A group of people from the Seattle area walked from Central Park in New York City to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia at the beginning of April.
The walk started as a 75th-birthday celebration for Queen Anne’s Kathy Biever and her friend Marjorie Clasper from Windsor, England. Slowly, friends from her Seattle Sound Striders walking group joined the trip, and in the end, 13 people ages 63 to 76 made the journey. Overall, they walked more than 120 miles in 9 days.
Twenty-five years ago, when Biever turned 50, she walked from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. When she turned 70, she walked from Bunker Hill in Boston to Central Park. She didn’t want to wait till she was 90 for her next big walk, so she planned this one for her 75th.
Setting the route
The North Striders meet in North Seattle each Tuesday, and the South Striders get together each Thursday. But many of the members do both walks each week, always between 5 and 6 fast-paced miles. And the groups always start and end at a coffee shop.
About a month before the walk, the trip group started adding an additional 6 miles to its biweekly walks to prepare.
After about three days into the trip, “all of a sudden, your body just expects to walk,” said Maple Leaf resident Al Barnes.
Each day of the trip, the group would meet at 8 a.m. Then they’d walk all day, stopping for lunch, and be back to the hotel for happy hour and dinner together. The group only stayed in three hotels during the journey: Each day, they’d take the train back to where they stopped walking the previous day.
Leaders were selected to be the “captain du jour” to lead the group each day. They would determine the route and select the lunch spot.
The route was decided on the shortest distance. It took Biever more than a month to figure out where they’d walk.
“Sometimes, we’d ride the train for an hour to get back to the site where we completed the previous day,” said Fremont’s Cheryl Johnson.
One day, when Clasper, the fellow 75th-birthday walker from England, was captain, she led the walk with facts about each of the towns they walked through. That night, people were back in their rooms doing their homework so they could share facts with the group when it was their day to lead.
Annie Downing, from the University District, said, “We learned a bit about the area as you’re walking through. I thought that added a lot.”
The group walked about 13 miles a day — a half-marathon, Biever calculated. Sometimes, they’d walk an additional mile to and from the train station.
“The group was just an amazingly cheerful group,” Biever said. “We walked 13 miles a day, and we’re still getting along.”
Biever’s husband, Keith, didn’t walk with the group but drove a van, transporting luggage, driving ahead to check out the route and providing backup in case anyone needed roadside assistance. Sometimes, he would drive ahead and spot something that would make them change the group’s walking route. Biever loved how flexible the group was with the changes.
At night, some members of the group would relax and pamper their feet for another day of walking. Others snuck away one night to see a play in New York City.
Lunches were the group’s favorite time. “We’d be willing to walk 10 miles for a really good sit-down lunch,” Downing said. Lunch was selected by the day’s captain, with the help of Google or Yelp. The group never ate at a chain restaurant and, instead, rediscovered classic diners that are still a stronghold on the East Coast. Sometimes, the group would be on a “forced march” to find a good lunch spot, Johnson said.
“We’d keep pushing if we knew there was something better,” said Downtown Seattle resident Kathleen Leahy, about the restaurants. “Lunch was our carrot. And we ate like crazy every time we stopped.”
The pace of walking allowed them to see things as they passed by, Johnson said. Some areas were beautiful and urban; others were blighted. And some were “once beautiful [but] had really lost their vitality and their people,” she said.
Johnson had expected the walk to be mainly urban. But the group traveled through cities, along the Delaware Canal and on trails. There were places that were very oriented to vehicles and didn’t even have sidewalks.
One day, the group had to walk single-file along a road. Downing, the day’s leader, was in the front, wearing bright colors and calling on her old cheerleading skills to signal cars with one hand and direct the group with her phone in the other. The group was big and visible enough that safety wasn’t much of a concern, Biever said.
“I think it was more likely a car would hit another car gawking at us,” Leahy said.
Some neighborhoods were rough around the edges and looked like pictures you’d see of Detroit, Barnes said. But people would always say, “How y’all doing?’ as the group passed them on their porches.
“People actually kind of like it that you were walking through their neighborhood,” he said.
Heading back for more?
Each group member has his/her own favorites of the walking tour. For some, it was exploring historic, small towns; for others, it was touring a synagogue for the first time.
Judy Woland laughs when she remembers heading into Germantown in Philadelphia, looking for a train station. The people they passed would wave. One man outside a drugstore asked, “‘You guys mountain climbers? We ain’t got no mountains in Philadelphia,’” she said.
The group got a lot of curious looks, and many people didn’t quite understand what they were doing. “One lady peaked out her window and said, ‘Y’all going camping?’” Downing said.
The members each had the same objective, Downing said: “[With] 13 different personalities, it’s so much fun to talk on a one-on-one basis, and you have all day to do it.”
Before the group had even finished its walk, the members were planning their next one. Many members have momentous 65th and 70th birthdays in the coming years, and they want to do more walks.
Barnes said, “The minute I got home, I just wanted to start planning another walk.”
To read the group’s blog about the walk, visit radiex.com/treks.
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