18 April 2014 – De 4 Daagse
First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t start this blog by wishing my wonderful son a very Happy Birthday! He pushed his way into this world 18 years ago today…a day that I will never forget and it was a day that promised to be the start of the biggest roller coaster ride of my life. I have cried and laughed, shouted and whispered as his parent for these past years, and my life would not be complete without him. He has made me proud and as he enters what I truly call adulthood, I am confident that I have given him all the tools he will need to get started….he still needs more tools in his toolbox and I will be there to provide them when required. I love you son, don’t ever forget it. 🙂
So what is that title all about you ask? That, translated, means the 4 days march. I am going back in time again today and pulling out another story to put down on paper. Grab a coffee…it’s a long one.
History- Every year in July, people from all over the world gather in a little town in Holland called Nijmegen (ny-meg-en). It is considered to be the oldest city in the Netherlands (according to Wikipedia) and hosted the International 4 Days Marches for 98 years. In celebration of it’s liberation in WWII, Canada, US, Britain and other European countries send teams of military personnel in to march through the towns.
The event consists of 4 days of marching 40/day for a total of 160kms….and I did it! Well sort, of. And that’s where my story begins.
I was stationed in CFB Borden in 2005 and the following year I heard there was a team being put together. Now if anyone knows me well, they know that I hate running…just as some people have a passion for it, I have a passion for hating it and coming out of Petawawa, that’s all we did was run and march, run and march. I always said that I would rather march for 13 km than to run for 5. God forbid we did something I liked, say, laps in the pool. But I digress.
I had often wondered whether or not I could do something like this and where I was working was pretty slow paced…when I heard about the team, I got permission to do the training to see if I could make the cut. I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was.
I could write a whole other story about the training…but I’ll summarize here. Long hot days starting in the wee hours of the morning, hours of marching on seemingly endless stretches of road; hills, hills and more hills, legs cramps, blackened toenails, blisters, wet feet, thirst, shin splints and lots and lots of singing to pass the time….to qualify, each team consists of 11 people that have marched a total of 600kms each with a final 2x40km march back to back. One day maybe I’ll do a whole blog about the stories on the road.
So you wonder what the heck drove me to such craziness? Well, I tell you, as a clerk, I see and deal with making travel arrangements for people going to all of these exotic places which because of my lot in life, I will never get to see. I am always on the lookout for ways to get somewhere different, see the world. At the time, I thought this was a good way to get to Holland! Sad but true…and more true than I had ever expected as it turned out.
I had no problems completing the training…just a couple of days I had to nurse a really bad blister on my heal so it didn’t get infected. We started with over 30 people trying out, but by the end we were only one over the number that was needed for the team. After all that hard work, it didn’t seem right to leave him behind, so they were able to finagle a spot as an independent marcher and he ended up going.
Part of the whole experience included a trip to Vimy Ridge…what an awe inspiring place that is and if you can ever get there, it is worth it! Unfortunately they were working on the monument getting it ready for the following year for the 90th anniversary celebrations…which means that it was all covered over while work was being done on it. Still an awesome experience.
Once the tour there was done, they bussed us to Nijmegen and into the camp named Huemensoord (hoo- me- zoord) where over 5000 military personnel stay during this event from all over the world. Our housing was a huge domed building with rooms housing about 12 people each room. We spent a couple of days getting acclimatized to the time change and then finally the first day was upon us.
It begins with someone coming out over the loud speakers yelling “GOOOOD MORNING HUEMENSOORD!!” at 3am followed immediately by loud booming techno music…just to ramp us up! Talk about psychological warfare!
Each team had a different start time and if I remember correctly, we were due to step off at about 5am. Plenty of time to get dressed, get our feet wrapped, double check our kit and get formed up and ready to go. The neat part was that I was chosen as the pacesetter back in Canada prior to leaving. The trick is to march in step and I had a pace that was good for us to do this (about a 10 min km).
This is us getting ready for the first day of marching.
Crossing the Bridge
Here’s the kicker…the start line of the 40km is 2.5 km away! So by the time you’re finished, you have done about 50km in a day.
My god, but it was hot that day! We had done our training in some pretty hot weather, and it’s a good thing we did. After that first fateful day, we found out that the temps coming up off the road registered at 50C!
Here’s how it works. Each day there’s a different route that must be marched. During the time you are on the road, they have rest stands set up. We were accompanied by a medic, a supply tech and other staff in our support…they didn’t march, but were there to help out where needed.
After about 10km, we hit the first rest spot. That’s where we met up with a team of Cadets, some no more than 13yrs old, doing this march! Unreal.
It’s also noteworthy that we hung out with one of the British teams and met up with them on at this first site. At some point this whole thing becomes a competition and we were joking around with them about how slow they were etc even though they made it there first. They walked by on the way out and made some jokes about eating their dust….HA! Once we got finished there, we headed out and not even 30 mins later, who did we pass?? Yup, I picked up the pace and we raced by them…I think I heard the term “bitch” (not in a bad way) being flailed about as we passed. 😀 Suck it up buttercups!
As that long day wore on, we passed every other Canadian team and but it was so hot that we ended up taking more breaks as we went to combat the heat.
As you walk through the towns, some of them cheer you on…this is a huge event for this town and people put their chairs out days in advance to reserve their spots to watch. Some of the townsfolk have hoses running for us to walk under to cool off, some of them run out and give you water and if your country helped liberate that particular town, they go nuts. One small town we passed through, it was obvious that we had some part in their history, for they cheered and shook our hands as we went by. It was funny at one point, this one very tall guy came running out and ran beside me…he looked and I quote “Little Canadian Girlie leading the team”. So funny!
Still looking healthy!
By the time we pulled back in at the end of the day, we were the second Canadian team in having completed the march in just over 8hrs 20mins…here’s what we looked like at the end!
As you near the finish line, the locals hand out Gladiolas, another tradition that has survived the years from back in the days of WWII.
What a day. We unloaded our gear and thanks to the foresight of our team leader who had done this same event 3 times previous, we had a place to soak our feet at the end…even though there was no cold water, it felt good!
I mentioned earlier that this was a fateful day…and here’s why. Later that evening when all the teams were in, an announcement was made that the next day’s marches would be without rucksacks, only water. The country was in the midst of one of the worst heat waves on record and just an hour after this, the marches were cancelled outright. This was history in the making…they had never been cancelled before. We didn’t understand until we heard that there were heat related deaths on the roads that day (non-military) and rather than risk any more lives, they stopped the event. There were thousands of people scattered across the country’s hospitals for heat related injuries, and it was reminiscent of the war where they were trying to track down everyone and account for their whereabouts. Really scary.
So when I said that I wanted to see Nijmegen, I got to do just that…more so than I had ever planned but at a high cost. We ended up staying there for the full time we were supposed to…they couldn’t get us out because the planes were being used to evacuate Lebanon at the time. Some of the teams thought this was a riot and joked about the aging equipment and how they couldn’t come get us because the planes were too old..here’s what they did.
They were taking donations to help fix the planes. LOL
Traditionally on the second day, the Canadians teams all meet at the cemetery where many Canadian soldiers are buried that died in the war. Before I left, one of my friends had asked me to take some painted rocks, flags and pictures to her father’s grave. I was honored and I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to go. But instead of marching there, we got a bus and drove and had our ceremony remembering the fallen in a parade. Once that was done, I searched out his grave and to my astonishment, the Cadet’s were there taking pictures! I thought I had the wrong site, so I asked what they were doing…turns out this Cadet team had some members that go to the school that is named after him and were taking pictures to go back to Canada with. What a great thing to do! My pictures have since been lost, but that moment lives on in my memory banks.
The rest of the time there, we toured the town, went to some of the oldest churches there, ate well, drank some beer (a very common pastime there!) and got to see more than we would have had we marched.
We ended our trip in Eindhoven where the movie “A bridge Too Far” was based (which we watched as the inflight movie on the way over I might add)…I got to see the bridge and go up in the clock tower from the movie and just soak up the atmosphere.
All in all, a great experience. I sacrificed a toenail for the whole trip which was a small price to pay for the memories it gave me. Would I ever do it again? Nope! Like giving birth, it was a painful experience, and one that I choose to endure only once! 🙂
I hope this story has piqued your interest in some of our country’s military history and contributions we have made over the years to help other countries enjoy the lives they have today. I was so moved by Vimy Ridge, that the next year I made the trek there as a flight attendant (this was the trip that gave me the inspiration to do that job)….but that’s another story.
That’s it for today
soldiermomma signing off