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Local woman, 89, completes journey across C&O Canal towpath

By Staff | Jun 29, 2018

Courtesy photo Helen Burns, 89, right, holds up the certificate of completion given to her by National Park Service Ranger Stephanie Siemek, left, after completing the 184.5-mile C&O?Canal towpath Monday.

Shepherdstown resident Helen Burns, 89, finished walking the C&O Canal in Cumberland, Maryland, on Monday, just over a year since she began her journey in May 2017.

As Burns completed the last 3.5 miles of the 184.5-mile towpath with her two friends, Rie Wilson, of Shepherdstown, and Monica Raffel, of Martinsburg, Burns’ husband, John, cheered her on. Both Wilson and Raffel joined Helen Burns on the towpath at different times over the past year.

“Monica walked two of the longest segments with me, which was a big help, and Rie did quite a few with me,” Burns said, mentioning that her husband contributed to her effort by helping her find the canal access points.

According to Burns, although the points are marked on the trail and listed online, they can be difficult to spot from a distance.

“To be honest, finding the exit points was the most challenging part, because they are down country roads and (are) not marked ahead,” Helen said, mentioning walkers have two transportation options on the towpath.

Courtesy photo From left:?Monica Raffel, Helen Burns and Rie Wilson smile after Burns completes the last 3.5 miles of the 184.5-mile C&O?Canal towpath in Cumberland, Maryland. Burns began walking segments of the path in May 2017. Raffel and Wilson, both friends of Burns’, walked with her Monday.

“You either have to park at an access point, walk up to the next access point and then walk back the whole way, or you can hire a shuttle to take you to the next point, and then you can walk back to your car,” Burns said. “Mostly, I just hiked back.”

She said she didn’t mind having to walk the same part of the trail twice to get back to her car.

“I really enjoyed the scenery,” Burns said. “I’ve always enjoyed nature. I’ve always enjoyed walking. And it’s just something I always wanted to do.

“It’s just a lovely walk, a lot of it is right along the river – the trees make an arch overhead, there’s turtles and frogs, and butterflies and birds,” she added.

Burns said having plenty of drinking water and sturdy footwear are two important things to remember when preparing to take a long walk. While on the towpath, she said she was surprised by rain, but that it didn’t deter her from finishing it.

“Just dress for the weather, and if it does rain, you won’t melt,” Burns said, laughing.

Stephanie Siemek, one of the canal’s interpretive rangers, awarded Helen with a bronze medal and certificate of completion when Helen reached the end of her journey.

Burns has never considered herself athletic, but has always maintained a healthy lifestyle, working out three times a week with weights and cardio at Shepherd University’s Wellness Center, eating plenty of veggies and limiting her fat and sugar intake.

Burns said she built up endurance from the long periods of walking, and plans to continue distance walking in the future.

“I was definitely able to go further as I went along,” Helen said. “I do hope to do more walking, although I’m not sure I’m going to undertake anything that long again.”