Last year, Benjamin Clark, then a sophomore at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, thought about walking around Martha’s Vineyard, but he didn’t get around to it. This year, now a junior, the 16-year-old and his two best friends, Austin Chandler and Jacob Cardoza, both 16 and fellow juniors, just about made it around the entire Island. If it hadn’t been for summer jobs and a visiting president, they might have made it all the way around. Friends since grade school, all three are members of the high school football team.
The trio thought the walk might be a good way to take advantage of the waning days of summer before school started, and before reporting to hell week — the tough first week of MVRHS football practice.
“We just wanted to see the Island,” Ben recently told a Times reporter, “and when we told people about it, they said we couldn’t do it. So it became more [about] trying to prove them wrong.”
The round-the-Island walk has been made by many people over the years, but it is often done in segments — sometimes over as many as two or three years — taking the tides and the weather into account, and usually in the off-season, when the issue of crossing private beaches is less of a problem.
The friends mapped out a route that included three days of hiking over sandy beaches, and rocky beaches, swimming across several inlets and camping out for two nights. They consulted online weather sites.
Each one asked for a day off from his summer job. Ben, son of Tim and Dori Clark of Oak Bluffs, worked for the Oak Bluffs harbormaster. Austin, son of Christopher and Jane Chandler of Edgartown, worked at Wheel Happy, a bike rental company in Edgartown, and Jacob, son of Christine and Paul Cardoza, also of Edgartown, worked at Karpet Kare in Vineyard Haven.
Mr. Clark, Ben’s father, dropped the circumambulators off in Menemsha early Thursday morning, August 14, with backpacks of food, cooking gear, sleeping bags and fishing rods.
Heading west, counter-clockwise around the Island, they crossed the Menemsha opening on the bike ferry. Walking, sometimes barefoot, the three quickly put Lobsterville and Dogfish Bar behind them, before they got to the Gay Head cliffs. There, they were pushed up off the beach by what Ben called “a crazy high tide.” They continued on along Moshup Beach and Philbin Beach around Squibnocket Point and pitched camp near Lucy Vincent Beach, a Chilmark private town beach.
They hadn’t bothered to bring a tent, simply spreading out their sleeping bags under the night sky. They collected driftwood, broke out the granola bars, and started a fire to heat up Boston baked beans and Progresso soup.
The fire attracted a nearby property owner, who asked what they were doing there on the beach. “We told him we were walking the Island, and he just asked us to clean up after ourselves before we left,” Ben said.
At about three in the morning, it began to rain, heavily. It poured for 30 minutes, extinguishing their fire and soaking just about everything they had. “We had checked the weather and it was supposed to be clear skies. It was a real surprise,”
The sleeping bags were waterproof, but the storm crept up on them so quickly, and with so much rain, that they had little time to keep their clothes from getting drenched. “My shoes were pretty useless after they got wet,” Ben said.
The group had brought cell phones to keep their parents informed of their progress. Ben called home and got some motherly advice. “Mom, this sucks,” he told his mother.
“Spread everything out on the beach and go for a swim,” Ms. Clark replied. “It will dry.”
They started another fire in the morning, hoping to dry out a little, then started walking east along the south shore.
Ben said that the key to their success was to focus on completing the walk. “We stayed in the zone while walking,” he said, “and didn’t talk much until the nights. We tried to keep up a steady pace and we never took breaks of more than about 15 or 20 minutes.” It was not enough time to fish, he added, though they made a few casts a couple of times and caught nothing. They did manage to swim a few times.
From Lucy Vincent Beach the three hikers headed to Katama, swimming across the opening to Tisbury Great Pond at Quansoo. They had decided not to cross the breach at Norton Point, thinking that adding Chappaquiddick to the hike would add another day or two they didn’t have.
They also avoided the crowded Edgartown summer shoreline by catching a ride with parents from Katama to Cow Bay on the east edge of Edgartown. From there, they hiked State Beach to near Hart Haven in Oak Bluffs and set up camp for a second night.
Saturday, the third morning, they hiked into Oak Bluffs and got a ride in a dinghy across the Oak Bluffs harbor opening with a fellow employee of the harbormaster, Ben’s summer employer.
At the East Chop Beach Club parking lot, they met Ben’s mother, who brought them clean clothes and more sunscreen. Then they started walking again.
A woman on East Chop told them they were on private property and were killing her beach grass. “We apologized,” Ben said, “and told her we were walking around the Island and she let us walk through.”
They walked around Vineyard Haven Harbor and out to West Chop, where parents met them with refreshments. From there, they headed west, swam across the Tashmoo opening and stopped after they crossed the Seven Gates beach, just over the Chilmark town line, thinking that the Secret Service might make it difficult to pass the area where President Obama was staying a little farther to the west, blocking their route back to Menemsha.
It was Saturday night. They were picked up about 8 pm, walking from the Seven Gates beach.They were tired and sunburned, but triumphant, Ms. Clark said.
When Ben got home, he jumped into the shower. “My toenails were all broken,” he said. “My toes had been stubbed a couple of times. I went barefoot for most of the walk, which was kind of a bad decision, but my shoes got wet the first day and weren’t good to wear. It wasn’t too bad up-Island. It was pretty sandy but the north shore was pretty rocky.”
“We were pretty impressed,” said Ms. Clark. “They said they were going to do it and they did. I got home about 9:30 Saturday night and Ben was out like a light. He woke up Sunday morning, sunburned and his feet were a mess. He got up and went to work at 8. It was a hell of a way to get ready for hell week.”
The trio plan to do it again next summer, to add Chappy and to take five days. “I will be considering a better form of footwear next year,” Ben said.
Christine Seidel, Cartographer/GIS Coordinator at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, calculated the distance around the outer beaches of the Island at about 57 miles, not including Chappaquiddick. Including Chappaquiddick it would be about 64 miles.