Thursday, April 08, 2010

The 3-Day: Boldly Go ...

My first 3-Day was in October 2001, three weeks after September 11th. In Atlanta. I was not looking forward to getting on a plane.

I thought about not going. I thought about not walking.

"No one would blame me," I thought. "Lots of people aren't flying right now."

Except that my hesitation had a lot less to do with flying than the fact that I was embarking on this strange new thing alone.

My friend Gemma had done an event with one of her sisters, so I had some sense of what to expect from her stories.

But still, not only had I signed up to walk 60 miles, I signed up to do it in another city, and I signed up to do it by myself.

So I thought about not going.

And then I thought about all the people I might disappoint if I didn't, and realized that I was at the top of that list.

I see a lot of comments on Facebook and Twitter from would-be walkers saying that they want to sign up for the 3-Day but that they don't want to do it alone.

I can understand that. It's a big commitment, and knowing that you'll have someone alongside you provides a lot of comfort.

But as I tell everyone who's wavering: You won't be alone. You'll be with about 2,000 other walkers. And at least one of them will become one of your new best friends.

For the 2001 event, I met people at O'Hare, I met people at Hartsfield, I met people at the Marta station, I met people on the bus. Before I'd even arrived at Day 0 (there used to be a Day 0, before computers became such an integral part of the experience), I'd met my tentmate.

We were sitting together on the bus. "Do you have a tentmate?" she asked.

"Nope," I said.

And so we were tentmates. And walking partners, too.

And that's how it's gone for every walk since then.

I've never signed up to do it with anyone.

One year, I met Catherine on the route. I was walking alone. She was walking alone. I found myself coming up on her on a wooded path. "How's it goin'?" I asked. (Most people on the 3-Day will ask you how you're doing when they pass you on the route.)

And we started chatting. She was from Dallas and had decided to sign up in different cities each year.

Two days later, she met my family at the end of the route. We met her sister.

And every year, we exchange Christmas cards and letters, and contribute to each other's fundraising.

Another year, I started the route with a woman (whose name I can't recall at the moment, because I am old), but after lunch, I wasn't feeling well, so I sat down to wait for a sweep van and she continued on. But then I felt better, so I got up to start walking. I never did run into her again, but when I got to camp, there was a woman in my assigned tent, chatting with some other folks standing outside.

"Hi, my name's Beth. I'll be sleeping six inches from you tonight," I said. She introduced herself. Erin. And her cousins, Shel and Mike.

The next morning, they invited me to walk with them. And we finished the event together. They kept me going when I wanted to stop. (Blisters.)

And we're still in touch, too.

Then there was the year I was put in touch with Jen, a fellow walker who lived near me. We had been asked to do a workshop for walkers in our area, so we met in advance to hash out a plan. Jen was walking with a large group that year, and they adopted me from the get-go. I'm in their pictures from that weekend. Lovely women, all. I walked with Tina that year. I ran into her in camp last year. And this year, I hope to see her again.

Two years ago, I sat next to Mary on the coach from the hotel to Opening Ceremonies. She had signed up to do the event with someone who backed out, so she showed up alone.

As we were chatting and waiting for Opening Ceremonies to begin, Amy appeared at our side. And the three of us entered the route together.

We met a fourth woman along the way, and she and Mary paired up, walking and chatting, which left Amy and I to go at our own pace.

Amy and I walked together again last year, along with her friend Ronnie.

And I am proud to say that Amy has become one of my dearest friends.

All of which is to say that while I understand everyone's desire to sign up with a friend, don't hesitate to sign up alone.

Between area training walks and the 3-Day Expo and heck, maybe even just shopping for the right shoes, you'll meet other walkers.

And even if you don't, you'll meet walkers on the event. Trust me. Say "hi" to anyone wearing a credential and – presto! – you might have just met your new best friend.

People on the 3-Day are among the nicest you'll ever meet. They're very quick to welcome single walkers.

I know. I've been one of them, almost every time.

For about 10 minutes.

Amy is taking this year off, so I'll be walking "alone" again. And that's fine. I know I'll meet someone new and interesting.

And even if I find myself alone one the route for a while, that's fine, too. It's nice to have the solitude sometimes, to think about your life and the people for whom you're walking, and to remind yourself, with every step, that you're doing something bold for three days, and that if you're capable of walking 60 miles, you're capable of doing so much more.

So, to those who are wavering, I heartily encourage you to sign up. Today. Do it right now. And know that that's the first step of an awesome journey. And that there are other walkers who are signing up, too, who are wondering if they'll meet anyone on the event.

And the answer, of course, is yes, they'll meet someone.

They'll meet you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first year I walked I didn't know anyone. I walked with a different person each day, and loved every second of it. The second year I stuck with my team and together we "adopted" some walkers into our group...loved it. Third year I walked, I had a team but walked at a different pace so I was adopted into another team that I loved! Fourth year I had my team, my previous year's adopted team, and still enjoyed walking by myself because I got to hear so many more stories that way. I wonder what will happen this year!

Happy Walking!

2:45 PM  
Blogger MeenyMoe said...

What a wonderful story! I'm so glad to hear that. I will keep that in mind when I am going to let anything keep me from participating because I am by myself!

2:54 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

I REALLY enjoyed this post. I am a first time walker and scared to death I would be flying solo. Guess what? Another team leader just contacted me out of the blue with a warm email for no reason. No more worries I just found my team! God I love the 3-Day! I CAN NOT WAIT to walk.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Katie: Awesome stories! Exactly what I'm talkin' 'bout!

Meeny: Absolutely keep it in mind in all situations!

Christine: That is such a cool story! The contact wasn't "for no reason," m'dear. It was to match you with a team! You're going to have SUCH a good time!

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Cat said...

Wonderful post, Beth. I'm a first time walker in Arizona. I signed up to walk on my own, and while I'd still kind of like to join a team for training, I'm finding it's not a necessity. People have been so welcoming and so encouraging. And that's just online. What'll happen when everybody is together?! People keep telling me I won't be alone and I believe them, even more after reading your experiences. The 3-Day community is stunningly incredible and I'm proud to become a part of it. Thank you for sharing your stories.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Beth, GREAT post! I signed up to do my first walk "alone" too . . . but I met my wonderful tentmate and we were INSEPERABLE! 8 years (and 7 walks) later, we are still in touch. I have always walked "alone" and NEVER walked alone!!

5:18 PM  
Blogger Cate Sword said...

Thank you for your post.

I walked for the first time with a team last year and it wasn't great cause we tried to walk together and all had different paces.

This year I signed up alone to walk in San Diego. I know I'll make a ton of friends and that will be wonderful.

6:00 AM  

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