Bob Quinlan was interviewed by Risa Olinsky, FreeWalkers Vice President, on what drives him and what it's like joining FreeWalkers.
Bob: It’s true, I love getting around in things with wings or wheels, but I’ve found that walking is the best way to experience the outdoors, whether in urban or rural areas. Although, I love flying (as pilot or passenger), you miss the intimacy of the scenery. I also enjoy riding trains, which I find it very relaxing. But, you can’t just stop the train to get out and take pictures or hike the mountains you go by.
Although, many modes of travel are enjoyable, I find walking is the best way to “get up close and personal.” When you walk through rural and coastal areas, you experience it all – the smell of pine trees, honeysuckle, freshly cut hay and salty ocean air- things you really can’t experience in an airplane, train or car. Walking is also a great way to experience the aura of a city, especially a city with many ethnicities and cultures. There’s nothing like the enticing smell of sweet Italian sausages coming from a push cart on a Manhattan sidewalk or the aromas of all kinds of food in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. For me, walking all around a city is the best way to take it all in - even better with a group- the miles go faster and if someone misses something of special interest, someone else usually points it out.
Risa: What have been some of your most interesting experiences on the road?
Bob: One of my most interesting experiences while walking was when I walked the Florida Keys, from the top of Key Largo to Key West. I’ve driven this route many times in my life and always enjoyed the breathtaking scenery, but it was difficult to soak it all in while driving along the highway at 50 mph (often with another car on my tail). So, about a month after I retired I decided to walk the entire length when the weather changed abruptly and the skies opened up (right in the middle of the “7 mile bridge”. I was soaked before I could even get my rain gear on although that didn’t stop me. The entire walk was the most memorable one so far.
Risa: How did you learn about FreeWalkers?
I learned about Freewalkers on “Meetup.” After I retired and started walking long distances, I realized that few (actually none) of my friends wanted anything to do with walking further than the distance from a parking lot into a restaurant. While searching for walking groups, “Freewalkers” jumped right out at me. After attending my first event with the group (30-mile Hudson River Loop Walk) I quickly learned there were other “slightly eccentric” people like me out there! I’ve been hooked ever since.
Risa: What do you love most about FreeWalkers?
Bob: Without exception, it’s the people. The group’s founder, Paul Kiczek, is a very easy-going, friendly guy who makes everyone feel welcome. There’s no pressure to walk any distance or at any particular pace. Most of the members are friendly and health-conscious people from a variety of backgrounds. With no competitive pressure to meet any particular goals (something I did all my life), I found Freewalkers to be the perfect fit for a retired guy like me who’s no longer in a hurry and has nothing to prove.
I’ve always been an introvert but the members of this group made me comfortable right from the start and I’ve made many new friends here. When we walk (usually in small groups) we talk to one another almost all the time; the miles just fly by. The other things I do, motorcycling, bicycling, kayaking, even flying are well-suited to “loners” (like me), but walking in groups with such nice people has forced me to come out of my shell, so to speak. I now find myself casually talking to strangers that I probably would have avoided in the past.
I will add that many people probably would never think of walking 20 or 30 miles (or more) in a day. As I often say, if you can walk one mile, you can walk two; and if you can walk two miles, push yourself a little and walk three or four and so on. Before you know it you might find yourself walking 30-50 miles in a day! Your feet may hurt, but it’s a good kind of hurt at the end of a full day.
Risa: Bob, from our walks and talks together, I know that you have transformed your health and body over the past few years. How does walking long distances continue to support your wellness goals?
About 3 years ago, I retired and joined Weight Watchers. Through careful eating and sustained exercise, I lost almost 80 pounds. The challenge has been keeping that extra weight off. Participating in Freewalkers events, particularly the longer walks, helps me maintain a healthy weight and level of fitness- something I didn’t do in the past. I supplement my walking with bicycle rides and often go kayaking and “stand-up paddle boarding” on New Jersey’s lakes and rivers.
Risa: With all your life experiences and now retired, what advice would you give young people who might say - “I have no time for exercise?”
For those who think they don’t have the time to exercise, my advice would be to make the time- force yourself to wake up an hour earlier in the morning to exercise if that’s what it takes. I’d also tell them not to let themselves go, like I did. It’s so easy to do while you’re pursuing a career and eating and drinking to be social. It’s so much easier, less painful and cheaper to stay in shape than it is to get back in shape after you’ve let yourself go.