Maxine got that look in her eye again. She had been listening to the guest speaker talk about how he had run across the United States and one thought led to another.
The next day at a lunch she was sitting with her friend Pat. “I’d like to do that for my 70th birthday,” she said. “Want to go?” Pat Rice, who is 76, knew her friend Maxine Solomon wasn’t just talking. They’ve got too many real miles under their belts. “Why not?” she said.
And so next Saturday the two of them and three other “seniors” will take off from Jacksonville Beach and begin a trek that will culminate in San Diego.
They won’t make it all this year. I mean, they have other things to do back here in Tampa, but they plan on hiking across the Gulf Coast all the way to Abilene, Texas, some 1,193 miles and maybe three or four months down the road. Next year they’ll finish the other half of the journey to San Diego.
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“Our families are pretty sure we’re nuts,” said Pat. I know. I spoke with her sister, Barbara Simpson, although I promised not to say what she thinks in the paper and so I won’t.
“I made a deal with my husband,” said Maxine. “I promised him he could have that puppy he’s always wanted. So while we’re out on the road he’s getting a black Labrador.”
In a sense all of this is a culmination of what began decades ago. The two women met while sitting in the bleachers watching their daughters in swimming competitions.
“One day,” said Pat, “Maxine leaned over and said she wanted to go on a trek to Nepal and would I like to go along. It seemed like a crazy idea but one of the places I’d always wanted to see was Kathmandu, so I thought about it for a minute and said, ‘Why not?’ ”
They did, trekking over the hills and rafting down the river and camping out in the shadows of Kathmandu.
Through the years that’s how it has worked. Maybe not quite like trekking off to Nepal, but there have been the distance walks and the half-marathons and entire walking marathons.
So it was only natural that when Maxine heard Richard Cohen speak one night at Rodeph Sholom synagogue about his experiences running across America it immediately struck a note that this was something she had to do, and the Iron Grannies were born.
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This week I sat with Maxine and Pat and Richard and Sheryl Cohen.
The Cohens’ story is equally striking. It was just over five years ago that Richard Cohen had lost his job, his house and most everything else. “I decided it was an opportunity to do something I’d always wanted to do as well as start over.” With his wife driving he took off from Jacksonville Beach, running 20 miles a day and going all the way to San Diego. You can read his story in his book “20@60.” Today the Cohens live in Tampa and you might catch him jogging down Bayshore.
Wearing T-shirts with “Every Step of the Journey is the Journey,” Maxine, Pat and three other women — Mary Kaye Rachwalskia, Jacque Kriegel and Eva Straskraba, who are living in Colorado — next Saturday will begin to retrace the exact route Cohen took five years ago.
Sticking to back roads, with one of them driving a small Honda SUV, they’ll make their way across the Florida Panhandle into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
“We’re not completely crazy,” said Pat. “We’ll stay in motels. We’ll switch drivers and when we get near New Orleans we might just take a few days off and drive into the city.”
You can follow the exploits of the Iron Grannies on their blog, where they promise to post updates, at Iron Grannies.blogspot.com.