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July 10, 2006: I would walk (500 miles) - but not any time soon

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The Avon Breast Cancer Walk site has all kinds of information - more than you would ever think you needed to know about the event. One of the pages included a 'what to pack' list. Lucky for me, I like lists, and this saved me the effort of making one myself. Shorts, t-shirts, sleeping bag for me, extra sleeping bag for the sister flying down from Seattle, extra socks, sunglasses, an economy sized bottle of ibuprofen. All of this had to be stuffed into a bag that could weigh no more than 30 pounds (sleeping bag included) and had to be compact enough to stuff into a two man tent that was actually going to be holding three people (including gear). I am business travel woman - I know how to pack light.

I headed up to Napa and picked up my older sister, and then we zipped off to the airport in San Francisco and older sis wandered through the baggage claim area while I aimlessly circled the terminals (I think I went around at least four times before my little sister called me and we were able to all converge in one spot). And then it was off to the hotel. They'd set up a block of rooms at a reduced price at the Marriott in san Francisco, from whence we would all be bussed at o-dark-thirty Saturday morning to the start of the walk, so it seemed to make the most sense for us to just spend Friday night there.

The Marriott is conveniently located less than a block away from the Metreon, so we dumped off our stuff and checked in with husbands/kids and then we were off to go have fun - fun which consisted first of lunch (at a cafe in the restaurant) and then a movie and virtual bowling (not necessarily in that order). We decided to see 'The Devil Wears Prada' because as much as the three of us really wanted to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, we knew our husbands would be far less likely to be miffed at missing a movie if it was a fluffy chick flick. It's a cute movie - fun and funny without requiring much in the way of thought.

The virtual bowling was my older sister's idea. Younger sister and I were not too sure about it, but then we started playing and what do you know, it's really a lot of fun. Also, I am apparently really good at it. First time in my life I have ever scored over 100 on a bowling game. Too bad I will never manage to match that kind of performance in the 'real world'.

We had dinner at Mel's Diner because we decided that when facing two days of intense physical activity, one should do some serious loading with foods that are frozen, buttered, or fried. We'd picked up our registration packets moments after they opened the doors, which turned out to be a good thing, because by the time we were done with dinner the line was out the door and things were getting a little crazy in the land of the bright and pink. So after dinner we decided that we ought to try to get to bed early so as to be ready for the far-too-early start the next morning.

The walk started at 7. The pre-walk pep talk started at 6:30. The busses started carting us over slightly before 5am. When we reached Golden Gate Park it was still dark outside, and the air was chilly. But they had a huge spread of food and coffee available, and there was a huge sea of people in pink, and they gave us a lovely little pre-walk talk and a cheered us on, and suddenly, off we went, a huge crowd of a few thousand women and men, transforming slowly from mob to line of walkers over the course of the next few hours.

Saturday's route took us just a bit through the city before meandering off towards a rather nasty hill and then across the Golden Gate Bridge. From there we wove our way down under the bridge and around the coast and off into cute little coastal touristy communities. The air turned from chilly to almost a bit too warm to be doing this kind of thing. And my feet turned from happy about the whole idea to hating my guts. Ugh.

So once we hit the 13 mile mark, I decided I'd had more than enough pain fun and joined a large crowd of other similarly minded walkers, and headed off to the Wellness Village, which was the temporary camp they'd set up for us in Crissy Field. My older sister really wanted to do the full 26 miles on Saturday, so she and my little sister continued on (although my little sister ended up deciding to call it quits for the day at around mile 18). I figured I might as well get my gear, and our tent, and tried to get that set up, but there was a host of lovely volunteers who were more than happy to do all that for me, so instead I decided to take advantage of the free massages that were being offered.

By the time that was done, however, my right hip had started locking up, my right knee was pretty much useless, and my feet weren't speaking to me anymore. So the next stop for me was the medical triage tent, where they sent me first to chiropractic, and then on to the physical therapy tent. The general consensus was that I'd managed to seriously wrench a few muscles and I needed to ice them, but it's rather hard to hold ice onto one's thigh for long periods of time, so they filled a few large baggies with ice and then used plastic wrap to 'stick' them to my leg. I joked that this was my spa treatment, and that at least the one thigh would now be thinner than the other.

My little sister showed up just as I was finishing up my treatment, so I helped her track down our tent. Imagine a sea of blue tents, all identical, set up in rows and rows across a field. Add in the factor of heavy winds that were merrily blowing away all the little markers the volunteers had so carefully laid out, and it meant that unless you had some kind of landmark to follow, trying to find your own tent was an exercise in futility. It was obvious there were people who'd done this before, because a number of tents sported flags, towels, balloons, and any other type of colorful item that would give their inhabitants some idea of how to get back.

My older sister showed up a few hours later, having actually managed to finish the entire 26 miles in one day. By then, my little sister and I had already taken advantage of the fact that there was no line for the showers (they had huge trucks set up in a warehouse that were basically filled with rows of showers - wonderful showers with plenty of hot water and terrific water pressure) and had tried to organize all our stuff in the tent so there'd be room for three people in a space meant for two. The three of us headed off to get dinner, and to pick up whatever goodies were available at the various booths around the site, but then we all went back to the tent and pretty much collapsed. Despite the amount of ibuprofen I'd already taken, and the icing, and the physical therapy, my leg was still in a lot of pain, so my little sister gave me something stronger, and I curled into my sleeping bag, and we were all so tired that we started laughing, until we got fussed at from people in the next tent over, and then the something stronger kicked in and I fell asleep.

I have figured out, in retrospect, why I was having such a hard time with the walk, and my feet, and the pain and all, but at the time I was just annoyed and irritable about the whole thing. We did an insane amount of walking while we were in Ireland and while my feet would hurt sometimes from all the walking, it was a normal type of soreness - nothing like what I was dealing with at the walk. The problem, I've decided, is that in Ireland, I wore my hiking boots everywhere, and on the walk, I wore my sneakers, and obviously the two were not one and the same in terms of effectiveness. But Sunday morning I was in too much pain to really be thinking clearly about it. I took a lot more pain killers and we ate breakfast and took down our tent and turned in our gear again, and set off out of the campsite, setting our sights toward the next rest stop which was three miles down the road.

I really did want to try to do the whole thing, but by the time we were about a mile in, it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. So I made it to the first rest stop and then finally gave up, and my two sisters went on without me. We finally met up again at the end of the walk, and we all got our walker t-shirts (even more pink) and stood around waiting for the post-walk celebration to begin. The crowd cheered for the organizers and we cheered for the volunteers, and we cheered for the San Jose police officers who volunteered their time to provide security and encouragement during the walk (and also a bit of eye candy, since they were all wearing tight shorts and were riding bicycles along the route). We cheered for the fact that as a three person team we managed to raise over $6000, and as a collective whole, we managed to raise over $5.4 million, and then it was finally over and we all collected our gear and piled onto busses and they drove us back to the Marriott. We walked just enough further to track down my car, which sat in a nearby parking garage all weekend, and we debated getting dinner, but by then we were all tired and getting dinner would have somehow required more walking, so we dropped my little sister off at the airport and then I drove my older sister back to Napa, and then I came home and took even more ibuprofen and collapsed and hoped that maybe I could just avoid moving my feet or my legs again for a very, very long time.

Despite the fact that it was an extremely painful event for me, overall, the walk was actually kind of fun. It's quite possibly one of the most well organized events I've ever experienced. Throughout the entire event there were hundreds of staff and volunteers encouraging us, cheering for us, passing out drinks and cookies and buttons, driving by in crazily decorated cars and honking their horns, dancing for us, and supporting us in whatever way they could. Every few miles there were rest stops with water and gaterade and snacks, and medical people ready and waiting to treat sore, blistered feet. The Wellness Village (where we spent Saturday night) was extremely well organized and planned - from the showers to the full stocked medical tents, to the volunteers rushing over to help the walkers set up or take down tents, pack up gear, or whatever else might be needed. It's definitely something we all thought maybe we might want to do again...except maybe next time we won't be walkers. Maybe next time we'll take part as either volunteers, or as staff, based primarily on one important criteria. The volunteers and staff had cars.

Pictures from the walk are all here.

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