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.
The event The NJ2NY50 - The Big Walk of 2010 was a big success with over 70 participants and a general interest in the event by the public and even the media. Best of all, everyone who participated, including myself, absolutely loved it! It seemed to be the right blend of a tough yet accessible physical and mental challenge.
On October 11, 2010, we took on a new walking challenge with the LENAPE34, a one-day 34-mile walking event covering the well-established Lenape Trail crossing most of the major reservations, parks, towns and cities in Essex County, NJ. In this venture we were able to help Trail Coordinator, Steve Marano, focus attention on the Lenape Trail, which is segment of the Liberty Water Gap Trail a multi-purpose trail across the entire State from Jersey City to the Delaware Water Gap.
2011 - Our Second Year
In, 2011 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!
But there was more to come as we added a 30-mile walk along the famed New Jersey Shore called The Endless Summer Walk which proved to be one of the most enjoyable and popular walks yet. And, due to popular demand, we repeated the LENAPE34 in October 2011.
Plans for 2012
This year we've started early and set our calendar to repeat our five major events noted above. Plus, we've added another called the Hudson River Loop Walk - a 30-mile walk up and down the Hudson River. Starting in Jersey City, we go coastal and north to the George Washington Bridge then down the New York City Greenway to downtown and back to our starting point.
In our brief two year history we now have 400 FreeWalker members, with over 250 having participated in our events. As a group we have walked over 7,000 miles. I'd like to invite you to participate by walking and contributing your ideas. Join us in an active role to help make long distance walking a great experience for everyone.
Founder & Project Leader