In 1963 our President, John F. Kennedy, called for our country to be physically fit. He placed a challenge to each able-bodied American that we should be capable of walking fifty miles in a time span of 20 hours.
I was a fifteen-year-old in the Boy Scouts at that time. Our Claremore Troop 88 took up the challenge one afternoon at a pack meeting held at Joe Howell’s house on east Third Street. Decision was made for the Pack to gather at my house on Second Street (Patti Page) to begin our first leg out towards Pryor. Twelve of us originally agreed to make the hike; however, by the night before leaving the number had dwindled to seven and by 6:00 a.m. at the proposed time and place of beginning only one other intrepid soul showed up.
And so it was that my best friend (Jimmy Bowman) and I started off on our first 18 mile leg from Claremore to Pryor. Just in terms of getting from home to school and town I walked five miles every day before running a three mile paper route on bike. I had been fatigued on a bicycle and fatigued by running but I honestly couldn’t remember ever even getting tired walking. I believed I could walk indefinitely.
And so it was down the hill to Dog Creek and out walking on the gravel shoulder and in the grass past the Rogers Drive-in theatre (we called it the ROG because those were the only letters that lit. On up and over the Justus hills and down past John Ward’s farm and out to uncharted territory. Along the way at the curve we laughed as we passed a beer joint. It was our joke that my Dad (a teetotaler) always turned on the signal as if he was turning in. On past the massive McFarlin ranch and to Midway Grocery (aptly named, as it was halfway between Claremore and Pryor).
One more hill to climb and out across the vista of the great Grand River Valley and on to the unruly Pryor Creek which regularly flooded the area.
It was about there that we were met with a whole tickertape parade from Pryor . “The hikers have arrived!” A guy from the Pryor Times and Jeffersonian took our pictures with a camera that was as big as a microwave oven, except we didn’t know it because microwave ovens were not yet invented.
We received full police escorts, lights and siren, to downtown Pryor where we hiking celebrities were treated to lots of back slapping and a full breakfast.
Time now to move on. Have to be home in twenty hours. “Let’s go!”
The next 18 miles walking back toward Claremore would not be as easy.