MANCHESTER — At 5 on a winter morning, the sun still has about two hours before it must rise and shine.
But Kay Church and her Reeboks are ready.
Her walk on this particular Wednesday will be colder than usual. The temperature is 36 degrees, but the wind makes it feel half that.
Church's husband, Ron, fresh out of bed and wearing his robe, saysgoodbye to her at the back door of their duplex and tells her to be careful.
Walking 10 miles to work in Westminster with cars and trucks whizzing past with their high beams on is not his idea of enjoyable exercise. He'd rather sweat in a gym on a Nautilus machine or an aerobics class.
But Church thrives on her thrice-weekly trek on Route 27. It's different, it's liberating, and it has helped her lose 60pounds.
"It's a stroll if I don't walk 10 miles," said Church, 45, the receptionist at the County Office Building on North Center Street.
The walk takes 2 1/2 hours. Church, who is as alert before dawn as she is at noon, walks down Long Alley to the Sheetz store at Main Street and Route 27. The town is quiet, houses dark.
At the convenience store, she buys a bottle of mineral water. She'll put the bottle in her pocket and sip from it occasionally. On this day, the water freezes before she can finish it.
Church says she's become addicted to walking since she started in July. On a Saturday, she'll even walk to Westminster for a hair salon appointment. Recently, she walked "a personal best" -- three miles in about half an hour. Her normal pace is 3 3/4 miles per hour.
The course is a bit hilly. Church knows the topography and works to maintain her pace when she's on an incline. The steepest rise peaks near Snydersburg Road.
Church doesn't get winded -- doesn't even get blisters anymore. Every six weeks she must buy a new pair of shoes.
She walks on the shoulder, facingtraffic between Manchester and Westminster. No cars have swerved at her, and she hasn't encountered any dead animals.
But her husband still is concerned. He passes her as he drives to work.
"I sort ofkeep an eye on her, but I let her go her own way," said her husband,who also works at the County Office Building, in the Bureau of Development Review.
He doesn't share her passion for the pursuit; he's more of a leisurely weekend walker. But he understands why she likes it.
"You can have driven a piece of road for years and years and not really appreciate it until you're on foot," he said.
On this Wednesday, the early morning sky is bright with stars. On other days, Church has seen meteor showers and beautiful sunrises.
At least an hour before dawn, a rooster's crowing rings out in the quiet. Fartherdown the road, the pungent smells of a dairy farm waft up to the road. The farm, where lights are on and people are working, is a contrast to the string of darkened houses she already has passed.
The shoulder gives Church enough room to walk comfortably. It won't be untilshe gets to Westminster that she'll have to hug the guardrail. When a car approaches with its bright lights on, she shields her eyes withone hand, but keeps a steady pace. She wears a white jacket to reflect the light.
Church will walk in cold weather, but not rain, fog or ice. In the summer, she'll often walk home from work instead.
Before she became a regular on the road, she said people she knew would stop and ask if she needed a ride.
During the first hour of her pre-dawn constitutional, not many cars are on the road, making the walk even more of a solitary endeavor. She has tried to persuade friends to join her in the darkness, but has had more luck finding companions at lunch time.
Leslie Selby, who works in Production Services at the County Office Building, often skips lunch and walks 3 1/4 milesto Carroll County General Hospital with Church.
"It's a great stress reliever," Selby said. "She's a very good listener. The best walkis when we have a lot to talk about. You don't even know you're walking."
Bill Farrell, a friend from Manchester, first encouraged Church to take up walking. At 70, Farrell walks about 20 miles a week and wants others to know the benefits of the habit.
"I get a contentment out of it," he said. "It gives you a lift and a lot of pep. It takes away any depression you might have."
Since she reached middleage, Church said she's become more independent and less concerned about others' opinion of her. Walking has played a big role in that. Her children -- Lisa, 21, and Ron, 19 -- are old enough to take care ofthemselves, and she has more time for her own interests.
"I really believe life begins at 40," she said.
Her goal when she retires is to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail -- a 2,144-mile trek from Maine to Georgia.
When she reaches the County Office Building about 7:30 a.m., she makes a quick change into the heels and dress her husband has brought for her in the car. She's at her desk by 8, greeting employees coming in to work, shivering from the cold wind.
She just smiles and nods when they ask, "You didn't walk today did you?"