Since finishing our trek, the question we’ve been asked most (beyond how our feet are doing) has been what was it like to finish. Were we/ are we happy to be done?
These are difficult questions to answer even after four weeks to think about it. The answers won’t happen tonight.
Finishing was a blur. As we approached the end, I began to think about what was ending, not what was beginning. Often, during the walk, I found myself thinking about the end and how excited I was to go home and start my life post-trek. The lessons I’d learned from myself and others, the experiences I wanted to share, the potential for the future, these were the things I focused on. These were the thoughts I visualized myself having as I finished, appreciating the journey for what it was. I didn’t see those things. I saw my memories of the trip. I felt something completely different than I thought I would.. I felt like I was losing something.
I know taking part in something like this trek breeds bitter-sweet feelings when it ends. Feeling this way is not uncommon. But it was surprising to me how much I wished it could continue and not be ending. Certainly, the physical aspects of the walk were less than thrilling sometimes, especially when mixed with foul weather. I do not miss walking for hours and hours. I miss the people, the places, the conversations. I miss the places I saw and the generous people that made it all possible. I found myself just blocks from the end and I was missing it already. It surprised me how much I wished the ocean would have been a few more miles away, how the final day could have been backed up a bit. While everyday on the trek I found myself wishing I could be with my daughter, wife, and friends, I found myself at that moment wanting more time.
The first sensation I realized when entering the pier was that we were walking on wood. Concrete was over. Blacktop was a memory. Gravel that sliced through the soles of our shoes like razor blades, leaving our feet blistered and sore, was left behind. The cornfields, the flat land, the mountains, the desert were all gone. In front was the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. And there were no more miles to walk. I remember how fast Tom was walking. Very fast. I remember having to extend my stride to keep up. He hit a gear that I don’t quite recall either of us pushing towards as we finished a day. Most days, our pace at the end slowed. On this day, the final day, it was the fastest it had been for the day. We looked for the “End of Route 66” sign that marked our end point. As we approached, I saw my wife and daughter, my sister, friends Tom and I had made along the way, and those who wished to meet us at the end cheering us on. I’m not easily embarrassed, but I do find myself nervous and embarrassed when people applaud for me or cheer. I never know how to react.
Before I could react, before it felt like I could breathe. the media came. We were rushed by all the LA media who were there to cover our walk. Reporters surrounded us and fired off questions as fast as they could be answered. Strangers, curious over the spectacle, began to crowd around. After several interviews, even more pictures, and a water cannon salute, Veterans Trek from Milwaukee to Los Angeles was done. Our trek and all it was was over. It was difficult at times to remember that when we started it would end. There were many days where California, hell the next block, seemed too far off to walk to. But we were done now. And now it takes us to the lessons learned and what is next. That comes in the next installment. So stay tuned. It won’t be such a long time until the next blog.