The five women range in age from 66 to 84, and their goal is to hike every single one of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank walking trails. Thus far they have checked off twenty of them, even repeating a few favorites.
Last Sunday the women allowed this reporter to join their hike. We met at 9 a.m. in the parking lot of the Up-Island Cronig’s. The temperature that morning was 29 degrees.
Sue Silk, the baby of the group at 66, showed up wearing an ecru down jacket over an aqua sweatshirt over a purple turtleneck. Her heavy-knit headband was a riot of fuchsia and turquoise squiggles.
“We’re heading over to Blackwater Pond,” she told everyone. This would be the group’s fourth tour of this trail located down a small dirt road in Lambert’s Cove.
Dotti Arnold, age 77 and the cofounder with Sue of the walking group, nodded to this reporter and said with a laugh, “We almost chose the one ugly walk we’ve been on, so we wouldn’t attract more people to a favorite spot.”
The group’s first steps together took place two and a half years ago when Sue and Dotti made a plan to walk together on a weekly basis.
“We first trekked along the West Tisbury Road bike path but the asphalt was hard on our feet,” Sue said. It wasn’t long before they hatched a plan to explore all the land bank trails, and convinced Pat Crosson, Lee Revere and Betty Joslow to join them.
“We’re good schmoozers,” Betty said, to explain a part of what makes the group so convivial.
“And we motivate each other,” Sue added.
After driving to Lambert’s Cove, with direction from Sue thanks to frequent peeks at her tiny dog-eared copy of Walking Trails of Martha’s Vineyard, we approached the trailhead, beautifully marked with one of the land bank’s signature rustic booths and a detailed map of the terrain tacked to the wall.
Ahead a pewter-toned pond gleamed under the vivid blue, February sky.
“In the spring and summer, this pond is covered with thousands of water lilies” noted Betty, who at 84 is the eldest walker. “I’m the mommy of the group,” she said with a grin. On the walks she keeps a running head count to make sure no one goes missing. And, in fact, later on the walk, after cresting a hilly summit, she paused to look behind her.
“We’re missing Sue and Carol,” she announced. After scanning the horizon, they were spotted resting under an arbor of bare branches.
The walk traversed over fields of dappled brush, past trees arching tall or felled across the ground or, occasionally, wholly submerged in the pond. As if Thoreau himself had designed the trail, weathered boards have been laid over pond and brooks leading into otherwise impenetrable parts of the forest.
“You can see all the places they’ve been brush-cutting to create this path,” Dotti said over her shoulder, never losing a breath. Like the seasoned athletes they all are, the ladies augment their walks with other means of exercise during the week: weight training at Howes House in West Tisbury, gym visits and spinning classes.
Carol Whitmarsh, 62, of Edgartown, is new to the group and not yet a part of the other exercise regimens.
“She’s auditioning,” Sue said.
“This isn’t an audition,” Carol answered, alluding to the fact that her close friends Sue and Dotti have been worried about her lack of exercise. “It’s an intervention.”
The walk continued over a patch of vivid, neon green moss, like a motel room’s plush wall-to-wall carpet.
“Looks like an early spring,” Pat Crosson remarked. She wore black Mt. Everest-quality hiking pants with a thick liner, even rolling down her waistband to show off the flannel underneath.
Crossing another bridge, Sue reached her hands behind her to clasp Betty’s and help her with safe passage. Later, after an hour of walking, the group found themselves in a high field of dried golden grasses. An arc of sunlight gleamed over the meadow and a small farmhouse appeared at rest in the distance.
“We’re lost,” declared Betty in a voice that signaled pure delight. Indeed, while Sue consulted her trails book, the rest of the group admired the views in every direction.
“It’s too beautiful to be alarmed,” Betty said, with regard to the possibility of actually being lost.
While steps were retraced Dotti told a story about another time the walkers did become lost and ended up in the driveway of a truck-driver who pointed them in the proper direction.
At the end of the hike, Sue checked her pedometer and announced, “Three point eight miles.”
Betty said that sounded perfect, adding “If a trail is too short, we do two.”