Freewalkers: Modern-Day Pioneers on the Greenway

freewalkers pvd to boston


By Paul Kiczek, Freewalkers President

It’s not really a question of whether someone will walk the entire East Coast Greenway someday; it’s just a matter of when. At least that’s the feeling of a few members of the FreeWalkers, a long distance walking group that challenges everyone to walk beyond their limits.

FreeWalker Ken Kurland began his interest in the Greenway with a few walking events that led to completing the annual 100-mile “Cross-Jersey Challenge.” That led to an adventurous idea of walking through other states, using the East Coast Greenway as an inter-state pedestrian highway. Soon he found a couple of willing fellow FreeWalkers in Nancy Jonap and Loredana Delluchi to join him as they mapped out walks beyond the New York metropolitan area. We call these extended walks “expeditions” outside our geographic comfort zone.

FreeWalkers are a different breed. They enjoy experiencing the changes from the city to suburbs, from commercial areas to a quiet country roads and farmland. We walk year-round in various conditions and favor mass transit to assist our efforts. Our interaction with the environment means all environments. The East Coast Greenway is a perfect concept for a walking challenge as it cuts through a variety of communities and terrain. Consider this kind of walking a new style of exercise that provides an unplugged and socially interactive experience. We walk to understand a place and each other.

Our expedition “pioneers” began in earnest to conquer the East Coast Greenway on foot several years ago. After walking across New Jersey and New York the idea was to proceed north, each year walking more of the trail. The first year they walked from Port Chester to New Haven, the next from New Haven to Hartford, then Hartford to Providence, and this year Providence to Boston – averaging well over 100 new trail miles in a one week period each year. A special bond is created along with a personal satisfaction of having walked so many miles. The pioneers carefully plan out distances, supplies, milestones, lodging and facilities before each walk with the help of ECGA staff. Molly Henry, New England Coordinator, has been helping recently with advice, arranging contacts and occasionally joined in the effort herself. Photos by Loredana Delluci. 

Paul Kiczek recently sat down with Ken, Nancy, and Loredana after their Providence to Boston walk in July 2016 to get an insight into the challenge and rewards of walking long distances along the East Coast Greenway.

Paul: What motivates you to walk long distances like this? This is beyond what even most FreeWalkers do. Nancy: I think it’s similar to the any endurance sport where you push yourself into a different zone and experience a range of emotions from discomfort to relaxation and pain to joy.

Loredana: For me, it’s the delicious feeling of adventure. You wake up wondering if our bodies will be able to travel the distance. I love feeling the excitement and expectation of all we'll see along the way. Interactions with the local people make a routine walk special.

Ken: Adventure and physical challenge. Our past experience provides confidence in walking farther each day, despite bad weather, blisters, and exhaustion. We know what we are capable of which makes the new challenges possible.

Paul: How do others you meet on the trip react when they learn what you are doing?

Loredana: There seems to be one common refrain. People tell us that they are “inspired” by what we are doing. It's as if no one thought what we do was possible.

Ken: Surprise, disbelief, and fascination. Almost everyone we spoke to was really impressed by what we were doing.

Nancy: One other reaction is “Why are you walking?” People often mistake walking for health and personal satisfaction with the need to be supporting a cause. We all support various charities but our expedition walking provides the physical and emotional energy we need to really enjoy life.

Paul: What contacts did you make that helped you along the way including ECGA or other trail groups?

Ken: The ECGA identified at least two people for support. The two that did give us support were invaluable, driving us to the hotel when it was far off the route and picking us up the next morning to take us back, as well as bringing us snacks and water.

Paul: What kind of trail conditions did you walk on this time from Providence to Boston?

Nancy: The trails varied with groomed trails to roads with and without sidewalks. Walking along the ECG can be a challenge at times due to the lack of walkable area on roads and limited access to stores and restrooms. For a bicycle, with more range, these slight detours and inconveniences are easier to navigate.

Ken: This section between Providence and Boston was mostly roads. Some quiet country roads and some busy roads. It was an interesting mix of towns, three cities (Providence, Worcester, Boston), and bike trails (about 20% of the route).

Paul: I got the impression that you saw towns in transition. What did you experience in the communities you passed through?

Loredana: We were impressed by the beauty of Pawtucket and Woonsocket in Rhode Island, with a rich history and great potential for the future. There were beautiful historical homes in and around Sudbury. Some sections, like one area of Worcester, could benefit from economic revitalization.

Ken: Many old industrial towns were generally declining or fighting back to convert their history into a relevant new community. There were many pretty towns along the way, and of course we finished in the great city of Boston.

Paul: What was the hardest part of this trip?

Nancy: The hardest part of the trip was the intense heat. It average in the low to mid 90s. We had to get up at 4 AM each day to be on the trail by 5 AM to cover at least half to three-fourths of our distance before 10 AM. Walking along roads with trucks and cars also made it difficult during the heated times of the day. There was little to no shade on these roads.

Loredana: High temperatures were the most difficult problem. However, we carried more water, electrolytes and cooling towels. Like instruments playing in unison, we slowed down or stopped together when one or of all us needed to rest. Ken: First, the extremely hot weather. Second, walking 3 days in a row of 20 or more miles each. Third, walking near or around heavy traffic can be nerve-racking.

Paul: Do you have any inside strategy or tips for others trying to walk long distances?

Nancy: Start as early as possible. Settle into a relaxed and steady peace to cover most of the distance during the morning hours. Make sure you have shoes that work for you and you have tested on previous walks. Loredana: Look for preventative blister patches to be applied to your shoe or feet before blisters really begin. A long poncho purchased at a Dollar store was perfect. Quick-dry clothes we were able to wash every night, traveling clean every day without carrying extra sets. Next time I plan to bring a bit of laundry detergent.

Ken: Carry as little as possible, though next time I’ll take a poncho. I wore a hat, and carried extra socks, shorts, toothbrush etc., sunblock, iPad, chargers, maps, snacks, and lots of water.

Paul: Are you ready to go again next year? Would you do anything differently? 

Nancy: Yes, I’m ready! I would like to get sponsors to help with lodging, food, carrying backpacks, etc. Perhaps if we start early getting the word out we can get more people and organizations to help and maybe even join us.

Loredana: Absolutely. Like Willie Nelson's song says, I truly can't wait to get on the road again. (Author’s Note: Our pioneers have made “On the Road Again” their official song.)

Ken: We’re ready to go next next year and eventually all the way to Canada. I’d look to limit most days to 15 miles and carry even less. I would consider carrying less water and snacks and buy more along the way. Also, maybe pick a cooler month than July?

Paul: Was there a funny moment you would like to share?

Yes. In the middle of a very hot day while approaching a bridge in Rhode Island we were stopped by a policeman. There was construction going on. It didn’t look like we would be able to pass.

Policeman: “Guys, I can't let you go through.”

Us: “We have no choice. We're walking.”

Policeman: “Where are you going?"

Us: “Boston”

Policeman: “BOSTON MASS???”

Us: “Yes”

Policeman: “DID YOU BREAK DOWN?”

The policeman looked at us for a couple of seconds as if he didn't know what to make of us. And, with a military tone shouted: “Follow me! SINGLE FILE!”

And that is how three pioneering Freewalkers 'march' over a bridge. There’s not much that can stop us once we find a good trail, like the East Coast Greenway and a challenging goal like 3,000 miles that awaits.

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