Edward Payson Weston (1839-1929) popularized pedestrianism – long-distance walking – in the late 1800s. The native of Providence, R.I., logged thousands of miles, held several endurance records and earned a pile of money during his professional career. His last long walk, from New York to Minneapolis, covered more than 1,500 miles. A strong advocate for fitness and exercise, he warned that the rising popularity of the automobile would make people lazy.
The Minneapolis Tribune assigned Dan E. Richter, a reporter and future attorney, to walk 400 miles with Weston from Chicago to Minneapolis. Despite blistered feet and aching muscles, the novice walker managed to keep up with the old man – by then 74 – and complete the journey. He earned Weston’s respect and a rare byline for this first-person account:
Walking With Weston Is Experience
of a Lifetime for the Amateur Who
Thinks He Can Hike With Anybody
Tribune Staff Correspondent
Gives His Sorrowful Ex-
perience in Trying to Keep
Up With the Famous Old
Blistered Feet, Sore Mus-
cles, Aching Cords Make
Day Dreary and Night
Worse – No Joy in the
Endurance to Last One Week
Is Enough to Qualify the
Most Ambitious Would-Be
Walkers to Keep on In-
From the Walker Himself.
Stillwater, Minn., July 31, 1913.
Editor, The Tribune, Minneapolis, Minn.
Dear Sir: This is to certify that Dan E. Richter, staff correspondent of the Minneapolis Tribune, joined me at the Chicago Beach hotel on July 11, 1913, and walked with me continuously from Chicago to Stillwater and of course will complete with me the short walk from Stillwater to Minneapolis which will terminate Aug. 2, 1913, at 12 o’clock, noon.
On July 17 we walked from Janesville to Madison, 40 miles, within 19 hours, and on July 21 we walked from Devils Lake, Wis., to Elroy, 43 miles, in 19 hours. I consider his performance most remarkable. In fact, I feel assured that Mr. Richter can excel in walking any and all of those who claim they have beaten my record.
EDWARD PAYSON WESTON.
|Walking the talk: Edward Payson Weston and his famous walking stick.|
By Dan E. Richter.
Walking with Edward Payson Weston is no job for a lazy man. Assigned by the Minneapolis Tribune to “cover” Weston’s walk from Chicago to Minneapolis the writer joined him near Chicago Beach hotel, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of July 11. The famous old walker was trudging along and I instantly recognized him, carrying his famed walking stick and wearing the old ten-cent straw hat now familiar to thousands between New York and Minneapolis. Approaching him with a muttered self introduction, Weston said, “I have been looking for you. Come on.”
Unprepared and unaccustomed to walking, the task of following Weston over the hard pavements of Chicago immediately manifested itself and the first effect was discouragement and the firm conviction that it was hopelessly foolish to try to trail him for any length of time. Following him five feet behind for a few blocks brings encouragement. As he shuffles along with that short step peculiar to Weston, one thinks he isn’t going so fast after all. By the time a mile is covered there comes a sneaking suspicion that the old fellow is “slipping one over,” and at the end of a five mile stretch almost any “walking bug” hardy enough to trail Weston for that distance is ready to quit.
How They Begin and End.
“Walking bugs” is what Weston calls the army of “I-am-something-of-a-walker-myself,” chaps who tack themselves on at nearly every stopping place with the announcement that they intend trudging anywhere from 25 to 100 miles, “just to show” Weston that walking is easy. Never a word says the grand old man, but a sly twinkle lurks in his eye, and a smile of amusement wrinkles about his gray moustache. But all are welcome to the game. Soon they disappear at some convenient roadside glad to get out of sight and too chagrined to even risk a goodbye.
Without the slightest taint of jealousy in his whole make-up, Weston loves to discover a walker. He wants people to walk and will receive with open arms the man within 10 or 15 years of his age who can beat him.
Seven miles to the Auditorium brought tired feet. Into bed Weston piled, announcing that he would take up the march from Chicago at 6:30 a.m. At that hour both were called and Weston shot out of the door with an energy that appalled the novice.
“A day of this?” one muses, and with emotions indescribable takes the trail feeling that the end is only a matter of hours. After a two-hour pace covering eight miles, the feet begin to burn. A short rest and he drags the novice 20 miles further. The balls of the feet begin to ache and blisters are felt developing between the toes and along the sides of the feet. What of it? You grit your teeth and hang on. Five miles more and the tendon of Achilles begins to balk. A shooting pain darts at provoking intervals though the calf of the leg and later raps a fellow with rhythmic torture between the knee and thigh. Bearing the aches and blisters, now magnified by imagination into large-sized pumpkins, the amateur tries to console himself with the thought that surely he can’t go much farther.
Murder a Way Out.
But he has another think coming. Ready to drop in his tracks he realizes with a shock that he is attempting the foolhardy task of following the great Weston.
|Into his golden years, Weston continued to be the picture of health — and nattiness. (Library of Congress photo)|
One gets angry with his endless shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Oh, for a gun to shoot him down!
At the end of 38 miles he says “maybe we better take a short rest.” Of all the words to fall upon the ears of the novice following Weston, those are the happiest. Off come the shoes and anxiously the feet are examined. Of course, there they are. A blister an inch long on the underside of the great toe. Another between the fourth and small toes. A row of blisters line up like an awkward squad on the underside of nearly all the toes.
“The fool killer has me sure,” is the thought. Such swollen, red blistered feet! What can one do? Tell Weston, of course. Happiest of all ideas.
“Feet swelled? Got blisters. Ha! Good!” says the old man “Get rid of them. You have the earmarks of a walker.” It is all so painful and hard to understand. But following directions, one takes a needle, drains the water from the blisters, being careful not to break them. How those spots do burn as the skin is pressed back in place. Then a five-minute soak in a salt water mixture prepared by Weston, followed by a sopping of the foot in Weston’s pet ointment.
Then to bed flat on the back, limp, weak and trembling with only the awful conviction that you are a sure candidate for the hospital; but falling asleep quickly, but haunted to the last by the appalling nightmare that Weston is going to make you walk through the darkness of night at the end of only four hours.
Away in the Night.
Rap, rap, rap, pounds that fiend of a bellboy on the door at five minutes past twelve. Out of bed and, strange as it may seem, wide awake, with head and brain clear and every faculty on the alert. Marvelous. Already Weston’s lifelong assertion that walking “can’t hurt” is partially proved. On to the feet. Ouch! Those aching balls, worse than toothache, mumps and earache combined. It is like walking on a bees’ nest. Not another step does one feel capable of going.
“Come on,” says Weston, “that won’t last.” A quick lunch of coffee, eggs and bread, and then off though the darkness following that aggravating shuffle and the tantalizing flicker of the old man’s lantern.
|Why did he choose Minnesota for his final trek? The Minneapolis Tribune explained: “The famous old pedestrian came to Minneapolis from New York just to take part in the celebration incidental to the laying of the cornerstone of the Minneapolis Athletic Club.” When the 14-story building opened two years later (above), it was the tallest in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
But the air is brisk and bracing, while the stars seem poking rays of derision. Black fields and woods on either hand and in front an impenetrable bank of black that you must walk through. What a blank fool! Then a thrill of joy. The pain in the feet is working out and great is the sense of pleasure when one finds himself trudging along in perfect comfort. A little pluck coupled with Dr. Weston’s treatment works wonders. But the mind reverts to that ruthless shuffle ahead; fatigue comes and again comes the longing for a club with which to whack him over the head. Dawn creeps across the sky, the birds begin to sing and, enchanted by the beauty of a summer morning, one forgets that he is walking and swings over rough roads in a delightful trance. A proud feeling thrills when the old walker announces that by 5 o’clock, before other folks are out of bed 20 miles have been covered.
Laying Out the Day’s Work.
But there is a hereafter. At breakfast he says that 43 miles must be made before night, with 27 miles of railroad track sandwiched in for a constitutional.
Soon the romance and enchantment is all gone. There is no poetry in scuffling over railroad ties on a rock filling that pounds the feet into a jelly. But three and a half miles an hour must be made, regardless of the pounding beneath, and the added pounding of a burning sun overhead. Perspiration flows down in rivulets, blinding the eyes and trickling the chest and back.
“Are you featuring Weston’s walk?” asks a country editor as the embryo walker pauses at a small station for a swallow of water. “No, the story is feet-uring me,” is the disgusted answer, and then away to catch up with the old man who has gotten what seems a hopeless start and is vanishing around a bend in the track. He pauses to inspect a mile post and snatch a bite from the railway speeder. Every moment is precious and with super-human effort one is again at his heels, panting for breath and stumbling in agony to keep up.
Always All Right.
“Are you all right?” Weston asks. Of course one dares not say no, lest he get orders to quit. At 11 o’clock there is a midday rest. Shoes off, feet bathed and sopped, then flat on the back on the sod – asleep in a moment from the most healthful exhaustion. There is no attempt to fight the sun until 2 p.m., just when it is the hottest, thinks the amateur; but somehow in 19 hours the 43-mile walk is finished and one wonders how he did it. The second night is worse than the first. The blisters report as thickly and promptly as soldiers answering assembly. The needle, sea salt and sop are repeated.
The third day is the same, with padded aching of the cords leading up the shin bones. The legs, ankles and feet are swollen. Even the hands and fingers are red as beefsteak and swollen to twice the natural size. “But that don’t hurt,” says Weston. “Walking causes the blood to settle in the feet and hands. In the hands because of the constant swing of the arms.” The hands feel like two clubs dangling at the end of either arm, but “that don’t hurt.” After a short rest it is all gone.
Sure, Walking Is Good.
|Go on: Tip your hat to the old man of the road. He died at age 90, two years after he was hit by a taxi in New York and lost the use of his legs. (Library of Congress photo)|
“Walking doesn’t over-exert anything; it is natural exertion and any person can walk until he drops in his tracks from exhaustion. I have done it many a time and it can’t hurt.” “Very good,” thinks the amateur, “but who in blazes wants to drop that way?”
At the end of the first week things look better. Saturday morning with its 35 or 40 miles ahead leads one on, buoyed by the joyous thought that tomorrow will be Sunday and one can rest all day. Five minutes past midnight, after the first week, finds one still stiff and lame at the starting, but in ten minutes it is all gone. The amateur needs only the pluck to endure suffering at the start. By the end of the second week things are better and at the end of the third week he feels capable of enduring 50 miles a day. The grinding railroad tracks, steep hills, rocky and sandy roads no longer hold terrors; and walking through wind and rain becomes a pleasure. Man always feels good after triumphing over anything.
Cure-All for Ills.
To the amateur with plenty of “pip” (which is Weston’s term for pluck) all of Weston’s theory of “walking as a cure for most bodily ills,” can readily be proved if the novice will but make the test. Often the thought recurred that when in school the novice was taught that walking was merely the act of falling forward and catching the balance as either foot was thrown forward.
But walking with Weston on his longest days and hanging to it long enough, would mean to most amateurs an act of falling and remaining prone until kind nature had performed her wonderful work of healthful recuperation.
To sum it all up, walking with Weston causes blisters, aches and pains; swollen feet and legs; discouragement, despair and disgust; but, finally, health, strength and vigor and a deep conviction that when Weston says “walking can’t hurt,” he knows what he is talking about.