On the morning of Oct. 16, we met the senator at the western border of the commonwealth.
The we in question was myself and Glenn Prezzano, the owner and publisher of this magazine. And the senator was Diana DiZoglio, who serves the First Essex District in the state legislature. When we arrived, she had just been dropped off by one of her colleagues, state Sen. Adam Hinds, who represents the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District in Western Mass.
The route began underneath the sign for Williamstown and headed east, following the Mohawk Trail — a section of Route 2 — to a modest but scenic hotel in the town of Florida. Earlier in the week, weather forecasters had been predicting mild and sunny weather in the region. However, as the days passed, the accounts grew daunting, and we were threatened with heavy rain and chilly temperatures.
I showed up suitably ill prepared in shorts, a T-shirt, and a rain poncho. And I shouldn’t forget — I was also wearing a 13-liter fanny pack, which I wore rear-facing, and with the pride suitable to wearing what might be the world’s largest fanny pack. Unfortunately for my humility, an unyielding rain began to fall after the first leg of the tour, a gentle descent amid postcard-ready scenery. We would spend the next seven or so hours slashed by downpours so cold they made our fingers shake uncontrollably and our teeth chatter. As for the fanny pack, it stayed hidden under my poncho and made me look like I had a massive behind, jiggling and swaying in time with my footsteps.
Whatever discomforts Prezzano and I faced on that cold day, it was nothing compared to what lay ahead for DiZoglio, whose planned 159-mile march across northern Massachusetts was scheduled for 10 grueling days, over hilly terrain and battling New England’s varying autumn weather and narrow roads not designed for pedestrians. This was all to raise money for a proposed youth and community center in Methuen.
While we walked, we passed yard signs that reflected the divided and often combative national political scene. Part of the appeal of this project, DiZoglio explained to me, was that it reflected a different reality from the division we saw in the signs around us. A youth center is a nonpartisan, uniting issue. She, after all, grew up in Methuen, and remembers the feeling of having no place to go. The senator, for all her prominence as a public figure, lives modestly, and comes across as the “Methuen girl” she often calls herself. Throughout the 10-day walk, she would be staying in simple, affordable hotels, and all this work was being done as a private citizen, on top of her duties in state government. If Prezzano and I hadn’t gone with her on the first day, she would have walked alone.
For this project, DiZoglio is partnering with the Methuen public schools and Inspirational Ones, a Methuen-based nonprofit. She was assisted in her route planning by Lane Glenn, the adventure-loving president of Northern Essex Community College, and William Shuttleworth, an Air Force veteran and Newburyport resident who completed a 109-day walk across the United States in 2019. DiZoglio’s goal was to raise $159,000 for the youth center. That’s $1,000 for every mile all the way from Williamstown to Salisbury, where she planned to arrive on Oct. 25. Her spirits had been bolstered the previous evening by Pentucket Bank, which surprised her with a $30,000 donation.
She would need those spirits. The first day wasn’t easy. Beyond the rain, she faced steep climbs up winding highways and trucks whizzing past in distressing proximity. The route included the famous hairpin turn next to the Golden Eagle restaurant on the border of Clarksburg and North Adams. Under normal conditions, the views are astounding, but on this day our visibility was limited to layers of fog and icy rain revealing brief flashes of colorful fall foliage in the receding valley below. While the senator looked at the trees and ecstatically noted the brilliance of their colors, I muttered to myself about blisters and wet socks, and began silently reciting Thich Nhat Hanh mantras to keep myself going, wondering which hurdling 18-wheeler would skid into the guardrail and knock me into the gray beyond.
By the time we were finished, my fitness tracker indicated that I had walked 38,332 steps for 17.92 miles in 380 minutes. The senator, with typical humility, suggested the actual distance was shorter. My weary bones vehemently disagreed.
Update: On Sunday, Oct. 25, Sen. DiZoglio safely completed her journey. The next evening, the Methuen mayor and school committee voted to transform the Pleasant Valley School into the Methuen Youth & Community Center. As of Tuesday morning, her efforts had raised over $101K.
If you’re interested in supporting this project, visit InspirationalOnes.org/MarchAcrossMA.