Location: White Sands Missile Range, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Participants: Bernie, me, and 6,700 other marchers, including military, civilians, kids, seniors, retired military,wounded warriors and 12 survivors of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II.
Purpose: March 26.2 miles (the full route) or 14.2 miles (the honorary loop) to remember and honor the men and women who marched in the Philippines.
A quick and easy flight from Austin to El Paso got us to White Sands well before noon on Saturday. The architecture and feel of the base is very much like Moccasin, a company town. Totally self sufficient with stores, schools, recreation. No color though, all very bland to blend with the desert.
We waited in a long line at the Community Center to begin the registration process.
Honorary Loop (14.1 miles) folks like us received numbers and chips, but were not entered into the competition. That was for the folks doing the marathon (26.2 miles), some as individuals, some as teams and some of each as 'heavy'. Heavy means they were carrying at least 35 pounds. Many of military were carrying their packs with regular gear.
It was dark when we arrived at the base on Sunday morning. As we got parked and hiked across the base to the Opening Ceremonies and the starting line the sun began to shine on a huge American flag and the Organ Mountains.
Like all marathons, there was a special starting order for the marchers. This time, it was the Wounded Warriors out front, then elite runners, military guys with heavy loads, light marathon people and finally us honorary marchers.
The line of marches snaked along on paved roads for a mile or so until we left the developed section of the base to enter the desert.
The loud speaker playing "The Eye of the Tiger", and marching along with that group got us into a fast pace that we maintained for several miles. The weather was brisk, the air was beautiful, everyone was happy and excited.
As we marched, the groups became mingled so we ended up marching with some heavy military. More often, they were jogging past us. Often a hole would develop in front of us; we would step aside to allow folks to pass. That's Bernie in hat and CamelBack (it hold 2 liters of water with a suction tube to access).
It took 4 or 5 miles for the line of marchers to really spread out. This section of the route was mostly flat; luckily there was on rise where we got a good view of the marches stretching far out ahead.
The desert was awash with acres and acres of poppies along this section of the route. They are very like our California poppies, expect that they are only a few inches tall.
We took a break at Mile 7. Every couple miles the race organizers had water, gator aid, portapotties, etc. We took advantage of every water stop AND drank most of the 2 liters we carried in our packs.
The route up to Mile 8 was a long but gradual climb. I was getting tired and discouraged not realizing we were actually climbing. After a rest at the top I felt much better!
We exchanged a photo stop with another mother/daughter team at Mile 9.
Next up was the infamous Sand Pit. So called due to the long climb in deep, loose sand. It was feeling like a march to me by this point; having abandoned the idea of a fun hike in the desert back on the hill past Mile 7. Bernie was a great hiking partner, still full of pep and always encouraging.
A blooming cactus was a bright spot of color and a welcome break on the march up the Sand Pit.
Full marathon runners had been passing us for awhile. A couple heavy teams finishing their marathons caught up with us before the end. They. Were. Amazing.
The last two miles were rough for me. No body parts were injured or even hurting much, but I was getting really really tired. We had made only brief stops, and twice I sat down for a couple minutes. We finished in between 5 1/2 and 6 hours. Happiness is a daughter who matches her pace to mine!
Finally, Mile 14 and the end was in sight.
We crossed the finish line to cheers of spectators. Both trying not to cry as we shook hands with the Bataan survivors. It was an unbelievable honor to speak to Ben Steele whose story was told in 'Tears of Darkness".
We made our way out past the finish area wondering where in the world our car was parked. At the same moment we saw the Shuttle Bus back to the parking area and took off running to catch it! Soon we were headed over the summit of the Organ Mountains and back down to Las Cruces. It could not have been a better day!