Comfortable shoes selected. Sunblock and bug spray applied. Water packed and muscles stretched.
This was the checklist for the 40 walkers gathered on Jetty Beach in Oak Bluffs early Saturday morning. Ahead was the Cross-Island Walk, a hike sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, led every year to celebrate National Trails Day and to expose people to the Island's conservation lands and the paths and back roads that connect them.
"I'll be your caterpillar interference man," shouted Bill Veno to the crowd. Planner for the Martha's Vineyard Commission and the Land Bank, he's been the hike's organizer for 10 years. "Here we go!"
We set out along East Chop Drive, walking by beach rose, honeysuckle, buttercups and an explosion of forsythia. Greeting us were the sounds of the Island waking up; crickets chirping, the ferry horn blowing, birds calling, the buoy bells ringing on the horizon and work getting under way with the buzz of an electric saw.
Before 9 a.m. the day's heat already had women wrapping their long-sleeved shirts around their waists.
As early as Telegraph Hill, this hiker was already distracted by aches and pains and thoughts of future self-improvement: less caffeine, more exercise, fewer drinks. We had more than 17 miles to go.
Near the shore of the Lagoon, the group stopped to look at graves in the tucked-away Eastville Cemetery, an old burial place for sailors, the poor and nonwhites. It was a rare moment to slow our brisk pace and get a brief insight into the history of the Island.
At 10:30 a.m. we rested at Featherstone Farm after a fierce battle between man and inch-worm. Along the trail were nests of them, hanging off of each other, creating vast webs perfect for snaring unsuspecting hikers.
There seemed to be two strategies for dealing with the little buggers. One was to fight them every step of the way, swatting in front of your face and pulling them off your clothing. This was best done with a buddy. At least that way you both looked crazy. The trouble with this method was that as you looked down to examine where they had landed, you walked right into the next web.
If you were a stoic, you took a different approach. Walking through the woods, head held high, you let them accumulate all over you. Those who chose this strategy used the rest stop to employ the help of a friend to pick the worms off of clothing.
"They should rename this the entomology walk," said one hiker as the group walked by trees covered in webs that looked like Halloween decorations.
At lunchtime, walkers sat under the eaves of the state forest headquarters building to get some shade. Boots were taken off, band-aids and second coatings of sunscreen were applied. People snacked on sandwiches, raisins, apples and trail mix, while above the incessant munch of the worms, working their way through the leaves, could be heard.
As the day wore on, people continued to be surprised by some of the lesser-known paths. "I didn't even know these roads were back here," became a common exclamation.
"We want you to use them in the future," said James Lengyel, executive director of the land bank.
"Every year gets better and better," he said about the turn-out and enthusiasm for the hike.
A highlight of the afternoon, besides the much needed but unexpected stop for water at a neighbor's house, was the trail that cut through a field of white wildflowers between Thimble Farm and Chicama Vineyards.
On the walk down to the Vineyard Haven side of the lagoon, we passed by the Norton ancestral home.
"Isn't this pretty," exclaimed Pam Goff, member of the Chilmark conservation commission. "Wouldn't you like to paint a picture?"
Once we reached the beach, we saw the calm lagoon waters and elegant waterfront homes laid out in front of us.
"I'm so excited I did it," said Robin Gitlitz of Vineyard Haven. "I never would have found these roads or trails by myself."
The stretch of the walk along the lagoon required scrambling over wet rocks and fallen tree trunks. People held back branches for each other as if they were holding open doors. Two onlookers yelled down from their deck to friends of theirs on the walk and invited them to come up for some afternoon tea.
Around 4:30 p.m. the group made the final trek through wooded trails to Duarte's Pond. When the pond came into view it was a welcome sight not just for its pristine beauty, but because it signaled the end of a long hike.