Bill Roper (billroper) wrote,
Bill Roper
billroper

My, But That Was a Long Walk

Well, yes, it was a long walk, although it turned out to be slightly shorter than planned.

So the Out of the Darkness overnight walk for suicide prevention was this weekend and Dorotha (who recruited me for the event) was flying in from Washington DC, which was where she lives and where they'd held the walk three years before. daisy_knotwise rescued Dorotha from the airport about the time that the WindyCon meeting ended, so I dropped Bonnie off at home so that Sam could get some sleep, then headed home.

We compared notes on what else I might need to pick up to throw in my pack for the walk, then worked at staying up late so that our circadians were thoroughly croggled. Gretchen went to bed fairly early in case she got called into work (she didn't); Dorotha crashed about 2 AM (which was 3 AM her time); I finally gave up on getting Fuzzbucket to come in about 3:30 AM.

The assorted bodies crawled out of bed at their newly fractured circadian times. We grabbed a bit of lunch, swung by Sam's Club to grab two copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and then Dorotha and I raided the Jewel/Osco for walking supplies while Gretchen sat in the car reading. ("Reading what?" you ask. Let's not be silly...)

So we packed up the kit and went out to grab an early dinner at Portillo's, a local chain that had gotten much larger and more popular since Dorotha left town some mumble years ago. Gretchen was driving, since the idea was to have her drop us off at Soldier Field and pick us up in the morning to keep things simple.

Simple, things were not. The traffic on the inbound Kennedy was backed up worse than in rush hour. Eventually, they turned the express lanes around so that they were taking inbound traffic, but far too late to help us. You see, somebody had scheduled on short notice an exhibition soccer game for Soldier Field with the Real Madrid team and their star, David Beckham. (Even if you aren't a soccer fan, you may have heard of the movie, Bend It Like Beckham. He's the Beckham of the title.) So 60,000 people were trying to get to the area of Soldier Field. And so were we.

We'd left plenty of slack time in the schedule, essentially all of which got eaten by the complete traffic disaster that we found ourselves in. Eventually, we got close to Soldier Field and Dorotha and I hopped out and rushed over to registration for the event. Of course, we weren't the only ones who were late and things got off to a bit of a late start as a result.

We started walking about 7:20 PM. I had a GPS strapped to my wrist to keep track of how far we'd gone, because I'm a guy. There were three pit stops on the way to the halfway point, where you could tank up on water, Gatorade, and assorted sugary or salty snacks. I mostly concentrated on the salty items, because I was sweating like a horse. The problem was that the humidity was high. Really, really high. In fact, it was hazy and like walking through soup. Soup that was only heated to about 75 degrees or so, but soup nonetheless. This meant that all of this wonderful sweat really had nowhere to go and evaporative cooling was not working quite as well as I might have hoped.

Dorotha made sure that I kept stretching -- which is not something that I'm particularly good at! -- to try to avoid muscle problems later in the walk. And we didn't spend a lot of time at the pit stops, so despite the fact that there seemed to be a fair number of people passing us (my pace being a bit slower than Dorotha's might have been), and despite the fact that we saw people who were already heading back when we got near the turnaround point, we were still making pretty good time and got to the turnaround and mid-walk meal ahead of much of the group. (GPS reading 10.20 miles, but that includes distance accumulated while meandering around the pit stops.)

Unfortunately, by the time we were done eating and I was done changing to a new pair of socks and slapping a bandage on an incipient blister, we'd slid back a good bit in the pack. Shortly thereafter, a fellow pushing another walker in a wheelchair came running past us, mentioning that they'd been among the last to leave the turnaround and that they'd been told that they had to get moving. Well, that was disconcerting. It would be good to try to pick up the pace.

This was easier said than done. I was still walking through soup, but now I was doing it with a pair of nicely blossoming blisters. At the next pit stop, Dorotha patched them up for me -- there are advantages (other than the conversation) to traveling with a student nurse! And there were certainly people at the medical station in substantially worse shape than I was. We kept walking.

The route back partially retraced the route out, passing by each of the pit stops. We knew that they would close pit stops if you were running late, so it was really disconcerting when we passed a closed stop. On the other hand, we had left the preceding stop with time to spare and didn't seem to have been passed by a lot of people, so it was possible that this pit stop hadn't reopened for the return trip. It was about this time that I decided that if we hit another closed pit stop, I was going to drop out and let Dorotha proceed at her faster pace so she could actually finish. (It might have been good to actually share this information with her. But I'm a guy.)

The next pit stop was open and not due to close for a good bit yet. This was a relief. However, my blisters had grown substantially in the last couple of miles. Dorotha patched them up again, then informed me that I wouldn't be getting my pack back from her after she held it for me while I hit the porta-potty, because she was going to be carrying it for me.

Ok, I may be a guy, but I'm not a complete idiot. Dorotha's in a lot better shape than I am and she wasn't going to have any real trouble hauling my pack, while anything that I could jettison to make better time would be a good thing. And, in fact, the GPS said we were moving from 22-23 minute miles down to 19-20 minute miles, a substantial improvement. Now we were passing people instead of being passed.

But there were those blisters. I'd switched over to SmartWool socks during training and hadn't had any problems with blisters since on walks of ten miles. Of course, the ability of any sock to wick away moisture depends on having somewhere to wick that moisture away to. And we were walking through soup. Sweat had nowhere to go.

(This was not quite true, as Dorotha discovered when she took my pack. Sweat could go into the pack's strap and stay there. Oh, good.)

The blisters were getting worse and I was slowing down again. Dorotha, being reasonably bright, asked me what my goals had been for this walk. Well, that's a good question, I thought, as I watched Dorotha transferring liquid from her water bottles to mine. I might have argued with this, but I figured that if worst came to worst, she'd know where to find the water.

My best friend, Jim, had committed suicide after our freshman year of college, but I'd actually finally come to terms with that around the time of and because of Dorotha's similar walk in Washington DC three years before. So I wasn't walking to achieve some personal revelation, because it had already arrived.

I wanted to try to get a message out that suicide is a preventable thing and I'd actually done some of that, on LiveJournal, at conventions, on mailing lists, talking with friends. Those were good things. And I wanted to help raise some money that might be used to prevent suicide and I'd done that too.

And I wanted to finish this walk, to prove that I could do it.

And I didn't want to keep Dorotha from finishing.

We got to the next pit stop and Dorotha headed off to the porta-potty. I didn't have that problem -- I was putting everything into sweat. But while I was standing my a tree, waiting for her to come back, I wasn't walking. And the relaxation of pressure on the center of my left foot left room for what had been an increasingly annoying hot spot to fill up with fluid. I stepped down on it and felt the new pressure.

"I'm done," I said. There just wasn't any question of being able to walk another four miles or so with this new blister added to the ones I already had. We went over to the medical booth where they looked at my blisters with appropriate horror while Dorotha patched them up. Apparently, I won the award for "Largest Blister of the Night". I guess you get this award for being stubborn. Or stupid. Or both.

Dorotha dropped my pack, hugged me goodbye, and headed off. I was loaded onto a golf cart (Breeze! A breeze!) and taken over to what I came to refer to mentally as the "Group W Bus", after Alice's Restaurant, which took me and a number of others back to the end of the line. We stopped briefly at the last pit stop and I saw Dorotha through the windows of the bus as she headed past.

"The Group W Bus is where they send you if they think you may not be physically capable of finishing the walk after suffering your particular injury. There were ruptured tendons, and torn muscles, and one guy sucking on an oxygen tank, and he walked up to me and asked me, 'What'd you break?' And I said, 'I didn't break nothing, I had to patch things up and put on a bandage.' And he asked, 'What're you in for?' and I said 'Blisters' and they all moved away from me on the bus there and the hairy eyeball until I said, 'The size of a silver dollar', and then they came back and gave me a hit of oxygen, and we had a swell time."

Ok, none of that is true. But it makes a better story.

They dropped me off near where we'd started around 4 AM and I stretched out and waited for Dorotha to arrive, calling her cellphone to let her know where I'd landed. Apparently, a number of folks had noticed my absence the last couple of miles as she headed by. But the hat made me easy to remember.

And a little after sunrise, we walked across the finish line and over to the closing ceremonies. So I guess I finished, even if I didn't walk all the way under my own power. It was just over 16 miles to the last pit stop I'd reached.

Maybe next time I do something like this, I'll try a different pair of socks.

At closing ceremonies, they announced that we'd collectively raised over a million dollars for suicide prevention. That's not too shabby. And thanks to all of you who donated to my walk. We've already raised over $1000 there, and I'll be kicking in some of my own too. When there's a final total, I'll let you know.

And the walk made the front page of today's Chicago Tribune with a big picture centered on the page and the story just below the fold.

And that's good too.
Tags: musings, suicide prevention
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