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EastView residents are walking to San Francisco

MIDDLEBURY — Sometime around late winter when it was dark and cold and tough to motivate herself to get enough exercise, EastView resident Holly Puterbaugh started thinking of creative ways to get herself moving.
“I’m not too sure how the idea came to me, but I knew I needed a goal to get me to keep walking,” Puterbaugh said.
The idea was to walk to San Francisco. Not literally, mind you, but to track the steps and miles walked each day and map the progress until the goal was met.
“I thought to myself, ‘I can’t possibly do this alone,’” Puterbaugh said. So she sent an email to EastView’s executive director Brenda Schill asking if it would be all right to present it as a challenge to the whole EastView community.
Permission was easily granted and Puterbaugh brought the idea to the activities committees and started getting people excited about the idea.
The “journey” began on May 1 with 14 people (residents as well as EastView staff). Participation has multiplied quickly and Puterbaugh says she now believes there are between 40 and 45 individuals tracking their steps or their miles walked each day.
To organize the data, Puterbaugh keeps a spreadsheet on which each person (or group) has their own line and each day their steps and miles are calculated. Each person wears a pedometer or some kind of distance-measuring device and sends their daily count to Puterbaugh for entry.
It’s not an exact science to translate steps into miles traveled, or miles backwards into steps taken, and Puterbaugh says they’ve done some rounding and estimating to simplify the spreadsheet, but the point is to get people moving and to get people talking about a collective goal, and by those measures the effort has been hugely successful.
In EastView’s lobby groups of residents gather to compare how many steps they have walked that day and during the short period of time during this interview several residents stopped to ask Puterbaugh about their progress.
A large map sits on an easel in the entryway with their route marked clearly and the status of their daily and weekly progress marked with flags along the way. It’s the presiding conversation around dinner tables and has activated a friendly competition among residents.
To motivate not just exercise, but conversation, Puterbaugh has labeled several places along the route with historical, geographical and cultural markers. Passersby stop to tell stories about memories of having traveled to or lived in these areas in their past, recounting stories and recalling information and meaning that they may have otherwise forgotten.
Noticing the placement of the “we are here” marker one day, resident Robert Johnson typed a note about having grown up in that very region (which happened to be Conneaut, Ohio). He went on to educate others about Conneaut’s claim to fame, which was that it was home to a particularly large elm tree, named the largest tree in the state of Ohio before it got Dutch elm disease and died.
“All the things you don’t need to know about Conneaut, Ohio,” he wrote, “ But it makes me curious — how many EastView residents lived at one point or another at one of the stops along our route to San Francisco?”
The enthusiastic embrace of this project has been fun and rewarding to Puterbaugh, who had spent many years traveling the country prior to her moving to EastView. Now with more limited mobility and challenges with balance, Puterbaugh has fewer options to travel physically around the country. But she loves to think about these different regions of the country and tell stories about a camping trip here or a museum she visited there or a cycling trip in the hills of her favorite national park.
Puterbaugh does still walk and hike more than many, however. Her daily count can vary from as low as 1,800 steps a day to over 15,000. She is part of the hiking club at EastView and even has a goal to complete all 18 miles of the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) later this fall.
While wearing a pedometer and tracking her steps is familiar to her, for others at EastView it has been an opportunity to try something new.
Resident services director Rich Fritz got involved with Puterbaugh’s project at the beginning and ordered pedometers and has helped the residents learn how to use them and build goals.
“To me this project is a concrete demonstration of how active our residents are,” Fritz said.
 “For some people 1,000 steps a day is pretty good,” Puterbaugh says, “but I like to try to challenge them to aim for 1,200, just to see if they can do it.”
She encourages them to add steps in creative ways: “When you’re talking on the phone, walk in circles around your house or apartment. Or when you’re watching TV, challenge people to get up during the commercial breaks and go for a spin around the couch until the commercials are over.”
With such fervent response, EastView residents are now in the middle of Nebraska after just about a month of walking. That’s about half way through and is much quicker than Puterbaugh had initially expected them to complete.
“So now we’re talking about what we’re going to do when we get there,” she says, “and how we’re going to get back.”
Fellow walkers have each been advocating for side ventures to regions of the West that they had traveled and loved in the past. Some want to go north to Vancouver and back through Canada. Others want to travel south to Texas then east to the coast and up from there.
Puterbaugh is enamored with the idea of a national parks tour, partially inspired by the 100-year anniversary of the national parks program this year. They would perhaps travel north from San Francisco to Yosemite and up into Oregon to Crater Lake and onto Washington for Mount Rainer National Park. They could then walk east to Idaho’s Glacier National Park and down through Yellowstone and Teton national parks, and then into Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, where there are a total of 13 parks to choose from.
Another idea would be to trace the path Lewis and Clark made on their famous western expedition, back in 1804.
Whatever the route, Puterbaugh and her fellow walkers at EastView are sure to make their journey with great fun, enjoying the company and camaraderie of others while triumphing in their ambitious fitness goals.  

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