FRANKLIN — Jenn Popper’s shoes — Keen hiking boots — have accumulated a lot of miles this summer, 802 to be specific.
That’s the distance from Cranford, N.J., where she began her walk on June 2, and Franklin, where she spent a recent night.
“I’m very excited for a greater selection of shoes when I get back!” says Jenn, laughing.
Jenn lives in Plainfield, N.J., and is walking from New Jersey to Gouldsboro this summer as part of Jenn’s Journey North. The trip is meant to raise awareness of the East Coast Greenway and honor her late husband, Michael.
“We used to come up to the Schoodic Peninsula every summer, and this place was always so important to us,” says Jenn.
Two years ago Jenn’s husband, along with another man, drowned in a kayaking accident near Corea Harbor. Waves nearly 5 feet high capsized the kayaks. Jenn herself barely survived, and was found by a local lobsterman unconscious and clinging to her kayak. That was June 22, 2016.
“In February 2017, I just came up with this cockamamie idea that I was going to walk to Maine to raise money for a good cause,” says Jenn. “So the idea behind the walk was to raise $15,000. A thousand dollars for every year we were married.”
Jenn decided to hike along the East Coast Greenway, which is a series of connected biking and walking trails that extends along the entire East Coast, from Key West in Florida to Calais on the Canadian border. She created an itinerary and started sharing it on social media. Soon enough, people started following volunteering to host her along the way. It’s how she met Barbara Linton of Sullivan, who is hosting Jenn while she walks from Ellsworth to Franklin.
“People have been so kind and gracious to open up their homes to me,” says Jenn.
It’s a long trip, and Jenn travels light.
“I have my backpack, a couple of sets of clothes — wicking material so I can wash them quickly if I have to — a GPS, and my laptop.”
Each day starts early. Jenn wakes up, eats breakfast and is on the road by 9:30 a.m.
“I look at my Greenway map, my regular map, to see what is along the way that I might be able to stop at, and then I’m off,” says Jenn.
Some days she walks 15 miles, some days as many as 25. As she has gotten closer to Gouldsboro she is now covering around 10 miles each day. Her GPS can drop location markers so that people can track her location during the day. Jenn gives herself one long break during the day and then tries to finish in time for a late lunch and to rest up for the next day’s walk.
Terrain on the Greenway can vary. Sometimes it is a secluded bike path, sometimes it is just along a road. In Maine, only 37 percent of the Greenway is complete, and part of Jenn’s goal is to raise awareness of the Greenway itself. The money she is raising is being donated to the East Coast Greenway Alliance as well as a New Jersey walking group called Freewalkers.
“I really want to raise awareness of the Greenway itself and the idea of having green-spaces in urban areas,” says Jenn.
While she is often alone, many friends and family members have come to walk with her on various legs of the journey. Her aunt and uncle and sister-in-law have come up from New Jersey, and her cousin has come all the way from Colorado.
Sometimes, it has been people she has never met before who have simply heard about her walk. Jenn has also learned to enjoy some creature comforts along the way.
“Nutter Butters. Nutter Butters have gotten me through this,” she said. “One craft beer at the end of the day. And sometimes it’s just the simple act of sitting down.”
Still, on the days when she is by herself it can be lonely on the Greenway.
“Sometimes it is hard to keep your mind off of how hot it is, or the bugs, or the rain,” says Jenn.
That time alone has also given her time to reflect, though.
“It’s healing, it’s cathartic,” says Jenn. “I can’t not think of what happened, especially coming back to this place. But then you get these moments of inspiration. The other day I caught a glimpse of Schoodic Mountain and I thought ‘We hiked that. And it’s still there.’”
Jenn will finish her long walk today in Gouldsboro. After that, she’ll be returning to her home in New Jersey. By plane, of course.