The 20th walking day of my trek across Connecticut was the last, on the nicest day of weather – which was good because it was also the longest.
By the end just after 9 p.m., I had hoofed all 107 miles across Route 44, plus another 25 or 30 miles of spurs -- from the Salisbury border with Millerton, New York, to the spot where Putnam gives way to Rhode Island at a nameless, swampy pond.
More than an assignment, Explore 44 developed into a lifestyle from the moment my editor, Sandy Csizmar, dropped me off at the start on July 7, with two Lakeville guys there to greet us.
Although the lifestyle of the road has ended, the quest continues as we produce many more stories, blog posts and photo galleries in the coming days. Look for them at www.courant.com/explore44.
It was a trek through 22 towns, where I met about 200 people – but it's one highway, one state. The clear takeaway: These towns are more alike than they are different.
I saved the longest day for the last, 14.4 miles, after making it only as far as Rosie's Drive In and Dairy Bar in Pomfret Thursday night. Then I had to run the last six, hilly miles on Friday night due to my inability to pass so many sights, so many people, without stopping.
How do you just walk by the Russian Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Union center in the woods of Ashford? You don't. How do you walk away from a sunset Friday night in happenin’ Putnam, with restaurants packed? You don't.
But the physical challenge has never been the issue; rather, I revel in and struggle with how best to capture the character of a defining roadway, and the state it crosses. Many people ask who's the most interesting personality I've met. I've never given the same answer twice.
I've seen guarded Yankee farmers and merchants open up, machine shop managers take breaks from the din to let me into their world, artists and artisans, camp directors, owners of historic homes, victims of tragedy, countless foodies, doctors, professors and just plain people along the road, all of them telling their stories, taking me in, driving me to see what I couldn't reach on foot – then back to the place where I left off, to walk.
In the final hours, I met a radio news reporter thrilled in his first job; a comic book store manager who loves Batman; and two of the guys who are remaking Putnam as a destination. Look for those stories in this collection as I write them.
And look for me to be back out there on another trek, in a great state that we don't always appreciate until we see it up close
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