…and We’re Walking
What kind of idiot wakes up at 2AM on her day off to go for a 26 mile foot march? I do! Even days later after the even I am asking myself this question. What on earth was I thinking? A fellow soldier who did not participate asked me, “Why do you guys put yourselves through stuff like that? You’re crazy.”
What is he even talking about?
three bookworms three hot babes and some random dude (hahaha) participated in the Bataan Death March. Thankfully we were smart enough to enter ourselves into the light division which means only that we agreed to march 26 miles without rucksacks. Some of our other battle buddies are made of brass and they went for the heavy, carrying a 35 pound rucksack across horrific terrain and even more unpalatable weather conditions.
Because the event was held at another base we had to wake up at an insane hour to get there. The wind was already ferocious. I questioned myself as I got dressed that morning. I absolutely loathe to be cold. I put on a long sleeve t-shirt under my ACU top and I started to not wear my fleece jacket. I was saying to myself, well, where am I going to put it once the race starts? It’s not usually a good idea to wear so many clothes during any kind of road race. The body temperature can go up, leading to dehydration and a heat-related injury. Being a multiple-time heat casualty I think about stuff like that.
I have never been so glad in my life to second guess myself. I decided to keep the fleece and was rewarded with blasting gusts of winds that ripped right through my soul. While waiting for the race to start, I was a meat popsicle.
The first eight miles of the race were brutal. My battle buddies are significantly taller than I am. They are arguably in better shape. They have long-legged strides that I have to take two steps for every one of theirs. While they were casually striding along, I was trotting alongside them. By the end of the first eight miles I had fallen way behind them. Each lap was five miles and by the end of the third lap I had decided that I could not take a break as long as they could just so I could keep up. The rules stated that the entire team had to finish within 5 meters of each other. So on the fourth lap I decided to go ahead while they changed their socks and tended to blisters.
This sounded like a good idea in theory. I ended up becoming so separated from them I thought I had been abandoned. At the end of the third lap, we weren’t looking good. One battle buddy had developed some serious blisters. Unbeknownst to me, they were considering calling it quits at the 13 mile mark, but I was already well ahead of them. I had stopped to use the can and when I came out I thought for sure they had passed me somewhere, so I started to run.
I think I ran about three miles—and I don’t mean some breakneck pace, I mean like dragging my feet, gasping for breath type of running. Finally someone caught up to me and told me the rest of the crew was way behind me.
So we had gone about 20 miles, and you’re thinking 20 miles, yeah that means there are six more to go. Do you know what goes through a person’s mind when they have walked 10, 15, 20 miles? NOTHING. You are so devoid of anything useful except concentrating hard to put one foot in front of the other. At the end of the race some guy commented the course could be laid in three parts: The Sand Blaster, The Wind Tunnel and the Gravel Pit. Seriously. For the first two miles of the five-mile lap there is nothing but sand blasting in your face. These stupid eye protection things did absolutely nothing. It’s been six days and I’ve had at least seven showers since and I am still picking out grains of sand from my eyelashes. The Wind Tunnel: it was like the unseen hand of God had swooped down from the heavens just to hold me back from forward progression. I had my head bent down trying to trudge forward. I was putting in maximum effort but yet not really going anywhere. Then the damn Gravel Pit. There was a one-mile stretch that was nothing but rocks. I swear to God, when I leave this place I promise you I do not ever want to see another rock again. In fact, if I see a rock I will throw it at the nearest person.
I can’t say which was worse. Sand in every fucking thing, wind cutting into the deepest part of me or rocks grinding my flesh down into hamburger meat. And I don’t even know why the hell I keep calling it a race. Sure, I bet there were some guys who were hell-bent on being first to cross the finish line, but for the rest of us, we just wanted to damn finish. In that fourth lap I did by myself running to keep up with buddies I thought were ahead of me, I saw all manner of soldiers collapsing to the ground in exhaustion. This guy had a blister the size of a softball on his foot. When the medic told him the TMC was another mile, I think the guy was going to commit suicide. They did have roving trucks scooping up people who just couldn’t make it; it was crazy.
The last lap, I don’t know where I got the strength. My feet weren’t really hurting that badly; it was this weird feeling I had in my hips. I am in reasonable shape; I am not too fat, nor have I ever been seriously injured myself so I should not have body alignment problems. I felt like I had been in a car accident. You know how you get jostled around and shit don’t land in its proper place. I felt like my hips had tilted to the right somehow. I had these body aches in places I didn’t even know existed.
And then there was the matter of if we had actually done the five laps necessary to complete the course. The thought of five additional miles around made me want to punch myself in the face but after some debate we realized we had gone 26 miles and it was time to bring it on in.
By the time we stopped walking, I did not know whether to keep walking or sit down. My body was confused. Everything from my hair follicles to my toenails was on fire, and then the buses had the nerve to be late. When you were a little kid did your parents ever forget to come pick you up from school or the daycare? How did you feel? Like a piece of shit, right? Imagine exerting this type of physical exercise and then you are left somewhere. You are a dried up rotting carcass sitting in a dirty ass couch, every muscle and all 206 bones in your body are creaking like an antique rope bridge.
Would I do this again? HELL TO THE NO. Do I appreciate the experience? Yes. I remarked to my battle buddy that we did this under the best possible conditions. We are well-fed, in excellent shape coming off a full night’s rest. We will return to somewhat decent living conditions and a hot shower. Our forebears, the soldiers at Bataan in World War II marched 80 miles to their death under horrific conditions. Approximately 12,000 U.S. and Allied troops died after malnutrition, disease, and starvation decimated them. Anybody that fell during the march was run over by a truck, bayoneted or shot where they lay.
Think of the Jews who marched to the ovens in Auschwitz and Birkenau, or the Africans who marched to the slave ships and the Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, forced to march away from their homelands. They did not have proper footwear and a bag of M&Ms stuffed in their pockets. Medics did not await them every few miles to assess their medical conditions. They did not have moleskin and iPods and other comforts to ease the agony.
I cannot say precisely if all of this was on my mind, but it is something I have given some thought to. Sometimes I just want to test myself. Sometimes I just want to experience things and see what it would be like.
Sometimes to understand things you have to walk a mile in another man’s shoes.