Last Sunday, some friends and I walked across the state of Rhode Island!
This idea originated last year, when my friend Xavier and some of his mates realized that states up in the North East aren’t all that wide. In fact, some states were so thin that one could cross them in a day. So they did!
I heard stories of the Walk when I met Xavier this summer; it sounded grueling and fairly painful. Apparently when they finished they swore to never do it again.
This time they rounded up some 40 people from MIT and Brown University to walk the Walk again.
I was super excited. I haven’t gone more than 20 miles in a day in… ah… I’m counting right now and it’s been fully several years. I was pretty sure I’d be fine, though, since I ran one unofficial marathon at the height of the pandemic (when I was at an athletic peak, letting running fill the place of so many other activities).
Our trek began the night before, on Saturday, when we came down to crash at Brown. The students at Brown found us all nice couches in inconspicuous locations. Mine was right next to an elevator, so I got to hear students coming back home every 15 minutes or so, talking about philosophy or economics and generally sounding pretty composed and sober. I am not even joking. The amount of philosophy theories I heard went on until around 2am.
During this time photographer friend Brenna got some cool photos of me posing like one of your French girls in baggy pajamas. Then we eventually slept for like 2 hours before we all had to wake up before dawn to pile onto the bus!
The bus was late by like an hour so it was proper dawn by the time we started driving.
We disembarked at the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut, and started walking back toward Massachusetts. The journey would be 30 miles.
We walked to a trail.
We walked and we walked.
I downed a Monster but that didn’t quite cancel out the 2 hours of sleep. I had wanted to take a break from work for a while and this was the perfect opportunity: there was nothing but a faint buzz within my brain. My arms and legs were lifted with taurine, L-carnitine, caffeine. But everyone around me was awake and cracking jokes. Spirits were high. Charm, like me, is from Arizona, and one or the other of us kept bringing up the desert.
After 8 miles the trail ended and we walked beside a small and quiet highway. It occurred to me that I ran 8 miles earlier this week and my legs hurt less after running than they did walking. But I was mainly here to hang out, not put all 30 miles behind me as fast as I could.
We walked. The cars were enormous and well kept. I didn’t expect to see so many F-250 Fords so far from Arizona.
We walked some more. The cars were loud, kept interrupting our conversations.
We walked. I drifted between different people, often walking with Charm, met Xavier’s twin Eli and an econ major from Brown. The students from Brown were talking about philosophy and econ, biology and math, meanwhile we from MIT mentioned nothing more technical than the number of miles we still had to walk. Everyone started talking about being tired, but willing to carry on. Seven or eight miles slid by, and suddenly we were halfway!
We stopped on the side of a very steep hill, opposite a lake. It was beautiful. A couple of us rolled down the hill and the world has never spun so fast.
After some stretching and staring at the great blue sky, we began the Walk again. Brenna and I took some photos — mostly she did, of the lake and the road and of me walking along a wall.
We fell behind the group with fellow walker Tañon. The three of us used the restroom at a church in the middle of nowhere. The group was getting far ahead, and all of our energy slowly draining.
What if I run to catch them? I thought. See how far they’ve gone, urge them to wait. This was absolutely unnecessary, blessed as we are by the magic of mobile technology. But I wanted to see what running felt like after I’d walked 18 miles.
So I left Brenna and Tañon and started running. We each had a map, so I knew the route. I also knew we’d stop for lunch around Mile 20. My brain was filled no longer with a faint buzz but rather a fairly loud buzz and very little else, and perhaps this is why I jogged about a mile before realizing I should have caught up to the group by then.
I paused and checked the map. Wow, I thought, we’d fallen really far behind. I’d better catch the group before they stop for actually I doubt my brain could form coherent thoughts above the roar of passing cars. Each car rumbled over the previous thought, Harrison Bergeron-style, except with a woman thinking.
So I kept running. I watched the mile fractions tick away on Strava until I’d run another mile. By then I realized I had messed up and texted the group. As it turns out, they’d taken a left turn off the path and stopped for lunch!
Yay! Where was lunch?
1.6 miles behind me.
When I was running forward I’d felt that I could run forever. I was so powerful. A proper Amazon. But then I turned around, and suddenly running 1.6 miles seemed nigh impossible.
If I walked, though, they’d be done with lunch by the time I arrived and I’d be making them wait. So I ran.
I arrived slightly giddy because for the first time all day I’d be eating not month-old granola bars from target but real actual food. It was from Subway which meant it tasted exactly the same as it always does: good and slightly like plastic. But my granola bars tasted almost entirely like plastic so this was actually an upgrade. Plus food after walking a lot is god’s greatest gift to man.
There was a cute independent coffee shop in the same parking lot, so I got coffee on the way.
Brenna and Tañon had already arrived. I caught up with everyone — the updates were mostly a new body part aching. Xavier warned me that the next ten miles would be the worst.
After a break, we began the Walk again. This time we split into groups; two groups of the students from Brown went ahead, and one went behind us. Our MIT cohort largely stayed together, with Matt up ahead setting the pace.
We were out of the woods now, and out of the highways, and into the suburbs. This meant ample bathrooms and food options if we needed. You could feel the landscape changing and somehow noticing the change, the miles put behind you, made them seem longer and harder.
Around mile 22 my left calf cramped up (right as we stopped to take pictures of the waterfall above). It was pain beyond pain, my very soul wrenched from my body, et cetera, et cetera.
We had good momentum, so I didn’t ask to stop. Besides, if we did, starting would only be that much harder. So we kept walking, crossing through a Hispanic enclave for several miles. I haven’t seen so much Spanish on storefronts in America since I was home.
The Walk began to feel surreal. We’d been going for eight or nine hours by now. The sun had been bright all day, and I was likely at this point dehydrated. The morning felt ages and ages away.
We were still talking but all of our energy was lagging. Xavier found a sign for screened loam and started carrying it with us. Someone queued a country song about (I think) murder.
Finally we crossed into Providence! Sunset was finally upon us, and the changing daylight alerted me that time was passing and made things somewhat less surreal. We seemed to be walking in slow motion. Providence was still three or four miles from the Massachusetts border.
We crossed a beautiful bridge.
We stopped at a park three miles from the border, where the students from Brown were waiting. Full dark had set in.
As we were leaving, I ducked into a hip new-age bar to use the restroom, telling the group not to wait up for me. The bar had a catered event with free pizza, and it was a mark of how focused I was on crossing the border that I did not stop to steal any food.
A friend from the forge texted me asking how the Walk was going, and what my favorite type of hammer was. I tried to remember if straight peen or cross peen was better and what the diagonal peen one was called. Would I have stronger opinions on blacksmithing if I had more apparently not. Cross-peen is better though. For making leaves flat
When I left the bar, the group was out of sight. This was perfect. It meant I could run to catch them.
So I started running. My limbs felt like they were made of tofu jerky, stiff and liable to fall apart.
I ran across a bridge. And then down a street. We were in suburbs again, the sort that cling to a highway, where the highway is also the main street.
I caught the tail end of the group but didn’t want to stop running. So I went past them, and when I found MIT people I knew, I said, “Run with me!” They shook their heads. So I went asking down the line until I reached the frontmost group. There were two miles left. At the front, Thomas ’25 agreed to run one mile.
So we started running. Having a partner made me run faster. We talked for about 30 seconds and then lapsed to silence, stumbling across crosswalks and pounding down the sidewalk.
After about one mile, I checked Strava and asked Tom if he’d like to stop? “No, let’s finish it.”
So we did.
Down the highway, which was increasingly more highway-like and less of a street. We passed a sign reading “SEEKONK, MASSACHUSETTS,” but wanted to find the fabled ‘welcome to Massachusetts’ sign. However, such a thing did not exist. We ran past some other signs, about speed limits and lake repatriation, and to a stop light at a gas station; and there we stopped.
We did it!!!!
I checked Strava. Thanks to my mishap around lunch I’d covered 33 miles.
I was so pleased. I started talking, words spilling everywhere now that I didn’t need to save my breath. I didn’t know I could do the trek. I didn’t know how hard it would be, and somehow both the difficulty and the ease of the journey surprised me. I wanted to do it again — someday.
We went back to the Seekonk, Massachusetts sign to cheer everyone on. Most of them did run the last several hundred meters.
Afterwards we gathered around, took pictures. People noted that Rhode Island had a way better welcome sign. Then we started calling ubers and catching rides back to Providence. My group piled 6 people, including two who are 6’5″, into a tiny little car. We were all of us exhausted and delirious. The four miles we’d just walked in the last hour slipped by in 10 minutes.
Then we limped and shuffled onto the commuter rail and back to MIT.
This was so lovely. Next time we’ll do the Oklahoma panhandle. Or a narrow part of Connecticut. Or this Walk again, with some returning people and some new ones.
- I am not even joking. The amount of philosophy theories I heard back to text ↑
- actually I doubt my brain could form coherent thoughts above the roar of passing cars. Each car rumbled over the previous thought, Harrison Bergeron-style, except with a woman thinking. back to text ↑
- apparently not. Cross-peen is better though. For making leaves flat back to text ↑