Walking for America

This morning I was chatting with a man who grew up in Buffalo, New York and we got to talking about John F. Kennedy’s push for physical fitness. The subject brought back a memory buried deep in my brain. Perhaps I intentionally stuck it in the most remote area of my memory banks, but on reflection, it says a lot about JFK and how we young and impressionable college students took his advice to heart.

We were freshmen at Edinboro State Teachers College and paid little attention to politics or current events. However, Kennedy got our attention with talk of the Peace Corps and the importance of our citizens being in good physical condition. At the time, JFK was encouraging everyone to take fifty mile hikes. We weren’t quite up to that challenge, but a group of us – six or seven if memory serves me right – believed we could start small… by walking from Edinboro to Erie, Pennsylvania.

We planned the hike for a weekend when none of us would have to get up for classes. Saturday morning classes stopped us from starting out on Friday evening or Saturday morning.

The only problem with leaving Saturday afternoon or evening was my work schedule at the Student Union. The place closed at 11:00 PM on Saturday and I had to spend another hour cleaning tables and mopping floors. Since everyone agreed to wait for me, we headed north at midnight.

We were less than five miles into our journey when we realized that someone should have checked with the weatherman. We slogged our way through a torrential downpour that lasted at least forty-five minutes. We were soaked through and through!

About then – it might have been two-thirty or three o’clock in the morning – we came to a small settlement that had a laundromat that stayed open all night. In a very short time, there was a group of college men standing around in their undershorts. Everything else – including sneakers – went into the dryers. Fortunately, no police cars or local citizens driving by took notice. Within a half hour or so, we were all dressed in warm clothing fresh from the dryers and back on the road.

We continued walking until the sun came up and one of our leaders recognized where we were. Our goal was to get to his house, which he figured was still six or seven miles away. We had walked about fifteen miles and were totally exhausted. We found a pay phone so he could call his parents. I’m not sure how we all fit in their family car, but we made it. When we arrived at his home, we immediately found a spot on a sofa, bed, or floor, and toddled off to dreamland.

When we finally awoke late in the afternoon, we were treated to a marvelous dinner – it was great to have a MOM-cooked meal – and were driven back to Edinboro. As I recall, that was the end of our hiking. Needless to say, we never came close to that fifty mile goal.


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