Today was the first day of the march, but I want to tell you about the night before. Headed for bed, I passed a woman from the Canadian forces. She was standing outside in the rain and mud polishing her boots. That is pride and it took my breath away.
Sleeping through the excitement was hard. I couldn’t wait for the 4 am wake up. In fact, I didn’t. Woke up at 2:30. Music on loudspeakers didn’t help.
With a 5:10 am salute from bagpipes, we were off! The weather was not bad. I never thought I’d be so happy to see light drizzle, and I was hoping for it to stay that way. Padre said a prayer for no rain. In my book, he deserves a battlefield promotion.
In every town the people were out. There were bands playing and lots of high-fives all around. It’s hard to describe the energy and excitement in words. There were hundreds of thousands of people — maybe more — all along the route. It’s a huge party. One town near the halfway mark had 30,000 people out, I was told.
We took our first break after 30 K. Every kid in Nijmegen is giving away candy, licorice, and cucumbers. I brought embassy pins and I’m handing them out to the kids.
As we got closer to the end, I was walking with a team of U.S. soldiers. They asked who I was, and I told them I was the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. They said “yeah, sure!”; my teammates had to vouch for me! The line that summed up the day came 500 meters from the finish. I asked a U.S. soldier next to me how he was doing. “Nothing a beer won’t cure.” Sounds just right.
And so, I’ve finished Day One. Forty-six kilometers in nine hours and two minutes. Hey, it was so much fun, I think I’ll do it 3 more times!