Bataan 2019: Packet Pickup and Butterflies

Cheesy selfie outside the hotel

This is the second year the Husband and I will be participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. We enjoyed the dehydration, exhaustion, frustration, and camaraderie so much we have come back to complete the full 26.2 mile route. Fortunately, we wised up a bit from last year and are both marching in the Civilian Light division (I tried Civilian Heavy with a 35 pound pack last year and failed).

Last year, we drove into White Sands Missile Range at about 7 in the morning for an 8 o’clock packet pickup. Accessing the base was easy enough, navigating the perfectly perpendicular Army designed roads was simple, and parking wasn’t difficult to find. The building in which the packets were being housed was too small for the less than 100 people who could be called “early-birds” let alone the 10,000+ participants who picked up their packets in the days that followed. The Husband and I went with the “in and out” strategy – no lollygagging, over engaging the volunteers, or trying to pick up on the atmosphere. It was a rush job for us since neither of us are friendly with large crowds.

Bataan Memorial Death March 2019 – Packet Pickup

This year, the organizers upgraded, big time! Packet pickup is at the Las Cruces Convention Center just off the New Mexico State University campus. Big enough to accommodate all the marchers at about the same time, it easily allows a participant to be relaxed, engaging, and in the moment. As is our custom, we arrived early enough to watch the different vendors/sponsors setting up their promotional booths. A short walk down the street to Starbucks for much needed caffeine killed the extra time and got us in line with about 15 minutes to spare before processing began. Other than some confusion as to which steel railing lined lane (or line, not sure what they classified as) participants should queue in (last year, if I’m not mistaken, the volunteers processing participants were based on the first letter of the participant’s last name), the process was very smooth.

We processed through within 15-minutes of the volunteers starting their work at 2:00 PM. Ten minutes after caching our packets in the provided light bag, we finished our souvenir/collectable shopping and were in the car heading to Alamogordo, New Mexico to check into our hotel. Last year we found we liked the small town atmosphere (and hotel accommodations) of Alamogordo much more than the slightly busier (and much larger) town of Las Cruces. Let’s see if this year goes as well as last year!

Unfortunately, much like last year, the Husband and I fell flat on any training plan. I’d like to say something along the lines of “everyday life has just been a bit hectic and blah, blah, blah, excuses…” but the truth is we just didn’t commit to the task at hand.

Now, we are doing the full marathon route this year. We will not be first, but we are unlikely to be last. We are not racing. It may take 16-hours to complete, but we will finish and we will be back next year. I am nervous about the distance, the heat, and my body’s difficulty with hydration, but if the Husband won’t quit on a bum-knee then I don’t have much of an excuse.

Are you at the Bataan Memorial Death March this year? What was your experience picking up your race packets? Do you prefer Alamogordo or Las Cruces or camping out on White Sands Missile Range?

Vacation: To stay or to go, that is the question…

Meteor Crater Selfie
The standard couple selfie at Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff, AZ.

The Husband and I recently took some time off from work and called it a vacation. We had some friends from back East staying with us so we mainly stayed in the Albuquerque area to show them the sites. The exception was a day-trip to Meteor Crater and Flagstaff in Arizona (no Grand Canyon despite being so close to it). It was a fun week that broke the mold of the day-to-day grind of everyday life and we had a blast!

Leading up to our time off, I had coworkers, friends, family, and clients asking, “Where are you going? Where are you staying? What tourist trap are you going to check off your list?” To me, these questions made sense, but were a bit disconcerting. The logical assumption when someone says “I am going on vacation” is that they are actually going somewhere. However, times have changed and so has the meaning of the word “vacation”.

It used to be that American families would pack up once or twice a year for a two week road trip to a national park, amusement park, or other attraction somewhere within the United States. Wholesome family photos documented these treks across the open road; they showed enthusiastic children, disgruntled teenagers, tired parents, and natural backdrops. The Golden Age of family trips.

Flash forward a few decades and air travel has become affordable to the average family. Now it’s airports and destinations further away from the homestead. New Yorkers are in Los Angeles and Seattlites are wandering through Orlando. Vacations become shorter, dwindling to a few days to a single week. The Kodak moments are collected, everyone flies home on a TWA jet, and life settles back into its natural rhythm fairly quickly.

This brings us to today. We live in a world where we live vicariously through other people via online communities. From the comfort of our own couch we can peruse our friend’s pictures of Cancun, gaze up at the Eiffel Tower, jump out of a plane and

Steep Tea Shop - Flagstaff, AZ
Steep Tea Shop – Flagstaff, AZ

experience free fall using our Oculus headsets, and enjoy the nightlife of New York City. It’s all at our fingertips. We can jump on a plane Friday afternoon, experience a new city for 48-hours, and be back at work Monday morning without missing a beat. For many millennials, the concept of taking two weeks off of work is sacrilege (especially within the tech community). Sure, we could go other places for few days, but what are we really looking for in a vacation?

For me, the answer is simple: Break the cycle of my daily grind. It’s pretty simple, by not going to work on a Tuesday and spending my day working on personal projects around the house I have successfully reset myself. Taking a four-day weekend to do some long hikes or day-trip to an attraction within 400 miles of the house sets me up for continued success in my daily life. I, along with many others, don’t need to do a brochure-esque trip to Disneyland to unwind and experience life.

By taking time for yourself you have a better chance of managing your mental health and your physical health for that matter. You’ll be more productive when you get back to work and likely enjoy the attention of people interrogating you on all the little things you did while away. Sometimes a vacation doesn’t have to mean “going somewhere”, it can just mean “not doing what I usually do on a Tuesday”.

What’s your favorite way to break your daily grind? Share in the comments and don’t forget to like and share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter!

Hiking the Rio Grande

Start of the Hike
The trail near Tingley Beach where The Dog and I started our hike.

I woke up this morning looking forward to the block of time scheduled on my calendar from 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM. I know, who the heck looks forward to anything at seven in the morning on a Saturday? Most people are still asleep or just waking up to their first cup of coffee around that time on a Saturday morning. I, on the other hand, had made sure I had dedicated time to pack up the dog and a small backpack early enough to beat the crowds on the trails skirting the east side of the Rio Grande.

These excursions into the Bosque are my escape from the riggers of day-to-day life. Limited technology, only the faintest sound of traffic in the distance, and quiet head space to explore those thoughts normally suppressed by the rush of daily existence. It is a peaceful place to find yourself in on a Saturday morning. I don’t take this time nearly enough.

The Dog was less than impressed with the early start to the day. She doesn’t get out enough to understand events like this should be a regular aspect of her life. However, she sat quietly as I put her vest, collar, and nose-guide on in preparation for our excursion. Obediently, she hopped in the front passenger seat of the car and began to shake. It was chilly this morning, but her shaking was simply from being put in the car (an experience she still isn’t fond of).

We drove the one mile distance in just a few minutes. Passing downtown’s multi-story buildings, the outskirts of the zoo, and the older parts of the Barelas Neighborhood. It was quiet and almost no traffic. The perfect start to the day.

We unloaded at Tingley Beach and headed off into the wild. It sounds childish, but despite the number of times I have hiked these trails, I still feel like an explorer far from civilization discovering new places in the world. It’s a freeing feeling to think that so few people (statistically speaking) have walked the same trails I have walked. The Dog led the way with enthusiasm as she smelled the scents of a hundred dogs who came before her, trying to cover all of them as quickly as possible – suffice to say, she failed.

 

With a brisk breeze and a rising sun, we headed north along the well-worn trails between the Rio Grande and The Paseo Del Bosque Trail. The cottonwood trees swayed back and forth, the river flowed just beyond the trees, and we hiked our way through a corridor used throughout history. It was very calming, almost meditative, as we passed the river viewing area just south of Central Avenue.

The quiet and centering feeling continued through our turnaround point at Interstate 40. It was only after we took a break, about a quarter of a mile south of the Interstate, on our way back to where we parked the car that we started to see more foot traffic. For the most part, the other trail users were polite and courteous – making sure their dogs were properly handled, moving to the side to allow us both to pass each other, and taking care to not overly disturb the surrounding vegetation off trail. However, it is important to note that many of the dog owners do not keep their dogs on leashes unless they see someone else on the trail. This can cause a canine confrontation calamity if you’re not paying attention.

Throughout the return trip, The Dog and I got to listen to the river, a wily woodpecker trying to force its way through a Cottonwood, and (presumably) the mating calls of geese and ducks. It was all very grounding for me personally and helps me appreciate the world we live in just a little bit more than I do on a daily basis. This is an experience people of all ages can enjoy.

All in all, The Dog and I walked a little over 5 miles at a leisurely pace in about 2 hours. I highly recommend that everyone takes some time to disconnect from the modern world and return to the nearly raw nature of a hiking area – even if the trails are improved and you’re not breaking brush to get where you’re going. I know I will be making sure to regularly block out time on my calendar (and in my head) to hike the trails in and around Albuquerque.

Where do you like to hike? What benefits do you get out of a quiet walk through nature? Do you take your dog(s) with you or prefer the company of bipeds? Tell us all about it in the comment section – don’t forget to like, follow, and share this post on your favorite social media site!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 2

Pre-Opening Ceremony - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
Final prep before the opening ceremony – Photo courtesy of Bud Cordova (The Husband)

I wanted to write a post right after finishing the march, but found myself a bit on the tired side and opted for sleep instead. This is part two of a multi-part (number to be determined) postmortem of the Bataan Memorial Death march 2018. Don’t forget to get caught up on how we did by reading Part 1

Regrettably, the husband and I were unable to complete the full 26.2 mile march. At mile marker 8 (Checkpoint 3/9), we each performed a medical self-assessment which resulted in the very difficult decision to merely complete the 14.2 mile Honorary Route. The husband twisted his already tender knee coming up the 2-mile sand pit that started at mile marker 6 and was fairly certain the much steeper (and sandier) march up the hill between mile markers 12 and 15 would result in serious injury. Meanwhile, my own review resulted with mild dehydration setting in and light bruising on my feet. Since it was only 10 AM and I was already showing signs of dehydration (despite regular water intake interspersed with electrolyte-rich drinks) it was unlikely I was going to make it around the hill and to the finish line without suffering from heat stroke. Together, we concluded our lack of preparation in similar conditions as the route and our general unwillingness to severely or permanently injure ourselves meant we wouldn’t finish the full route.

But not all was lost!

Each of us came out of this experience with some hefty lessons learned that we plan on applying to next year’s event. Hopefully, some of these lessons will help any of you readers planning on participating properly prepare for this arduous event.

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. PREPARATION IS KEY – If you are a serious competitor and are not simply doing this march for the fun of it all, this lesson goes without saying. For those of you simply completing the march to check it off your bucket list, pay homage to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country, or because you have nothing better to do in mid to late March, pay attention! The organizers have provided a fairly detailed 20-week training plan (especially important for those entering a Heavy Division) which looks very promising and will be used next year to properly prepare for this event.
  2. TRAIN IN COMPARABLE ENVIRONMENTS – We don’t all live in a desert environment (I mean, I do, but not all of you) and don’t have regular access to 6 inch deep coarse sand with tiny pieces of gravel throughout it. Not everyone is in an environment of high-70’s to low-80’s dry heat with direct sun exposure for miles on end. Some of you don’t have 5-20 mph wind gusts at the ready to pelt you with small rocks and cloud your vision with dust. However, if you want to make it through this march, it would behoove you to find these conditions, ruck up, and start walking. The husband and I have already found several areas around Albuquerque that match this description and we will be burning holes in our boots over the next year so we can finish the full route.
  3. DON’T COUNT ON YOUR OWN PACE – 8,400+ people walked, marched, or ran the course this year. Each category (Military Heavy, Military Light, Civilian Light, Runner, etc.) was released onto the course one right after the other. The civilian categories were let loose last. The husband and I had 8,000 people ahead of us, all going at a different pace with different goals and motivations. The first two miles weren’t bad because we were on a four-lane road with plenty of room from side to side. However, Starting mile 3 you find yourself in sand (get used to that word) on a barely improved (more like used) dirt road that is only 10 feet wide at its widest. Many of the people are not paying attention to their surroundings so slower walkers/marchers in the center of the path can force you to slow down until there are a few inches on the side to pass them. Getting stuck behind a larger gaggle of people may force you to slow to an uncomfortably slow pace until you break through. This can cause pain! be ready for the varying pace and inattention of your fellow marchers.
  4. THE (CIVILIAN) START TIME IS NOT 7:00 AM – Based on all of the published schedules, it looked like the start time was going to be 7:00 AM with the Runners starting it off followed by Military Heavy and all the other categories. However, the Civilian Heavy category did not get released from its respective corral until 8:10 AM (leaving one hour less than planned for to complete the course). What does this mean? Well, if you followed the instructions and were in the corrals by 6:00 AM then it means you have been standing, sitting, or laying in chilly conditions for at least 2 hours before you take your first step towards the start line. This leads to tense muscles, potentially sore feet, and a bit of frustration. Now, I get it, all 8,000 marchers can’t be released at the same moment due to traffic build up on the route and by doing staged releases you allow the field to spread out more. Unfortunately, this timing was never communicated which led to a lot of uncertainty the day of the march which isn’t the best way to start 14.2 or 26.2 miles.
  5. IT’S UNUSUALLY COLD WHILE YOU WAIT TO START – This one hurt the husband more than me (I like to think of myself as more of a polar bear than a lizard), but it was still more uncomfortable than I expected. This lesson ties back to Lesson #4, but more specifically points to wearing a sweater, jacket, or bringing a blanket to stave off the chill of the desert morning. The husband was shivering and leaning against me for hours in an attempt to stay warm (not comfortable, just not freezing) which did not help his mood at the start of the march. This is something the organizers communicate to the participants and should be listened to in all seriousness.

I hope that some of this information helps fill in the knowledge gaps for anyone who hasn’t participated in this event in the past. I know we will be remembering these facts as we prepare for the Bataan Memorial Death March 2019. Check out Part 1 to learn more about the course and event execution!

Have you participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March and have a lesson learned not included above? Share with everyone in the comments below!

The Day Before Bataan 2018

In preparation for tomorrow’s 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March, the husband and I are in serious preparation mode. We like to call it: relaxing. We are as prepared as we are going to be, our plans are finalized, and any changes now will be pointless if not damaging towards our successful completion of the Bataan Memorial Death March. Thus, we decided that today would be the day to relax, hydrate, and get some sleep.

We dropped by White Sands Missile Range so I could double check my pack’s weight which turned out to be a good idea since I was half a pound under the 35 pound minimum for the Heavy Division. Turns out I had some power/endurance gels in two small pockets on the outside of the pack which put me over the minimum weight requirement yesterday but would have disqualified me tomorrow since they could have been picked up somewhere on the course. A quick trip to the on-post commissary and a pound of rice later, my pack was back above the 35 pound mark. Unfortunately, that means with water and power gels, I will be at 40 pounds of marching weight.

Checking on the weather we will be walking in high 70’s to low 80’s heat with little cloud cover after 10:00 AM. It doesn’t sound hot and most people will assume this is actually a comfortable temperature; unfortunately, for me, this is already in the higher end of the heat spectrum. I have suffered from heat stroke and heat exhaustion several times over the past decade and a half which makes me more susceptible to falling prey to it again. With the wind blowing 15-20 MPH throughout the day, the human body’s natural evaporative cooler will be put to the test as my sweat dries too quickly to effectively cool.

With the weight of my pack and non-confidence inducing weather report, the best plan of action for the day was relaxation, hydration, and purposefully calming myself ahead of the walk tomorrow. The husband agreed with me very quickly. So, what does a person do at White Sands Missile Range and/or Alamogordo to pass the time on a Saturday? To be honest, there isn’t much to be done.

WSMR Museum
WSMR Museum Outdoor Displays

On post, a number of events and activities were taking place (meals, some entertainment, seminars, etc.), but none of them were overly appealing to either one of us. The most interesting thing to me was a historical presentation being put on by the NMSU ROTC at the base theater. However, we didn’t feel the desire to “hang around” post until this took place so we headed over to the White Sands Missile Range Museum to gawk at the impressive devices of testing and destruction. If you nerd out over military history, rocketry, and everything that goes into developing implements of destruction, you should find time to stop in at this museum. I’m the first to admit that it is probably a very boring experience for a majority of people, but the full-size inert munitions they have on the grounds should impress just about anyone.

NMMSH - Outdoor Displays
New Mexico Museum of Space History – Outdoor Displays

After an hour of touring the museum and its paraphernalia, we headed into Alamogordo to check out the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Again, this is a place to nerd out over rocketry (seeing a theme for the area yet?) and the amount of knowledge, work, and discovery that has gone into putting man in space. I visited this museum a handful of times as a kid (during two summers of Space Camp, yeah, I was that nerd) so this was just as much a walk down memory lane as it was a new experience. The husband enjoyed it about as much as possible when you’re looking at slightly dated (but still cool!) displays and large chunks of old-school technology. I still highly recommend it to anyone passing through the area. There is also a small, but fully equipped planetarium down the hill from the museum which is worth watching.

To wrap up the out-of-hotel relaxation tour, we stopped in at the Toy Train Depot to learn a little about the history of the railroad in this part of New Mexico and see some pretty extravagant toy train setups. There is a lot to see in this small building, the attendant was very friendly and chatty, and the running model train was very impressive. Also, you can take a small train ride around the park attached to the building.

Toy Train Depot - Alamogordo NM
Train Car outside of the Toy Train Depot in Alamogordo NM

Now, I fully understand that we are likely missing out on some sense of camaraderie associated with participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March by touring Alamogordo instead of hanging out at White Sands Missile Range. However, this is our first year doing the event and our first vacation in quite some time so the time together is as important as the event itself. Next year, I hope my best friend will be able to join me (or us) for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March. Maybe then we will take part in more of the community and bonding events.

What do you do the day before a big endurance event? Share your experiences in the comments and look for my post march post tomorrow (or the day after)!