And what an adventure it was….
We arrive at Thistledown Racetrack in Cleveland at 5:00 am, with over 1200 other walkers. We bring our sleeping bags and duffel bags, stuffed with the essentials for the next 72 hours. I am a little nervous. 20 miles is ok, but doing it three days in a row ….
Our gear is stowed and transported to camp while we begin to walk. The event is wonderfully designed. All along the route are “Pit Stops” complete with music, loads of food, water, gatorade, and of course, port-a-johns. Each location has a theme: Peace and Love, Rock and Roll, NASCAR, Jimmy Buffett. The crew wears costumes to fit the mood, and each stop is a little party all its own. Crew members ride bikes up and down the course, run safety patrol as we cross the streets, and keep us laughing. Who-Hoo man is big favorite. We are in Cleveland, after all.
The first 10 miles are great, but by mile 16, I am surprisingly exhausted and cranky. I begin to wonder why I am here, and how can I possibly do this again on Saturday and Sunday? Not like me at all.
We get to camp, where more volunteer crew members carry our gear and help us set up our tent. No, I have never camped before, but I do love to try new things and right now, any place to lay my head looks great!
Our showers are in semi trucks. Seriously. They are amazing. The hot water is fabulous and Angela declares it the best shower of her life. I agree. At dinner I ask if anyone has done this before, and will I feel better in the morning. Everyone at our table is a newbie too, and we ALL have our doubts that we can do this two more times, but are willing to try. We share stories of the day, and eat like farmhands After dinner, I feel much better and realize I must have been dehydrated. Angela promises to make sure I drink plenty the next day.
As I crash for the night, I get to thinking about how difficult it was to go back for chemo every three weeks Just when I would begin to fell better. We would get to the James Cancer Center, and I would cry in my husband’s arms until I could gather my strength and go back in for the next round. It saved my life.
Now I have an opportunity to help save someone else’s life, and all I have to do is walk. With new perspective (after all, this is just a really, really long workout) I sleep like a rock , looking forward to tomorrow.
My alarm is set for 5 am. At 4:50, Angela is there with a smile and fresh coffee…heaven. Slowly, the darkened camp begins to beep, as cellphones and sports watches wake the others. Flashlights go on and the day begins. From the tent next door comes the cry, “noooo…it can’t be 5 am yet…”
Breakfast is wonderful, and we are ready to go with the first group at 6:45. I feel better all day, so I guess that old saying about if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger is true! By day’s end, the blisters have begun, and what is this thing called ‘road rash’ so many of us have developed? We begin to really feel like athletes. Happily, there is a Starbucks on today’s route!! You bet I stop in.
Today is Angela’s turn to be exhausted. “Sweep Vans” decorated with bras, go by every 10 minutes, ready to pick up anyone who needs assistance. They look tempting, but we know we can hang in there, at least for today. We make it back to camp, for our second best shower ever.
Everyone at camp is doing the blister walk. The line at the medical tent is long, and bandaids are amazingly popular. As we stroll gingerly around this amazing home away from home, we laugh with new friends and compare stories, blisters and remedies. There are prizes for the best decorated tents, foot massages and cookies.
Dinner is great again, and the crew have become our heroes. We cheer them as they come in after us, knowing they are ready to be up before us, and get the course ready.
We all actually dance after dinner and cheer the karioke winners. The winning song: “I Will Survive”.
Bedtime is 8:30!!
The wind whips the tent at 3:00 am, but no rain yet. Everyone is stiff and sore, and blisters rule the day, but we are up for the challenge. As camp comes to life, the tents are taken down, gear is stowed in the trucks, and we have another great breakfast. It’s the last day of our adventure.
In addition to the pit stops, there are “cheering stations” where hundreds of local residents line the streets and call out ‘thank your walking’ and ‘my wife is a survivor, thank you’. We go by the Hope Cancer Care Center, where patients sit out front and smile and wave at us. We remember again why we are here, and our feet feel better.
Lunch is at the Botanical Gardens at Case Western. Who knew icepacks on your feet could feel so good? Only seven miles to go , mostly through beautiful parks and along the lake.
Finally we see the Cleveland skyline. and we know we won’t be needing the sweep vans. We get to the Convention Center, and are greeted by hundreds of walkers who arrived before us, cheering wildly as we enter. We think we are exhausted, but it turns to exhilaration as we join the cheering crowds for another 90 minutes as the rest of the walkers come in. We find ourselves discussing next year!
Closing ceremonies wrap up an amazing experience. Together, we have raised 3.1 million dollars and have discovered reserves of strength we never imagined. I thank Angela for believing we could do it and starting us on our journey. What a great kid to hang out with her mother for three straight days!
We so appreciate the family, friends and my wonderful clients who donated to a great cause. I know I would not be here today if not for the research done before, and this money will help save others.
Angela’s husband, Eric and children, Veronica and Isaac meet us in the crowd, and we head for home with a deep sense of accomplishment and the promise of a real bed.