Friday, March 26, 2010

The Bataan Memorial Death March--21 March 2010

This is the story of my experience of the Bataan Death Memorial March I did with my boyfriend Kevin and my three friends/co-workers, Scott McNally, Tylar Ryan and Jason Gebbia. The March commemorates the 11,796 WWII Amercian Soldiers who were forced to march for days in the heat of the Philippine jungles. Thousands died, those who survived were in POW camps for 3 1/2 years. This march/walk began in 1989 with 100 people, it is now up to record breaking 5,704 marchers. This walk was for them and this is our story...Settle down in a comfortable spot, this is lengthy, but, worth the read if you have the time.

Here is the front of the flyer

Back of Flyer

I should start with how this all began. I was sitting in my office back in November time frame when one of my co-workers, James Cleveland who knows I like to challenge myself told me about the Bataan Death March held at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. I looked it up on the Internet and thought, wow this sounds awesome. It didn't help at all that I was listening to an audio book at the same time frame of Dean Karnazes runner who ran 50 marathons in each state in 50 days. After listening to that I got some crazy notion-I can do this and I am going to talk as many people as I can into doing it too. What I meant in that I can do this is, I am going to do the Heavy Division (26.2 miles in uniform with a 35 pound pack on) in military uniform-the hardest category available. My first victim would be to try and talk Kevin into it. Immediately it was a resounding NO. I pressed him, got more of a NO and thought if I push this further-I may end up single. So I left it for a couple weeks and then tried again. I got a Maybe. Maybe is yes to me and kept trying. Next came work people. I constructed an email and sent it out. I was truly astounded at the response. I had 30 people who were interested, not committed, but, interested. Awesome. I told them that we wouldn't start the training until 1 Jan since Kevin and I had the El Tour De Tucson 109 mile bike race in November followed by the Tucson Marathon 21 days later in December. So, we needed time to recover. I got a resounding yes from the 30 people, no problem. I was so excited. As with most things, it looked good on paper and those folks dwindled off. Who remained was Kevin, Scott, Ryan, Gebbia and our good friend Will. He trained with us up until the end when he needed to back out. Not for one second because he couldn't do it, but, because him and his wife Theresa have been blessed with a foster baby to hopefully adopt and that is far more important in this life. I still count him as one of the team, because he did a lot of the training with us. This is a picture of when Will was training with us. This was Gebbia, Will, Tylar and Kevin on a training hike that we had to cancel due to snow and rain and potential hyperthermia. Scott stayed home, it was raining-duh.....

So there we were, the 5 of us. We all made our hotel reservations, travel arrangements etc. to get us to New Mexico. Let the journey begin. Kevin and I rode together, Jason and Tylar rode together-we all came down on Friday and Scott came down on Saturday due to work commitments.

Our trip was interesting right from the get go. When we saw this sign for a lost kitty. I am not making this up. The drive to New Mexico is let's say, boring. You find humor where you can and try to make it as interesting as you can. To include stopping at a tourist stop along the way called the Continental Divide-it had everything you could think of in there, fireworks, trinkets etc. It was the only store for like a hundred miles....we got some stuff for the kids. To include these magnetic rocks which I guess could take out credit cards and anything with magnetic strips on it or cell phones. So, we may be keeping those gems ourselves. Interesting side note, we had a tiny competition as to who could stuff more in the little bag then the other. We counted them that evening and we both had 19. That number has typically been a very bad luck number for me, not to mention we drove to New Mexico on the 19th.

Notice in the picture the no smoking sign around the fireworks for sale. Along the way at the various rest stops, we saw an interesting way to get customer survey comments...maybe they should do the census like this!Then there was an interesting stop for us in the thriving metropolis of Deming, New Mexico. We needed to get gas and we pulled up to the pump and there was this guy who realized his gas tank was on the other side, so like folks normally do-they pull forward then reverse to the correct pump. Clearly it was Way too much effort to get all the way out of the vehicle so with the door open, one leg on the outside like a Flintstones car he pulled forward, put his foot down as to stop the truck, backed up-looking out the door to guide him correctly and put his foot down again as to stop the truck. Did I mention gale force winds going on-it was a scene I wished I had filmed. Given that we were so lucky to witness this moment, we got a lottery scratch ticket...we lost, but, it was fun on this long boring road. Then finally we pulled into Las Cruces to the hotel. Kevin conveniently found us a great hotel with a hospital nearby, just in case...the room was very nice and the staff very nice too. When we got out of the truck though, we were faced with very cold temps and some really nasty wind. I had grave concerns immediately for the March. Cold and Windy-yikes, did we pack enough warm gear? I took this video of the wind on the flags. Note, I stink at taking videos, sorry.

As we pulled in we got a text from Ryan and Gebbia that they were there too, they were at a different hotel. So we made arrangements to meet up for dinner. We first went to Buffalo Wild Wings, but, it is NCAA time and New Mexico State was playing and there was at least 5 million people there. So, we said, we saw a sign for Chili's. Have you ever been somewhere that you could see the sign, but, just not figure out how to get there? It was like some sort of Rubik's cube puzzle. When we were driving to Chili's, there was sand blowing around that looked like snow on the ground when there is a light dusting of snow. Great, Wind, Cold, Sand-sounds like the perfect facial... We got seated and waited for Ryan and Gebbia to show up. They had the same difficulty of course. As we were talking about the trip and the plans for the weekend. I had come across some stuff that I needed to make sure they understood completely. First was Gebbia's pack was a civilian pack and he needed a military one, which I brought an extra one. This was when I heard the phrase that became the phrase for the weekend, "The F*** You Say?". I said, yes, if you don't they could disqualify you. Then I brought up, you do have 1 quart of water with you for the start, the f u say came again. Then I brought up, it is usually windy on the giant hill-given the winds outside, I was afraid I might lose them as I got more the f you says...the kicker was when we needed to be in place. We needed to be through the gate by 430 am, which meant leaving the hotel at 315 am, which meant waking at 230 am. That was the biggest the f you say. Jason told Scott later, it was like she peed in my beer and it just kept getting worse. I just wanted to be sure they were informed...oh and it was going to be 27 degrees in the morning. The F you say?? That evening we went home and fiddled around and watched the NCAA basketball tourny. It was at this time I failed miserably, (go ahead, get your laugh muscles ready)...I picked the teams who I thought would win in the brackets according to no skill at all. Just who I thought I liked and various randomness. Well Kevin asked, why I didn't pick Kansas, being a Coloradian, I am a Bronco fan and I don't like the Kansas City Chiefs. For my whole life, I never knew they weren't from Kansas and they were from Missouri!!! As Scott put it, geographic fail. We thought we would start out the day with a nice nutritious meal from Village Inn. Apparently, the finest folks of Las Cruces did too. Amongst them, a lady who was talking to her friends-whom we never heard speak about the fact she was leaving on some trip on the 18th-she said it at least 10 times. The fella with white socks to the knees, khaki shorts and a white belt with silver circles. That guy from the entire baseball team that showed up, with the afro that somehow put a visor on over it all. You could see the front of it, but, the back of it was invisible. There was the guy with a blonde lightning bolt in the back of his head. But, this guy, topped the whole event off. It was a hoodie, sleeves cut off, low cut tank top underneath....hmmm, this is going to be an interesting day. Swear we saw this fella on the way out...We made plans to go to the White Sands National Monument where the real white sands are. We thought that the sand pit for the Bataan race would be this white sands and when we did the Google Earth, we realized it wasn't and we wanted to go see it. Along the way, we had an opportunity to see what would be our future march, mostly. If you have never been to see the White Sands, it is an amazing sight. It looks just like snow and it was still windy and freezing out. What follows are some pictures of it and a video of trying to walk in it.

We had a few great photo opportunities along the way to capture the beauty surrounding the March area and leading into the base. Our plan was to meet up with Ryan and Gebbia to do packet pick up together. As we pulled onto the road, a couple signs stood out. The first one is the one that caused a pit to develop in our stomach. It said, Welcome Bataan Marchers. The other was the warning sign of the oryks that were imported from Africa many years ago. We were pretty excited about maybe seeing one of them. (Kevin called them zorks and many other various names, but, I think only once by their real name) As we pulled into the base, we located Ryan and Gebbia and went on our way, aimlessly. It was hard to find the place until we saw the sign. We parked and made our way over. We were going to pick up Scott's for him since he couldn't make it in time. We got there and stood in line for at least 30 minutes or more. There were so many people lined up. Many more were lined up when we left. I initially had to go to the bathroom, been hydrating like crazy. I went inside and it was chaos. I got so nervous. Went back out to my gang. It was freezing cold outside. We weren't prepared for such cold temps at all. The winds was still kicking around too. Once we got inside, we were herded along like cattle in such a tiny room. It was confusing where to stand when you got done with one table/check point to another. When I got my timing chip scanned the lady confirmed I was in the famale military heavy division, I said yes and she whispered, "You are crazy". We herded along to the tables of where the goods were. The shirts, hats etc. for purchase. The folks that did the ordering didn't really take in consideration of who would be getting shirts because they were out of Large and Extra Large-which was kind of disappointing. Then we got stuck behind these two girls who were trying on everything-really, it is a sweatshirt. Then asked to have their pictures taken, "oh wait, that won't work, my mom is a photographer and I wasn't smiling, can you take it again?" Please ladies move along. We were trapped. Then we get to the checkout point at the end of the table. Shock and dismay, her credit card didn't go through. My Lord. Kevin took some pics, why, because I stood there THAT LONG. When Ryan made it out he said, Wow I feel like I just spent two days Christmas shopping. It was a painful process to say the least. Then came a pretty cool part when we put our coins down. It wasn't widely advertised, but, you could bring your unit coin to have permanently displayed. I put down an AMMO Coin, Kevin put down a Marana Police Dept coin. Tylar was going to put down the EMS (Equipment Maint. Squadron) coin.

Front/Back of Coins
Next came the part of meeting some of the survivors of the Real Bataan. It isn't just about the 60+ mile march they survived, it is about the 5 months of fighting with equipment and munitions from WWI-without any support. Then being surrendered to the Japanese plus the 3 1/2 years as a POW. It is about surviving the rail cars, the hell ships-it is more then the March, far more then that. It is the fact, they thought they were forgotten and now, they will never be forgotten. I will never forget them, they have sealed a place in my heart that will be a source of strength for years to come. You could never appreciate the silent strength they had until you looked in their eyes and saw the pain that still lingered there. That the pain is there, but, they are surviving not just to live, but, to share their stories, so that people do remember and that they are NOT FORGOTTEN. Something that hit me so hard when I met them is that these guys are in their 90's. Ninety years on this earth. People that are in perfect health struggle to make 90 and these heroes endured unbelievable challenges both physically, emotionally and mentally and here they are. This makes these Bataan Heroes truly amazing to me. I fought back tears the whole time. Through out the day the survivors would cycle through. We had the privledge and honor of meeting Phil Coon of Oklahoma and Malcom Amos of Iowa. They were such kind, gentle folks enjoying the moment to talk to us not knowing the chance for us to meet them was a gift. I stood holding Malcom's hands and talked to him and told him how sorry I was for his loss of his friends, his co-workers, his acquaintenances, his atrocities he endured as a POW. The things he was forced to witness. The time he had to spend in the 8 by 40, the rail cars meant to hold only 40 men or 8 horses. They were shoved in there, a 100 men pushed in there. Some died and they never knew it until they got out of the rail cars and their bodies fell to the floor. The deseases, the dysentery, the fever, all of it-it is truly amazing these men are alive to tell the story that history didn't tell the whole way. Below is a video that was part of the news, it is Phil.
The survivors were signing autographs of sorts, we had our certificates signed, some put their addresses on them, others wrote their name and just talked to you. Here are our certificates. I had the opportunity to meet Naomi Ortega, her father Abel Ortega with help from his son wrote his memoirs of his story. It is called Courage on Bataan and Beyond. He passed away 2 days afer his 90th birthday. This was his story, here is a copy of the book cover. A lot of the surviviors never really talked about their struggles until they were further into their Senior Years. So many thought they wouldn't be believed or understood. Naomi shared she never even really knew this about her father until the book. I have read some of the book thus far and one thing I have discovered is that in any horrible situation, you find a way to survive and find humor. This part is directly from the book:
We were always trying to find ways to improve our living conditions, food sources and our clothes. You see, every time we went to a new camp or work detail, we would scout out the area for whatever we could use. At this camp (Wakinohohama Camp)we constantly sent out spies to look in the different warehouses for things we needed and could sneak back into camp. We would have a couple of lookouts and a couple of guys doing the scouting. One day, we were checking out another warehouse and we came across some large bolts of cloth. We thought to ourselves, we could sure use some new undershorts. Some of us didn't have any and those that did has G-strings under the ratty old pants the Japanese gave us. The G-string was simply a cloth tied around your waist with a flap in the back. You brought the flap up between your legs and tucked it under and over the peice around your waist in the front. Those were our undershorts. We decided to send in two men at a time. The height of the cloth went from the floor to just below your armpit. One guys would lift his arm up and back into the roll and turn around a few times until he was wrapped up, then we would cut it. The next guy would do the same until we all finished and hurried stiffly back to our detail. You see, when we marched and walked in somewhat of a formation to the Japanese cadence. But on this day, watch out West Point, we were stiff as boards and marched with precise turns and steps. We were marching as if it was pass and review time at West Point because the cloth was wrapped around us like a mummy wrap from the arm pits down. It was so funny we all started cracking up back at camp. What was even funnier was when we tried to make our shorts. Some of the guys could not sew or cut equal sides so some would be too tight and some owuld have one leg longer then the other. This was a great time in all the chaos that surrounded us. We were eventually transferred to another camp because this camp closed on May 20th, 1945.

It proves the human spirit even in a time of adversity can find a way to survive and find the humor in anything. I am saddened I couldn't meet Amos, but, I am learning the hero he was through his words. I know this was a pretty big portion, but, this is the reason I did this, for them. After we left the survivors we headed back to the hotel to get things ready for Sunday until we were going to all meet up for dinner. This part of marathon preparation is totally different then any race we have done before. Why you ask, because it involves a scale. We brought our scale from home. Earlier in the day, we had to get new batteries, it was all out of whack! Below is what figuring out what the packs weighed looked like. It was like a game of Guess that Weight. It was crazy! The packs had to weigh at least 35 pounds and not less, could weigh more, but, why? When we did our training, we did it with close to 50 pounds, so making the weight come down was an easy task. Then we did the outfit layout. Far more intensive again then a normal marathon. More clothes, layers and options. We had a good time laying them all out. Dinner was awesome with some interesting little twists. We went to an Italian place and we ate like it was our last supper. It is the Death March afterall. Tylar ordered this pizza with jalepenoes on it, I said, you are going to be shooting fire out your ass for eating that tomorrow. There were these yummy rolls, wow, they were awesome and we told the waiter, just keep them coming. He asked, are you doing Bataan and we said yes. The basket was never empty. I ate these meatballs and spaghetti-the meatballs had tiny little raisins in them...interesting. We decided what time to meet up and I would do wake up calls to them at 2:30 am, which is 1:30 am Arizona time. We left dinner for a last minute trip to Walmart for bike shorts, sleep aide and gloves. Then it was to McCallisters to get a sandwich to put in our packs for lunch time. Alarms were set, two of them. Sleep aide taken. Laid there for an hour willing sleep to come. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Beep. Beep. Beep. The F you say, time to wake up already? It has only been 3 1/2 hours....ugh. Checked the weather. See below. First is what was expected and posted at in-processing and the second is from the morning of. I tried to prepare my feet for the march the night before, slept with them wrapped up like this. Wow, this is it. They guys pulled up to the hotel, ran and got some coffee. By the way, who has their kid in a convenience mart at 3 in the morning? We made the drive to the middle of nowhere to our death march. First matter of business was to drop the packs off and check their weight. It was so silly to see we could take even more weight out. At this point, training with 50 pounds paid off. It was soooo light. There was bags of rice and beans everywhere from people dropping the weight down. It was a fun and nervous time doing the final weighing of the packs. We put them at our tree, we claimed it. Breakfast started at 4 ish. They had the best stuff out there, danishes, muffins, juice, bananas, oranges. We ate like kings sitting in the warm truck. It was in the 20's. Here are some pics of the gang... Opening ceremony wasn't until 6 am. So, it allowed some time to make some changes to my feet. I tried to prepare them the night before, but, they were a little too tight. I fixed and fiddled with the damn things 4 times. I was determined not to have any blisters. I have everything you can think of in my pack. Blister repair kits, duct tape, cable ties, you name it-it was half my weight. I even had clippers. Which Scott said yahoo. He had an out of control toe nail. He clipped them and announced, think I clipped them too close. In my experience, you can never be too close when it comes to toe nails. Kevin and I decided to do another porta potty break, of course everyone else had the same idea. We noticed the temp dropped again. There was steam coming from the porta-potty towers-gross. Wow it was cold. We were in line a great deal of time and knew that the guys should make thier way over from truck. Called them and stood in line longer. We had a chance to take pics of the biggest American flag I have ever seen, which was awesome. A video serves its grace better.

Additionally there were some bagpipe players that was circulating through the crowd.

Here is a video of the crowd at the opening ceremony.

It was 6 am, time for opening ceremonies. This was the most moving part of the day. It is where I drew strength from later that day. They posted the colors, the anthem was sang by one of the high school choirs, senior leaders spoke and then the most awe inpiring moment happened. They asked us for a moment of silence while they read the names of the Bataan Survivors who have passed since last year, it was at least 30 names. They played taps and tears rolled down my face. They also read the below, which puts it more into perspective why we needed to be there, so they were not forgotten, these Battling Bastards of Bataan.

Then the cannon balls went off, way cooler then a starting gun!! There were several categories. Light/Heavy categories for 26.2 for both military and civilian, 15.2 miles, team/individual categories for both light/heavy for both military/civilian and the wounded warriors from all the wars of the present and past. There were 5704 people registered for this event, so it was a lot of categories of people and a lot of people to get shifted along. Each time a new category was to go, the cannon ball went off. I was in the porta potty for one of them-thank god because I almost peed my pants when the cannons went off!! We were sort of towards the back because we weren't an official team, we were in the individual categories because we had Kevin on our team and he is a civilian-he was supposed to go before us, but, well, that wasn't going to happen. So we were off, together. None of us could feel our toes. Frozen. We came around the corner and it was like an accordian, we all stopped. I thought what is the problem? But, what we saw was awesome. They had the survivors in chairs all bundled up on both sides for us to shake their hands sending us off on our journey. It was phenomenal. I said, this is going to be more then a life changing experience for us. We were off. It was 7:35 and the sun was coming up and it was gorgeous. We got to the first stop (about 2 miles in) and realized we were in nearly last place. Hmmm, how did that happen. But, we made up for it. We shed a few layers of clothes, used the toilet and went on our way. Speaking of clothes, we were all wearing these shirts we got at a trail run that were neon green-best idea ever. We could find each other so easily when we would get separated in a field of camoflauge. When we got started again, wow passing city. We passed so many people. We were averaging 16 min miles. Some were easier to pass then others. There were these two girls, we will call them the ipod twins, they shared an ipod. Really, how long will that last? Kevin made a choice that he was going to wear his pack the whole time at this point, even on breaks. He never took it off, not until the end. I almost fell over more than once sitting on a cot and falling backwards. Some of the guys wore it into the porta-potties. This is So much easier to go pee for a boy with a pack on then a girl-let me tell you!! Here are some pics of us on our journey. Then came the first roadside repair of blisters. Scott and Ryan started having some issues, out came my kit of moleskin, bandaides, tape, scissors, duct tape, medical tape. We were at between mile 5 and 6.

We ate some food. I had these protein balls-peanut butter flavored, we named them, moose nuggets, elk balls, rocky mountain oysters-they were delicious. We had a pee in the desert and did further repairs. We continued further on our way to the first major aide station, it was incredible. It was like a MASH station, pretty cool. This is where the 15 milers go one way and the marathoners go the other, where the real journey began and changed. This is where we left the dirt trail and hit the pavement. It was the start of the 7 mile hill refered to as Hell Hill. It just kept going and going and going. They had these misters that sprayed on us that was pretty cool. We took a break at this part and I loosened my boots and more road side repair happened for all 3 of us--Scott, Ryan and I. Kevin and Gebbia weren't having any issues. We talked about our training at this time. About how Kevin pushed us through some pretty challenging hills and that was when we decided that Kevin had a Hill fetish and this hill was glorious to him. It felt great to me after I loosened my boots--this was the best I felt yet and the entire race. Weird how an uphill would feel the best. Without Kevin pushing us through those workouts though, this hill could have taken us out. I found this and I think they made this sweatshirt for Kevin.... We started to see the marathon runners coming back, it gives you a false sense of illusion that we would be coming back soon. Really? The F you say, what was I thinking? We haven't even reached the halfway point. We got to see the teams of all kinds. A lot of young kids from ROTC out there. We saw this one kid, Lee and he was struggling, his team was running with packs on. Not sure if they were heavy packs or not. But, he was struggling to stay with his team and they were yelling at him. We tried to keep him encouraged. We saw teams of Marines, listening to a boom box with an ipod playing (not allowed to, but, come on, who is going to stop them? Not me.) We saw people who were running the marathon in uniform, in boots, with packs, some light, none and some heavy-wow, thank god they have youth on their side. We saw a lot of amputees running and marching. Pretty amazing. I thought for a time, wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have a foot, then I wouldn't have any blisters. But, they have blisters on their stumps that I couldn't imagine that pain. I was awed by them and thanked them all for their service and for being here. We saw guys doing push ups at certain points with their packs on. We saw this young group of kids, no packs, looked like high school kids. They were pretty strong at this point. The view was getting pretty nice, the more we went up. We could see the white sands we saw the day before-seemed like a week ago. In some races, you can look ahead and tell where you are going, I could see we were heading up to some point, but, where were the people going? Kevin theorized we were getting pushed off a cliff or something. All we could see was a giant mountain. We went throught these gates and all kinds of signs were warning us of RF energy and other warning signs. (It is a missile testing range afterall). I at this point thought to mention, Beware of my Butt. Those stupid meatballs made me the gassiest gal out there. If this is too much information, ignore it. But, it made me laugh for 10 min and became a source of odd amusement the whole time out there. Kevin made a comment, much later in the race when I thought we were alone and we were not and well....I tooted and he said, "Dear God, there are people behind us." Oops, pardon me. Finally we got to a point where the pavement finally ended. There was a big aide station ahead with these little kids handing out gatorade, it was cute. We all got caught up to each other and we broke the news to Gebbia that we were still going uphill. He said why are we going up still when Kevin said that the highest point was 12.85? Kevin said, I lied to keep you going. Wait for it...the f you say? We trudged on. Gebbia was ahead of us some at the 13 mile mark and we could see him waiting for us. We caught up to him to discover him standing there innocently by a 10lb bag of sugar...hmmm from his pack? We kept trudging and it was on this part we met Georgia, that wasn't his real name, it is what we called him the whole time. He was a retired Marine and now is a AF Reservest-he has a total of 38 years in the military. He said, I am the original Forest Gump. He was the oldest guy in the heavy category, he was 57. Pretty cool fella to talk and walk with. Here's is a check-up on everyone making their way up the hill. Then a miracle happened, the road started to go downhill. Well, it seemed a miracle at first. We saw Gebbia get attacked by a dust storm, which was hillarious, from our perspective of course. At the upcoming aide station we could smell BBQ...mmmm a yummy hot dog would be great. Oh wait, they ran out. But, back to why it wasn't a miracle. My feet were hurting, a lot. The downhill walking caused the blisters to really flare up. We got to a pretty major aide station and I said, Kevin, I am going to have them see if they can do something about my feet. I stood waiting in line, a lot of folks needed help out there. I sat down on my army cot and one of the aide people came up to assess the situation. Something to note, a week prior I ran my foot into a door and had concerns I broke my baby toe. I may or may not have done, but, clearly there was a problem now. The guy looked at the blister and said, hmm, that is unusual, there are two pockets. Then came the question to lance or not to lance because of the risk of infection. I said, do it and named it the Twisted Sister Blister. Scott was having some issues too. He had the same toe issues, except he had a top hat, it looked like a contact lens on his toe. He had heel problems also and the guy working on it looked like our friend Jeremy Griffin, he could be his brother. Ryan had work done too, on his heels. We were a gruesome threesome. Kevin decided to lay down and eat his sandwich while he waited. It was at this point that I thought, hmm, we have lost our 16 min pace and it will be a long day. We just made it to the half way point and going downhill killed my feet. I had blisters on both baby toes, both big toes and both pads of my feet. How did all that preparation not work? Kevin and I had said from the beginning, we knew we had the endurance to do this and it would be the wear and tear that would most likely break us. We were going to make our move once again. I had to pee and the guys said they would stop and meet us. They had that pace where if you stopped you may lose momentum and I understood that, we didn't see them for awhile. Around mile 14 or so, we could see the finish line area, the military base. At this point also, Kevin got a picture of me when my walk like a penguin started. Along the way we ran into a father son pair, the son was 11. He was having a hard time and we shared with them stuff to help motivate them. Like thinking about the great reward of yummy food at the end, special treats etc. When you are that point, any distraction is a good one. Somewhere along the way I ate my sandwich, walked and ate it and got some of the worst heart burn, not sure if you are supposed to walk and eat.... We were looking around at the scenery and decided to take stock on all the wildlife we had seen out there. We had all these warnings about the wild life, so we wanted to be cautious. We saw, hold on to your socks, a dead lizard, two stinkbugs, 4 birds, a butterfly and some weird thing we thought was a leg of may have been a a branch.

This got us thinking about Dora in the kids movie, Finding Nemo where she says, Just Keep Swimming, Keep Swimming, Keep Swimming. We changed it to Just Keep Walking, Keep Walking, Keep Walking.

We took in all the pretty yellow flowers and that white flower we saw. Kevin is remarkable at getting me to focus on other things then my pain. I started to think, 50% of the time one foot doesn't hurt, the other 50% it did. We had to stop to do another roadside repair. This time I lanced the other pinky toe with toe nail clippers. Our pace was slowing down dramatically, I had taken to walking like a penguin. Why does downnhill hurt so much? I hadn't been listening to music at all the entire time. Kevin's ipod was half way charged so I just didn't put mine in. He asked me, have you put your music in? He knew it was getting unbearable. We saw mile marker 16 and knew that we would be getting close to the single digit midget numbers left. Between 16 and 17 miles though it was getting really rough. I had my music in and tried to make idol chit chat. Taking in the water stations and their patriotism and superb support helped. Kevin started to hold my hand and pull me along. Not sure where it happened, but, Kevin mentioned you know what sounds good? A nice cold coke and a taco. I agreed, where was a taco bell and a Circle K when you needed it? We hit the pavement again at mile 18. Wow, it was worse. We were still going downhill, but, the pavement was unrelenting. I walked in the ditch in the sand for as long as I could, but, it was getting too hard to navigate when the bushes got thicker. I had no choice but to hit the pavement. I saw the misters up ahead and thought I saw some neon green-my guys must be up ahead. But, I just couldn't keep moving. I had the tears coming for the first time and I needed to sit down. We sat down at some trailers by the misters and I took our medicine coctail. It is 2 advil cold and sinus and 2 excerine. I wiped away the tears and we began again. Along the way we saw a guy struggling. He was part of a team and he was having hip problems. I tried to show him some tips and stretches. His guys came to carry his pack so he could continue and he was mad they were taking it. He wanted to continue, but, was in pain. There were people lying down everywhere. It was really eerie. Then at Mile 20 Aide station we saw Scott and Ryan. They were sitting on a cot. I wobbled up to them and Scott said, do you have the stuff? What stuff? The Aide stuff, duct tape? Yes. So we sat there doing more repairs. I gave them some granola bars and chewing gum. Then we gave Scott the medicine coctail too. Then we ventured on, the 4 of us. Gebbia was out of sight, they lost him a long time ago.

Kevin took a video of Scott and I walking like penguins.

Soon was the infamous sand pit. Some chaplain told us it was a half mile, Scott said, he lied. I agreed, but, the sand felt heavenly compared to the pavement. I would have taken sand all day. Something to note, all I cared about was my feet. I never once was bothered by the pack. It was like it wasn't even there. Kevin offered to carry the weight and I said, I still have to walk, so it wouldn't make a difference. We saw the craziest flag up ahead. No idea why it was there, but, it was. I thought I had taken a picture of it, but, in making this I realized I didn't. It was a small flag on a series of attena types things hooked together about 25 feet in the air.

We came out of the sand and around the corner to a downhill section. We saw some aide station teenage girls laughing about some bees trying to get to their oranges. Then it happened.

The thing that made me want to die. Just fall down and die. My toe felt as though it truly exploded. I saw spots, the pain was searing. I would rather give birth to 15 kids naturally with no medicine then feel that again. I almost collapsed. The girls tried to offer me an orange. Really? Kevin pushed/pulled me forward to the aide station that was about 200 yards away and up a hill-really it was uphill. I got to the desk and said, can you help me. I have a major issue with a toe. A stupid little damn toe. I was out of breath from trying not to pass out and he said, you sure are breathing fast, are you ok? I said it is my toe. So I sat on the cot, again. I pulled off my boot and socks and displayed the problem. I had 8 aide station people and a doctor standing around me looking at it. First was the issue of getting the bandaide unstuck. I nearly passed out again. Then they looked at it in awe. Wow, it has 4 pockets of fluid in different layers of skin, what do we do. They had to drain it, again, I nearly passed out. The tears nearly caused dehydration. There was talk of a horseshoe, a toe seperator, all this stuff then the doc came over. He was a wilderness doc that goes out on search and rescue missions and does stuff out in the field. He says, do we have any cotton? They come back with a pad looking thing and pulled the fluff off of it. He put some ointment on it, the fluff and cut off the finger of a rubber glove and made like a toe condom. The picture below is from afterwards at the hotel, but, you get the idea with how the toe condom looks.

I nearly passed out when he put it on and sat there contemplating, how am I going to finish the last 4 miles? A guy who picked up people who fell out said, I have a really nice comfortable van to give you a ride to the finish. I said hell no. I am going to finish this thing. I drug 4 people in this with me, I am doing this no matter what. The doc had my little toe condom on and he squeezed my toe and asked if it hurt. I said yes, only a little, lying because it was a ton. I didn't want him to make me quite if I said yes a lot. I think he saw I was lying. Then he asked the most important question of the day. You want to finish this thing don't you? Yes, at all costs. I can do one more thing if you want to. What? I can do a nerve block so you can't feel your toes. Do it!! He shot my nerves up on my toe with lidocaine, which has the same effect as novicaine. It was like fire in my veins, but, it was awesome-I had no more pain in that area. I asked Kevin to take pictures, I couldn't look. I had ladies holding my hands, holding me up so I didn't fall off the cot, all of them supporting me and telling me to breathe and it will be okay.

I asked how long will it last and he said 2 hours, just long enough to get me to the finish. His name, all that I can remember is Dr. Daryl. The caring and compassion of those people at the aide station truly understood why it was so important for me to finish, it touched me deeply. I will never forget them. It was the most painful experience I have ever had in my life. I have truly never had something as small as a baby toe cripple me to the measure that happened.

So, with 4.2 miles left to go, we continued. They were the longest 4 miles which is weird because it seemed we were walking as fast as in the beginning. It gave me a renewed strength, I felt heroic. I felt the strength of the survivors. I was going to do this for them. I felt a little like I cheated, but, I used the resources provided to me, I think anyone would have. I truly believe that if the doc didn't numb me up I would have really struggled to finish. I wouldn't have allowed myself to get picked up, but, it may have been taken out of my hands to be picked up.

We came across a lot of struggling stragglers, just barely putting one foot in front of the other. We stopped to see they were okay, telling them, only 3 more miles and it will all be over with. We saw a couple of guys who were really struggling and a few minutes later, we saw they had gotten picked up by the van and went by us. Another van went by us and the guy shouted out the window-no bonding because Kevin and I were holding hands. I was in uniform and that is not allowed, but, under the circumstances, I kind of let that go. We had to switch sides because him pulling me along for 10 miles was killing his shoulder. When that guy shouted out the window, we just laughed and said, too late for that, the bonding has happened.

There were countless Border Patrol guys going around on 4 wheelers checking on people. They stopped to ask if we were okay many times out on the course, we saw a lot of people being carried by them too. Because we were wearing neon green shirts, we asked how much further the others were and they said not much. Scott and Ryan were doing the same thing and so was Gebbia, we stood out so it was easy to try and figure out where we were.

Then we heard music and thought, the end is near, we are almost done. It was an aide station playing music. Something I want to point out is at every aide station, water station we came to-they were as supportive and excited as if we were the first ones they have ever seen. They had the same spirit and energy, they had the supplies still out there and were such a wonderful group of people. There were Vets out there, kids, Survivors, so many people at each site, it was always so uplifting. Even when we came to this one and learned it was only music they were playing and it wasn't the end. They were playing it just to keep us uplifted. I told them how much I appreciated they were still out here. They said, you "heavies" are why we are out here, you guys are the ones really pushing and struggling out here. It is why we are here. That just touched my heart all over again and I welled up in tears. They told us, the end is near, stay strong. That was mile 24. I should note, I had them lower the tray of gatorade cups because I didn't have enough strength to lift up my arm.

We ran into Georgia again, still moving along strong-Hooah. The border patrol guys stopped to ask if Georgia, Kevin and I were ok and Georgia was asking what is left on this damn course. He was getting mad. Which, is understandable, so were we. It is like they moved the mile markers further apart and it seemed we should make a straight line to the end, but, it was a series of dog legs and switch backs. We also realized, wow, the sun is going down. We saw it rise and now we are seeing it set.

They said just follow the rock wall, there will be a gate and through the gate is the finish. Hmmm, easier said then done. That wall went forever.

Along that wall a few things happened. First, someone was making BBQ chicken, the wall went behind the base housing area. It smelled incredible! Second, I got excited, I thought I heard people cheering. I was wrong, it was pigeons. Yes, pigeons.

We ran into some ladies who were cheering people on in the backyard on the wall. They had a sign, Go Navy, but, cheered everyone on. It was great to see that. Then we saw a bunch of people taking pictures. Kevin said, that has to be a good sign. It was the 26 mile marker-thank God. We got a picture of that one and took some pictures for the other people there.

Then we made the final turn through the gate, the finish line. There were folks cheering people on still, it was great to see. A couple of guys on the left said, that is what we like to see, you holding her hand and pulling and pushing her through. It was awesome to finally finish. Kevin took a picture of the finishing time, that was the gun time.

There was my guys. Standing so proud. I was never so happy to see them and to see they were all okay. They finished about 25-30 minutes ahead of us. The guy at the finish area took my pack off to get it weighed. He grabbed it and said, why do you have the really heavy one, I said I carried everything we might need, I am the momma. He chuckled at that one. The final weight was 39 pounds. We got the rice and beans out of the packs and got it over to the trucks. Last year they collected 5,000 pounds of food, this year close to 18,000 pounds of food. All the food goes to a relief society for that area. It is a pretty awesome feeling knowing what I carried will help someone some day. The guy at the finish area recognized the walk of blistered feet and told me I needed to go get them looked at and taken care of over at the medical tent. Kevin said to me later, wow, did they call ahead from the aide station that gave you the shots? It was funny. But, I went up to the tent and saw a wide array of folks in rough shape. It looked like a combat zone in there. There were no lights, people were working with head lamps on. There were people wrapped in sleeping bags, silver blankets. There were blisters galore, but, there were I.V.s, wrapped up ankles, knees. Ice packs, all kinds of problems. We read later that one person got airlifted out of there.

I sat down at the cot and the guy redressed the blisters that had gotten quite worse on my left foot, I could feel parts of my right foot, but, he left that bandage alone. Then this girl came up to us and said, congratulations-we knew you would finish it. It was one of the ladies from the aide station with the shots. It meant a lot to me to see her. She said to the guy, we did lidocaine shots in this foot and he said why, astonished. She said, it was THAT bad we had to do it. So, clearly, that wasn't a normal practice. He bandaged me up and told me to leave the dressings on for 24 hours. I tried to put my boots back on and decided to walk in my socks, it was easier that way. I would have done that sooner, but, there were rules you had to wear shoes. Stupid rules.

Kevin came in and saw the doc was there and told him we made it. He said he saw us on the road when they drove by and said he knew we would make it, we were holding hands and walking pretty strong. We plan on sending the pic we have of him to the race folks with what we do know of his name, Daryl so we can properly thank him for what he did.

We left the triage tent, boots in hand walked like a penguin to the truck. One of the police officers dealing with the traffic said that they could pull the truck closer if I needed it, which was very nice. We got in the truck for the ride home and talked about each of our experiences with the race. Gebbia waited for quite awhile for Ryan and Scott, thinking we were with them too, but, then finished. Ryan and Scott asked about us from a few of the patrol guys and they said we were a ways back, so they finished about 10 minutes after Gebbia. I asked how Scott was doing and he said our medicine coctail helped him out a lot. Gebbia was pretty somber, I found out at breakfast that he just wanted to kill me for making him do this thing. We were all just so exhausted both physically and mentally. We kept the chatter going all the way home to make sure Ryan didn't get sleepy at the wheel, I am so thankful we all rode together and that he drove.

We got to the hotel, grabbed our ever so pleasant light bags and were walking our way into the front lobby when this gentlemen stopped us. Ordinarily for any other race the following would have seemed a dumb question, but, this time it was different. We had our race numbers on our legs, I am in full uniform sans boots and he said, did you all do the Death March? Yes we did. He said, I am a Vietnam Vet, thanks for doing that and thank you for your service. We said, no, thank You for Your Service. It brought tears to our eyes, because it is folks like him for why we did this.

We got to the desk to ask for extra pillows to elevate my feet and the girl there saw immediately we had done the March. She asked the usual questions, how did it go etc. She said her mom had run a couple times and she was thinking about it. We told her to get the training in for next year and do it. She will never forget the experience. It would be interesting if she does, I think we gave her some motivation at least to try.

In the room, we shed off the packs, the sweat soaked clothes and showered. Before I could get in, I had to tape trash bags to my feet so the bandages wouldn't get wet.

It was after we showered we discovered abnormalities with our bodies that weren't there before. I was so wrapped up in my feet I had no idea the pack did some damage/bruising to my armpit, it hurt to put deoderant on. I had chaffing on almost my entire legs. I had one area that chaffed from a pocket that is lower on the calf which had my cell phone and identification cards.

I had 1 sunburned hand. Yes, ONE. The other didn't see the sun so much because it was tucked in holding Kevin's hand as he pulled me through.

The lump on my spine. The red marks from clothing seams-they didn't go away for a few days. The red sunburned look of Kevin's ankles that never saw the sun? We narrowed it down to a really bad heat rash, it was blistered also.

The sunburned lips. Which is silly really. We were all riding in the truck in the morning and I asked if we had chapstick and Kevin and Gebbia chimed in at the same time yes. Plus, we saw like 3 or 4 discarded chapticks out on the course.

The blisters, my Lord, the blisters. I did an inventory, I had over 20 between both feet. What follows are a series of pictures of the stages of the feet. I won't be able to wear shoes around my toes for a week at least. I had to extend my leave until Monday, boots are not an option at all.

Kevin ordered two big juicy cheeseburgers and fries from room service and we had a beer and motrin and called it a day, the most phenomenal day of our lives. We awoke at 6 am, in pain. The wraps on my foot from the toe explosion incident seemed so tight and my bones in my foot were killing me. My feet had start to swell, which was the cause of all the pain. Poor Kevin stumbling around in the dark found the Motrin and scissors and cut it off. We fell back asleep until 9. I checked my phone and saw I missed a meassage from Tylar that they were packing up the truck. I called them to meet for breakfast at the Cracker Barrel then made the effort to try to walk.

Two things. Slippers were the only thing I could wear. I walked like a penguin still at a resounding slow pace. Kevin said I looked like the Emperor Penguin, because they are the best and most powerful penguin.

We got to breakfast and met up with Ryan and Gebbia, Scott had left for Tucson already. We wanted one of everything. When we walked in and sat down we looked around and saw a lot of other Bataan Marchers, wearing their shirts with pride eating a large amount of food as well. When we saw folks walking it, we recognized the walk immediately. Later on we ran into some guys at a gas station starting their route to Sacremento. We stood there and talked and compared injuries. They had the same walk. It looked like the walk in this video clip.

We started our journey home and thought back to what an amazing event this was. We made notes for me to write this and determined that we will be back. We won't do the heavy division again, we are okay with doing this just the once. We want to come back and run the marathon. Even if we finish in 5 or 6 hours, there will still be the marchers out there on the course and we want to be there to encourage them to continue on. We have thought about planting ourselves along that long wall and hand out cookies, candy, anything to keep them going. We want to be out there for the folks who are working the hardest to get through this journey.

This event has never been about us and our own personal achievement. It has been about being part of something bigger. It has been about giving something back. For me being in the military is about giving back to those whoes sacrifices paved the way for me to be a part of the Air Force. Some people called me crazy for even considering doing this and the guys told me, if you call and ask, hey I got this idea-they may hang up, maybe not. Because I knew from the start-I would walk, crawl, hobble and stumble away from this a changed person. I learned more about my own personal strength both physically and mentally then I have ever from any other event. I was willing to get 3 shots in my toe to numb the pain just to continue, to finish.

The Bataan survivors had no choice, had no nice van to give them a ride to the end. At the end of their March they didn't get a triage tent treatment, no big cheese burger, no beer, no motrin. They walked into a POW camp. I may complain and comment on my aches and pains and blisters, but, it pales in comparison to thier sacrifices. I will be back to do this again when I return from Afghanistan.

Another thing I wanted to share is some of those guys were carrying the weight in thier packs of their comrades lost in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. So instead of 35, it was 70. That my friend is the ultimate show of true patriotism. Nobody will be forgotten, never again.

Here is a snapshot to how we placed. There were 5,704 registered for the March, with the 5 of us we took the number over 5,700. There were a total of 32 who didn't qualify. For each team, there is 5 people. They all have to finish within 20 seconds of each other, if they don't, the team gets disqualified and even if some of the members finish, there is no credit given. So, with all of those numbers, only 4,156 finished the race. Roughly 27% who started didn't finish. So, with us finishing it was quite an accomplishment. I placed 45th out of 50 women who carried the heavy pack, if you did my age group, I placed 4th. Gebbia placed 343rd, his time was 11:03, Ryan and Scott placed 349 and 350 with a time of 11:08 and Kevin placed 199th for the civilian group, our time was 11:35. It took about a half hour to get to the timing start pad for our timing chips to get activated. Our original goal was between 9 and 10 hours, we were on track until the course decided to shred our feet.

We looked up the results for people on the course we met, Georgia finished about 15 minutes behind us. The father and son finished before us. We were at that aide station with the shots for a pretty long time, at least a half hour.

Here are some news articles we came across to share with you that covered the March:

Here is what the medal looked like and the coin we got:

Here are our race numbers that will be saved with pride:

This is what I looked like putting this together the first day, it took 3 days to put this together.

I know this was lengthy, but, the experience was tremendous and deserved explanation and rightful aknowledgment to the Bataan Survivors and why if given the chance, this should be experienced. I am proud of our achievement and I am proud of the team of people I trained with. More so, I am proud of all the people who participated in the March not just this year, but each year since its inception in 1989. I am most proud of those that had the courage to talk about Bataan, because without their stories, we may never have known what really happened. We owe it to those who can't relate their struggles, we owe it to give back. This will close with a quote we came across that sums up why we do what we do:

"The purpose of life is not to arrive at death in a perfectly preserved body, but rather to slide in head first, perfectly used up, yelling 'Yahoo! What a ride!'"