We were late getting to Mount Holly on Friday the 7th, slowed by torrential rain and traffic on the interstates around Philadelphia. We passed through Burlington at exactly the right time to collect Christian and Megu from the train, and headed to the John Woolman Memorial Association, a house that Woolman had built for his daughter. Inside we found a slightly damp but spirited group of Quakers, a potluck, lots of conversation, some readings from Woolman’s journal about his trip in 1763, and singing with Quaker Midnight, a folk duo. And then the offer we couldn’t refuse – we could sleep inside if we wished. This set the tone for the first week – we had potlucks at Quaker meetings in Newtown, Buckingham, Richland (Quakertown), and Lehigh Valley, and with wet rainy nights, we were invited to sleep inside.
What was the walking like? Well, I had worked hard to find a safe, pleasant route, but that isn’t always easy. Through towns it was fine – there are sidewalks. In between towns I had found less traveled side roads, but sometimes there aren’t any of those. We had orange bike flags, which we waved with varying degrees of energy. On day 1 there were as many as 14 of us, and there were occasionally only three. Christian, Megu, and I were always there, with a rotating subset of Leticia, Leon (until he blew out his knee playing with Zeke in Perkasie), Louisa, Anna and Zeke. We covered between 14 and 19 miles a day, excepting the first day (8 miles) and an epic 22.7 mile day from Bethlehem to Slatington in which we were soaked by rain twice, lost a trail, and were told we were trespassing. That day felt easier than some, as it involved lots of trail. The extra energy and vigilance required to walk along busy road was noticeable.
There were many honks and waves from folks in cars, and longer conversations with people on foot or who stopped their cars to see what we were doing. We were often asked what we were protesting (nothing!) or if we were raising money (no!), which then led into a discussion of what we actually were doing. Our quick answer was something like this: “This walk is a celebration of the 250th anniversary of a trip the Quaker John Woolman made to visit Indians at the village of Wyalusing, right at the end of the French and Indian War.” Who was John Woolman? we might be asked. And the conversation would be off and running. Other folks were more impressed with the distance and the logistics. “You’re walking how far? The kids are too? Where is your stuff?” So we would explain about the van, the walking and taking breaks, the grandparents… Christian noted that we would get honks and waves and thumbs up from people who couldn’t possibly have read our banner and absorbed what it was about. There seemed to be a simple appreciation for people walking somewhere far for a reason.
All along the route we heard from Quakers about what Woolman meant to them, what part their meeting had played in Woolman’s life, and how things were today. In Bethlehem, we had a talk and tour from Craig Atwood of the Moravian Theological Seminary about Moravian history of the time and the missionaries who crossed paths with Woolman on his journey. It is a great way to learn history, walking the route and wondering what would be the same and what would be different. Woolman stayed with Quakers until as far as Quakertown, the edge of “civilization” in 1763. For us, at the end of each day there was a potluck, friendly folks (often kids for A&Z to hang out with), and a dry floor to sleep on. Life was pretty good.