Bataan 2019: Killing Time and Having Some Fun

Driving the 3-hours from Albuquerque to Las Cruces for the opportunity to be among the first to pick up our race packets is a chore of joy. It cements the fact that we will be participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March and begins the mental preparation of 26.2 miles through the deserts of White Sands Missile Range with thousands of other marchers. However, since the march is on Sunday and initial packet pickup is on Thursday it leaves a couple of days to kill.

We discovered last year, there is plenty to do in southern New Mexico – particularly in and around Alamogordo. There is the Space Museum, Missile Museum, White Sands National Monument, Toy Train Museum, and several other sites we visited to fill the time between packet pick-up and the march. It was a year of discovery in 2018 while this year was the year of debate – which of the activities we did last year would we do this year and what new things could we find to pass the time?

On Friday, we woke up early (but still later than a normal day) to drive out to Salado Canyon Trail just northeast of Alamogordo for an out-and-back hike to Bridal Veil Falls. If you’re in the area and want a truly “beginners” level hike, I highly recommend the 30-minute drive from Alamogordo to the trailhead and this hike. The trail was built out by the New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Association along the path of the Alamogordo Sacramento Mountain Railway so it is a fairly flat path with gentle slopes to climb or descend. The views are spectacular! There is a lot of history in this area and everyone should take a moment to contemplate the trials and tribulations of those men and women who came before us.

Coming back from our short hike, we stopped in at Plateau Espresso outside of the satellite New Mexico State University campus for a little caffeine pick-us-up and a warm sandwich. Talk about a friendly group of people and awesome atmosphere! If you’re ever in the area you should definitely stop in and grab an Americano and panini (or gelato which looked sooo good!).

Wrapping up the morning, we stopped in to visit “a couple of nuts” at McGinn’s Pistachioland where we had some pistachios and the Husband sampled some wine. The two women attending the store were lovely and very helpful in selecting wines that met the Husband’s high standards. Such a quirky place, but definitely worth dropping in to see.

Next was the 30-minute drive to White Sands National Monument. One of those places you can visit a hundred times and still have a good time the next time you stop in. Okay, let’s be honest, it’s a bunch of gypsum sand all piled up in the middle of a flat, brown desert. HOWEVER, walking barefoot on the cool sand during a hot day and enjoying the quiet company of someone you love is always a good time! Another high recommendation if you find yourself in the area!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, watching a movie, and reading. Quiet time – this is a vacation after all – is such a rare commodity in day-to-day life that we find ourselves taking advantage of our broken routine time to just sit and relax.

Saturday was a purposefully planned quiet day. In the morning we made the trek up to the International Space Museum to peruse mankind’s efforts to understand space. For me, this is also a nostalgic trip reminding me of the summer’s I spent in Space Camp in Alamogordo. I was one of dozens of kids who would invade this place during the summer and gawk at the rockets, missiles, planes, and shuttles. Imagining what it would be like to be in the now glass protected space suits and blast off into the unknown on missions of discovery and exploration. Now, the Husband and I read the plaques and take in the information about the exhibits more than dreaming of being an astronaut, but it is still a good time. This year we also took in a Planetarium show (which I highly recommend).

The rest of the day is for March preparation – making sure the Camelbaks and filled, poncho-liners are where they should be, and post-event recovery drinks/foods find themselves into the car.

How do you pass the time leading up to the Bataan Memorial Death March? Any favorite local places to visit in the days before or after the march? Share in the comments!

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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)!

Arrival at Bataan 2018…

Bataan Bibs - 2018 - EditedAt 3:00 o’clock this morning, the husband and I packed up the car with the large North Face duffel bag, my large Blackhawk Assault pack, and some miscellaneous hydration sized bags. By 3:30 we were off…well, I was off while the husband snoozed/listened to an audio book through his earbuds. After four hours of driving through a pitch black, no moon, overcast night we arrived at White Sands Missile Range for the Bataan Memorial Death March in-processing shenanigans. However, I was a little disappointed when we stood in line for ten minutes before the doors opened only to be out of the building (packets in hand and smiles on our faces) 5 minutes after we were let in. So sad.

There was positive energy among the eclectic gathering of people in line. A woman in her 50’s will be running the marathon; a pair of veterans with their wives laughed about old times in the Army; a veteran behind us met up with an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. For the most part, the husband and I stood quietly, taking it all in and enjoying the atmosphere.

Young ROTC cadets from NMSU standing by the door in slacks and button downs looked cautiously over the people, probably wondering if they would ever measure up to some of the veterans looking back at them. If I could share a morsel of wisdom with them it would be simple: don’t try to be those who came before you, push the limits and set new standards. I look forward to seeing some of these cadets on the route come Sunday.

The base is very clean (as almost all military installations are) with clean rock landscaping in lieu of grass in most places. Civilian contractors roamed in packs of 4 with wee-eaters and hoes making slight improvements to an already exceptional post. The personnel we encountered were polite and courteous, filled with a positive energy that helps up the motivation levels for Sunday.

Now, for the bad news (or at the very least, cautionary news). I registered for the heavy division (35 pound pack minus water or other consumables) with the expectation of a 4 month train-up to this event. However, I fell pray to stress at work, general laziness, and an overall lack of motivation. These are not new things and I believed I had appropriately taken them into account when planning this whole endeavor – unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

Since the beginning, I have had no intentions of competing in my age group for 1st or 2nd place (the only two positions who receive a medal per age group); I merely wanted to complete the event without crippling myself. When I factor in the lack of training/preparation, I am merely cautiously optimistic that I will 1. finish and 2. not be injured in some way. My plan is to keep a reasonable, steady pace despite 1,100 feet of elevation gain from mile 8 to 15 and deep sand sections. Fortunately, I have the husband beside me in the Light (no pack) Division to help keep pace and feed me protein bars.

Alright, I am going to wrap up this post but intend on writing more about course conditions and weather tomorrow – come back and see! I will leave you with this beautiful picture of White Sands National Park (we stopped in on our way to the hotel after in-processing).

Bataan - Not the Course - White Sands NP
White Sands National Park – Not a part of the Bataan Course

Have you completed the Bataan Memorial Death March? What training tips do you have for the uninitiated? Were you Heavy or Light Division, Military or Civilian? Share your experience in the comments!