We all know how long it takes to drive across Shelter Island from north to south on Route 114. Some of us know there are 21.5 miles of trails meandering in and around Mashomack Preserve.
But have you ever wondered how big Shelter Island really is?
Glenn Waddington certainly did, and it’s a question that he puzzled over for quite some time.
“It started with me working on the South Ferry. Over the years people would say how big is Shelter Island?” said Waddington during a recent visit to the Reporter. “I’d tell them the main road across is four miles, but I said, ‘Look at the map …’ I’d be in the wheelhouse noodling it out — this is before Fit Bit.”
But finally, Waddington’s wondering ways gave way to active research.
“Three years ago when I retired, I was grossly out of shape and overweight. I started walking around the Island on the roads,” he said.
He decided to take the ultimate walk and finally answer the question he’s had all those years. Exactly how big is the Island? Not top to bottom or side to side, but all around.
So he made a plan to hike every inch of shoreline in a counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the Island. It would be done in a series of legs that would, like the great explorers of yore, take him completely around and finally put to rest the age-old question.
Waddington figured that plenty of people had traversed the perimeter of the Island by swimming or wading across the mouths of creeks and inlets they encountered. But his plan was to literally trace the entire shoreline — even into places with massive waterway systems like Crab Creek, Menantic Creek and West Neck Bay.
Like any intrepid explorer, it’s always good to have a sidekick along for the adventure — when she heard about the plan, Callie Atkins quickly decided to join him.
“I always thought I would do it on my own. I knew [my wife] Gwen would be too busy,” said Waddington. “Gwen has been so supportive in this. It made sense for Callie to join.”
That’s because with Atkins along for the walk, the pair could park one of their vehicles at the end of the route and drive the other to the starting point.
At first glance, Waddington and Atkins don’t seem like obvious hiking partners. Waddington is 68 and retired, while Atkins, a yoga teacher and massage therapist, is not quite 31. She heard about Waddington’s plan during a therapy session to improve his painful left knee and thought she’d join in, just for the challenge.
So on Thursday, May 26, leg one of the big walk began. It was a 7.19-mile trek from Hiberry Lane at Hay Beach to North Ferry and took three hours and 33 minutes to complete. From that point on, Atkins and Waddington tried to walk once a week, usually on Thursdays, generally picking up at the point where they had previously left off.
“We walked below the mean high tide line. If bulkheads or phragmites had come right down to the shoreline, sometimes we were compelled to go up and around people’s backyards,” explained Waddington who added that 99.9% of the people they encountered on their trek were fantastic and supportive.
Throughout the summer they walked, hiking an average of three to four hours each time out and covering 7 or 8 miles.
“We tried to do manageable legs, other than two legs. We were able to meet our mark,” Waddington said.
The first of those problematic legs came on July 28 when the route was Crab Creek to Daniel Lord Road. After covering 9.22 miles in four hours and 45 minutes, their day came to a sudden end.
“It was the first time in my life where I set a goal and couldn’t finish it,” said Waddington. “We started at Crab Creek and it was our intention to go around to Island Boat Yard. We went around the Silver Beach lagoon, then we got into phragmites.”
“It was 94 degrees, so I’m bowling through these phragmites, not wanting to walk on the land,” he recalled. “In the midst of this, I turned around and said, ‘I don’t feel good. I need to sit down.’ I plopped down in the muck and said, ‘I think I’m going to pass out.’”
“We pulled ourselves up out of the muck into someone’s backyard and I started hurling, losing my lunch,” he added. “Callie was laughing. We had to cut that walk short.”
“I knew he was O.K.,” said Atkins in her defense during the interview at the Shelter Island Reporter office.
A couple weeks later, it was Atkins’ turn to have a mishap, which came in the form of an ACL injury when she came down off a dock on Little Ram Island.
“She was a warrior woman. She went down in screeching agony,” said Waddington. “We were limping her across this person’s backyard. I’m freaking out, not sure how they were going to react. We got Callie sitting down in front of the house. The owner came out and was fantastic. Come to find out, he was a fellow walker, so he sympathized.”
“He lent me some crutches,” said Atkins who took a break from walking for a couple weeks to rest the injury. She was soon back at it, though stopped just shy of finishing the final few legs in October in preparation for ACL surgery this past fall.
“Callie still has to finish three small creeks,” said Waddington.
Miraculously, the two say they didn’t pull any ticks off their bodies the entire time (spraying helped), though Waddington did find his way into poison ivy at one point. Along the way, they saw piping plovers, baby horseshoe crabs and, in West Neck, countless blue claw crabs. Other species spotted included Greater Yellowlegs, ospreys, and an owl.
They also became good friends.
“It’s really great to be with someone for that period of time. You get to know them,” said Atkins. “These days you don’t have time to spend like that with people, unless they’re in your immediate circle.”
“My one regret was that we didn’t get caught in the rain,” said Waddington. “I would love to have done it in some funky weather.”