Bataan 2019: There Were Tears

I have purposefully waited to write this “results” post for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March. It has taken the past 36-hours to process the event and what ultimately happened. The mental, physical, and emotional roller coaster of the past 48-hours has been difficult to process. A rundown of my experience during the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March follows.

The pre-dawn ceremony led by a state politician, the garrison commander of White Sands Missile Range, and involving three of the remaining survivors of the original Bataan Death March started promptly at 6:30 AM. Of course, those participating in the march had been shivering in the freezing cold (literally, it was 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below up until the starting cannon went off) for several hours. However, spirits were light as the motivational speeches were capped off by a parachute demonstration from the Special Operations Force’s parachute demonstration team The Black Daggers. About the time the jumpers landed, the Husband and I kicked off our walk to the sound of a cannon firing a large blank into nothingness.

We were happy to start walking. The morning chill slowly gave way as the sign crested the horizon. I couldn’t help thinking about the beauty of it all. Over 8,600 people of all ages, races, sexuality, military status, and motivations starting a grueling course as the day officially began. We were all out there for something and, hopefully, it was enough to carry us through to the end.

For the first two miles, we were on hardball (concrete road) and bunched together with everyone else. Those with the idea to compete for real times were bouncing around from one gap between marchers to the next. Young and old alike jostled each other for more room to stretch their legs. Oddly enough, this entire dance was very polite, filled with “excuse me” and “on your left/right” and people happily stepping to the side to allow these jack rabbits to move forward.

The first checkpoint was at Mile Marker 2 with water, gatorade, oranges, bananas, and, most importantly for those too shy to go in the desert-line, porta-potties. From this point until the Mile Marker 8 we marched along a hard-packed (ish) sand trail. Fortunately, the organizers doubled the width of this trail since last year making it less claustrophobic and easier for the speedy marchers to maintain their pace while slower marchers could stay out of the way with less crowding. They also wetted the sand (or maybe that was just the weather) and compressed it so there was less knee/ankle twisting than last year. The Husband and I maintained an easy 19-minute per mile pace throughout these first 8 miles without any issues.

Mile Marker 8 was a giant checkpoint with medical facilities and the standard hydration tools found at most other checkpoints. It also acted as the split for marchers: keep walking to the left and you’re on the Honorary Route (14.2 miles) while going to the right sends you out to what I call the Lollypop portion of the route (the 12 extra miles that’ll put you at 26.2 miles at the finish line). We took an extended break here to evaluate our status, eat some food, drink some water, and decide our route.

I felt good at this point. There wasn’t the tell-tale pain of potential injury, just the standard fatigue associated with long walks through the desert. My hopes were high that we would finish the full 26.2 mile course. With just under one-third of the march completed, the day was still bright and full of optimism. We agreed that we were both in good shape and headed out to the Lollypop.

Once we went under Highway 82, a steady incline presented itself for the next 4.5 miles. Fortunately, this incline was on hardball until the Mile Marker 10 (ish) so no slipping or sliding on rocks or sand. We maintained our pace of 19-minutes per mile throughout this portion of the course. Our legs and joints started to protest near Mile Marker 10, but nothing appeared to be serious at that point.

After exiting the hardball and making it through the strategically place fundraiser setup by New Mexico State University we continued on towards the halfway point on a semi-firmly packed sand road. It was about this point I realized something was wrong. Around Mile Marker 11 (a mile into the sand road), my left hip flexor began to hurt whenever I place weight on it. The pain was more of an annoyance than a hinderance and I chalked it up to standard long-distance marching pains. I let the Husband know what was going on but specified, “this isn’t a stop and quit thing, but I want you to know…”. He asked some follow-up questions (it’s that medic inside of him) and requested I let him know if it got worse.

At Mile Marker 13 (halfway’ish point) we took an extended break to hydrate and eat. The pain in my hip flexor had become more steady and worrisome. I had yet to start walking with a noticeable limp, but I was trying to figure out if it was simply the way in which I was stepping or if the pain was universal regardless of my footfall. No solution to the pain had presented itself. I began to dwell on the problem which, I’m sure, didn’t help all that much. The optimism from earlier was quickly eroding into true concern and fear.

We continued on, maintaining that 19-minute per mile pace as we pushed through the halfway checkpoint and trudged our way around a small mountain back to the hardball. Each step became more painful and less manageable. I found going uphill was easier than downhill and the softer sandy areas of the road hurt less than the hard packed areas. No adjustments to my footfall seemed to help consistently ease the pain. By Mile Marker 15 I knew I was in real trouble. Of course, I let the Husband know what was going on and his crinkled brow told me he was going to be keeping a very close eye on me.

At Mile Marker 18, we found ourselves back on the hardball we had walked up on our start around the mountain. It was here that I had to do a gut-check and decide whether I could make it through the full course. I had a noticeable limp and was in a pretty constant state of pain, not just when I put weight on my left leg. My hip flexor was throbbing and a grimace had plastered itself across my face. I was in real trouble.

We stopped for a bit just past the checkpoint to hydrate and rest. I tried stretching my hip flexor. With my left leg straight, I tried leaning to my left and found myself nearly collapsing due to the pain this movement caused. Interestingly, squatting wasn’t a problem nor was doing the same action on my right leg. I was now scared. We were two-thirds of the way through the course, we were well past the point of being on our way home. It was was only 8 more miles. There was no way I wouldn’t be able to finish the course. It was just two and a half hours of walking left. Surely I could handle that, right? After about 15 minutes, we got up and resumed the march.

Within 100 meters of starting again, I had to stop. A couple of seconds of relieving the pressure on my left leg allowed me to go another 100 meters. This pattern continued for the next half mile. After the sixth or seventh painful pause, it dawned on me like a ton of bricks smacking me upside the head: I wasn’t going to be able finish.

I barely processed this realization before telling the Husband I was done. He asked if I was sure and I confirmed my statement. I couldn’t make it. Internally, I realized I had failed. I tried choking back the tears that forced their way up to the surface. I was only partially successful.

In my life, I have rarely outright failed at anything I have pursued. In the Army I failed Air Assault school due to an unforeseen fear of heights when attached to objects grounded in the earth (read: I don’t like really tall ladders or the edge of buildings). As a contractor, I failed to be promoted to a supervisory position (twice). As a civilian, I have failed to complete a 4-year college degree, because I have never completely bought into the reason for obtaining such a degree.

On Sunday, March 17, 2019 I voluntarily withdrew myself from the Bataan Memorial Death March due to being too weak to complete the course.

A big shout out to the White Sands Police, Border Patrol, and volunteers for getting me safely off the course. Their professionalism and understanding of the situation is without comparison.

Until Monday afternoon, I wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole curled up in a little ball ignoring the world. I guess you could describe it as sulking. Processing this entire experience and all the things that went right and wrong has been just shy of overwhelming. I know I will be back next year to finish this damned course.

What was your experience at the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March? Any pointers for training up? Did you finish? If not, what went wrong? Drop into the comments and share!

Advertisements

I have achieved middle age

Hanging out before my flight.
Pre-security hangout.

Today is my 35th birthday. I am writing this post in the Albuquerque International Airport (Sunport for locals) waiting to board a plane to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport with a final destination of Missoula International Airport (that’s in Montana for those who had to look it up on a map like I did). This is a work trip, not a self-funded birthday vacation.

Having been through 34 birthdays before (none of which garnered much attention or celebration), I’m not sad or displeased with traveling for work on the 35th iteration of this event. However, it is a sobering sensation to know I am halfway through my life. This is not a macabre realization, it’s just a simple fact given my current bad health habits and stressful lifestyle.

In my teens and twenties, I never thought I would make it to 23 let alone still be alive and kicking 12 years after that lifespan estimate. Most people attribute my low expectations of an extended life with the army, but I have always harbored a sense of not living to old age.

As a teenager I was fully aware of my reckless, adrenaline seeking lifestyle and knew the potential consequences of those actions. Between fighting, fast driving, and generally bad decisions about my physical wellbeing I was astonished to see my 18th birthday.

Once I joined the army at 18, it was natural to think I wouldn’t make it out alive. With two active wars in progress, my young-man-pride in joining the infantry, and my willingness to ignore obvious signs of danger all contributed to a fatalist view of life. I am sure some would say I actively pursued an ultimate end while deployed to Iraq on several occasions, but I always felt it was in line with the job description.

In my mid-20s I started in government security contracting which, low and behold, could be a very dangerous job. I sought it out to fill the void the army left after my premature expulsion from the organization under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). I needed something to make up for what appeared to be a dull day-to-day grind as a civilian. I never made it on to one of those truly high-risk contracts which may have been a better outcome for me in the long run.

The past 6-years have been filled with the stressful life of the startup world. Whether it’s traveling with little notice, or devising a means of accomplishing an initiative without money or personnel, or simply working the forever long days, stress builds up in short order. However, there is an adrenaline/endorphin kick to this kind of work and the risk of failure appeals to my still rebellious inner teenager.

My hair is speckled with grey; the lines under my eyes are getting deeper; I can’t run as fast; I can’t pull all-nighters without consequences anymore; I find myself more contemplative than ever before. It’s not all bad, having reached middle age I am astonished by the experiences I have had in my life. I see the future as a true prospect now and am living in the present while allowing myself to secure a better future for myself and my husband.

Getting older isn’t all bad – I laugh more, I know how to smile now, and I have learned a lot along the way. We are all marching towards the same grim end, but we should all take a moment to acknowledge that our lives are unique, each experience is our own. Go out and take a risk, it’s usually worth it!

Time to board the plane 🙂

Reflections on the past and a better tomorrow…

A classic time traveling sci-fi premise has been the ability to go back in time and change something that you did or happened to you in the past. Think the Butterfly Effect without Ashton Kucher.

Here’s the rub: you don’t get to change it back and you don’t get to try again.

Now, a lot of people will say, “I love my life, I wouldn’t change a thing.” That may be true, at least, until I point to the death of someone you were close to, that decision to go down this path instead of that one, or any of the flaws in your perfect life. I think the same people who say they would change nothing actually want to change everything (or close to everything).

Listen, I am happy with the person I have become, the people in my life, and the life I have lived thus far. I have done more in my first 34 years of life than most people will do in their entire lives. I have seen pure joy and innocence while internalizing the experiences of the worst parts of human nature. I have loved, laughed, hated, fought, and worked to become who I am today and I am immensely proud to have survived this long. 

However, it can be a good thought exercise to contemplate what could have been. It may motivate you to be a better person than you are today or to pursue that thing you passed on a decade ago or to make changes for the better (though, statistically, I guess it has an equal possibility of turning out to be a bad thing).

How many of you reading this would change something, big or small doesn’t matter, one decision, one action, one event changed?

Aeros - Post Hodges Blast (3)
A lonely road littered with bombs (think life metaphor)

I won’t lie to any of you, I would make a change or two. The changes wouldn’t be for fame or fortune, a “better” life, or any obvious material gain. I’m not a Buddhist or some wannabe saint with no materialistic motivations, but I have already learned that money, property, and physical possessions come and go, who we are stays with us until we die. My modifications would involve slight improvements to me as a person. One less mean comment here, an extra hug for my father, or a more open mind at a younger age to things I hadn’t yet experienced. Small tweaks that could have a positive ripple effect across multiple lives.

Obviously, none of us can change the past and dwelling on the good or bad of yesterday will usually keep us from being better in the now and future. One of the reasons I have studied history throughout my life is because it was said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). I know I make a conscious effort not to repeat my mistakes (I don’t always succeed), but I also want to do more than I did yesterday. It sounds cliche, but I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.

Since I can’t change yesterday (or a night 16 years ago that I impulsively moved out of my parent’s house without a plan), I choose to remember the past for what it was and move on into the grey unknown of the future.

 

Do you find yourself thinking about the past more than you would like? Do you think you can make up for mistakes of the past with actions in the present? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Don’t forget to like and share AverageLuke on your favorite social media platform. Thanks for reading my ramblings!

It’s been a while..

I am living the stereotype of a blogger right now. Sitting in a quiet, local coffee shop with my computer taking up half the table while sipping on sun brewed iced tea is the picture of a millennial blogger in my mind. Glancing about to see well-oiled beards and mustaches, couples whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, and groups of seniors enjoying a midday coffee and water. Is this the college experience I missed out on? or simply the feeling of freedom my daily grind doesn’t typically afford me? Who knows, but I should make a point to be the stereotype more often because this is the quietest and calmest I have felt in quite some time.

So, what’s been going on? Why the long delay between posts? I could make up some excuse (it’s not like any of you could fact check me) about how life is overwhelming and work is crazy and the kid broke his leg (to be clear, I don’t have any kids), but, instead, let’s try a little honesty in this online world of fake news. Are you ready? Here it is:

I’ve been too lazy, distracted, and/or not focused enough to put together a coherent blog the past couple of weeks.

There it is. Simple and straightforward. No fluff or extended reasoning behind it, just simple truth.

However (you knew something was coming), I have noticed an uptick in productivity while at work throughout the week which isn’t related to not pushing out a blog post, but is interesting. I work at a tech startup in sunny (and hot) Albuquerque New Mexico. The short description of the primary product is: a patient engagement platform that utilizes secure messaging, surveillance, and automation to get patients prepared for or recovered from an acute medical event (think surgery). My role is effectively relationship/project manager which means I work directly with hospital staff to implement our product within their team and improve their human processes to accommodate/embrace our product. On a daily basis, I am good at my job, but there are days when I do not have the motivation or focus to push through a list of tasks. This has not been the case recently.

I have done two big things in the past couple of weeks that could be positively impacting my work productivity. The first is remaining hydrated. I am not a fan of water. It is plain and boring. Other than when I am obviously dehydrated, water just isn’t my drink of choice. I prefer sugary, sweet sodas, coffees, and teas over water. But, drinking upwards of 100 ounces of water a day (just under a gallon) led to a couple of positive effects:

  1. I found myself in the restroom a lot more frequently – obviously.
  2. I haven’t been suffering from the mid-afternoon lull that usually knocks me down.
  3. It’s been easier to wake up in the morning (as early as 5:00 AM).
  4. I feel better overall

I highly recommend that everyone try drinking more water and less soda, coffee, and tea to see how it positively impacts your life.

The other thing I have been doing is scheduling all of my time. Now, this can cause some people stress and be a negative thing to do. I have found it pushes me to fill my time with productive activities instead of making it up as I go. Going into a day without a plan leads me to binge watch television, sleep, or generally lounge about for longer periods of time than I should. My productivity is linked to what I know I need to do within a single day; anything above and beyond what I need to do is simply icing on the cake.

Time block your day on your Google Calendar or iCal and see what happens.

Now that I have broken my 2-week drought for blog posts, I am going to sip my iced tea, chat with The Husband, and enjoy my Sunday afternoon – I hope all of you do the same!

What leads you not to accomplish your goals? How do you increase your productivity? What methods have you found to stay motivated? Let us all know by leaving a comment! Also, don’t forget to follow this blog!

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!