Back in 2001 I decided I wanted to do a Big Crazy Thing. At that time I was on Weight Watchers and had been quite successful (that progress was brought to a screeching halt with pregnancy #2). My exercise of choice at the time was walking, because I couldn’t quite picture myself in a gym. At some point I learned of the existence of the Breast Cancer 3-Day walks, put on by Avon in cities all over the country. I was intrigued. At that time I did not personally know anyone with breast cancer, but I liked the idea of having a cause to contribute to. And so my thirty-something self decided that this was a mountain I wanted to climb. It seemed like a stretch; could I do it? I mean, I was less overweight than I had been a year before, but let’s face it, I was still overweight. Could I actually walk sixty miles over three days? Twenty miles a day for three straight days. Sleeping in tents. Months of training. Thousands of dollars in fundraising. It seemed impossible. It was a Big Crazy Thing. And I was all in.
We were living in central Massachusetts, and a quick check of the 3-Day website showed an event in Boston in May of 2002. Perfect. I paid my registration fee and joined a team and got to work. I started doing training walks around town, adding more and more distance as I prepared for the challenge of twenty miles in one day. I also reached out to pretty much everyone I knew to ask/beg/plead for money to meet my fundraising obligation. I think it was about $2,000.00 but I don’t remember exact numbers. I do remember exceeding that number by quite a bit thanks to all of the generous people in my life.
After months of training I finally got to meet the rest of my team for a couple of in-person training walks. Longer distances. I think I knocked out a couple of ten or twelve milers, but by the time the day of the event arrived I had still not completed twenty miles in one day. Nevertheless I was confident that I was ready.
May 17th arrived and it was a gorgeous day to set out on our journey from Fitchburg, MA to Boston. As an introvert suddenly thrust into a large group of people – and facing a shit-ton of walking – I was a bit nervous. But by the time the opening ceremony was over and we were on the road, I was feeling much more confident. I had trained hard and I was at my lowest adult weight, and I was ready for this challenge.
Day one was a breeze. I was energized and high on the excitement of the day and the good vibes surrounding us. Mileage that day was a little short – eighteen miles – due to the opening ceremony, but I was confident in my ability to nail the twenty-two miles scheduled for the next day. Waiting for us at our camp location for the night were hot showers, good food, and a sea of blue tents. I’m traditionally not a tent/camping kind of person (I despise bugs) but I make exceptions for special occasions such as this.
Day two dawned as beautiful as the previous day, a little cooler, but the mid-fifties temps were perfect for walking. It was going to be a longer trek that day, adding in the two miles that were cut from the previous day. My muscles were obviously sore from the previous day’s exertions, but I had what I considered to be my secret superpower: as long as I didn’t stop, I could walk as far as I needed to. If I stopped and sat down it would be hard to get moving again, but point me in a straight line and tell me to keep going? Done.
And that was exactly how it went that morning. I just kept plodding ahead, my feet carrying me even when the rest of my body protested and told me to stop. But then everything went to shit. As the morning progressed, the temperature began to drop. And by drop I mean plummet. By almost twenty degrees. And then the rains came. Now bear in mind that we started our day dressed in shorts and t-shirts. This weather had not been predicted or planned for. It was a random Mother Nature hissy fit. If you check the weather records, you will see that to this day that May 18th stands as the coldest on record for that date, with the second most precipitation. I was a little over halfway through the day’s mileage and decided I needed to stop for a quick break from the rain and to figure out how I was going to approach the second half of the route. I took shelter under the trailer of an 18-wheeler that was parked in a lot nearby. Others joined me as we tried to make a plan. I knew the lunch stop was only a short distance away, so after a little rest and relief from the rain if not the cold, I forced myself to get back on my feet and plod ahead.
I arrived at the lunch stop expecting to find, you know, lunch, but instead I was greeted by 3-Day volunteers stopping everyone and funneling us over to vans which would shuttle us back to camp. The organizers had decided that the weather was too bad for us to continue. Those walkers who had already passed the lunch stop before that decision was made were allowed to continue on if they so chose, but the rest of us were stuck with only half our mileage for the day. I was, in a word, devastated. I had worked so hard for this. For sixty miles. Not for fifty miles. Sixty. My Big Crazy Thing was, in my mind, ruined.
We ended up spending the night not in our tents but at a nearby school (or something like that, my brain cells are not what they once were). There were a number of us suffering from a touch of hypothermia, so everyone was given mylar blankets to warm up. The organizers of the event put out a call through the local media for donations of socks, since everyone’s feet had gotten soaked and frozen during the day. The outpouring of generosity gave me hope for the future of humanity, with a steady stream of people arriving with donations of socks of all sizes and colors. And not just cheap Walmart socks, either. There were some pricey hiking socks in there as well.
An even better donation was made by my husband. A donation of a steak from Outback. For my belly. It was the consensus of everyone present that I had the best husband in the world. I tend to agree.
My spirits had improved a bit on the third and final day of the walk. It was a great day for us to march our way into Boston. We gathered at Copley Square (I think) and waited for the last of the walkers to arrive. We received our beautiful blue finisher shirts (pink for the breast cancer survivors), and then we walked en masse down Boylston St to Boston Common, where the closing ceremony would take place and our families were waiting.
At the end of the closing ceremony, I said goodbye to the new friends I had made along the way, and said hello to my husband and my kid (I can’t even with how tiny Grant is in this pic). I knew they were both proud of me even if I was very disappointed to have fallen short of my goal of fifty miles. I know that it was outside of my control, but I still felt like I had failed. And I vowed to one day walk all sixty miles.
At some point I will continue this story with my second and third 3-Day walks. They were both challenges in their own ways, but – spoiler alert – I never did make those sixty miles. I was disappointed at the time, but reflecting back on the experiences, I am damn proud of the miles I did walk, and for the over $10,000.00 I raised for breast cancer research.