“I know a lot of doctors who can cure you,” said my co-worker when I told him the distance I was planning to walk.
At 12:30 am on Saturday, September 8, there were nine of us in Easton, PA. The night before, some of us had slept very little and some not at all. Perhaps we were all excited but also a bit nervous. After all, what we were about to do was not going to be just a walk around the block. Most of us had never walked 62 miles in one day. In fact, this was maybe the first time that anyone had walked the entire canal path. We just didn't know what to expect.
After having pizza, Charles - who came up with the idea of this walk - gave us maps and instructions. Nakis handed out small headlights. We took a few pictures and off we went.
Soon we reached the path along the Delaware and walking there at night felt magical. After a while we came across a levee. It was covered with water so we took off our shoes and socks and walked over it. It was slippery. Some of us held hands. We then dried our feet as best as we could but it was a futile effort because as we continued walking, the heavy dew on the grass made our shoes, socks and feet wet again. This would lead later to foot problems for all of us.
When we arrived at the breakfast place in the morning, some of us were already feeling tired, me included. The place was lovely and I wanted to lie down on a sofa and sleep. Instead, I had oatmeal and coffee.
I also did laundry for the first time during our walk. I changed my socks and washed my other pair hoping to have an opportunity to dry them later on.
In the morning with the daylight, we were able to appreciate the magnificence along the Delaware Canal.
While our feet kept moving, we spent the entire morning admiring every inch of the way and chatting with each other.
At lunchtime, after 32 miles, we stopped at a deli in Stockton. I noticed that I had lost my appetite. While trying to eat something, I had a hard time convincing my mind to tell my body that I had to keep moving for another 30 miles.
I started to get physical symptoms similar to those experienced by people who do ultra marathons: headache, nausea and stomach problems. There were no porta-potties along the canal so I tried to drink less water. I knew that was wrong but I did not know what else to do. I could have taken a Tylenol for my headache but I did not want to take it in case it would have caused more problems.
By mid afternoon, some of us were walking ahead and some behind. Cory had to stop due to aches and pains and left about halfway. Denise was walking with Nakis. Hilary and Michael had decided to slow down a bit. Ian, Tom and I were together and close by was Charles.
At mile 48, right before Yardley, Ian calculated that at the pace we were going it was becoming almost impossible for us to reach our destination on time and, to get our train back to New York. So he decided that he was stopping at Trenton but encouraged me to go on.
Tom and I analyzed the situation and agreed to speed up our pace to try to make it. It got pitch dark very quickly and it was difficult to go fast while reading directions - perhaps also because after 18 hours of walking, our brains started to get a bit sluggish.
Our headlamps were okay but did not provide peripheral vision and that made it difficult for us to find things. At a certain point, there were three detours due to obstructions on the trail. The directions indicated that we needed to take a trail large enough for a vehicle and, it specified not to take the thin trail. We had the canal on our right side, no way to go forward and what looked like a relatively small path on the left. The path did not look big enough for a vehicle and we had not seen any other trail. We started to get nervous about going the wrong way. We had a train to catch and could not afford to get lost in the dark. We decided to take the trail that was there and after a few steps we realized that it became big enough for a car. I’m sure that if it had been during the day, we would have seen it clearly from where we were standing before. We followed the path and then turned to the right. Because we had tunnel vision with our headlamps, and were looking down to find our way, I did not realize I was walking a couple of inches from train tracks. "There are train tracks here," I said to Tom when I saw them. Within a second, a train sped by us like a bullet leaving us standing back in shock.
After recovering our breath, with our hearts still beating fast, we continued walking in the dark trying to see a fence, steel beams, the next turn or the next path. Time was passing fast and we were making very little progress. If we wanted to catch our train, we needed to hurry up but we could not. I tried to respond to my sister who sent me a text message asking if I was okay. Without realizing it, I almost fell into the canal. My legs were tired and I was not walking straight. Exhausted, we laughed thinking about a message we would have sent to Freewalkers saying that I had explored the canal 'in depth'. Humor was perfect to keep us sane at that moment.
We decided that the walk had become too stressful and so we gave up the idea of catching the last train to New York. We were going to calm down, finish the walk and book a hotel.
Tom's headlamp was running out of batteries. He told me that earlier in the day he had dropped the small headlamp we had received from Nakis and that he had tried to go down to the river or the canal (I can’t remember which one) to retrieve it but it was too far and could not do it. “What if you fell and nobody saw you?” I asked. Envisioning the scene I then said “I probably would have told people not to worry or look for you because you have the reputation of appearing and disappearing all the time.” Tom smiled and said “And my Epithet would read: He still has to reappear”. It felt good to laugh because it made us forget how tired we were.
From time to time Tom would say “we have 7 miles to go” or “6 miles to go” and I did not want to hear that because it meant that, as tired as we were, we still had to walk for at least another two hours. Then, finally with only one mile to go, we experienced the last surprise of the day. Ahead of us, I saw something that made no sense. "What's that?" I asked. Tom heard me and paid attention to the road ahead. He had not seen it and was going to walk right into it. There was a bridge and we were supposed to go under it but the path was filled with water. In disbelief, we stopped. "Let's climb the bridge." Said Tom. It took me a moment to understand what he was saying. "Climb the bridge? How?" I asked.
Once again, with our small headlamps, we tried to find our way but this time it was up the bridge. It was raining slightly and the ground was slippery. There was a block of cement and I had a hard time lifting my tired legs up. When we got to the top, I saw what appeared to me like a sea of train tracks and Tom had started to go over each one of them. "I'm going to see if we can get back down on the other side," he said.
He was already on the tracks and I could not stop him. I was afraid to talk because I did not want to distract him. I prayed for Tom and looked to the right and to left to see if any train was coming. I got so scared my heart was racing. Then I saw Tom's headlight disappear. 'What if he slips or falls over there,' I thought. Finally, I saw his headlamp reappear. He was coming back. There was no way for us to go down to the trail on the other side. I did not care! I was grateful Tom had made it safely over the tracks.
In the dark with no way to go forward, for a few minutes, we were speechless. After marching on for 61 miles, we now had to accept the fact that we had to go back. We had to retrace our steps until we could go out of the trail.
After one mile, we finally got off the trail. The distance we walked to get there was the same distance we would have walked if we could have gone forward. At 12:20 am we walked into a hotel. "Bitter sweet," said Tom. I agreed. We had walked the distance but we had not seen the end of the canal after walking along it for so long.
I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to Charles Updike for organizing this memorable walk. I have no doubt that our experience will be valuable to us and future walkers. Before this event I had no idea I could walk for so many hours and so many miles. I also didn't know the path along the Delaware Canal was so picturesque. I am grateful for all the beautiful people who joined this walk. We all helped each other somehow, even if just with a smile or a few words. I will never forget our adventure. Perhaps I’ll try it again one day (I can't believe this thought just crossed my mind.)
Thank you FreeWalkers! :)
See Photo Album