50-Mile Hikers

memorable hikes | then & now

At my 45 year high school reunion we reminisced about our fifty miler. Four of us finished, it was some time in the spring '63, we were juniors in high school. My time was 13:47 roughly (at my age, memory is difficult).

So now we are thinking - four years from now, how about a fiftieth anniversary 50 miler? We are quite old, but it would give us something to shoot for. And we have four years to prepare. I am to get new knees this December, and a few of my high school classmates are thinking of it.

What say you all? Could be fun, at least for the first few hours, and something to pass on to the grandkids as a tradition.

Lynn Johnson
Salt Lake City

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Comment by Paul Kiczek on July 1, 2009 at 9:15am
Lynn, et al
I'm thinking your idea of a 50th year anniversary 50-mile hike is perfect. Having just walked 38 miles (I faded out after 12 hours) this past February in memory of RFK's heroic feat that year, I would like another crack at 50. From my experience I can tell you its not easy but its a worthy and doable challenge - even for us old guys (I'm 61 yrs old). There is something about the challenge, the spirit and the time that lives on in all of us...
Comment by Nicholas M. Williams on June 30, 2009 at 10:54am
Lynn: Having just semi-retired, I've had more time to exercise as well as reminisce about the Good Old Days. Your website took me completely by surprise as I had thought that no one would still be interested in these silly 50-mile walks over 45 years ago! However, America was a very different country in 1963 which is difficult to explain to today's youth (I've been a teacher and social worker for the past 37 years).

In March 1963 I participated in a 50-mile walk as a freshman at El Camino Junior College in Southern California. El Camino had been challenged to a 50-mile walk by a rival college, so there was an element of competition to the event. Thirty-nine men started off at 5:30am, following a printed map we were given (mimeographed!) with detailed instructions giving the mileage to specific check-in points along the route, including rest stops and a lunch break at Huntington Beach State Park. The race course generally followed Highway 101 and Garden Grove Blvd. eastward to Beach Blvd., then south to Hwy. 101 and Huntington Beach State Park, then westward back along 101 toward Long Beach. Several cars or vans of students cruised the course to pick-up those injured or too tired to continue, to shout encouragement to the survivors, and update the crowd that was gathering at the finish line.

While advertised as a 50-mile walk, nearly everyone began jogging at the start as school pride was at stake. There were a few members of the cross country teams participating, who everyone expected to take top honors and leave the rest of us in their dust. My own strategy was to jog for a few miles, walk a mile or so, then continue jogging and walking for as long as I could. As the miles wore on, there were several groups of students who separated from the main pack - with the cross country jocks presumably in the lead - but my main goal was to pace myself and finish no matter what my time was. Also, the prevailing "wisdom" for long distance running (at least for novices) was to stay hydrated with orange juice and gulp honey occasionally for energy, so I brought money along and stopped in quick-stop markets a couple of times to buy these.

As the miles wore on, most of the original 39 gradually dropped out, some with leg cramps, some with blistered and bloody feet. Some sat down to rest and were unable to get up. I refused to stop to rest until the group of three I was with reached the state park where we waited for lunch...and waited...and waited. After a half-hour and nothing had happened, I decided "To hell with this!" and continued off on my own. At about the 40 mile point I was ready to cash it in. I was walk/jogging totally "zoned out" and weary to the core. However, I came upon one of the reported leaders - a cross country guy - who was sitting under a palm tree with uncontrollable leg spasms. This gave me some incentive to continue, although I don't recall being aware of much of anything these last few miles except the van clan telling me that I was in the lead. The last fifty yards I managed to break into a slow jog and a weary smile as I crossed the finish line and was vaguely aware of a news photographer's flashbulb going off! Only six men finished the walk, with El Camino taking the first five places. My winning time was 12 hours and 43 minutes. Afterward, while I could stand alright - and I didn't really have any blisters thanks to my well-worn Purcell tennies - I had my buddy Roger (who wimped-out after about twenty miles) drive me home as I was pretty well wasted!

Over the past 46 years people have asked me why I did this. The challenge of school competition was part of it, but there also was a real spirit of "If President Kennedy wants us to do it...let's do it for him!" Unfortunately, most of that youthful enthusiasm died in me the following November 22nd.

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