Monday, January 10, 2011

Susan G. Komen San Diego 3-Day Walk, November 19-21, 2010

Total Miles possible: 60, On Route: 56.8, In Camp: 3.2, What I did: 50.4

Day 0, November 18, 2010

The forecast for the weekend was for rain on Saturday and Sunday, so I ramped up my preparations to include more waterproofing. I was pretty organized, and it still took me a good 4-5 hours to pack my gear. Putting everything in plastic and slapping labels on them really slows the process. However, I was very grateful over the weekend for all that plastic, let me tell you! I probably packed more than I needed, and will edit a bit more when I do this again next year. Frank got home from work just a little after 3:00 pm and I got on the road by about 3:25 pm. There was, amazingly, no traffic on the way down, so I got to the hotel in Carlsbad just a little after 5:00 pm. Went to the local grocery store, got some stuff for my dinner and for our breakfast and headed back to the hotel to relax. Joanne arrived around 11 pm.

Constants All Three Days

Pit Stop and Grab and Go: Every 2-4 miles on the route, the walk organizers have set up either a Pit Stop or a Grab and Go. Grab and Gos have port-a-pottys, snacks, and drink refills as well as a spot where you could grab the SAG bus if you want to skip to lunch or are done for the day. Pit Stops have all of that and medical personnel as well. Part way through the day there is a spot where lunch is set up and it has all the amenities of a pit stop as well as a pretty good sack lunch. You really do spend most of the walk thinking only about how much further it is to the next pit stop or grab and go. My favorite snack of the weekend was graham cracker peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. YUM!

Sweep Van: They had several (8-12?) sweep vans that drove around throughout the route to pick up anyone who may have become injured or who just wants to skip to the next pit stop (they do not stop at grab and gos as there is no medical there). Each van was decorated in a theme. There was a M.A.S.H. van, sports themed, Mardi Gras themed, 60’s themed, and several others that I can’t really remember. To flag down a sweep van, you either give a thumbs down sign as they drive by, or raise your hands above your head in an “X”. If you’re doing fine, you should give them thumbs up as they go by.

There are a few places on the route where the sweep vans cannot access directly. The police officers on bicycles who volunteer their time for the event can help out anyone who is injured or unable to continue in these spots. Golf carts patrol certain portions of the route as well. It’s amazing that they have this so well organized! I also saw evidence of some “spectators” who are connected to the sweep vans, who can phone in to get help to those in need when the sweep vans cannot access an area.

SAG Bus: The SAG bus is a bus you can get on at any grab and go or pit stop and it will take you directly to lunch (if it’s before lunch) or back to camp (if it’s after lunch). The only down side is that they generally do not run very often, and you can wait a long time on the SAG bus before you get to where you want to go. I learned that it’s far more efficient to get back onto the route and flag down a sweep van unless the SAG bus is nearly full or the pit stop/grab and go is about to close.

Police: The San Diego Police force and the San Jose Police force had officers who volunteered their time to help keep us safe throughout the route and to provide a certain amount of entertainment for us! None of them were paid to do this and none of them were “on-duty”. The San Jose contingent drives down with all their bicycles on a flatbed every year to make sure “their girls” (and guys – yes, there are men doing this walk) are safe and entertained. I believe they help out with the San Francisco walk as well.

They were all awesome. I really wish I had gotten on video the one San Jose Police officer who danced and sang and did all kinds of antics in front of the port-o-potties to help keep us from getting bored as we waited in line to use the facilities. He was so fun! They also would pull up along side walkers that were walking by themselves and chat for a while. I think this was both to make sure they were doing OK, but to help them feel that they were not alone. Several of them wore pink tutus all weekend and all of them wore pink shirts on day 3. It really made a difference to have them out there!

Spectators/Supporters: The spectators are amazing. Clearly, this is like a three-day parade and just as much of a cause for them as it is for us. Some of them dress up in wild clothing and blast music as we walked past. Many gave out candy, pins, stickers, coffee, hot cider, sodas, wine, beer (these were both very occasional… it’s an alcohol free event), towels (on the days it was raining), high-fives, thank-you-for-walking, crazy signs, etc.

There was one older couple, who dressed normally, stood at the side of the route and quietly smiled and said “Thank You” as we walked past. There was a group of men wearing small-ish watermelons in fancy bras on the outside of their shirts. There was a woman in a pink fuzzy coat who drove around the route in her convertible blaring music. There were lots of people with pink hair, and pink clothing. There was a man with his hair, beard and mustache died pink in outrageous pink clothing and he was surrounded by women in super high buffont pink wigs.

There were lots of parents out with their kids with them to thank us. Joanne will testify that the kids were my favorite part of the walk. How cool is it that their parents are having them come out to do something so simple and yet so important as thank those of us who are walking for a cause? Let’s face it, I missed my husband and my kids while I was on the walk. I talked to them each night on the phone, but they felt really far away, and ultimately they are one of the big reasons I chose to do this walk. Joanne noted in her write-up, you couldn’t help but think of the statistic that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. You start counting the little girls that are out there cheering us on and every time you reach 8 you say a little prayer that by the time that girl grows up, we’ve figured out how to keep her from becoming a statistic.

The one that got to me the most was a man and his daughter. She was probably about 9 years old. They dressed in “smiley face” clothing, handed out pins and stickers, played awesome music, he thanked us using his bullhorn and he and his daughter occasionally danced to entertain us. They were “Smile Guy” and “Little Grin”. On the second day right before we reached the pop-up he’d set up to protect them from the drenching rain, there was a sign he’d posted that read “The life you save might be Little Grin’s”. Yes, I’m crying again as I write that.

The most amazing thing about the spectators is that so many of them don’t just show up once and you never see them again. You walk past them. They make you smile. It gives you energy to keep going. Then they get in their car, move a few miles up the road and you see them again, and again and again. We devoted our weekend to the walk, and so did they. I hope the individuals who come out to cheer us on, to be “walker-stalkers”, know how much easier the walk is because they are there. They make a difference.

The Crew: No description of this event would be complete without acknowledging the incredible and almost all volunteer work that the crew does. There is a professional staff that organizes the event, but most of the people who do the work on the event to make it happen are volunteers. Some are former walkers. Some walk in other cities and crew the city they live in. Some just volunteer because it’s what they can do.

Crew teams include: Camp Hydration, Camp Logistics, Camp Services, Food Services, Gear & Tent, Traffic Control, Support Services, Bus Liasons, Route Hydration, Route Safety, Pit Stop-Grab & Go-Lunch, Route Clean-Up, Route Marking, Sweep, Medical, & Sports Medicine. All of those people devote 4 days to the event. There are other volunteer positions as well that only require a 1-day commitment.

The crew get up earlier than walkers, the work hard all day long and they often stay up later than the walkers. It’s not the same as walking 60 miles, but they work really hard to make this event go off without a hitch.

My hat is off to all of you who crew!!!

Miles in the Camp: The camp itself in San Diego is over three-quarters of a mile from the entrance to the dining tent. As a result, they actually give you 3.1 miles credit for walking that you will do within the camp itself. The reality is that I almost definitely walked more than that in the camp.

My Hat: My hat was the belle of the ball. Not only was it a slightly unusual sun hat from Sunday Afternoons, it was purple and it had 29 bright pink ribbons that I’d put around the crown. Each ribbon had the name of someone who has survived breast cancer, is currently battling breast cancer, or had lost her battle with breast cancer, and there was one ribbon on there for the husband of one of my donors who had recently passed from multiple myeloma. I did not know each person personally, but each one was connected to someone I know.

A lot of people told me that they really liked the hat and the ribbons. A few asked to take pictures of it. Many thought they were names of all my donors and were generally shocked to find that each one represented someone with breast cancer. “There are so many!” one woman exclaimed after she’d asked me about it. I replied simply, “That is why we’re walking.”

Music: One of the rules of the 3-day is that you may not listen to music on headphones while walking. It is not safe because you cannot hear what is going on around you. However, many people bring portable speakers and their mp3 players and carry music on their bags. The police often have boom boxes on the back of their bicycles. The sweep vans usually play music and many of the cars who “walker-stalk” will also play music for us.

I have to say, music is helpful when walking. It would invigorate me, and I would dance. On day two, I literally danced in the rain. I danced a lot. I am on a mission to find the portable speakers that had really good sound so I can take my own music with me next time to help perk me up when I need it.

Day 1, November 19, 2010
Miles possible: 21.5, On route: 20.5, Miles in Camp: 1, Miles I did that day: 17

We woke up around 4:45 am. Yes, you read that right. That is also known as “way-too-early-o-clock”. I was thinking that we could easily dress and eat in ½ an hour, but I was wrong. We didn’t get out the door until almost 5:40. We arrived at the long term parking at opening ceremonies, held at Del Mar race track, at just before 6 am. As we walked into the area where the opening ceremonies would happen, we were both struck by the fact that, in addition to the pink that everyone was wearing, in addition to the pink that was a part of the stage and decorations, the cloud-covered sky treated us to shades of pink as the sun finally came up.

We tried to figure out where we could get Joanne’s credential re-printed. That didn’t take long, we were both official, and headed out to wait for things to start. We managed to get our photo taken with the “Opening Ceremonies” sign just before things started.

The opening ceremonies began and, while brief, it was a very powerful and moving beginning to the weekend. As I expected I would, I had to dig my tissue out as they spoke of remembering those who have lost their battle with breast cancer. I found myself thinking of Tammy and Cheryl, both of whom are women I have never met. A high school friend of mine works with Tammy’s husband. Just a few short weeks before the walk, she lost her battle with breast cancer, leaving her husband and three small children behind. Her husband’s coworkers donated to my walk in her honor and I wore a ribbon bearing her name on my hat. Cheryl passed away December 2009. She was the mother of one of my girlfriend’s friends. Her name was also on a ribbon on my hat. My tears were flowing freely.

It took quite some time for all the walkers to make it on to the route, and Joanne and I were in the back half of the group by the time we actually started walking. On the way out of the holding area, we were greeted by all manner of people in crazy attire, cheering, wishing us well, thanking us for walking and generally making the long process of getting out much more pleasant. It was super slow going at first and there were a couple traffic lights that really slowed things down even more. The route was beautiful for most of the weekend, but particularly on Day 1. We walked along the coast line almost the entire time. I took more pictures on Friday than any other day. The rain on Day 2 and Day 3 made it hard to get the camera out.

A little ways into it we started to head down a relatively steep hill, and the ocean was visible on our right. It was a breathtaking sight. What also caught my attention was at the bottom of this hill going down was a steep hill going up that I could see had a line of pink ascending it. This is the first major hill of the walk, Torrey Pines. I still felt pretty fresh, so it definitely felt doable. Joanne said something about hills not being in her contract. We both laughed, headed down and took a break at the pit stop at the bottom.

I was very excited as I turned around at that pit stop and ran into my High School buddy, Andy. It was very unexpected and energizing to see her. On Day 1 my spirits were really good almost the whole day. This was not so true for Day 3.

We made it up the hill rather slowly, but we did *not* choose to flag down one of the many sweep vans that were provided throughout the walk. They were there if you were injured or just could not continue (or just wanted to skip to the next rest stop).

One thing that kept getting me misty eyed during Day 1 was that there was a group of soldiers walking in full gear and packs, and one of them had a sign on the back of his pack that had a beautiful picture of his young wife, who had passed away from breast cancer at the end of September. We ran into them a lot on Day 1.

It was hard work, and we just kept putting one foot in front of the other. We got to where we were falling further and further behind and the pit stops and grab-and-gos were starting to close around the time we arrived at them.

At lunch, Joanne stopped by Medical and had them look at her feet and the hot spots/blisters that were forming. It was taking quite a while, so she told me to go on, which I did. I had my first injury of the weekend shortly after lunch. I was walking along, and had just turned a corner. I was in one of those odd pockets where there weren’t a lot of people in front or behind me and I fell. I may have tripped. I may have had my ankle twist a bit and cause me to go down. I don’t really know why, but I fell straight forward. I scraped my knee and my hand a bit, but as I dusted myself off and got back up, I otherwise seemed OK. Mostly, I was grateful that there was no one (besides the passing cars) who witnessed me fall, as I’m sure a much bigger deal than it was would have been made of it because I know it looked like a pretty spectacular fall.

I kept going. I walked for a bit talking to other lone walkers, but that never lasted for more than a few blocks as my pace seemed a bit slower than most of the walkers out there.

I could tell I was getting worn out. I was hydrating and eating at all the pit stops, but my resolve was starting to lag. I was part way to the last pit stop when I finally decided that I needed to save some energy for the second two days. I’d made it to about 16 miles when I finally flagged down a sweep van which took me to that last pit stop. There I hopped on the SAG bus, which eventually took me to camp. Joanne did just over 15 miles that day, and we were both pretty proud of ourselves.

I got off the bus at camp and walked over to the gear truck I was assigned to. There, I picked up a tent, and had a group of three girl scouts and one of their moms offer to carry my bag and help me set the tent up. We’re talking 8-10 year olds here. It took two of them to lug my 30 lb bag to my assigned spot and they made shot work of setting up the tent for me. These people who help set up tents are known by 3-day walkers as “tent angels” and I have to say, that’s an appropriate name for them. I unpacked part of my stuff, pulled out what I needed, and headed over to the semi-trucks for a shower.

Yes, you read that right. They brought in several semi trucks that had been retrofitted with showers in them. It had a private area to dress connected to the shower and the water was nice and hot and felt awesome! It was so great to be clean and in comfy clothes. There’s something cool about being able to say that I showered in a semi-truck.

I caught up with Joanne and we headed over to the little city and browsed what was offered. They had mementos to buy, sponsors offered cell phone charging, internet access, and giveaways. They had a post office where you could pick up mail from your supporters (I loved getting my mail!), an information station, a lost and found and probably other things I’m forgetting now.

Next to that was the dining tent. Walking makes you hungry. They provide snacks at all the pit stops and grab-and-gos, but I was still quite hungry at the end of the day. Luckily, they encourage you to get as much as you want. Considering they cooked for so many people, the food was very good. The first night was chicken with wonderful sides, a great sauce and dessert. Although caffeine is a diuretic, they recognized that people wanted their cola and coffee and had that available as well as lots of other choices for drinks. I appreciated having my diet coke.

After dinner, there was entertainment, but Joanne and I both agreed that the only entertainment we wanted was on the inside of our eyelids. We went to our respective tents, I organized my stuff somewhat for the next day and then crawled into my lovely warm sleeping bag and was asleep before I knew it.

That night was VERY windy. We had been advised to clip plastic to our tents in case of rain and it whipped in the wind all night. It was so noisy that I really thought it had rained most of the night and even tweeted that to twitter and facebook in the morning before I had gotten out of my tent. Turns out, I was wrong. It wasn’t rain, just wind. (I then tweeted my retraction). I didn’t sleep as well as I could have because of the noise, but I felt mostly rested when I woke up at 4:45-ish.

Day 2, November 20, 2010
Miles possible: 20.7, On route: 19.6, Miles in Camp: 1.1, Miles I did that day: 17.3

It took me about a half an hour to get my stuff organized that day. I knew it was supposed to rain, so I wanted to make sure my gear was protected and that I had a couple extra socks, rain ponchos, etc. I then headed over to the dining tent and got a super yummy, warm breakfast. I found Joanne, and made her eat. Then we headed out on to the route. As we were waiting to be scanned out of camp (they scan your credentials every time you enter or exit the camp) we were lucky to be given plastic booties to put over our shoes. It had started drizzling and we knew we were in for a wet day. My booties only lasted a couple hours into the rain, but they were useful while I had them.

Once you get used to it, walking in the rain is not too tough. I really enjoyed the training walks I had done in the rain, and this was not much different. My hat kept the rain off my head for the most part. My poncho kept portions of me dry, but more importantly, it provided a barrier against the wind. It was chilly and it was windy. Within a couple of hours, my feet were as wet as they could get and so were the bottom half of my pants. I stopped avoiding the puddles as it didn’t seem to matter. I was one of the lucky people who didn’t get blisters when my feet got wet! I felt blessed by this small favor that day.

The long line of pink from the previous day had been replaced by a multi-colored rainbow of ponchos and waterproof jackets.

The most daunting thing was the idea that we would have to stop and eat lunch in the pouring rain. The idea of a soggy sandwich was not too appealing. Part way through the morning, we heard from some crew that buses were being brought in to the lunch area to provide shelter for us to eat in, so I was able to put this concern aside.

We got to lunch and it had briefly stopped raining. Most of the buses were full when we arrived, and since it wasn’t raining at the moment, Joanne and I found a bench that was miraculously dry and we sat down to eat. Of course, the lull in the rain didn’t last. Part way through my sandwich, it started pouring. Joanne brilliantly pulled her lunch and head inside her poncho and ate inside her own private tent. I quickly followed suit with my poncho. I ate my carrots in the rain. It didn’t matter if they got wet. We stretched, and we trudged on. People handed out flowers as we left the lunch area. I was cold. A little ways outside of the lunch area, there was a man with a huge 5-gallon water bottle filled with hot apple cider that he was handing out. I took him up on the offer and it tasted fantastic! It warmed me from the inside out and my whole outlook was improved!

I’d been wearing gloves off and on. They were unusual gloves with sequins on them, but somewhere along the walk, I had taken them off and put them in my jacket pocket, and the next time I went to put them on, one of them was missing. It had fallen out somewhere. I was not happy about it, but it was a small thing.

The rain kept me happy that day. I danced a lot when there was music, I smiled a lot and I didn’t feel as tired as I had the first day. We did take a sweep van at one point, mostly to avoid a steep downhill part. It actually turns out that when going long distances, going downhill is quite a bit harder than going uphill. My feet did not hurt as much as they did the first day and I still wonder if it’s because they were cold and that was numbing the pain.

Towards the end of the day, we did a lot more walking in areas where the sweep vans were unable to reach. Joanne had not been as lucky as I had with blisters. She had developed quite a few and she got to a point where she couldn’t go on. She told me to keep going and eventually got picked up and taken to a sweep van with the help of one of those awesome police officers on bikes.

As I left the final pit stop for the last portion of the walk, the rain stopped and the sun even came out. I got one really spectacular photo.

I got scanned back into camp and made it inside my tent and the rain came pouring down again. I organized my stuff, headed over for another awesome, hot shower in the semi-truck and then went to the dining tent to eat. Joanne was delayed and frustrated by the SAG bus. I bought a couple items at the souvenir shop and enjoyed Candy Coburn’s performance during dinner. Eventually, Joanne showed up and I made sure she ate. Again, we headed back to our tents and I was asleep by 8 pm or so.

One of the truly remarkable things that happened that evening was that I checked lost and found to see if by some miracle my glove had turned up. I didn’t have a lot of hope that it would be there, but I knew I had to check. The staff member and I sorted through a decent sized pile of lost gloves, hats, socks, shoes, and other items. When I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be there, we uncovered another small batch of gloves and lo-and-behold, there was mine! The sequins made it unmistakable and my whole day was made even brighter by the fact that someone had seen it, and managed to get it turned in to lost and found for me! Thank you to whoever that was.

I heard rumors from various crew that far more people used the sweep vans and SAG bus on day 2. The rain took its toll on the camp as well and there were plenty of people who came back to their tents to find that their gear had gotten soaked because their tent ended up in a low spot where water pooled throughout the day. I also heard from crew that many people left camp that night to seek shelter in hotels (or if locals, at home). The number of people who slept in camp on the second night was about half of what it had been the first night. I was lucky that my tent and gear stayed dry and I was all set to go for day three.

Day 3, November 21, 2010
Miles possible: 17.8, On route: 16.7, Miles in Camp: 1.1, Miles I did that day: 16.1

It rained a good portion of the night, but we were lucky that it was not raining while we packed up. I got up, somehow got all my gear back into my duffle, took my tent down and got it back in it’s bag, and headed over to turn it all in to the gear truck I was assigned to. I then headed over and had another hot breakfast and went to find Joanne. She was at medical getting her feet bandaged up.

It rained off and on throughout the day, but it was nothing like the rain on Saturday. I was sore, and tired, but in good spirits at the beginning of the day. I wasn’t moving terribly fast, and Joanne found that she had to wait for me quite a bit.

My downfall on this day was a portion of the route where there was 4 miles between one pit stop and the next, mile 6-10. This was compounded by the fact that most of this 4 miles did not have sweep van access. We are supposed to drink lots throughout the day to remain hydrated. We are supposed to stop at every pit stop and use the port-a-potties. I was doing both. However, about half way through this 4 mile stretch I really had to “go”. I slowed down to a snails pace. Joanne stayed with me. I should have waved her on. I sang songs to myself to try to take my mind off of it. Everyone was passing me. I was in pain. My spirits became crushed. All because of the physical discomfort I was in.

We got back onto a portion of the route where there were sweep vans, but I didn’t see any. I knew we were close to the next pit stop. I finally got there, and anticipated being able to relieve myself and then saw that the line for the port-a-potties was literally at least 20 people long in front of each one. My spirit broke completely. I sobbed. I managed to work my way back to some of the farther away port-a-potties where the lines were only about 12 people deep. I cried the whole time I was in that line. I felt blessed that everyone around me was oblivious to my tears or ignoring them. I could not have handled anyone commenting on it or asking me if I was “OK” at that point. I would have gone ballistic. I did not contemplate asking to go ahead of anyone. All of them had just done what I had done and could need to go as badly as I did.

This particular pit stop happened right before “the big hill” of that day. It was indeed big. I felt completely done. After I got out of the port-a-potty, I found Joanne and told her to go on without me. Amazingly, she really wanted to tackle that hill. More power to her. I wanted to take the SAG bus straight to lunch, but upon chatting with the driver, discovered they were about 45 minutes away from leaving. So I stepped back out on to the route and found a sweep van waiting for me. It took me 1.7 miles up that hill and to the next pit stop.

The 10 minutes I spent in the van rejuvenated me physically somewhat. However, my spirit remained crushed. But I looked at my route card and saw that lunch was only 3 miles away and the holding area was only 2 and a bit miles beyond that. I felt I could do 3 miles, so I started walking. This portion of the route went through parts of downtown San Diego. There was a lot of stop and go because of the traffic lights. Everyone passed me. I was no longer capable of going at a pace that would allow me to keep up with anyone else. Every person who passed me pulled my spirits even lower. I knew it was not a race and yet I was feeling like a total failure at this point. My feet hurt so much. I didn’t know how I was continuing. I didn’t know why I was continuing. But I continued.

I saw other walkers stopping at places to have a nice lunch or at a bar to have a pre-celebratory drink. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and knew that I needed to keep going. Walker after walker passed me. I cried every so often for no apparent reason.

I made it to lunch. I sat on the ground and ate. After I was done, I decided to call Joanne and see how far behind me she was. She told me that she had just sat down to eat at lunch. She walked that hill and she walked 1.7 miles more than me and we were at lunch at the same time. This further spiraled my spirits down. I told her I was going to get going because I was moving so slowly that she and I would probably arrive at the end at about the same time if I got a head start on her.

I walked off with tears streaming down my face. I did those final couple miles at a snails pace. The only thing that brought me even part of a smile were kids lining the route with their parents. The tears would not stop. I had several people ask me if I was OK. I was honest and said, “no, but I’m going to keep going.”

I could tell I was getting close to holding. There was a different atmosphere and a lot more people lining the route. I had just talked to Joanne on the phone and I knew she was only a handful of blocks behind me. We agreed whoever got their first would wait for the other before going in to the holding area.

My tears would not stop. At that point, two women, who at first I thought were walkers, also asked me if I was OK. I said, “no, but I’m going to keep going.” One of them asked me if it would help to take her arm for those last few blocks. I told her that I didn’t want to slow her down and she explained that she wasn’t a walker, but just a supporter that was there to help people who might be having difficulty at the end to make it a bit easier. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the number of people around me was bothering me and the last thing I wanted was to hold on to someone I didn’t know. She was not bothered at my refusal to take her arm, but asked if I would mind if they just walked with me the last couple blocks. I said that was fine. She asked me questions, she took my mind of the excruciating pain in my feet.

I could see the entrance to the holding area across the street and I started to get my phone out to call Joanne. I turned to look back up the street and Joanne was right there. I said good-bye to my angels who’d helped me those last few blocks and Joanne and I crossed the street and started to head in to the holding area.

The holding area is a place where all the walkers gather until the last walker arrives. Then all the walkers go together into the closing ceremonies. As we entered the holding area, the walkers who had gotten there before us had created a HUGE corridor of people that we had to go through. They gave us high fives, they told us what an awesome job we’d done. While many people found it moving, invigorating and enjoyable, for me it was horrid. I sometimes have problems with crowds. I was completely depleted. I wanted to sit quietly away from everyone and instead I was forced down a narrow corridor of people who wanted to interact with me. I didn’t have it in me. I cried harder and I just wanted out of that gauntlet! I’m sure they thought I was crying tears of joy. I finally made it through and Joanne and I went and picked up our t-shirts and our flowers. I desperately wanted to know what happened next, but I couldn’t speak to strangers anymore. Joanne found out for me.

Joanne made it possible for me to do so much more on this walk. I cannot explain enough how much I needed her there with me, even though we didn’t always walk together. It was a blessing that she decided to join me and we are closer than ever having been through it together. We were so much more together than either one of us would have been by ourselves. Life 101 says “always go with a buddy.”

Walkers received white t-shirts and Walkers who are also Survivors received pink t-shirts. Once the last walker arrived, the regular walkers all left the holding area, followed by the survivors. We walked a short distance to closing ceremonies. I was overjoyed to see my friend, Lauren, a woman I know from tap dance who also was the volunteer captain of the gear and tent crew. Joanne and I made it into the closing area and I turned around and saw my good friend Andy again! Awesome!

We found out that San Diego raised over 10.6 million dollars. We heard inspiring words. As the survivors walked in, almost all of the walkers removed one shoe in tribute and held it in the air.

We walk for them. We walk for those who may join their ranks. We walk to keep more women and men from joining their ranks. We walk to find a cure. We walk to make a better world. We walk to improve the world for our kids. We walk to spare people pain and heartbreak.

There were more speakers, there was music, and it ended. We’d done it. We were still standing (sort of). We gathered our bags and hobbled onto the bus that would take us back to our cars which were parked at the Del Mar race track.

I chatted with a couple of crew members who were sitting behind me on the bus. They’d been crewing the event for several years. I asked them if I’d feel more of a sense of accomplishment later on. Honestly, at that moment, I wondered why I had done this. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel like I’d done anything momentous. I just felt depleted and sore and miserable. I had signed up for the 2011 walk before I did the 2010 walk, but I was having serious doubts about whether I would actually fundraise and walk again in 2011.

They asked me if I’d taken pictures. I said yes. They asked me why I signed up originally. I told them a short version of my story. They told me that as I looked at those pictures and thought about those reasons, that they believed I would be back again next year. I wasn’t convinced. I was glad I’d done it, but I didn’t think I’d be back.

After picking up our cars, Joanne and I got some dinner, and as we were leaving the restaurant, a song came on that we’d heard a lot on the route and we found ourselves dancing out of the place. I’m sure other people wondered why, but it felt completely natural. After all, we’d been dancing a lot throughout the walk. We’d laughed a lot. We’d actually had a lot of fun, despite the pain we’d put ourselves through.

We made ourselves sit in the Jacuzzi at the hotel that evening and then crashed in our beds for the night.

Day 4, November 22, 2010

The next morning we got up, had breakfast and started packing our stuff in to our cars. I was wearing my event shirt and as I was putting my last bag into the back of my car, I heard hollering, clapping and cheering coming from across the way. There was a couple standing there. The wife walks every year. The husband comes down every year and cheers walkers on. They cheered me on as I loaded my car, and then I cheered them on as well. There was something really awesome about that and I thank them for that extra little boost they gave me that day.

I managed to drive home, but felt drained and tired and felt like I had to be extra vigilant to be safe while driving. I was so glad to be home when I finally got there. My husband and kids were awesome and I slowly started my recovery.


The question I have asked myself ever since the event is why did I keep going? Why didn’t I hop on one of the many sweep vans on that third day when I was so miserable?

The more I think about it, the more I think that answer is simply: I kept going because I could. Emotionally I didn’t feel capable of continuing, but physically on some level I knew I could keep going. We don’t have to be happy about something to do it. We don’t have to be in a good mood to know it needs doing. I doubt those who battle breast cancer (or any illness, really) want to undergo any of the treatment they go through. They probably cry through much of it. They want to throw in the towel, and yet, they know that it needs doing, and they tough it out.

I guess that’s what I did with this. This needed doing. The fundraising was over and I didn’t have to do it. I had a choice and I chose the harder route. Why would any sane person choose the harder route? The answer to that is because that is how committed I am to wanting to see this disease gone. The answer is every eighth girl I saw along the route cheering us on with their parents. The answer is “Little Grin”. The answer is my own daughter. The answer is the countless families whose lives have been or will be touched by this disease.

The answer is that every step of this walk was my “prayer” to the universe to end this disease and I know that about 4,000 others shared the same prayer over those 3-days. I know that so many more shared our wish and supported us and made doing it possible.

I still cannot thank enough those of you who made my journey possible. Thank you!

Will I Walk in 2011?

As time passed, I became more able to picture myself doing the walk again in 2011. I was leaning more and more towards thinking I would, but part of me was still holding back. I believe that I would have eventually reached the point where all of me would be back into it 100%, but I got there sooner than I would have otherwise.

On December 8th, 2010, a high school friend of mine, Elizabeth, posted on her Facebook page that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and her site indicated that she would be in surgery on Dec 9th. This would be followed by chemo and radiation. She is my age. She has two small children. It hit close to home. I cried a lot that night. I think about her and her family a lot. I also knew, without a doubt that I was now fully committed to walking again in 2011.

The good news is that she is winning her battle and the cancer was found early (she found the lump herself, so keep those monthly breast exams going, ladies!)

So I am about to embark on my second year of training, fundraising and walking again.

Help me make it there again this year. Join in our wish for a world without breast cancer. If you can, consider becoming a walker, crew or volunteer. If you can, come down and cheer us on next year.

If you can, support my walk by making a donation. Even a small donation of $5 makes a difference. Large donations of hundreds or even thousands of dollars make a difference as well. Your donation can and will save lives.

You can donate by going to
and clicking on the bright pink “Click to donate to Margie in 2011!” button on the left side of the screen.

Remember, we may not always want to do what we know needs to be done, but we do it anyways.

With Love,
Margie Dowens