or a stranger.

Later, in the dining tent, Amy, Mary, and I watched the finals of “3-Day Idol.” In the end, all three were declared the winners. The 3-Day is very egalitarian.

I called L.A. Dave from my tent for a weather report. It had rained a bit during the day, but I wanted to know if I was in for any precip overnight. He reported that showed a 20 percent chance of rain overnight in Des Plaines. Which I decided to view as an 80 percent chance of no rain. Last year, we were evacuated into the school in the middle of a storm. This year, the only moisture we had to contend with was dew.

My Day 3 started at 4 a.m. That’s when my bladder decided to rouse me. And once I got back to my tent, there was no real point in going back to sleep. As the camp came to life, I packed my gear, broke down my tent, and hauled it all to the gear truck. After helping Amy with her tent, we grabbed breakfast and hopped on a bus to the beginning of the 16.5-mile route for the day.

After we’d been walking for a while, I checked the signs at an intersection. Foster and Francisco. We were in Chicago. We made our way east on Foster to the lakefront and walked along the lake and through Lincoln Park and made our way to Michigan Avenue at Oak Street and proceeded down Michigan until we were almost to the museum campus. On the one hand, it was very cool to walk down Michigan Avenue. It certainly served to raise awareness – lots of people noticed us and asked why we were walking – and for those walkers who were in from out of town, it was nice for them to see such a storied part of Chicago, but Michigan Avenue is typically crowded with people and on a lovely weekend day it is downright clogged. Late on Day 3, all you want to do is keep moving. Dodging tourists and stopping at stoplights isn’t conducive to that end.

Amy’s knee was causing her a lot of pain, so I was focused on helping her finish the event. It was her first 3-Day. I wanted her to make it to the end if she could. My biggest “injury” was sunburn. Turns out, you have to actually apply sunscreen for it to be effective, not just carry it in your waist pack. Oops. My mom met us right at the front of the cheering section. My dad waited further down the stretch with his camera to get a shot of us walking in. Amy and I walked through a chute of cheering walkers and crew and scanned in at the end of the route. But not before hugging each other for a long time.

Mom and Dad went to retrieve my luggage – a huge help – and to secure a spot for closing ceremonies. Amy and I hung out in the holding area where she met up with her dad and brother and sister-in-law. When they headed off to wait for closing ceremonies, Amy and I cheered for the remaining walkers.

When we had all arrived, we lined up for closing ceremonies and walked in, hands held, arms aloft, victorious. And, as in years past, we cheered the crew as they took their place inside our circle, and then we all cheered for the survivors, holding our shoes aloft in salute, as they made their way into our collective embrace.

On Day 1, as we walked, Amy told me about her brother’s sister-in-law, Judith, who is gravely ill yet who continues to valiantly battle this pervasive disease. At one of our stops, as we sat under a tree to rest, Amy produced a piece of paper out of her backpack, two poems Judith had written. With Amy’s permission, I am including one here:

Thank You by Judith Schlesinger

Thank you, sisters, for the slow, laborious detangling on a new year’s day
The careful pulling and sometimes breaking
And the tedious unraveling
that let loose the strands of sadness wound tightly around my heart

Thank you, sisters, for the comfort that lay in both of your hands
and for the trust I have in you in knowing that

I will not disappear

That is why I walk.

All my love and thanks and gratitude to everyone who supports me every year. I truly could not do this without you.

Update, Friday, August 15, 2008: Moments ago, I received an e-mail from Amy who wrote to let me know that Judith passed away tonight. As Amy wrote, "There are no words."



Blogger J. Marquis said...

Congrats, Beth. That's a wonderful achievement!

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Sue said...

Kleenex for sure...because you made me feel like I was there! Thanks so much, Beth...and Judith. And sister in law Amy. And everyone else.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless the Mount Prospect police in their pink shorts. Here's a trivia point about the Mount Prospect Police Dept. The car driven by Jake and Elwood in "The Blues Brothers" is a Mount Prospect squad car with the log crudely painted over. As teenagers in Arlington Heights, we used to howl over that. How many times did we try to evade the Mount Prospect police while speeding through town? Wheeee! The fact that the cops wore pink shorts simply hits home how this insidious disease strikes EVERYONE in some fashion. Thanks, Beth.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Shirts, Anon. The police wore pink shirts.

They're great supporters of the 3-Day but I think they may have drawn the line at pink shorts, if asked. : o )

9:29 PM  
Blogger Martwork said...

Wow. Very moving and inspiring. You rock! Hope the sunburn and any blisters heal fast.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phooey. Pink shorts would have been GREAT. If MLB can use pink bats, the Mount Prospect police can wear pink shorts.

10:25 PM  

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