So, in Part 1 of this series, I explained to y’all why Portland to Coast 2017 was such a big deal to me.
In Part 2, I took you through a dead battery and my first leg, five and a quarter miles uphill in the heat and, my nemesis, the full sun.
Part 3 finds Team #HashHags Van 1 lounging on a tarp in the middle of a field attempting to sleep. Some successfully, some unsuccessfully. I fell into the latter category.
I loved laying in that field. I did. I wasn’t sleeping and I knew that was going to make things tough later, but I know me and I know that I’m not really gonna sleep in daylight in a field. So I read, I prayed a lot, and I rested and relaxed my muscles and marveled at how none of my parts hurt. But I figured that was coming like a freight train. There is no way I could put THIS BODY through ALL OF DIS and not end up with some serious stiffness and soreness, right?
About 7:30, we all got up and started to pack up for the hand-off from Van 2 and the start of our last legs, our night of waking and walking. To be honest, the next few hours in the van are a bit of a blur. I tried to sleep, and was at one point successful in procuring a 15 minute power nap that saved my bacon. It was FREAKING COLD outside in the Coast Range of Oregon in the middle of the night and as much as I wilt in sun, I’m also quite unhappy to the very depths of my soul in the cold. The fatigue was intense, the cold was taunting me, and I had zero idea how I was going to walk 5.33 more miles. Fortunately, I was not the only one feeling that way, we were all up against a bit of objection and dread, but if all these other people I was passing on the road could to it, then so could I.
While Tara walked her final leg, most of it up hill (that girl is Da Real MVP, y’all), I prepared for my final leg. I decided that shorts and a sweatshirt were the best way for me to balance the cold temperatures with an exertion-warmed body, I got headphones, app, and playlist ready to go, and I made a plan to hit the ol’ Honeybuckets just as we got to the exchange point. I was as fully ready as I was ever gonna be to walk 5.32 miles in the chilly, pre-dawn after basically being awake for over 24 hours, having already walked five and a quarter miles, and ridden close to a hundred more in the third row of a Honda Pilot. This was gonna hurt, I was sure of it, but I was gonna do this.
And then, you guys. Then we hit the log jam of traffic going into Tara’s and my final exchange point. Just when I was gearing up, getting my motor running and ready to go, we found ourselves stopped in a line of vans and SUV’s over a mile long heading into the exchange, getting passed by the very walkers and runners we were trying to get ahead to meet. It became evident quickly that I had two choices: let Tara pass us and wait for us at the finish line or have me jump out early and walk in with her so I could make it to the exchange on time. I chose the latter and jumped out of the car somewhere between a quarter and a half mile before the exchange point and started walking.
The upside to having yet another chaotic exchange was that I didn’t have time to fret and fuss and psych myself out for my last leg. Those last few minutes were a blur: out of the van, down the road, into the Honeybucket, over to the exchange, and next thing I knew, the bracelet was on my wrist and my feet were hitting the cold pavement, alone in the dark.
And that, my friends, is when everything changed for me.
The traffic jam at the exchange point had thinned out the foot traffic enormously, so I there were no other runners or walkers around me. I’m not sure what I expected to feel or experience as I began my second leg, but this sure wasn’t it.
I. Felt. Amazing.
In the cool, in the dark, on a downhill slope, my feet were flying as if on their own. I had expected stiffness, soreness, and to feel my body groan and complain about being pushed into things we had spent the past 39 years believing it didn’t do. I had expected to wonder how I was going to make it through the next few miles. But instead, it felt effortless. Comfortable. Like a release, a rhythm I had been waiting for.
I generally find the term “defining moment” to be overly dramatic and when I see or hear it, I always think, “Whatever. I’ve never had a defining moment.” Well, now I’ve had a defining moment. It’s a good thing I was alone on that road in that moment because I started to cry. “Lord, I did it! I’m doing it!” I prayed as I walked. In that moment, the glass box I that I had been putting around myself for the past two and a half decades, the one that said, “Fragile, do not push,” came shattering down around me.
On that 5.32 mile stretch of Highway 202, I stopped being the girl who almost passed out in a dressing room and became the girl who could easily walk five more miles, even after all that had happened in the past 24 hours. I stopped having the body that couldn’t do what other people’s could and started having the body that felt amazing, without an ounce of stiffness, soreness, or pain, even after all that had happened in the past 24 hours. I stopped feeling like someone who was trying to force my body to do something that was meant for other people and started feeling like maybe, just maybe, my body was made for this.
For the first time ever, I walked without music. I listened to the sound of the woods at night, to my feet on the pavement, to the encouraging words of the runners as they passed me, and for possibly the first time in my life, to the rhythms of my body, doing an ATHLETIC AND SPORTSY THING that it was doing automatically and almost effortlessly.
The sun came up as I walked and the woods around me started to take shape. It was fully daylight about halfway through and I had the most beautiful view of a stream running to the left of the road. The mountain streams that run alongside the roads to the Oregon Coast are just about one of my favorite things ever and this felt like a hug from God, just for me. If all had gone according to plan, it would still have been dark and I never would have seen it. Sometimes, things work exactly as they’re supposed to…
By the time I snapped this picture, I was tiring and ready to be done, but I loved every minute of that hour and fifteen minutes.
I have never had an experience that has made me feel differently about myself like this has. I look at myself in the mirror differently. I think about my body and what it can do differently, in a way I never have before. This is a body that can walk ten and a half miles and be stuck in a van for hours without hurting. This is a body that can walk five miles uphill in direct sun and not have an issue. This is a body that can keep up a 14:05 pace for the last 5.32 miles and not have to push to the limit for it.
I went on a run/walk this morning and I hit faster paces than ever I had before. And what’s more, I enjoyed it. Every minute. It was the funnest, most relaxing thing. Going for a run/walk used to feel like subjecting myself to a full-on view of my shortcomings. The time on the road was about what I couldn’t do- but this morning, and that night in the mountains, it was about what I COULD do. And maybe, just maybe, about what I might be able to do if I keep this going. And I plan to.
There is more to tell, the fun beach party at the finish line, the moment the last runner in Van 2 came in and we walked across the finish line together (it was anti-climactic, actually), but I’m already 1400 words deep in just this post, so I’ll leave that for another time.
I can’t close this story, however, without mentioning these girls. #HashHags Van 1: Tara, Lindsay, Taneha, Katie, and Noelle. It was probably just as brave of them to invite a total stranger into their van for 36 hours as it was for the total stranger to jump in and join them. I enjoyed them immensely from the minute I met them, but about the time we got in the van for the second leg that I stopped feeling like I was among strangers I liked and started feeling like I was among friends. Thank you to all of them for their support, for the laughter, the friendship, and for providing the framework for me to upend some of my deepest-seeded negative beliefs about myself.
So I leave you with this pic of me and my medal. “Where’s my medal” is pretty much my favorite phrase to utter once I’ve completed something difficult, and this is the first time anyone has actually given me one. WOO HOOOOOO!!!! It’s just a participation medal, but sometimes, participation is everything. Sometimes, participation CHANGES everything. And this was one of those times.