National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Learn about early detection of breast cancer, mammogram and physical recommendations, and more at nbcam.org.
Ten years ago, a stunning diagnosis knocked Linda Lungstrum off her feet.
"I thought I was doing everything right. I know I was," says Lungstrum. "But I was just one of those unlucky people who ended up with breast cancer. I went through the surgery and chemotherapy and so forth, and I was pretty weakened by the whole experience. I reached a point where I was needing some kind of impetus to get me going again. I was needing a goal."
Enter Lungstrum's friend, Bonnie Wells, who had a radical proposal: hike the Grand Canyon, rim to rim, for a total of 24 miles. In a single day.
Little did they know that proposal would turn into a 10-year tradition for a group of friends.
"I had done the Grand Canyon twice before," Wells explains. "And I'd learned you could do it in one day. I also had the phone numbers of all the places in the canyon and knew the logistics."
Wells also had a 16-week conditioning program that she had followed previously to get in shape for the grueling trek. And she knew of another friend, Marsha Buhler, who was eager for the challenge.
"Bonnie and I had talked about it," Buhler says. "And I was envious that she had done it the first time, and I really wanted to do it. So, I was fired up."
Buhler thought of another friend, Joanne Renfro, who would be fired up, too. So, with the blessing of the other two women, she recruited her to fill out the foursome.
"I knew Bonnie and Marsha beforehand, but I didn't know Linda before we started training," Renfro remembers. "When they asked, I thought about it for about half a second and said, 'Yeah, I'm there.' Then they told me about Linda and her story."
The quartet started training in the winter for the May excursion. Their regimen included short walks, which they would take by themselves, and longer hikes - starting at 10-mile distances, including stairs and plenty of steep hills - as a group, every week.
Finally, the day of reckoning arrived, and the women embarked on a journey of lifetime.
"It was really hard," Lungstrum recalls. "It was hot and dry, and you have to drink a lot of water. I struggled, but I made it. And, at the end of that day, it was the best feeling ever just to know that you could accomplish that, work toward a goal, have a great time with friends, and experience some of the most beautiful scenery. Just spectacular."
Not long after toasting their impressive feat at a celebratory dinner, the friends started talking about hiking the canyon, in the reverse, the next year. And they did.
Soon, they were taking annual expeditions to scenic trails all over the country, including Pikes Peak (Colorado), Mount Katahdin (Maine), Zion National Park (Utah), Mt. Rainier (Washington), the Half Dome in Yosemite National Park (California) and Supai (Arizona).
Through all the miles logged by the now-seasoned hikers, they insist they've never had an injury or even a minor disagreement, even though they stay - four to a room - in modest, and often cramped, accommodations.
"We travel well together," Wells says. "We're gone only three days. We stay in very inexpensive, kind of old-fashioned, cottage-y places. We do it very inexpensively. That's kind of one of our themes."
"Everybody is low-maintenance," adds Renfro. "Everyone just goes with the flow. They're laid-back, and that's why it works so well. Nobody gets ruffled or whiny. We just keep moving. It's awesome."
'Really special trip'
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of their first Grand Canyon hike, and Linda's decade-old victory over breast cancer, the travelers set their sights on a distant destination: Cinque Terre, Italy - a seven-day trip they completed earlier this month. The trip also coincided with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Buhler says, "We made a deal that if we kept doing this for 10 years, we'd take a really special trip. So, we went to Italy and, again, stayed in a beautiful little place. Tiny. And we hiked each day from one village to another, up over little mountain trails, and then we'd come back along the coastal trail. We were able to see lots of little villages and other things, on foot. It was great."
The group will get together in a few months to decide which trail they will take on next year. And no one cares to speculate about when the tradition might end.
Looking back on their first journey, and the conditioning period beforehand, Linda said it was the perfect way to get back on her feet.
"It worked." she says. "We were outside a lot, doing a lot of walking. Lots of fresh air. It was very invigorating. It was just what I needed. And with a great group of people, too."
And while Linda considers herself a survivor, in the most serious sense of the word, she remembers that first Grand Canyon hike and jokes: "I may have been the survivor, but these guys - they survived me!"