CHATHAM — At about 7:20 a.m. on a gray Thursday morning it’s 42 degrees and sprinkling when members of the Chatham Walkers convene in the breezy parking lot overlooking Oyster Pond.
Bill Horrocks, a walker since 1994, is the first to arrive for the thrice-weekly three-mile walk. Over the next five minutes others drift in, including June Herold, one of this month’s walk leaders.
“It’s fairly mild,” she says, smiling. She’s wearing ear muffs. The sprinkles have turned into rain.
By 7:30, 22 walkers have assembled here, almost all wearing hats, with a couple toting umbrellas. The rain briefly seems to include ice pellets. Maryellen Lorefice, this month’s other walk leader, announces today’s route. The group will walk through town toward Shore Road and back.
These 22 intrepid walkers have come out during the least-populated time of year, when snowbirds are nestled in whatever warm spot they have flown to, and the summer people are just a memory. Still, the group ranges in age from 63 to 93, with women outnumbering men almost three-to-one today. After the one-hour walk this morning, walkers will peel off and warm up over cups of coffee in Chatham’s various coffee shops.
For 33 years the Chatham Walkers have been “out and walking [in] any weather-- rain, fog, sleet and snow,” according to a booklet produced to commemorate the group’s 25th anniversary in 2010. The walkers were organized in the fall of 1985 through the auspices of the Chatham Council on Aging and a physical education instructor there named Mary Lou Trout. Subsequent leaders were Walter Vogel, Bill Griffiths and Kathleen Read. In 2007, instead of a single leader, a pair of walkers took over leading the group for a month at a time, planning special walks that could begin on the trail by Chatham Airport, for example, or even in Harwich, Brewster or Orleans. Member Barbara Waters sends members a monthly newsletter outlining the special walks which sometimes take place on Tuesdays or Thursdays.
The health benefits of regular walking are well known. It’s a tool for weight management, and a way to prevent or manage heart disease, high blood pressure and type two diabetes. Walking can strengthen muscles and lift your mood.
And it offers other advantages. Herold, a walker since 2012, notes, “you can get sort of isolated on gray days” during the off-season. The walkers, socializing and walking three times a week during even the coldest weather, provide an antidote to cabin fever.
“It’s walking for health and companionship,” says Ron Nickerson who, with his wife Karen, joined the group in 1998 shortly after they retired to Chatham.
“It’s a very congenial group, a very supportive group,” Karen Nickerson adds. She tells the story of a nonagenarian walker who fell during a walk last fall, hurting his arm. When it became apparent that due to his injury he could not drive, walkers organized to bring him meals until he healed.
Lorefice, who joined in October 2011, says the walkers “are like a family.” She is one of five Harwich residents in the group. Members “often make plans to see each other outside of walkers” and “look out for each other,” she says.
Every year the walkers look forward to a special breakfast in June at a member’s house. With spouses and guests also welcome, “it’s a total mob scene,” Ron Nickerson says. “It’s an unbelievable spread. We’re talking quiches.” During the year various members also host coffees at their houses. Then there’s the potluck Christmas party at the Community Center.
“People get decked out in Christmas finery,” Nickerson says.
The walkers take an annual field trip on a weekday in June. In the past they have explored Boston, Plymouth, New Bedford, Nantucket and a fort in Boston Harbor. Last June they carpooled to Provincetown. They walk when they arrive, then eat lunch and visit attractions. For Chatham’s 300th celebration, they had T-shirts made that said, “I walked 300 miles for Chatham’s 300th” and members kept track of their mileage to make sure they qualified to wear the shirt. And since 2004 the group has partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House to co-sponsor the annual Chatham Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.
Roger and Adrienne Denk, Chatham summer visitors since the late 1960s, joined the walkers in the late 1980s when Roger Denk’s father, who wasn’t a beachgoer, needed something to do. To this day Roger and Adrienne walk with the group every summer, when the group doubles or more in size.
Despite the many changes in the group’s membership since the late 1980s, “the intent of the group remains. [It’s] not just a gathering of like-minded walkers in all kinds of weather, but a cohesive alliance of friends who care for each other, help each other, and are some of our best friends in town,” Roger Denk says.
The Chatham Walkers are open to all. Beginning on Thurs., March 1 the group will meet at 7 a.m. at Oyster Pond on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No registration is required.