My last “Insider’s Guide to the 3-Day” post got us to Day 1, through the beautiful Opening Ceremony, and out onto the route. And now, we’re walking, we’re walking…
Obvious Statement in 3…2…1… – 60 miles is a long way to walk.
If one strictly had to get from point A to point B, going the 60 mile distance would be physically demanding but logistically uncomplicated. But the 3-Day does so much more than get you from point A to point B. It takes you on a carefully plotted course to make the experience of covering all those miles an unforgettable one. Creating a 60-mile route that is safe, interesting, varied (yes, those hills are included on purpose), pit stop-friendly, packed with incredible photo ops, bursting with local landmarks and must-sees, and safe (yes, I said safe twice, because it’s THAT important), is a feat of event-planning wizardry. And the remarkable thing is that it’s done so seamlessly that when you’re walking, you don’t even think twice about it. You marvel at the sights and sounds, you snap pictures (safely, from the side of the path, naturally), you bond and form lifelong memories with your fellow walkers and all the while, you’re just following the arrows.
Walk This Way (Then That Way, Then Keep Going) – Let’s talk about the route arrows. I have a very special place in my heart for those arrows. They don’t just provide me direction as a walker, they provide me strength. On one of my early 3-Days many years ago, I got into the habit of touching each arrow that I passed. Just reaching out and tapping it, like giving it a little high-five to say, “Thanks for pointing me in the right direction, my round friend.” I still do it, all these years later. If there’s an arrow that’s out of my reach, I put my hand out anyway, for an “air five,” or have a teammate touch it for me. It’s kind of a silly tradition, but I’m serious when I say that I get power and motivation from it. It’s 3-Day magic, I tell you.
My arrow-lovin’ ways eventually inspired me to sign up for the Route Marking crew, which I will do for the third time this year in Seattle. This crew team is responsible for putting up and taking down hundreds of directional arrows, but you never see them at work. They’re like invisible arrow fairies who leave a perfectly charted course for you to wake up to in the morning. Walkers getting lost? Not on our watch.
Everyone’s a Winner – One thing I really love about the 3-Day is that it’s not a race. I’ve done a handful of 5K or 10K running races in my years, and I know how demoralizing it can feel to be passed by other runners (and believe me, I get passed a LOT). The 3-Day is different. Your pace is whatever you need it to be. No one is being timed or keeping track of their “personal best,” and there’s no shiny medal waiting for the first person to cross the finish line. On the contrary, we roll out a hero’s welcome for the LAST walker who comes in each day (but more about that in another post). You walk the speed you feel comfortable walking. If someone passes you, it’s usually with a smile and a friendly word of encouragement (unless they’re just really trying to get to the next porta-potty, in which case, we’re okay with letting them stay focused).
Angels in Orange Shirts – You’re on the route, you’re caught up in the glow of your journey, and perhaps didn’t quite notice the glow of the “Don’t Walk” sign at the upcoming intersection. You’re human, it happens. But since your safety is absolutely the number one priority of the 3-Day, you will be well protected, thanks to our Route Safety team. These orange-shirted crew members spend the day on their bicycles and motorcycles, monitoring the route and stopping to provide extra support at busy intersections or crossings. But because they’re 3-Day crew members, and 3-Day crew members always blow your minimum expectations out of the water, the Route Safety crewies are also your cheerleaders, stretching coaches, hydration reminders, DJs and crosswalk high-fivers. Rare is the Route Safety team member whose body and bike are not decked out in an amazing array of pink flair (trust me, it gives a whole new meaning to “leather and lace”) and by the time you pass them for the second or third time, they feel like old friends.
In many cities, we also have passionate delegations of local law enforcement personnel who volunteer to provide additional route support. If you’ve never seen a police sergeant wearing a pink tutu and fairy wings, riding his bike up a massive hill for the tenth time that day, just so he can motivate the walkers with his music and his moves, chances are good that you’ll see it on the 3-Day. And it will motivate you.
Your Great Big Pink Family – All of this insight into what you can expect on the route doesn’t even scratch the surface of what you will get out of a day of walking. The unrushed pace of the 3-Day makes it the perfect environment for making and nurturing connections. I’ve walked with (more or less) the same group of friends for nearly 10 years. Team members have come and gone (not everyone is able to walk every year, and that’s fine) but the core remains the same, and we absolutely consider the 3-Day to be a bonding experience like no other. It really has become our yearly “girls weekend” (with the occasional boy joining the fun).
I’ve had some of the most meaningful conversations with friends whom I’ve known for most of my adult life on the 3-Day. I’ve also had life-changing heart-to-hearts—which sometimes only last a few minutes—with complete strangers I happen to find myself walking next to along the route. I’ve cried, openly and publicly, while walking. I’ve shared more hugs than I can count. I have been guilty, I admit, of the occasional photobomb. I’ve had to stop walking, doubled over and breathless from laughing so hard that concerned walkers coming up behind asked if I was okay (true story). I’ve made new friends who will be friends for the rest of my life. I’ve sung songs and danced, neither very well, but who cares? I’ve played the Alphabet Game, the License Plate Game, the Punch Buggy Game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Twenty Questions, Would You Rather…?, and countless other guessing games to pass the time instead of thinking about how much my feet hurt, and you know what? It works. And every one of these experiences has created a patchwork quilt of memories that has shaped me, for better or worse, into the person I am today. I like to think it’s for better.
And the best part is, I get to do it all again this year.
In the next Insider’s Guide post, I’ll talk more about the route, or as I like to refer to it, “The 60-Mile Buffet”.