Ten years ago … when I was 10 years younger … I raised money for children’s cancer research by walking from my house in Chapel Hill to the top of Grandfather Mountain. A dear friend had recently died of cancer, unable to live to see his grandchildren. I couldn’t afford to donate money to a cancer fund, but I wanted to honor him somehow.
When I chose walking to Grandfather Mountain, my friends thought I was honoring him by losing my mind. They were stunned that I, who’d rather have a colonoscopy than exercise, who’d rather have a root canal than sweat, would consider doing both, for many days, in the punishing sun of a Carolina summer. I also broke my left leg badly in 1989, and it’s now the proud owner of an airport security-alarming array of bars and screws, which not only ended my meteoric tennis career, but almost ended my walking career.
I trained like Rocky, and finally, with my ankle taped into mummification, a few good pairs of shoes, some friends in a van, and borrowed camping equipment, I set out one June morning. Reporters followed, to see if I’d duck into the first cold bar I passed, but they soon peeled off, because hey, it was hot! Seventeen days later, I ascended Grandfather Mountain and gave $5,000 to two North Carolina hospitals. Not too shabby. But, a few things I learned on my walk:
1. Tents are not air-conditioned. This was a shock, and a huge drawback to camping. I can only hope some NASA-caliber camping scientists are working day and night on that problem. I mean, come on.
2. It is unwise to walk through Greensboro during rush hour while listening to a Seinfeld tape on your walkman. You could laugh yourself right into oncoming traffic … not that I did that.
3. There’s the occasional drug deal going down on remote corners of Winston-Salem, but if you keep walking, and talk loudly to yourself about your pending sanity hearing, nobody will bother you.
4. Gal reporters who come out to interview you while you’re walking are often brainless. They wear black skirts, silk blouses, blazers, pantyhose and high heels, and try to walk backwards in front of you asking questions. Sweat pours from their perfect bangs as they step back into a pothole and fall to their behinds, still smiling for the camera. This is modestly amusing, but also presents another annoying bump over which you must climb.
5. There are surprisingly few restrooms for a walker. And, don’t knock on someone’s door in the middle of nowhere and ask to use theirs. They will become terrified, slam the door and call the sheriff. It’s better to go in the woods, behind some bushes, where you may get poison ivy or snake-bit but usually not arrested.
Someone called yesterday to ask if I’m doing a 10-year anniversary walk. I know it’s a shame to let all this experience go to waste, but unfortunately, I’m scheduled for a colonoscopy and a root canal.