Words fall short of conveying the feelings that crashed over me, like the Atlantic to my left, as our spontaneous parade climbed the ramp to the Ocean City Boardwalk. With a police escort out front, the fabled Music Pier — the Walk Across America’s endpoint — loomed larger each step. The continent’s edge; where Deanna left this earth amid the waves and seagulls overhead, my only company that late December day in 2000 when I spread her ashes. It was cold that day; gray and freezing. I couldn’t stop shaking. Not this day. The sun shone over a cloudless sky, its guiding warmth belying the 40-degree temperatures. Along the final 14 miles, I was reunited with my beautiful Brooke, and joined by family and friends as we headed for Somers Point and prepared for the final push into O.C. Before we’d reached the Ocean Avenue Bridge, a fleet of police cars greeted us, providing escort into the city where this whole odyssey began a decade ago. Our parade streamed down Wesley Avenue, a joyous celebration of walkers united in spirit and love.
I’d often thought about the finish line these past six months, approaching it at a 3 m.p.h.-clip for six months, but never wanted a planned outcome. It would unfold naturally, as the road always seemed to for 3,500 miles. But this was more than I’d ever imagined. On the Boardwalk, the others fell back, leaving me to walk alone once more. It was then that it all made sense. Everything made sense, this whole leap of faith I’d taken and asked everyone around me to take. A plunge into the unknown. I was feeling complete in a way I hadn’t in years. The emotions poured out of me at the water line as we remembered Deanna, then traced my footprints for the “Final Step” in celebration. There was just one thing left to do. The healing waters before us were borderline freezing, but it had to be done. The polar plunge! Flanked by my nephews, we ran into the Atlantic Ocean with racing hearts and joyous smiles.
Overhead, the seagulls cawed and set out toward the deep blue ocean. A world away.