Going the distance

The summer of 2018 has seen a number of long walks and bike rides on the Greenway — including the first two people to walk the entire route. Here, updates on some of the treks.

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A crowd of friends, family, and fellow FreeWalkers gathered in New Jersey in June to see Jenn Popper off on her two-month walk up the Greenway.

 Just some of the long-distance travelers on the East Coast Greenway this summer:

  • Jenn Popper finished her 900-mile walk on the Greenway to honor her late husband on August 1;
  • Lisa Watts, communications manager for the East Coast Greenway, and Deirdre Bird ended their two-month bike ride from Key West to Calais, Maine, right on schedule on June 29, one month after Tom Gill and John Hamilton finished their two-month south-to-north trip;
  • Brett Bramble and John Azerolo reached Calais on July 31 after walking the Greenway from Key West — think about it — since January 27 to raise awareness of drug addiction and overdose;
  • two youth groups, Dream Project NJ and Bike and Build, sent young people to the Greenway this summer on long bike rides to raise awareness and funds for people experiencing homelessness and affordable housing; and
  • FreeWalkers Ken Kurland, Nancy Jonap, and Loredanna Delucci notched one more week's walk toward their goal of walking from New York City to Canada.

To a person, whether biking or walking, each long-distance traveler this summer has wished for more miles of protected Greenway. And while they've encountered hills, headwinds, rain, and more challenges, they've also met kind strangers, been delighted by coastal vistas, and grown stronger.

"We know the East Coast Greenway is well used and loved: over 10 million people visit sections of the Greenway every year," says Niles Barnes, East Coast Greenway Alliance deputy director. "This year we saw dramatic growth in the number of people walking and biking long distances. Brett and John are the first people to walk the entire route in a single trip. And Lisa and Dee Bird biked the whole route in 57 days, a record as far as we know. Congratulations to all of this summer's travelers and to the many more who are inspired to begin their own East Coast Greenway journeys." 

Here are updates on a few of these treks.

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Jenn Popper celebrates the finish of her 800-plus-mile walk up the Greenway in Gouldsboro, ME, on August 1, 2018, about seven weeks after leaving Cranford, NJ.

A year ago, Jenn Popper decided to turn a tragic life event — losing her husband and their kayak guide in a storm off the coast of Maine two years ago, and barely surviving herself — into a positive by taking a long walk (read earlier story). So in June she set off from her home in New Jersey. On August 1 she reached Gouldsboro, Maine, where she and Michael were vacationing when they went out in kayaks. She's been hot and tired for weeks, but she's proud of raising awareness — and significant dollars, more than $8,500 — for the East Coast Greenway along with the nonprofit distance walking organization, FreeWalkers. 

“It’s healing, it’s cathartic,” Jenn told the Ellsworth American on her second to last day of walking. “I can’t not think of [the kayak accident], especially coming back to this place. But then you get these moments of inspiration. The other day I caught a glimpse of Schoodic Mountain and I thought ‘We hiked that. And it’s still there.’ ”

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In Calais, Maine, across the St. Croix River from Canada, Lisa Watts and Dee Bird celebrate the finish of their ride up the Greenway from Key West.

The fact that Lisa and Dee finished their two-month ride up the Greenway on schedule amazed some friends and followers. Not so much this duo, who have ridden a number of week-long trips and run a few marathons together in their 30-plus years of friendship. Once they had survived a week of heat, humidity, and headwinds in Florida, they knew they would be fine — even when they hit the hills of Maine. The thrill of turning onto beautiful greenways after riding on a busy road and the kindness of friends, family, and strangers all along the route made their trip spectacular, they say. Read more

stick and brett in calais
John Azerolo, left, and Brett Bramble (and Brett's dog, Domino) on the St. Croix River in Calais, ME, on July 31, 2018, six months since leaving Key West to walk the East Coast Greenway to raise awareness of drug overdoses.

Through cold and heat, wind and rain, Brett Bramble and John "Stick" Azerolo — and Domino — walked the East Coast Greenway day after day for six months. Their purpose: Talking with thousands — reporters, public safety officers, advocacy groups, locals —about the national epidemic of drug addiction and overdoses. The two men connected with, hugged, and comforted hundreds of people who have lost loved ones to overdoses. "Sometimes you just have to listen," they say. And they kept smiling and kept walking. Bramble hopes to create an addiction treatment center, Freedom to Grow, where people with troubled pasts, behavioral disorders, and/or substance use disorder can spend nine months living and working on a farm in north Georgia and learn how to live happy, healthy, and self-sufficient lives.

Watch News Center Maine story

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They made it: Freewalkers Ken Kurland, Loredana Delucchi, and Nancy Jonap crossed over to Canada on August 6, 2018, completing their walk from New York City through weekly segments for the last handful of years. They're shown here in St. Stephen, Canada, with John Ames, tourism, heritage, culture, sport, and parks minister; Allan MacEachern, mayor of St. Stephen; and a very friendly local moose.

The nonprofit FreeWalkers — which offers events, information, and networking to educate the public on the benefit of walking — has partnered with the East Coast Greenway Alliance on a number of distance-walking events in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. This past spring, Paul Kiczek, founder and director of FreeWalkers, took to two wheels for a change and biked the Greenway from Key West to his home in New Jersey. Read his blog account of his trip

Meanwhile three fellow FreeWalkers — Ken Kurland, Loredana Delucchi, and Nancy Jonap — have been walking from New York City to Canada in week-long segments for the last five years. Read Portland Press Herald story  about their 2018 walk with the great headline, "Sick of car culture, Ken Kurland makes a point of walking – everywhere." They arrived in Canada on August 6.

Read earlier story about the walk to Canada


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