Ever tried a Kennedy Walk? Can you hike 50 miles in one day? It's a great challenge for a Democratic activist: honor one of our great Presidents while knowing that you're in prime physical marching shape.
In the official JFK Library-sanctioned version of this story, JFK hears that Theodore Roosevelt expected Marines to march 50 miles in 20 hours, and challenges his cabinet to do the same; Robert Kennedy walks 50 miles through snow and slush in leather dress shoes (covering 50 miles in 17.5 hours); millions of Americans mistakenly think they're being challenged too, and emulate RFK's example. For a brief time circa February 1963, marching 50 miles was the rage, along with goldfish-swallowing, marathon-dancing, VW-stuffing, and the like. Here's a Time article (pdf), complete with a photo of a man wearing a shirt reading: "50 Miles With Great Vigah!" JFK never walked 50 miles himself -- but he once followed a couple of walking friends in a car, honking and drinking daiquiris (one hopes that someone else did the actual driving). More JFK 50 mile hike history here
Is this even doable? The number sounds daunting, but first, do some basic math. People walk, on average, between 3 and 4 miles per hour on a flat surface. Three miles per hour is, for me, a too-leisurely stroll at the mall, and four miles per hour is a fast clip that can't be sustained indefinitely; but that's me, and you should find your optimal pace on a treadmill. So, at 3 mph, you'd need to walk nearly 17 hours; I could cover 50 miles by walking a little over 14 hours at my comfortable 3.5 mph; and if you could sustain 4.0 mph, you could cover 50 miles in 12.5 hours. Obviously, this doesn't include time spent on food and bathroom breaks. Short answer: yes, it's doable, if you're prepared. (Hint on preparation: dress shoes = not a good idea.)
Weight and hills slow hikers down immensely. A hiker carrying a 25 lb pack and ascending 1000 feet/mile will be happy to hike 2 miles per hour. I've done my share of strenuous 16-20 mile one day hikes of 5000' elevation gain, where I slow down to 2 mph -- for example, the 18 mile Half Dome hike took me 8 hours to do. To complete 50 miles in a day, you'd have to carry minimal weight, plan on plenty of water refills, and stick to flattish trails.
Another possibility is to run 50 miles (or as much of 50 miles as you can) -- a standard ultramarathon distance, if anything about an ultramarathon is "standard." JFK's inspiration lives on in Maryland at the JFK 50 Mile Race; last year's winner covered the course in a tad over 6 hours, or 7:19 mph average pace -- that's a fast running pace, and I'm in awe of anyone who can keep up that speed for that distance. The military personnel who enter have an enormous advantage in physical preparation and mental discipline over the rest of us. I salute them.
One challenge might be in simply mapping out a route. Both RFK's original walk and the JFK Memorial route follow the Chesapeake & Ohio towpath, which is relatively flat and scenic. Although Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles runs 50 miles, I'm not a fan of smog, traffic, or red lights. Walking the California coastline sounds romantic, but sand in shoes over long miles causes serious foot damage (trust me on this!) and some Malibu property owners are unclear on the concept of public property. Hilly trails, such as the Pacific Crest and High Sierra trails, are not one-day hikes. The Carrizo Plain, California's largest stand of mostly undisturbed grassland, looks promising -- conveniently, 50 miles long, with not one, but several fascinating stories of the San Andreas fault, solar power, politics, and a nasty power struggle ending in death. Among other things, compare Bill Clinton's midnight regulations -- declaring national monuments as he left office -- with Bush43's various midnight regulations designed to wreak havoc on the environment.
I was inspired to write this diary by, among other things, a Fitness Monday diary by ClapClapSnap, on walking 50 miles on Cape Cod for a good cause. KKMama has taken up the Saturday morning Get Fit Challenge by vowing to amass enough running miles to equal the 2,175 mile long Appalachian Trail -- wow! And, if hiking in Maryland, check out not only RFK's route but also the sights that daveUSA found on a road trip to Four Fun Things (by car, not on foot). I might even try a JFK Walk, with great vigah!