50 Miles or Bust- 12 days with my grandson

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(“Brooks, if you get tired of walking, walk faster.”) Buzz Judd, circa 1958)

Item 1: During January-March of 1963 (my freshman year at Hayward High) a strange phenomenon was occurring. President Kennedy, our youthful president, had chided Americans, especially the youth about being out of shape. Someone in his administration had come up with a “trial by fire” to see how fit America’s youth was. A 50 mile walk was soon being touted by the administration as a challenge not only to America’s youth but to young adults, grown ups, senior citizens etc. Soon a day in March was chosen for American citizens across the country to put on their sneakers, pack a lunch, and make the trek. This was our way to “Ask what we can do for our country” and prove that we were in shape and ready for anything. President Kennedy wanted Americans to tackle this project with “Vim and Vigor.”

Our little group of friends who lived next to Cal State Hayward up in the Hayward Highlands quickly took the challenge. In our war room, the six of us carefully laid out a map and plotted out our trek. We would begin at the college and wind our way through Second Street, on to East Avenue and then to Kelly Hill. After we made our way down Kelly Hill, we would walk through Center Street toward Crow Canyon Road. Crow Canyon was a long uphill road that would take us toward and then into San Ramon using a main thoroughfare that paralleled Freeway 680. We would follow this road all the way into Walnut Creek. We calculated this to be close to 25 miles. We would take a short break and began our return trip.

One of our group said that his father had agreed to pick any of us up if we were not able to finish. Having that settled we were ready. I had asked my father but he said, “Don’t bother to call. If you’re going to start you need to finish.” We began our walk at 3 A.M Saturday morning equipped with canteens filled with water, candy bars, a few cheese and salami sandwiches, and a couple of flashlights. We hadn’t even made it a mile or two from the college when we began to see groups of people walking, teenagers, young children with their parents, older couples with dogs etc. some with signs that said “50 miles or bust” on one side and the words Vim and Vigor on the other. Every time we saw a group we would raise our hands and wave and clap. They would return the greeting. It was a nice feeling.

We made it the foot of Crow Canyon Road which was a long extended uphill climb. It was a tough walk and took a lot of time. The cadence of our trudging feet was frequently broken up by the sound of the air horns from passing truckers. We would wave at them and they would smile and give us the thumbs up sign. No sooner had we crested and then began the easier walk down the other side when three members of our group had decided they had had enough. We found a store and they called for their ride back to Hayward. The six of us continued walking and shortly the three hikers were picked up. We wished them well. We were now three trekkers. By the time we got to Walnut Creek it was about nine o’clock, we had been walking for over six hours, our trek was half over and we were tired. A slight rain had begun falling and it seemed every time we began to feel a bit down we would see a group of really young kids or a few senior citizens bouncing by us with all the energy of hurricane and we could do nothing but suck it up and move forward.

A few miles out of Walnut Creek a quick conference was held and my two walking companions told me they were calling it quits. Once again the phone call was made. This time I waited with my two companions. About twenty minutes later a car pulled up and my two mates jumped into the car. The father leaned out the car window and said, “Brooks, I won’t be coming back again. Are you sure you don’t want to call it a day?” I shook my head and watched silently as the car pulled away into the rain and mist. The rain began coming down with more force and my weary legs were ready to give out. I had kept two dimes in my pocket (just in case) and I thought of making my own phone call, but I remembered what my father had said. My blisters had blisters and my inner thighs had been rubbed raw by my walking shorts causing my legs to bleed. I found a stick along the side of the road that would make a perfect walking stick. Armed with my walking stick and newfound confidence I plodded onward.

Soon I came upon the bottom of Crow Canyon Road and looked long and hard at the long steep incline. This was a hard climb 8 hours ago and now it would be tougher. The wind was blowing the rain into my face. I forced a smile as I waved at the groups of trekkers on the other side of the road. After what seemed like an eternity, I made it to the top of Crow Canyon Road and was able to coast down the other side giving my legs a much needed rest. I wound myself around the various connecting streets, finally got to Center Street and then to Kelly Hill.

I figured I was about 4 miles from home. Kelly Hill was about ¾ of a mile at a 45% grade. I might as well been looking at Mt. Everest. The rain was coming down harder, it was about 4:30 P.M, and I had been walking steadily since 3 A.M. I slowly reached into my pocket and felt the two dimes. My legs were cramping, my thighs were bleeding, and my socks were covered with blood from my broken blisters. If I called my father now I don’t know who would be more disappointed, him or me. I sat down on the curb next to a small family grocery store and agonized. I had to make it. My father’s words rang in my ears as I attempted to stand up. My knees buckled and I slowly sank to me knees. My legs were rubber and my desire had been slowly snuffed out with each painful step I took.

I attempted to stand again and steadied myself. I gingerly walked over to a pay phone. I reached into my pocket and grabbed one of the dimes. I looked at the dime for a long time and sadly realized that my mission had been a failure. I put the shiny thin dime into the slot and slowly dialed my phone number. Part of me hoped my father wouldn’t be home and magically my legs and feet would heal and I would be forced to walk the last four miles to my home preserving my pride. Heck maybe I would run the last four miles.
My father answered the phone bringing me back to reality. “What do you want?” he said. I told him there was no more gas in the tank. He asked me who was with me. I told him I had been walking alone for about the last 18 miles or so. “Really?” he said. “You’re by yourself? You outlasted everyone else?” “Yes, I said. Can you pick me up? I’m at the bottom of Kelly Hill.” I heard him chuckle and he said he would pick me up in a few minutes.

A few minutes later my father drove up. He had a wry grin on his face. “You really were by yourself?” he asked. I slowly nodded and looked at the blood on my shorts. My feet were too sore to take my shoes off. It felt weird to be sitting down riding in a car after walking for so long. We got home and I slowly walked to my room. I undressed, surveyed the damages on my body and took a long hot shower. I was dejected. Well, there would be a next time I told myself. I heard my mother call out, “Time for dinner.” I slowly walked into the kitchen and sat down with my parents. I was staring at my plate when my father proudly announced to my mother, “Did you know that Brooks outlasted everyone else in his group? How about those apples?” Somehow I couldn’t share his elation.

Item 2: I spent twelve days with my daughter, son-in-law and 16 month old grandson as they prepared to move into their first home. My hat is off to all you mothers out there. I watched my daughter with William and realized that as a parent of a new baby you have NO TIME to yourself. I was “assisting” and realized I couldn’t shut your eyes for a second without my grandson climbing on top of the roof or trying to start the car. I loved every second I was in Pasco Washingto

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