Catherine Urban, with a husband, Russ, four grown children, and a captain’s house on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, and Anne Rose from Boulder, Colo., with three grown kids — both of them 58 years of age — have been buddies since the fifth grade in Rochester, N.Y. Recently, Anne was due for a visit, and Catherine pitched an item from her bucket list: How’d she like to walk the full perimeter of the Island in a well-planned venture that would allow them to return to warm beds and soft pillows each night? Anne, who loved to scamper over boulders and climb straight up mountains, said “Yes!” without a moment’s hesitation.
A word about this Vineyard rite of passage to hike the full shore: There are young purists who do it all in one fell swoop without recourse to base camp. They sleep rough, get drenched and cold, and are yelled at for trespassing. They’re young and resilient and generally return home in one piece.
The trip on the installment plan, as Catherine and Anne planned to do it, also has its merits. In his iconic book “A Walk in the Woods,” the hilarious Bill Bryson broke up his trek along the Appalachian Trail into a number of separate excursions, after each returning for reboots in the comfort zone before heading back up into the mountains.
The MV Times met up with the two women post-trip — Spoiler alert! They made it back! — and they debriefed us on their original plan, a noncontiguous crazy quilt of routes which would nonetheless cover every inch of beach around the island. These are two determined trekkers; they consulted tide charts, GPS systems, and sketched out each day the way seasoned generals plan their battles.
Day One began on a Sunday with 34° weather. “Brrr,” wrote Catherine on her Facebook page. A friend dropped them off in a stealth run to the Chip Chop peninsula on the northwest side of Tashmoo, a property owned by a famous news anchorwoman who was thankfully away. They chose, for the first day at least, the counterclockwise route, scampering over pebbled beaches and boulders to the west.
Anne said, “We were high on adrenaline so we moved fast. We saw not one person.”
For the long stretch along Lambert’s Cove, they removed their shoes and socks. Catherine explained, “Wet sneakers cause blisters, and the pain of those will stop you in your tracks.” They carried microfiber towels to dry their feet before slipping back into shoes.
They traversed the sweeping beauty and abundant sand along Cedar Tree Neck, and then encountered another endless pileup of rocks until the flat and gorgeous beach at Menemsha. Total mileage that day: 11.75 miles in six hours (info courtesy of Catherine’s phone app Map My Hike). Good job! The night before, they’d stashed a car in front of Stanley Larsen’s fish shop for the drive back to Vineyard Haven. In Catherine’s luxe antique home, they supped on butternut squash soup, which the hostess had, of course, prepared in advance.
Day Two began agreeably enough. It was clear and cold, but not as cold. They’d preplanted two cars this time, one in the parking lot of South Beach in Edgartown while, for starters, they motored to Squibnocket, parked the second car, and began another long ramble, east this time, over another wilderness of rocks until they hit Lucy Vincent, which they dubbed “a Sahara Desert of sand.”
The friends were also relieved to see that the barrier beach of Tisbury Pond had not been breached. “That would have ended the trip,” said Catherine. “We’d been warned that a breach could mean deadly currents that would sweep us out to sea.”
Adorably, a pod of seals followed them for a good stretch of the way. The long march across sand was going fine until, somewhere around Edgartown Great Pond, Catherine was interrupted in her fantasy of spotting David Letterman on the veranda of one of the beachside homes by the stunning realization that she’d left her keys to the South Beach car in the Squibby auto, some 14 miles back thataway.
Even the smartest people make mistakes, but the most resourceful among them make new plans. Catherine recalled she had a friend in Dedham with a house along Katama Bay: a house with a car parked in front. As luck would have it, Catherine’s friend picked up her phone at work and told her where the car key was hidden. It was a hassle, certainly, coordinating three cars now instead of the already unwieldy two, but the ladies ended up back at the ol’ homestead after 14.5 miles of enforced march over rocks and sand in six and a half hours and an undisclosed amount of driving, all of it earning them a good night’s repose.
Day Three dawned sunny and balmy in the 60s, so the friends set off from Oak Bluffs wearing shorts. They headed east, tracking across Hart Haven, then over the sandy tundra of State Beach, and finally they were relieved to win passage through Cow Bay without encountering the armed security guard gossiped about over the summer.
They changed into water shoes for Eel Pond, which they described as “mucky, squishy, suctiony.” At last they reached the lighthouse, and the bayside outskirts of town. They hewed to their plan of hugging the shore, and skirted past the Reading Room, scrambling back to the beach as soon as possible.
“It was all docks and rocks,” said Anne about the long scramble along Katama Bay, so at last they enjoyed the forested portion of Down Harbor, ending at South Beach and a car with keys in it this time. And the readout: 12 miles, six and three-quarter hours.
Day Four involved a finish-pp at Squibnocket again, this time approaching the coast in an early-morning low tide, heading up and around that chubby western swath of moors and sea we call Aquinnah. Past Philbin Beach, around the bend and up again, they reached the cliffs and asked a police officer to point them toward the bus stop. The plan was to pick up the car at Squibby. The cop, David Murphy, thought about it, shrugged, and gave them a lift to their car, calling them in as a “courtesy transport,” causing this reporter to think of headlining the story “Women’s Walk Around Island Ends in Back Seat of Cop Car.”
They drove home, but their circuit was not yet done. They bused over to East Chop Drive, walked west, crossed the bridge, followed the shore, skewed north up to West Chop, passed Mink Meadows, until at last they faced Chip Chop from the opposite side of Tashmoo. (And the same unnamed accomplice picked them up).
Total mileage: 63.
Advice to future free spirits hoping to do the Island walkabout: Take plenty of water, energy bars, nuts, and sports beans (jelly beans packed with Gatorade-type electrolytes). Bring Chapstick, sunblock, money, gloves and hats, phones and, added Anne, an attitude going in of “Ignorance is bliss!”
When they were done, they kept walking
There’s an epilogue to this story: I knew these ladies were, consciously or otherwise, caught up in that old song Nancy Sinatra song, “These boots were made for walkin’ . . .” A day after their full-Island trek, the paper received the following message from Ms. Urban: “We finished our two-day walk around Chappy yesterday. We r def done with the island(s)!! Tired but proud!!”
And we’re tired but proud just reading about them. It’s time for this reporter’s nap.