Last fall, Mary O'Loughlin read an article in the newspaper about a man who was systematically walking every foot of every street in his city.
A 25-year resident of St. Louis Park, she thought it might be fun to embark on a similar project with her brother and sister-in-law, who also had lived in the city for nearly 30 years.
Nearly a year later, Mary, John and Susan O'Loughlin have not only walked 199 miles of St. Louis Park streets, they're about halfway done walking 24 miles of the city's trails, too.
From the beginning, John, 62, was on board with the project, which they began in March and ended in the middle of August. Susan, however, was skeptical.
"It seemed like a daunting goal to walk 200 miles," said Susan, 60.
But after a week of walking, it was Susan, a retired librarian, who admonished John and Mary to go all the way to the end of a cul-de-sac rather than stopping short.
"At that point, I said to John, 'We've got her,'" said Mary, 61, a retired CPA.
Susan said that after two weeks, she began to miss walking if they skipped a day.
"We walked every foot of every street," Susan said, noting that Mary and John even created a special technique called "the cul-de-sac turn" to make sure they didn't cut corners.
History comes alive
The entire project took about 60 actual days of walking, covering about three to four miles a day. Because it was such a hot summer, they walked mostly in the mornings. Susan carried the "official" pedometer, and the group always remembered to bring sunscreen and water.
From the start, Mary had the secondary goal of using their walks as a way to learn more about St. Louis Park's history, which she says she knew little about. She used a book about the early days of St. Louis Park as a guide. "Something in the Water" was published by the St. Louis Park Historical Society in 2001 and focuses on life in St. Louis Park, which was originally called Elmwood until World War II.
"It's not so much that we're enamored of St. Louis Park, but it's kind of like, if you happen to be here, why not learn about it?" Mary said.
In addition to their city map, the group kept a working map of the city and marked the streets they'd covered with yellow highlighter. Since they knew the route they'd walk next, Mary read up on the history of that area the night before. And whenever one of the three came across something historical on their walk, it was that person's assignment to research it for the group.
The project resulted in a greater appreciation of the city, Susan said, because they walked through many little nooks and areas that most residents wouldn't have a reason to visit.
"We were all impressed with how kept-up most of the city was," she said. "The other thing [this project] did was make me feel so much more comfortable in St. Louis Park. I know the streets, I know the neighborhoods, and there's nowhere I feel unsafe."
Every 50 miles, they rewarded themselves with dinner at a different St. Louis Park restaurant.
Walking into the future
After they finished walking the streets in August, they found it so enjoyable they decided to keep going, tackling the trails.
"It was kind of a group consensus. We weren't ready to quit," John said.
Of course, the trails don't offer much history or architecture, though they've seen wild turkeys, deer and foxes, in addition to the many rabbits they've encountered throughout their walks.
"We've found a few parks we didn't know existed," Susan said.
Having a set goal in mind helped the group keep walking, Susan added -- something they probably would have never done otherwise.
She advises others to just get out there and start walking, preferably with other people to pass the time.
"Truly, the obstacle to doing this was in my own mind. It's amazing how, little by little, we ate away at that big map," she said. "If three 60-somethings can do it, anyone can."
Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.