Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Weekend Before Last: Sunday

I’ve been trying to put the emotions of last Sunday onto paper for over a week now, and the words continue to fail me.  Perhaps I should have Mike, AJ, Jay, or Todd crafting the message; they’re all such good story-tellers.  But alas for you, it’s my story to tell….  I’ll try one last time and you get what you get.

There are sandwich-board signs all over the Avon Walk camp, as well as all along the trail, indicating the major symptoms of dehydration and low blood sugar.  There are rest stops approximately every 2 miles with port-a-potties, water, Gatorade, and salty, protein-laden snacks.  There are “sweeper” vans that come along every 15 minutes or so to pick up walkers who have hurt themselves or who have just had enough.

My walking partner and I left the camp Sunday morning at about 7:50; the walk started with a long, slow, winding climb out of Chrissy Field and into the Presidio.  Unlike Saturday, the fog burned off very early on Sunday morning, though we were right on the bay for most of the morning, so it wasn’t too hot.  Our feet had rested sufficiently during the night and we were enjoying the stroll through the Presidio and down through the Marina district.  It was a beautiful, post-card sort of Sunday morning in San Francisco.  Simply beautiful.

We turned right at the Great Meadow at Fort Mason and headed toward Fisherman’s Wharf area, then (a few miles later), turned right again into the Financial District.  Shortly after that, we took one final right turn and started walking up.  And up.  And up some more.  I drank at least 12 oz of water on the path between each stop, another 12 oz at each stop, and a minimum of 8 oz of Gatorade at each stop.  

At about noon, we turned onto the final uphill stretch—the lunch spot was in sight and I was dragging pretty hard, but we only had 5 miles left of a 26.2 mile walk and I could see a break just ahead.  As I turned the corner, I saw a woman who looked so much like my cousin Melissa that I had to look THREE TIMES before I realize it wasn’t her.  Of course, I was staring, so she smiled at me.  She had exactly Melissa’s smile.  I started crying then and couldn’t stop myself.

We sat on the grass at the park and ate our lunches.  I wasn’t anxious to begin walking again quite yet.  I was still feeling shaky from seeing the Melissa look-alike, I thought.  I drank a second 12-oz Gatorade and went to the Medic tent to get blister-bandages for my right foot and an ice pack for my calf-muscle; I was about 6th in line, but content to wait my turn.

After about 15 minutes, one of the intake medics came up to me and asked what was wrong.  “I’m waiting in line for my turn,” I said. 

“Yes, Honey. I can see that.  What can we do for you?”

“I’m just waiting for my turn.  My left calf hurts and I think I have a blister.  But it’s not my turn yet.”

“Ok, Hon. It’s ok.  Why don’t you have a seat?” She motioned me to the chairs inside the medic tent, but I missed the wave.  Instead, I plopped right down onto the grass in line.  By this point, my walking partner had come over to where I was, checking to make sure I was alright.  

I repeated, “But it’s not my turn!” and inexplicably burst into tears. 

“It’s ok.  It’s alright.  I’m going to get you some ice for your leg.  You just sit right here.  When was the last time you peed?”

I looked at my watch, attempted to do math in my fuzzy head, and said, “Um, I dunno.  Maybe 4 hours ago?”

My partner confirmed that yes, I had been drinking sufficient amounts of water and Gatorade throughout the morning.  The medic gave me another Gatorade and a bag of potato chips.  “Drink this all and eat these chips now, ok, Hon?”

I felt about 5 years old; I wanted my mom or my sister to whisk me away to a private space so no one would see my embarrassment and shame.  Instead, the medic declared me dehydrated and put me on the bus.

One of the crew members climbed on board about 5 minutes after I did, after I thought I had gathered my wits about me again, and asked, “How you doing?”  I started sobbing again, “I want to finish walking.  I have to finish walking.  Melissa’s waiting for me to finish walking.”  They wouldn’t let me off the bus.  They were doing their jobs, and in retrospect, with a fully-hydrated brain, I realize they were doing the right thing, but I was very frustrated at the time.

I got back to Golden Gate Park where the closing ceremonies were held and waited for my walking partner to show up at the finish line.  As an aside here, let me interject that this woman is larger and not in nearly as good shape as I am; I was devastated that she was able to finish and I couldn’t.  To her great credit, she refused to walk across the finish line without me.

I walked through with her, but I felt like a liar; like a traitor to all those people who were counting on me.  I cried all the way into the park.  I thought everyone could see through my tears.

As I watched other women come across the finish line, however, I realized that nearly everyone cried at the end of the trek.  There was a receiving line for all the walkers the likes of which I've never seen—about 5 people deep and 50 people long on either side.  Simply an incredible reception!

I can’t finish.  I thought I was reconciled with this, but apparently I’m not.  I’ll give an abbreviated ending here—the closing ceremonies were incredibly moving; we raised over $4.3 Million in the San Francisco walk alone, and I was so emotionally charged that I registered for next year’s walk right on the spot.  And you know what?  Next year, I’m going to finish.

And after I can finish the 26.2 mile Avon 2-day walk, I’ll register for the 60 mile Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 3-day walk.  And I’ll do it until I can finish.