The Beginning & Now
In the Beginning
My interest in the odd endurance feat of walking extremely long distances began almost 50 years ago. In 1963, John F. Kennedy asked his military to prove they were in fine physical condition by marching 50 miles. That military order quickly turned into a public fad. Many ordinary individuals took the challenge upon themselves to prove that they too were fit and could walk 50 miles in one day. This was all either a mistake or a fortunate event that helped boost the public’s attention to physical fitness. I was 15 years old at the time, and with three other friends we decided to walk that year from Roselle to Netcong. We made 38 miles before giving up 12 hours later. Still, pretty impressive for a teenager with no real walking experience. It begged the question, “Can we do more than we think we can?” What exactly is our limits?
Forty-six years later in 2009, I researched the fad and wrote about it in an online blog The 50-mile Hike Phenomenon. That convinced me to have another go at 50 miles, tracing a route that Robert F. Kennedy walked along the C&O Canal towpath in early February of that year. You can read about my experience at my blog article Log for 38-mile Walk - Maryland - 2/7/09. Once again, I fell short, but many people asked what it was like and if I would try it again. Time passed and the feeling of exhaustion and blisters soon faded.
FreeWalkers are Born - 2010
In 2010, I set my sights at another try at the 50 mile challenge. Doing more research on long distance walking, which has a long, interesting history. Soon, I began to seek the interest of pro-pedestrian organizations on an idea of a long public walk involving a large group. The East Coast Greenway Alliance, enthusiastically supported an idea of walking the 50 miles in one day on the greenway trail, mapped out a strategy, and helped get the word out. That event was so successful we held other challenging events and started to notice a growing interest in what we were offering.
In our second year, we repeated our previous two walks AND added several others. Boldly, we set a new goal of walking across the entire state (in one year's time) through a new joint program with the East Coast Greenway called the Cross-Jersey Walking Challenge. With that in mind, we added the Great Canal Walk - Trenton to New Brunswick, and the Tween Walk - New Brunswick to Metropark (in addition to the Big Walk from Metropark to NYC). a total of 100 miles and clear across New Jersey. Six walkers made the entire 100-mile distance!
Continuing A Tradition and More
In 2013, we started to consider the possiblity of a remote walking event in honor of both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, both connected to the original 50-mile hike fad in 1963. RFK had set out with his staff on the C&O Canal and was one of the original participants drawing national attention to his stamina and the possiblity of others walking this 50-mile fitness feat. The reports of the day pinpointed where he started and approximately where he ended his journey. Ray and I quickly put together a reprise walk on the C&O Canal in Maryland for February 9, 2013, exactly 50 years to the day of the original RFK accomplishment. It was so popular that the event recieved some attention in a nationa NPR piece and was picked up by a local TV station. That walk is now on our annual schedule and we have set up a regional FreeWalkers group for local DC area FreeWalker events throughout the year.
Today, we offer over 30 events each year and have expanded what we offer to include Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Connecticut, European walking tours, Nepal trekking, information on walking and its history as well as new innovative programs for the entire family. Our charter is bigger and brighter as we have formed a non-profit organization, granted 501c3 IRS status, so that we may make the public aware of the benefits of walking and qualify as a tax-exempt corporation.
In our brief history we now have 1500 FreeWalker members, with hundreds having participated in our events. As a group we have walked over 20,000 miles. I'd like to invite you to participate by walking and contributing your ideas. Join us in an active role to help grow FreeWalkers and make long distance walking a great experience for everyone.
Founder & Project Leader