10 October 2007

39 miles later...(part deux)


Yes, I know the walk ended a while ago...but it's taken this long for my sister and I to get back to the point that we actually want to remember it. We're still limping, and bleeding... but let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Checking in on Friday night was crazy - thousands of people, milling about the hotel, some still holding signs that said "Need $400 for the walk!" (we all had to raise a minimum of $1,800), and the lines for medical check-in, quick check-in, and yes, even the bathroom, was filled with pink-clothed people toting bags and baggage. We scooted through that, hoping the next day would be a little less overwhelmingly loud.

The early alarm on Saturday morning wasn't fun, but when we arrive at Pier 84 to check in for the walk at 5:45am, we were surrounded by happy, perky, well-meaning people who seemed to be bursting with energy. My sister and I were... cranky and cold... but happy to be there. After eating some rubbery bagels and canned OJ, we walked close to the stage for the opening ceremonies. I will be the first to admit that we did that in the hopes that being surrounded by people would block the wind and warm us up a little... but the front-row seats had some drawbacks which I'll get to in a moment.

To paraphrase a friend of ours who has done similar walks, we were probably prepared for the physical turmoil we were about to embark upon. We were not prepared for the emotional turmoil. We listened to moving stories of cancer survivors, both those in remission and those who are still living with the disease. We heard moving speeches, and held hands with one another, and were led in a few lame stretching exercises before we were given the go-ahead to begin our 26+ mile hike for day one.

This is where we goofed. By being in the front of the crowd for the presentation, we ended up being in the back of the crowd for the beginning of the walk. Not important, since it's not a race, right? Obviously you don't understand my sister and my sense of competition. It's far from passive. We spent the next 2 hours walking on the edges of curbs, cutting corners NYC style, and in general being fairly aggressive walkers in order to "get ahead." We succeeded, though later I would wonder at what cost to our long-term endurance.

On day one, we took a 26-mile long meandering path through some of the coolest, and weirdest parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn... Through Union Square, Washington Square Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, across a foggy Manhattan Bridge into DUMBO and back on the island via the Brooklyn Bridge, through the Flatiron, and past Lincoln Center to hug Central Park West up through Harlem, across the GW Bridge and finally arriving some place in NJ for our overnight camping.

The first 10 miles were tough, and if you had asked me at the time how I felt, I'd have told you I was an 8.5 out of 10. Looking back, I was closer to a 9.999. The hip hurt a little, and my ankle was twinging, but nothing that slowed us down too much. By mile 13 we were doubting the wisdom of our outing, and by mile 18, we were playing "which body part is killing you now?" regularly. My ankle was in constant pain, and the hip tendons (weird, right?) were annoying. sis' knee was acting up, and our toes were feeling weird.

By mile 20, we were wondering how the heck my sister's husband was going to run a marathon, since we were basically falling apart at the seams. The GW bridge offered a mental respite - as we crossed the truckers and cars blew their horns in support. But the 5 miles after that were pure and unadulterated pain. Most of it was downhill, which on initial thought sounds good, right? No, we decided long ago that FLAT was the least of the evils, while uphill came in second. Downhill was pure pain, and the only reason I wasn't limping was because both legs hurt just about equally.

Though it was excruciating, we were in good spirits, and didn't harp too much on too many things, really. After all, the pain of breast cancer and chemo makes our walk seem like a bubble bath...and that's really the point, right?

The camp was tent-city. And at first we lamented the fact that our little square of land was just about as far away from the central point of activity as we could get. Even walking to it - about 100 yards - was too much for us to think about, and we sat on the grass of the baseball field trying to figure out how to get there without actually moving. We couldn't figure it out, so we crept over, and found some nice Girl Scouts to set up our tent for us, and then hobbled to dinner, and hobbled to the medical tent to get ice. Curious about my new found ankle pain, I saw a doctor who, after some poking, diagnosed me with "tendinitis due to overuse." It's a good thing the consult was free, cuz I could have told her that. Ice packs were in huge demand, so we horded them.

One thing that did make us smile was that when we arrived at 3:30pm - after 8 hours of walking - almost none of the other people at the camp had actually walked the entire distance. Most had stopped and taken the bus from mile 13. While we knew it wasn't a competition, it just felt good to have accomplished a goal that day that was a significant achievement. It also made me feel pretty good about not being sure I would be able to walk the next 13 miles the next day. My ankle was killing me, and the hips were nearly immobile. Thank goodness for ibuprofen.

We passed out in the tent floor around 9pm, and slept a solid 10 hours. Thankfully we were away from the evening's festivities (and floodlights), and slept in relative peace. The only exception were 2 trips to the loo in the middle of the night (1/2 liter of water every 45 minutes will do that to you). The loo trips wouldn't have been important to write about, except that every time I had to go, I literally shuffled like a 102-year-old woman because of the pain. Except for a brief spat of rain, it was a quiet evening.

The next morning, we had recovered surprisingly well, though we decided that avoiding the pain killers would not be an option. Popping two more ibuprofen, and breaking down the tent, we headed to breakfast, and then proceeded to walk the 4 miles uphill back to the GW bridge. The uphill wasn't too bad, but the pain came back earlier than the day before, and basically the 13 miles on Sunday were similar to the second 13 miles on Saturday - painful, long, and hard. But at the end of the road, a cheerleader squad welcomed us across the finish line and we were congratulated by spectators, which made it almost ok.

It took a few days to get back to normal, during which time we realized (warning: gross stuff ahead) that we got blisters underneath our toenails. Sis' got infected, and later required antibiotics, but other than that, it realistically took us about 3-4 days to get back to normal-ish (except for the toes, which are still recovering.)

But all in all, it was an amazing experience, which I'm hoping to do again...one day...far in the future. And next time, I'm getting stronger pain medicine to take with me.

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