by Sharon Lovering
After a long week of meetings at the American Council of the Blind's 52nd annual national convention, members were treated to their choice of grilled honey mustard chicken, bacon-infused meatloaf, or curried lentils with jasmine rice, roasted cashews and coriander. The banquet opened with music performed by Don Haines on the piano. Conventioners were tackling dessert when mistress of ceremonies Janet Dickelman called on Ron Milliman for an announcement. "We... topped $93,110, and that's in annualized dollars [for the MMS program]," Milliman said. The assembly applauded.
Dickelman then introduced Mary Hiland, former executive director of ACB of Ohio, to talk about hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and how she began what she called a "hen hike." "There is something about October that calls me to a hiking trip with 11 of my favorite women friends," Hiland began. "'Twelve women?' you say. 'Oh, I can just hear it now. Yackety yak, cackle, cackle, cackle.' Well, you wouldn't be too far off." During the group's first trip, the women decided they needed a name, and they agreed on "the hen hike." "Some of the women balked at the idea," she said, "because of the negative connotation of a hen party. But they soon let their sense of humor take over and eventually bought into the idea, calling the oldest member of our group the 'mother hen,' the place where we stay 'the roost,' and coming up with such rules as 'no roosters allowed.'"
Why aren't guys invited on the hen hike? There are several practical reasons, including restrooms. "Now you might be wondering what it looks like to have 12 women hiking together when half of them can't see. Picture this: Each morning when we get ready for the hike ... we pair up, with each visually impaired hiker – that's VIP chick – holding onto a loop or a strap of a sighted guide's backpack. And I call them the guide chicks." She mentioned the uses the group found for a hiking stick, including the guide chick's holding one end and the VIP chick holding the other for a sort of guide dog effect.
"Because we hike in pairs, there's a lot of time for girl talk," she noted. "That is, in between, 'OK, now there's some roots here we're going to need to step over,' and 'Watch out for this big rock on the left,' 'There's a tree that's fallen over the trail up ahead and we're going to have to climb over that or maybe crawl under it,' 'Whatever you do, don't lean to the left, there's a big drop-off.' Being a blind hiker takes a lot of trust. But being a sighted guide of a blind hiker takes a lot of courage. Those of you who've been to Ski for Light know exactly what I'm talking about."
Hiland talked about the group's first hike. "On our very first day of our very first hike together, we came across a stream, over which had been laid a steel beam. This was our bridge? No rail? ... What we had to do was face sideways with our heels extended over one edge and our toes extended over the other edge and we locked elbows and scooched ever so cautiously and slowly inch by inch to the other side, repeating the Ski for Light motto: 'If I can do this, I can do anything.' When the last two hens made it across safely, we all cheered and had a group hug. Ever since that day, we've enjoyed hiking up and down steep hills, over muddy tracks, with roots and rocks to negotiate. Sometimes we hike on leafy forest roads, where we can really stride out and get some miles in. Sometimes we hike on the Appalachian Trail. ... On rainy days, we hike through antique stores and gift shops." The audience roared.
"The hen hike started 15 years ago, when I called my friend Julie," she continued. "Julie and I had met at Ski for Light; she was my guide, and we discovered that we had not only skiing in common, but we also both like to hike." She mentioned reading Bill Bryson's book, "A Walk in the Woods," and being inspired by it. "So I said to Julie, 'Would you be interested in going on a hiking trip with me?' And to my amazement, she said, 'Yes.' ... And then she said, '... What would you think if we invited a couple of other gals to go with us?' So we did, and they invited a couple more, and the next thing you know, there were 12 of us. We had to stop inviting people after 12, because you can't get more than 12 women to agree on anything, much less what to have for dinner that night."
If you wanted to start your own "hen hike," Hiland said, find a group of like-minded people, with a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves. "... The second thing you need for a hen hike is the perfect roost, that is, a bed and breakfast, or at the very least, a quaint old inn. ... The third thing you need for a hen hike is to let the child come out in you."
Hiland closed by reading the poem she'd written in honor of the hens. "Well, I come from the Midwest to be with my friends, eleven other women and we call ourselves the hens. We cackle and we crow as two by two we go down the Appalachian Trail through the leaves and the snow. We marvel at the colors, we're awed at the sights. Lean to the left, there's a drop-off to the right. Step over those roots. Climb over that log. Touch the pretty moss. Listen to the frog. And when we have to tinkle, we just pull down our drawers. Even our bottoms love the great outdoors!" The audience howled with laughter. "There's more," she said, laughing. "It's time for lunch, so pull up a rock. Loosen your boots and air out your socks. Peanut butter sammies never tasted so good when you're skipping over the rivers and hiking through the woods. Switch your partners now, get going again. Catch up on the news from yet another hen. Waddle down that path now, two by two, 'til you get to the roost and take off your shoes. Jump in the tub. Lie on the bed. Get up again for wine and tofutti spread. Now waddle into dinner, eat all you like. You know you'll burn it off on tomorrow's hike. We don't count calories, we don't watch fat. It's just us hens, and we like it like that. It's the great hen hike, can't wait to get bawk!" She finished to tremendous applause. For more information, visit Hiland's blog, www.seeingitmyway.com.
After a couple of door prizes, Cindy Van Winkle presented awards. "This is really a special committee to be on because you know that you often have an opportunity to surprise people, and you also get to read some really wonderful letters written by people who feel passionate about the person or the organization or business that they might be nominating," Van Winkle said. "The first award that we will be presenting tonight is the Robert S. Bray Award. ... This year we've heard actually a lot about this company." The recipient was Weight Watchers, Inc.; accepting on their behalf was Kim Charlson.
The next award was the James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award. "This person has been a member of this organization for 42 years," Van Winkle said. "And some might say that the work they do, the service they do to the blind community is also in their paid work. ... But they go way beyond, hours and hours in initiative beyond their work time to build accessibility for technology for all people. ... This person ... was pivotal in making sure that Major League Baseball's web site was fully accessible ..." The winner was Brian Charlson.
Dickelman next called on Melanie Brunson. "I am here this evening because I too have a little presentation I would like to make," Brunson said. "I'd like to take a few minutes of your time, and I hope you will join me, to honor a very special person in ACB. ... We have a person in this room who has given to this organization a lot of her time, talent, energy, sense of humor, compassion, and has done so for 20 years now. ... We believe that it is very appropriate for us to mark that occasion with a little presentation to the editor of 'The ACB Braille Forum,' Sharon Lovering." She presented Lovering with a 20-year pin and a plaque.
Jim Jirak of CCLVI drew the winning ticket for the Merlin CCTV; the winner was Lynn Powers. Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for: the drawing of the winners of "The ACB Braille Forum" raffle. The winners were: 3rd place, Tom Samuelson; 2nd place, Roger Petersen and Bernice Kandarian; and 1st place, Library Users of America.
Captions (see photos at left)
Mary Hiland tells banquet attendees how she became interested in hiking, and how she and a friend came up with "the hen hike." She stands behind a tabletop lectern, speaking into the microphone.
Brian Charlson accepts the James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award from Cindy Van Winkle. Both are standing behind the tabletop lectern at the front of the banquet room. Van Winkle is hugging Charlson, who is holding onto his award.