In the last two days, I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten my weight in homemade ice cream, cupcakes, hot dogs and ribs. Two Memorial Day weekend parties in two days. Evenings filled with poolside gatherings of friends and family. Good times and good food I wouldn’t trade for the world, because it all reminds of just how much good stuff I’m surrounded with. But as I sit here, trying to digest strawberry shortcake, I started thinking about what I did to celebrate Memorial Day last year. Some of the same players were present, but the plan, just a little bit different. And I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe it was the right way to celebrate, or perhaps the better word is commemorate, all along.
In 2011, an event came to Dallas. It was called Carry the Load. In early May, as I’d walk around White Rock, the lake down the street from family home, I kept seeing large signs for an event happening on Memorial Day. Curious, I looked up the website. It was a walk. A 20 hour and 11 minute walk, starting at 4pm on Sunday and ending at 12:11pm on Memorial Day. You could participate in the entire night, or as much as you could manage, in a continuous loop around the lake. The idea was to give a community a way to share in honoring America’s military heroes and to carry the load of the men and women who gave America their last full measure of service. You could walk a mile or 50, carry a weighted pack or not, go for an hour, or all night. I was entranced by the idea of actually celebrating this important holiday appropriately, not with burgers and beer, but with an opportunity to stretch out of my comfort zone. I’ve known more than a few members of every military branch, and I couldn’t do what they do, but I could do something. I called my friend Alika. Luckily, she’s as crazy as I am. And as it turns out, so is her mom. So we all signed up. Even my parents jumped on board.
My idea was to walk for as long and as far as I thought I could go. And then, when I had reached what seemed to be my limit, to go farther. To walk longer. A loop around White Rock Lake is a little over 9 miles. Alika, her mom Ruth and I started at the Bath House, a building about a third of the way around from my home. Base camp operations were set up there. Aid stations around the lake had extra water, snacks, glow sticks and first aid. Base camp had real food. A wristband got us meals all night. We started with the opening group. You could jump on or off at any place in the course. Our first 9ish mile loop brought us back to base camp in time for dinner. It was definitely the longest walk I’d taken in a while, but the company made it ease by, despite the warm afternoon. We met my folks there for a burger and a rest, and then started off again, loop two. Mom made it about six miles, impressive with the amount of titanium and artificial joints in her body. The going got a little harder for all of us. I’ve never walked 19 miles in less than a 24 hour period, let alone in an evening. A beautiful sunset helped. So did denial. We hobbled into base camp at around 11 or so. We called in the rescue car and my dad came to get Ruth. He had agreed to come out and pick any of us up whenever we were ready to quit.
I was ready to quit. So was Alika. We nursed sore feet with other walkers and propped them up to drain get some of the blood to drain away from our swollen toes. And then we knew this was the moment. The limit we had to go beyond. Because somewhere overseas, someone was beyond their limits. And they were still walking, still fighting, still hanging in there. So would we. We hauled ourselves up and began a slightly delirious march away from the comforts of base camp. Chairs. More chairs. The dark night rose up around us and the moon reflected off the lake, but not enough to shed the kind of light that might actually keep two exhausted girls on the right path. We were maybe only a quarter mile out of the way when we realized we had to double back, but that’s a lot of distance when you can’t feel your toes and chafing is starting to happen in unpleasant places. Not to mention the swelling in my hands from hanging them down. I carried them over my head as much as I could during that last circle. We planned to cut off when we reached my street and as we counted down the last mile, half mile, quarter mile, I concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other. It was sometime after one in the morning. I’m pretty sure running 26 miles is actually easier than walking it.
The next day, some sensitive skin was raw. Walking was a challenge. My fingers had thankfully turned from sausages back into fingers, but every bit of me was exhausted. My mom and I drove over to the closing ceremonies at noon. There would be no more walking for me for a few days. I saw the guy who put the whole thing together, the one we passed on our second loop. He’d walked all night and all morning, carrying a thirty pound pack. Then I saw the 76 year old woman who made the whole 20 hours and 11 minutes too. I didn’t feel chagrined. Maybe a little envious, but mostly just honored to be among them. Among those who’d tried to remember what Memorial Day is really about. This year, they moved the walk to the Katy Trail. I didn’t relish walking up and down that dark, foresty stretch all night. So I went back to hot dogs and ice cream, and a float in the pool. And that’s perfectly okay too. Because I spent time with good friends and remembered that the things we fight for are also things worth celebrating. But my full stomach is making me wish I had a few miles to cover, and I’m thinking maybe next year, if the venue is right, and my friends are still crazy enough, we might just try to do both.