Special to The Washington Post
By Remar Sutton
Little Apple Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands—Under a hot blue sky two Saturdays ago, a hundred walkers, ages 13 to 77, hiked a total of 751 brutal but beautiful miles up and down Tortola's narrow roads. Virtually every mile had a milestone and a story. This was no walk for wimps.
"I never imagined the way the roads went straight up without switchbacks" Jim Davidson said. Joe's Hill alone rises for one solid mile. But Davidson walked "every inch" of the full 14.5-mile course.
Breath-taking scenery slowed walkers as often as the inclines. "We saw islands rising from the sea, large and small, far and near, in ever-changing illumination, from the morning sun to the more hushed light of the evening," said Dagobert Soergel, 62, here with his wife Lisa, 70.
"The spirit of the walk moved my wife up and down two hills which I never thought she would make," Mr. Soergel continued. At the 4.8 mile marker, the Soergels took turns gently pushing the other up the steepest slope. Mrs. Soergel completed 6 tough miles; Mr. Soergel finished the course.
Walkers gathered strength from many sources. "I was sure I wouldn't make it the entire 14.5 miles," said Denise Medlyn. "What I didn't know was how far the enthusiasm and courage of the other walkers would carry me." Then, at the 6.3 mile marker, as one of our open jitneys tempted her to ride, "two small boys on bikes told me they were amazed at the distance I had come." Big encouragement can come in small boys. Denise walked 14.5 miles.
"I remember thinking I was pushing my 63-year-old body to the limits of its performance ability at one point," Dorothy Acosta said. Then the Red Cross safety vehicle energized her. "That man must have zoomed by me a hundred times. His infectious, broad smile, with that big red flag flying in the back of his little red, battered pickup, was very comforting."
"I needed to talk to myself to make it all the way," said Irv Chamberlain. His mantra was "yes I can!"
"The students were magnificent!" said Bonnie Whyte, here with husband Bill. All volunteers from BVI High School, the kids were "at every major twist and turn, dancing, clapping and cheering every walker."
Walkers set their own paces. Two couples started early and walked so fast they finished the entire 14.5 miles before the rest of us started! Tortolian Patty Anne Mittelholzer showed up for the walk on the wrong day, but walked it anyway!
Carol Gaunt, from Waldorf, Maryland, "sort of straggled away from the group" when she had an allergic reaction to sun block. After a fresh-cut aloe application, Carol walked on. Carol made it six miles, stopping at every one of the perfume and facial stands set up and manned by Patricia Morgan, headmistress of our Montessori school, and her students. Patricia and her daughter also handed out fresh-cut pineapple and cologne to the men. When our group's lunch stop forgot to prepare lunch, Patricia and her bank president husband Kenneth, flipped hamburgers.
Donna Hill and her husband Michael "didn't walk the longest distance, and didn't walk the fastest," Donna says, but her walk was an amazing feat anyway. Just a year ago Donna was awaiting a kidney transplant. "My prognosis was poor," she says. "I had given up my career and most other activities."
Then Donna saw our "Walk With Remar" web site. She started walking "slowly but consistently, according to the training calendar. My husband Michael joined me as we walked every night. Winter turned to spring, then summer. Our marriage was strengthened by our uninterrupted time together, and to the amazement of the medical experts, my kidney function began to improve. By autumn, I no longer was qualified for a transplant—;I was deemed too healthy!" The Hills completed the five hardest miles.
Untold stories were everywhere. Patty Borja, a "remarkably resilient, sweet woman," as one walker described her, was here with her son, William, 13. Patty has dealt with breast cancer surgery and chemotherapy while supporting her husband in his terrible battle with advanced Parkinsons disease. Making new friends kept Patty smiling all week. "I met three women who have been friends for twenty years and rendezvoused at Tortola" Patty said.
"I met two couples who had been friends for twenty-eight years. One woman was four and a half years post chemo. I met professors and their wives from the University of Maryland." And there was the woman whose job takes her regularly into war zones, the world traveler just returned from a 400-mile walk across Europe, and on it went.
Meanwhile William Borja made friends with every creature on land—and water. "Did you know dogs make good pillows?" William wrote me, as he described his sunset sail back from Jost Van Dyke. His pillow was Khali, the boat's mascot.
"The greatest thing about the whole week," William said, "was meeting everyone. There were so many nice and interesting people!" Quite a statement, when you realize most of those people were old enough to be William's grandfather.
The whole crew agreed with William. "If it wasn't for the group's enthusiastic support, we would have settled for rum punch after the first quarter-mile straight up," said Deni Foster after finishing the entire walk.
"You know its been a great walk when people report discoveries about themselves they had not expected," added Bonnie Whyte.
"I was warmed by the caring of people who had been total strangers only a few short days before," said Carol Gaunt. Joseph Content, of Port Jefferson, New York summed the walk spirit up perfectly: "Everybody was still smiling after fourteen miles!"
We did a lot more than walk during the week. We danced in the sand at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke. We sailed to the ocean-rimmed caves of fabled Norman Island. Deni Foster backstroked into the caves, a rum punch in her hand. Then as a lark we hiked to the highest peak on Norman Island at sunset, a dozen other islands and hundreds of boats filling the horizon.
"I was sitting outside on the sail back," Patty Borja wrote, "a sliver of a moon shining against a black sky. We began singing Christmas carols. Three women harmonized. One of the women had actually sung at a major-league baseball game, and she sang "The Star Spangled Banner" for us. Oh, to have these experiences and memories!"
And all this started with a fifteen minute walk right there in the beltway! Don't you wish you had been with us?
You can, in the future. Take a walk now. Then listen to Sherry Henry, who came to Tortola, but walked only a mile. "I'm using today," Sherry said as she finished the mile, "to kick off my personal goal to take great control of my fitness."
After you take that walk, go to our web site. We've posted dozens of pictures from the Beltway Walkers' excellent adventure. Chose a walking calendar and then take control of your life, one step at a time.