by Erwin Steneker
(Vianen, The Netherlands)
“Lllisten up!”, my friend proclaimed, noticeably slurring, “Nnnext year… I’m goin’ to walllk… the 50 killlometer at the 4-Day Marches!”.
I nearly fell on the floor laughing. After I got a hold of myself, I slurred back to him: “If you do it… I’lll do too!”
I never expected him to do it
It was the 3rd week of July 1992, and we were at a bar in Nijmegen having too much fun, and way too much to drink, during the Summer Fest, which was held during the 4-Day Marches. The second day of the 4-day Marches had just begun, it was 4:15 am.
This was just smack talk.
But in the afternoon, after we sobered up, he had not only remembered what he said, but also what I responded.
“Next year, we’re walking 50k a day. Are you up to it?” Gulp!
The challenge was on
I am a man of my word, even back then., so I stuck with it. But walking 50km is nothing to sneeze about. And we were in no shape to take on this challenge… tough physical exercise and a party lifestyle aren’t really compatible.
One thing was clear, we needed to get fit.
So we started to train
We started easy, 5 km on a day, and slowly we expanded that to 10, then 15 and 20. In our final training week we walked 160 km in 4 days!
We did it, and we were well prepared to do it!
4-Day Marches, here we come!
This year, Nijmegen was totally different for us. No more all-day partying for us, we were men with a mission!
But what if it was a mission impossible?
I must admit that some doubt did creep into my mind. I shook of that feeling, when we we started day 1.
Day 1: A walk in the park
We walked and we walked and we walked. Walking with so many thousands of people is very special, I have to say… so many nationalities to talk to, the day flew by.
One day down. That was easy!
Day 2: Can it really be this easy?
The next day started well. Some tension in the legs, but after warming up, we were walking well. Until…
The man with the hammer. Yup, he exists. I know, because we ran into him half way.
The next 25 kilometers were a nightmare. We went through the entire range of muscle aches, muscle fatigue, burning feet, bloody blisters.
We made it. Just barely, but we made it.
Day 3: Get over it
One of the hardest things I had to do was to get up in the morning on day 3.
We managed to get over it, and an hour later we were walking again. Well, I say “we”, but I hadn’t factored in the lure of the tent.
Today’s route went through Nijmegen, and passing by our camping ground. Totally out of the blue, my friend said: “I’m done. Bye!” and walked to our tent.
I was stunned. The guy that got me into this mess left me alone.
What to do? Follow his lead and crash into the tent? No way! I hadn’t walked all those steps for nothing!
I pressed on.
Day 4: Where’s the finish line?
I made it through day 3 and started on day 4. It was tough.
My friends said they would pick me up after getting the last stamp (at that time you had finished after that last stamp. Walking the 6 km of the “Via Gladiola” to the finish line was “extra”).
So I hobbled along with just one thing in mind.
“Get that stamp. Get that stamp.”
And I did. Get that stamp. Don’t ask me how… it wasn’t pretty. All that was left was to find my friends.
My friends. My reliable friends
They were nowhere to be found. At the agreed spot: no-one. 500 meters further: no-one.
The only thing I could do was to walk 6 more kilometres to the finish line. And in those steps, I had one of the most profound experiences of my life.
Mind over body
So many people cheering from all sides. My aches vanished, and I was walking again as if I had just started.
I don’t know why, and I don’t know how. But my mind showed me that my body was capable of more than I thought possible.
I made it!
I’d walked easy, and I’d walked hard. I walked with friends, and I walked alone. I walked the full 200 km, and then some.
I had truly earned my 4-day cross.
But I vowed to never do it again
No matter what, from this day forward, I decided that I would never do it again.
Never again would I get so drunk that I would foolishly accept a challenge.
I did however walk the 4-Day Marches 3 more times!
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