I can't even put this experience into words eloquently, but I need at least try. Participating in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk through New York City was singlehandedly one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring things I have ever done.
Like I said before, the Overnight Walk is hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the money raised from these walks goes to programs that help educate the public about depression, suicide, and how to help. There are two walks hosted each year, each walk between 16 and 18 miles long. This year, one was hosted in New York and I didn't hesitate to register.
I had 6 months to raise over $1000 and I did it! That was a huge scary goal for me. I was petrified that I wouldn't be able to raise it and I'd have to somehow pay for it all myself, but I have an amazing tribe and was blown away but the generosity of people.
The day started early, with my puppy barking at a squirrel at 5 am. Yep, earlier than my normal day and with a drive to NYC and the overnight, I was already concerned about the lack of sleep. I was so nervous that I didn't sleep well.
My husband's aunt was extraordinarily generous and invited us to stay at her house while I was walking, which saved us a few hundred dollars on a hotel room and allowed David to be with me in NYC for a while.
The walk began at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. There were lots of tables set up and as I checked in they gave us a pin, an orange flashing armband, a wristband with an assitance phone number, and let us pick up our bead necklaces. Each color represented a type of struggle: a loss of a loved one, for a loved one who is struggling, for a personal struggle, or simply to support the cause, for example. I got in a final charge on my phone and made some new acquaintances while we waited for the kick off ceremony.
I started off the walk next to another woman and we just started talking. The usual "Where are you from? Is this your first walk? Why are you walking?" and then it started to downpour, like buckets and downpours. There was nothing a poncho or a raincoat could have done, I was soaked.
The first rest stop was around 3 miles so I pulled off my soaking wet socks and replaced them with dry ones and started off again. At just over 6 miles, I hit the next rest stop and was still feeling good. I was dry and was excited to keep going!
At mile 8 I was ready to give up. I don't know if you know, but I hate bridges. Hate, hate, hate. With all the firey burning passion I have, I hate bridges. I white knuckle my steering wheel when I have to drive over them. Mile 8 started at the Brooklyn Bridge, which meant I had to walk 1.1 miles over the bridge, a couple miles around Brooklyn and then another 1.1 miles back over.
This is when I really started to feel my feet hurting. I don't know if I was just so hyper aware of walking, and being afraid... all I know is I cried the whole way over that bridge. Panic induced tears the whole way. Multiple times I thought about just giving up, turning back around and skipping those Brooklyn miles, but I couldn't. I'm not honorable by any means, I just knew there was a reststop with bathrooms less than a mile away and if I turned around I had another 3 miles to go before a bathroom break. By then it was 11 am night and all businesses, except bars, and the public restrooms were closed so I just kept trudging.
The roads were bumpy, my feet hurt, and I felt like I was going to fall over because the pressure on my feet was just so intense. I was having a hard time looking up at the street signs and instead started watching my feet as I walked. Remember how I said they gave us orange blinking armbands? I could see one out of the corner of my eye so I followed that as I watched my feet. Bad idea. As I'm following, and not paying attention to the arrows on street signs, I see the orange blinking light walk into an apartment. I realize that I haven't seen any signs in a bit and called the assistance phone number on my wristband. I had walked over a mile off the route and had to walk the mile back, adding more than 2 miles on to my already 9 mile walk. Again, I cried, wondering how I would finish .
Getting back over the bridge was nearly impossible. I sat at the rest stop crying, knowing I had to go back. I changed my socks again but by now, I had blisters between all of my toes, on the sides of my little toe and on the pads of me feet. Each step felt like I was walking on a piece of sandpaper. I seriously thought about giving up again but kept pushing.
I found 3 other girls who hated bridges as much as I do and we walked across the bridge, again all crying, but walking. At this point, my battery was more than half dead and I stopped taking pictures so I could save it for finish line pictures. After many tears and so many complaints about our feet, we finally made it to the next rest stop close to mile 14. I told them to continue while I finally sat down at a medical tent at a rest stop. I took a couple ibuprofen, grabbed a fruit roll up, and wrapped my entire foot in so much moleskin. I really wish I had gone to a medical tent earlier but I was happy for the bit of relief this offered me. The ladies at the medical tent just kept saying "Only 2.6 more miles to go!" and it energized me just enough to keep going.
My feet had never been in more pain. The only other time I did that many miles at once was at Disney last June, but that was over 16 hours, not 6. As I was thinking about how bad my feet hurt and how much I wanted to quit, when I heard a small voice say "I can't do this anymore. I have to be done." I am so thankful that girl was there. My mom/teacher instincts kicked in and all I wanted to do was support her. I said something along the lines of "It's less than 2 more miles... 10 blocks up and 5 aves across..." Immediately, I had another group to walk with. We exchanged the "Where are you from? First walk? Why do you walk?" and suddenly I wasn't focused on my feet anymore. I was focused on the brother's first year at college to be a teacher. I was focused on the girl asking me what my favorite English books are. I was focused on telling stories of my own classroom. Those kids, and my students, helped me finish. They helped me forget about how tired I was because I was genuinely enthralled with our conversations. We counted down each block, announcing out loud to anyone around how close we were.
Walking from 11th Ave to 12th Ave and seeing the Intrepid Museum was so exciting, I literally cannot put it into words. I have never been so excited to see anything, probably ever.
At the end of the walk, after you cross the finish line, they have you walk back to where the opening ceremony took place and give you a finishing tshirt, some food, and places to sit and relax. The walkway to this area was lined with these luminaries that each participant decorated, reminding us that there is always light shining. Walking over the finish line was one of the most gratifying feelings. Knowing I had completed it, knowing that I had raised almost $1300, knowing that I gave someone hope. I can't put that into words.
There were a couple of volunteers at the finish line and I received a very tired sounding "yey" as I did so. I took 6.5 hours to walk it and I knew many others would take longer, some even being picked up by the sweep van, gathering those who couldn't finish in the allotted time. I started thinking about how sad and disappointed I would have felt to not finish. I thought about how much it would suck to still be walking, so I went back to the finish line and sat down. I took off my shoes, stretched and sat there cheering for every single person who walked by. Have you ever heard me cheer? I'm loud and obnoxious. Whoooooo!!! and "You did it!" echoed across the place. I joked with people stopping to take a selfie saying "You're so close, keep going!" and just hoping to get them to smile. As I continued cheering, the volunteers got louder, and then more people joined. I became an unofficial finish line photographer for people. I loudly cheered for crew and safety as they passed under the finish line banner. My slogan became "Everyone deserves a Woooo!" and I stayed there for more than 2 hours, until 4:45 when the last walkers came across and they started the closing ceremony. I didn't want anyone to miss out on feeling accomplished, regardless of how they got to the finish line.
After the ceremony, I booked it to Grand Central to hop on my train and get back to my husband. My feet hurt, I was exhausted, and I felt so good. Next year the walks will be in California and DC, and I'm already planning how to pull off the DC one. I think I might want to volunteer and cheer all night long...