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Part 2 of Seed to Cider, River to Sea (read Part 1 HERE).
The second day of the Movement Matters Retreat was a 20 mile walk that started in Sequim Bay State Park, crossed several streams and the Dungeness River, and ended up in Port Angeles at Morse Creek, a frigid cold salmon stream. We woke early and drove to the start point, met with organizers who sent us to the bridge where the walk would begin, but it turned out that people had just started walking and there was no “big group start.”
As I mentioned in the first part, I had some reservations about the mileage and if I would make it, or at what cost I would complete it. I hadn’t been able to do a 20 mile walk to prepare, and Katy told us the day before that a 20 mile walk was not the same thing as four 5 mile walks. I had a sinking heart when she said that, as I’d only done that length of walk regularly (twice I was able to do a 9 mile walk).
The only way I can think to describe it is to compare it to giving birth for the first time. You know you’re going to do something hard, but you don’t know how long it will take, how much it will hurt, and what shape you’ll be in afterward! There was a halfway point withdrawal option (of course you could stop anywhere on the trail and be found and escorted back to your vehicle if need be).
One question everyone asks about long distance walks is “what shoes did you wear?” So I’ll start with that. I had a pair of 2+ year old Lems that were close to wearing a hole through both heels. I took them as my most used/comfortable shoes, and ordered a new pair to be delivered to the airbnb I was staying at in Chimicum. I figured if they came, I’d wear them (they don’t require breaking in and they are tested) and if they didn’t I’d wear my old pair and throw them out after. I did not bring a backup pair! Most people had elected to bring 2 pairs of shoes and changed at least once or changed back and forth. Some people did part of the walk barefoot, but I think mainly because their shoes were problematic and they didn’t have a backup pair. I had brought moleskin, athletic tape, various toe protectors in a first aid kit, but didn’t need any of it.
To my delight my news shoes were waiting for me at the airbnb and I wore them on the walk. We began at 7:10am in a beautiful sunrise, walking quietly so as not to wake the campers in the park.
The first 5 miles flew by, maybe because that’s a distance I’m accustomed to. We met up in front of the Sequim city hall where support staff (big hugs!) had urns of coffee and chai waiting. Holy moly, I’ll walk 20 miles for a cup of coffee! So that was a welcome sight. Off we went from there and for this part of the walk I was alongside Katy Bowman. Suddenly we passed a local garage sale, and Katy spotted a houseplant on the “Free” table. She picked it up and cradled the pot in her arm for the entire remainder of the walk! That’s about 14 miles yo.
The day was bright, and warm and perfect. At the 10 mile mark, along a very pretty part of the trail there was a sandwich board announcing the lavender farm where we had lunch on the lawn. There was a gap in the trees and suddenly we were in a huge lavender field!
Lunch was a big mason jar full of salad, sausage, sauerkraut, a delightful way to eat on the trail. This was the half way point, and we could pull out here and get a ride back to the start. Feeling fine, so after a bite and a rest, on we go.
One of the best parts of the walk I found was encountering a new group, either because you took a break to forage blackberries or caught up to them by walking faster. You spent as much time as you wanted chatting with each other, until some difference in your gait or need for berries (or a bathroom break) split you apart. Sometimes you encountered the same people over and over, and sometimes I saw particular people only once during the trip. This really helped to pass the time. I find when I walk at home, I walk alone (usually as part of a chore) and I keenly missed having companions when I returned home to Toronto! It was eye-opening how much I loved it and looked forward to greeting new people and passing some time with them.
Mile 15 was another support group meeting point, with more water, coffee, tea and gluten free cookies! For some reason at this check point I had a strange reaction – I didn’t want to spend the time for self care. I didn’t even want to sit down. I didn’t want to stretch or take my shoes off, I was in a hurry to get going again. I think this was actually fatigue, it takes time and effort to make an effort! It seemed easier to keep going. I did take some coffee and cookies, and sat for a brief second, and then I was itching to continue. I was fine, but in hindsight I should have relaxed more at this point and enjoyed the company. I was pretty cranky.
The last 5 miles were long, but the preparation for them was mostly mental. We heard a coyote yip yip yaowww! and then a whole family answer for about 30 seconds. At one point Katy Bowman asked us “how do you feel?” and I answered “fine” but she said “no, how do you feel?” I said “fine, really!” – but I think she was trying to get us to be objective about what different parts of our body were doing, or perhaps doing differently. All I could think of was “I’m fine I’m fine – nothing hurts, it’s not hard, I can do it!” I was not cognizant of any changes to my gait or carriage in order to deal with the endurance aspect of the walk, although I’m sure I must have varied things. I did feel that I could walk as fast or slow as I wanted, I could actively “list” (use my lateral hip muscles) or change the angle of my feet at will and was not at the mercy of any one body part.
What was more interesting to me was what didn’t hurt. Normally when I walk, my neck and upper back bothers me. On the first day of the retreat, during an exercise class, Katy suggested we move our heads around when walking, looking around and up. There was no end of things to look at, birds, foliage, trees, berries, and because I was in new places, I looked around a lot. In Toronto I usually plug into a podcast and look at the sidewalk ahead of me, seldom moving my head from this position. So that was illuminating!
We arrived in Port Angeles and Katy looked up and saw a bald eagle, and pointed it out to us. Shortly after that she turned and said “this is it. We are at the end.” I was surprised, because it felt like I could go further and was not dying for it to be over! There was a river at the end, and I walked down to the river edge and took my shoes and socks (Icebreaker merino) off and waded in up to my knees and it felt great. Then I noticed that my fingers were swollen up and really fat! I reached down and put my hands in the water and was astonished to discover it was FRIGID. My feet could not feel the cold at all, they felt so good in the water! But my hands could not bear it for long. I picked up a stone and put it in my pocket as a souvenir of this great weekend.
A passerby way up on the bridge above us yelled down that there was a salmon in the water. I looked to where he was pointing and saw a massive fish, struggling through the water, sometimes floating on its side, sometimes righting itself and swishing its tail to move towards the shallows. The great fish’s back was scraped clean and white, making it very visible. It made its way to the edge of the stream, not five feet from where I stood and tried so hard to clear a spot to spawn by wriggling and tail swishing, before giving up and entering the deep water again to disappear.
That fish had endured a journey that suddenly put mine into greater perspective. Twenty miles is just a walk, it’s not a contest or an athletic feat, it can be a hardship for our sedentary selves, but it really is just one day’s walk. And like the salmon doing what came naturally to its salmon self, we should be walking distances now and again routinely. The fish meanwhile had endured an epic journey, one that would end its life; was literally determined to complete it at any cost. The injuries and hardships it had incurred was incidental to its purpose, which was to spawn and complete its life cycle.
We waited for the shuttle bus to come and get the last group, and the retreat was over.
Recap: What I learned from walking 20 miles in one day on the Olympic Discover Trail
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