Route Hours, Cabooses, and Sweep Vans, Oh My! Behind the Scenes on the 3-Day Route

If you’ve been out on the 3-Day route before, you’ve likely noticed a bike with a pink flag that follows the line of walkers along the route. The caboose is a 3-Day staff member who rides behind our last walkers to make sure that everyone gets to each pit stop and back to camp in a safe and timely manner. Each year, in our post-event survey we often get questions about route hours, route safety, and sweep vans.

We wanted to take this opportunity to explain why we have some of the route procedures that we do, and also let you know about a change to our sweep vans and busses this year. We had some questions for two of our seasoned cabooses, Coach Gayla of the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day, and Robin, the 3-Day Crew & Volunteer Operations Manager, to get the inside scoop on why the caboose and our pit stop and route hours are such an important part of keeping our 3-Day family safe on the route.

Coach Gayla poses on the 2016 Michigan 3-Day with football team members who did an awesome job cheering on our walkers.

Is it “bad” if you end up near the caboose?

Of course it’s not bad to be walking near the caboose! We love company, but we don`t want walkers to lag along the route and get behind schedule. If we ride up behind you while you’re walking we’ll let you know that you’re the last walker and how we’re doing on time. If it looks like your pace won’t get you to the next pit stop before it closes, we’ll present you with options: to pick up the pace (we know this isn’t always possible) or to get in the next sweep van once it arrives. They will gladly give you a lift to the next pit stop so you can rest, refuel and rehydrate before the stop closes.

Have no fear if the caboose is near! Photo graciously provided by walker Robin Collison.

Why do pit stops close at a specific time?

We are required by the city to set up pit stops along the route during certain times of the day. We are not allowed to have them open 24 hours a day for all three days or even the 8-12 hours it takes you to walk the route. So we need to make sure that the walkers move along the route at a comfortable, but continuous pace, so that no one is on the route after dark, or after the pit stops have packed up and left or even after the police and route safety are scheduled to be done for the day. We also want to respect the time of the crew members out on the route so that they can get back to camp to enjoy dinner and festivities, too. You may not know it, but they’ve been out at that pit stop for hours before you came through, setting up and getting ready.

Our amazing crew members need breaks, too!

Why does the route open and close at specific, set times?

The route opens after sunrise and closes before sundown so that the walkers and crew will not be on the route in the dark. These times will vary from city to city, as daylight hours vary during the year. And there are other factors, like in Twin Cities on day one, the route is short so we close the route early, to keep the pace consistent across all three days. In San Diego, we keep the route open after sunset from the last pit stop into camp because it is partially lighted and we hand out flashlights.

A beautiful and balmy morning greets San Diego walkers as they leave camp for Day 2 of the 2016 3-Day.

I don’t like feeling rushed on the route. Can’t we just walk at our own pace and arrive when we want to?

I know it’s no fun to feel like you’re being tailed, but there’s a reason we keep the walkers on a schedule. We ask walkers to average a pace of 3 miles an hour in order to complete each day’s route before dark. In addition to safety reasons, remember, it’s not just you out there―from Pit Stop crew, Route Safety, local police, to Sweep and Route Marking, the volunteers are out there supporting you. We want to respect their time and energy and allow them to get back to camp to enjoy dinner and the festivities, and start again bright and early the next day.

Robin smiles with some of our energetic route support cheerleaders!

I worry that if I take a sweep van, it means I didn’t really “do” all 60 miles. What do you think?

While we know the most important thing is the funds we raise, we totally understand it can be disappointing to you personally if you don’t walk all 60 miles you set out to do. For your own safety, you may need to catch a lift on a sweep van for just a bit here and there, and then get back on the route and walk what you can. We want you to walk in to camp and the Closing Ceremony to experience the joy of the event, so don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. Your overall event experience will be far less enjoyable if you do.

We’ve also got a helpful hint for you! New this year: the Lunch and Camp Shuttles will be passenger vans instead of busses. If you can’t walk anymore and you’re done for the day, make your way to a pit stop, then catch a Shuttle van to lunch or camp. In the past these shuttles were large busses that used to wait at each route stop until the stop closed. Rather than waiting at each stop until it closes, the Shuttle vans will now leave each stop on a regular schedule. This will allow you to move forward to lunch or camp and keep moving forward more quickly.

There’s no shame in letting us sweep you off your feet.

We hope that helps clear up any questions about why we enforce our route and pit stop hours, and why the caboose and sweep vans are here to help. But if you do have any more questions, ask them below, and we’ll have our friendly coaches reach out to you with a response. Your safety is our number one priority―and we know that working together for a safe and incredible experience means we’re 60 miles closer to ending breast cancer forever.

Let Sweep Vans Sweep You Off Your Feet on the 3-Day

When I first heard about the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, one of my first thoughts was, “Twenty miles each day for three days? Could I really do that?” Thankfully, the people around me who knew and loved the Komen 3-Day immediately reassured me that if at any point I couldn’t walk, there was a solution: sweep vans! Hearing this term, I couldn’t help but think of vans with giant brooms attached to them, like Zambonis for suburban roads. Thankfully, I quickly learned about what sweep vans really are, and with that, I signed myself up for the 2014 San Diego 3-Day® and dove wholeheartedly into fundraising and training. On Day 1, I was thrilled to have made it to about mile 13 with no ailments. However, shortly after lunch, I developed a blister the size of a quarter between my toes. Ouch! The kind folks on the medical crew fixed me up, and I hobbled on. Then, at mile 16, I took a step and felt a searing pain as the blister popped. I took a few more tentative steps, but decided I needed to wrap it up for the day. So I hopped in a sweep van for the first time, and was instantly delighted to be in a mustache-themed rolling relief station, complete with disco music blaring and two incredibly kind ladies who brought me to the final pit stop.

Besides the great music, smooth ride, and the chance to rest and relax my aching foot, I got to meet several 3-Dayers – some brand new, some veterans on their 15th walk. I loved hearing their stories about why they did the 3-Day, and in just a few miles of that ride we bonded over the reasons, both heartbreaking and inspiring, that we were all in San Diego that weekend. Though the circumstances that had brought us to walk were sometimes tragic, what was empowering was knowing we were all in it together, fighting breast cancer with our footsteps. No blister, leg cramp, or exhaustion could take away our desire to keep up the fight. And without the shared experience of being “swept” in San Diego, I may have never heard those stories or made those lasting connections. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Last week on Facebook, we asked people for their experience with 3-Day sweep vans. As usual, the stories from our 3-Day community made us smile. Your experiences, while diverse, always pointed back to one overarching theme: What an amazing community the 3-Day is to be a part of. Please enjoy a few stories of the sweep life, and to read through them all, visit this post on Facebook.

“Our very first 3 day, we had to be swept at the end of day 2. We were all so upset and very emotional about it. The ladies that picked us up were so wonderful and reminded us how far we had come and that we had no reason to be upset. The 2nd time we walked the whole thing without being swept but still love the encouragement they give while driving by!” – Sarah

“In January of 2005, at age 32, I completed my treatment and reconstruction from my breast cancer diagnosis. To celebrate my journey, I wanted to walk in the Arizona Susan G. Komen 3-Day. I signed up & one week later found out I was pregnant w my due date being 3 weeks after the walk! Nothing was going to stop me, I was determined to walk despite being 36 weeks pregnant. However there was something that did stop me on Day 1; CONTRACTIONS!! But thanks to the sweep van, I made it through Day 1 & the rest of the weekend! I am an 11 year survivor & my son is 9! THANK YOU SWEEP VAN!” – Bonny

“I went into last year knowing that I would have to sweep. I have bad hips. It was the best experience that I’ve had in the three days journey ever. The crew is unbelievable and is so nice. I went into year for last year knowing that I would have to sweep. It was the best experience that I’ve had in a 3-Day journey ever. The crew is unbelievable. A week after the 3-Day last year I had my second hip replacement, my left hip. This year I walk with two replaced hips. I can’t wait for the journey but I can tell you this I will probably sleep because it’s so much fun. Love you guys, thanks for all of your support!” -Sue

And here’s a little perspective from one of your friendly crew members on driving a sweep van:

“Being on the sweep van crew is all about having a servant heart! We truly love the walkers and we know encouragement along the way is just as important as providing a ride! We know there are walkers that hate the idea of sweeping and we get it. We won’t make you ride if you don’t want to, but we can’t guarantee we won’t circle back around and check on you repeatedly!” – Carrie

Have you ever ridden in a 3-Day sweep van? What was your experience like? As we enter 3-Day season, we want to remind you that there is no shame in taking a sweep van at any point during your 60-mile journey. Whether you’re a resistant passenger or a willing rider, the sweep van gets you closer to the goal that we all share: a world without breast cancer.


Part 4 of the ABC’s of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Crew

Welcome to part four of the ABC’s of the Komen 3-Day Crew! We’ve shared letters A – EF – J, K – O, and this week, we’re excited to present letters P through T. We invite you to tell us your ideas for each letter here or on Facebook, and to share these images with your family and friends. (To see the 3-Day walker version of the ABC’s, click here!)


“Rest, Refuel, Relieve Yourself” is the unofficial motto of the 3-Day pit stops. Pit stops are magical little worlds that are themed, decorated, staffed with costumed crew members, and strategically located along the route every 3-4 miles. You’ll find snacks, water, sports drinks, medical attention (in case you need it), cheerleaders and so much more at each and every pit stop, and you’re never very far from the next one!



The 3-Day is an exciting event, full of cheering and music and talking. However, some of our 3-Day neighbors appreciate peace and quiet in the early morning hours, so you’ll notice Quiet Zone signs – put in place by our dedicated Route Marking crew members – as you stroll through certain parts of the route. Please be mindful of the people that live in these neighborhoods who are trying to rest and relax.


How do we keep hundreds of 3-Day walkers from getting lost on the route? Great route signage! The Route Marking crew heads out on the route early to hang hundreds of directional arrows and safety reminders, and then takes them down after everyone is gone. You’ll probably never see a Route Marking crew member in action, but we’d be lost without them!

See also: Route Safety, Route Hydration, Route clean-up


Sweep vans are driven by crew members along the route all day, ready to pick up anyone who needs to stop walking for a bit. Sweep vans are elaborately decorated, themed and musically accompanied “mobile love and encouragement units.” Sometimes, walkers feel disappointed if they have to rely on a sweep van, but we can’t emphasize enough that there is NO shame in taking a sweep. In fact, a lot of people would agree that you haven’t fully experienced the 3-Day until you’ve taken a ride in a sweep van.

See also: Support ServicesSports Medicine


When you walk into a 3-Day pit stop, lunch stop, or Grab & Go, you never know what kind of magical land you might be entering. Oz? A bee hive? The 1950s? A storybook fairy tale land? Themes are just one of the many fun ways Crew teams contribute to the 3-Day.

See also: Traffic Control


What other people, places, or things can you think of for these letters? Share here or with us on Facebook.