A very long trail beckons Boy Scouts

Troop35 makes it an annual goal to do 40 miles in a day

Health & Fitness

April 04, 2004|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to the Sun

Young people today are often criticized for not challenging themselves enough physically.

Don't tell that to members of Boy Scout Troop 35. Each year, they take part in a grueling, one-day, 40-mile hike. The hike is not a charity walk -- it's simply a test of will.

"It's a challenge to the kids to see if they can finish," says Ed Schatz, the Baltimore troop's scoutmaster. "It's a physical fitness challenge."

The tradition started in 1963 after President John F. Kennedy addressed America's youth on the need for physical fitness. Troop 35's scoutmaster at the time, Carl Zapffe, responded by challenging his troop to walk from their headquarters, at the Church of the Redeemer on North Charles Street, to the Broad Creek Boy Scout camp 40 miles away.

That distance is double the amount needed for the long-distance portion of the hiking merit badge. One scout, Jim Spamer, completed the first hike in just under 10 hours, and the 40-miler became an annual spring challenge.

"I'm always impressed, every year, at the number of kids that can do this," says Schatz. "I think it's mind over matter. If they want to make it, they can."

This year's hike will be April 17, rain or shine, and about 40 of the troop's 50 members are expected to turn out, along with parents, former troop members and others. There will be about 100 participants in all, according to organizers. The route, which changes each year, starts at the Paper Mill Road entrance to the Northern Central Railroad Trail near Ashland, and ends along the York County Heritage Trail in Pennsylvania.

Greg Flanigan, a 12-year-old Gilman School student, logged about 30 miles of the hike last year. This year he hopes to complete it.

"After awhile you get tired and your feet hurt," says Flanigan, who plays lacrosse and also enjoys fencing, "but it's fun and gives me a chance to challenge myself."

The best part about the hike, he says, is the opportunity to talk to friends and take in the scenery.

"The first time, I thought it would be impossible," he says. "It turned out to be pretty possible, just not within my reach. ... I'm sure that will change this year."

Flanigan hasn't been training specifically for the hike, but he's in good shape. "I do some walking on my own every day. Fencing stretches me out and lacrosse gives me stamina. That's about it."

Most of the walkers are from Troop 35, but also participating are members of Venture Crew, a youth development program of the Boy Scouts for young men and women ages 14 to 20. Parents, siblings and friends also turn out.

(The general public is welcome to participate, according to walk organizers. There is a $20 registration fee. Registration begins at 5:15 a.m., and the walk begins at 6 a.m.)

Two 10-mile practice walks are held a few weeks before the hike. Otherwise, readiness comes in the form of tips passed on from walk veterans: Bring at least one change of socks, don't wear new shoes, keep hydrated.

"My advice is to bring lots of socks. Nothing is better than changing your socks," says Han-nah Dunevant, a 10th-grader at Towson High School and Venture Crew member who has completed five of the 40-milers. "The last five miles is the part where you are saying to yourself, 'Why am I doing this?' But it's always worth it."

The hikers get plenty of support. At each five-mile interval, a checkpoint is set up where water, first-aid supplies and encouragement are handed out. Adults on bikes also monitor the trail.

Getting young people involved in physically challenging activities is important, says Mark Fenton, a walking advocate and host of the PBS series America's Walking.

Almost 9 million young people age 6 to 19 are overweight, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number has nearly tripled for adolescents in the past 20 years.

Obesity is often blamed on the computer age but, Fenton says, walking is being engineered out of our lives. In the past, going to school, shopping or to work often involved a walk. Today everyone drives.

"There is some real appeal in the notion of putting a challenge out there and re-establishing -- particularly to our youth -- what their physical capabilities are," Fenton says.

Jack Kidd, 51, a former troop member who has walked the 40-miler and has a son who has also participated, says an important element of the challenge is that you don't have to cover the entire distance.

"I remember looking forward to it. Everyone was excited and wanted to finish, but the idea was to do the best you could do," the Rodgers Forge resident says. "It's out there to challenge yourself -- that's the whole idea."

Many people have suggested making the annual hike a charity event to raise money, but that would take away from the walk's main goal, Kidd believes.

"You're really doing this for nobody but yourself, and that's remarkable," he says.

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