Helene Marsh Harrower (from left to right), Lori Pratt Mckeown, Kari McCarthy and Lynn Perrotta holding her dog Peanut pause for a selfie while hiking Sawyer Mountain in Limington during the fall of 2020.   Credit: Courtesy of Helene Marsh Harrower

With their kids recently gone off to college, a small group of moms from southern Maine started looking for ways to stay connected in the absence of school events such as sports games. Then COVID-19 came along, threatening to isolate them even further. So they laced up their hiking boots and met outdoors.

Since the beginning of October, the moms have hiked together almost every weekend, with a core group of four women and a few others joining on occasion. They call themselves “Broads in Boots.”

“This really is all about making a connection,” said Helene Marsh Harrower of Brunswick, who initiated the group hikes via email. “We’ve all sat at soccer and lacrosse and hockey games as our kids played together. Now we don’t have that anymore.”

Their weekly adventures vary in difficulty from easy woodland walks at local preserves to arduous mountain treks. Usually they cover between 3 to 10 miles per outing.

“We’re fueled by laughter,” Harrower said. “I love this group of women.”

Helene Marsh Harrower of Brunswick (from front to back) snowshoes with Lynn Perrotta of Freeport, Jen Doherty of Brunswick and Kari McCarthy of Brunswick at Chase Reserve in Freeport. The group calls themselves Broads in Boots. Credit: Courtesy of Helene Marsh Harrower

Jen Doherty of Brunswick describes the group as “moai,” a term used by the people of Okinawa, Japan, to describe a supportive social circle of lifelong friends. Okinawans are known for their longevity and good health. Their lifestyles — including the importance they place on moai — has been studied by scholars seeking to better understand why so many Okinawan people live to be over 100 years old.

“It’s a healthy thing to get fit, to get outside in nature and be with other people and connecting during this time, and to motivate each other, too,” Doherty said. “There’s an importance in being in a group, having friendships and the chance to build relationships with people not in your house.”

When asked what the group has given her during this time, Lynn Perrotta of Freeport simply said, “sanity.”

“That connection, that friendship. It gives us something to look forward to,” she said.

To date, Broads in Boots has hiked over a dozen trails. Some of the women in the group are more experienced at hiking than others, so they share their knowledge about things like proper footwear, clothing and gear. But everyone fills a certain role, whether it’s navigating by trail map or scoping out a cafe to stop at on the drive home.

“It’s been super helpful. I’ve learned things like, you really need shoes that don’t hurt your feet, and you really don’t need to be carrying the heaviest water bottle ever,” Harrower said with a laugh.

Harrower has also noticed a big improvement in her strength and endurance. During the first few hikes, she often struggled to catch her breath on the inclines, she said. She worried she was holding the group back. Now, with several hikes under her belt, that’s no longer an issue. She, along with the rest of the group, is ready to embrace the challenges of winter hiking.

“We haven’t done a mountain on snowshoes, but to me, that’s on my bucket list, to actually climb elevation in snowshoes,” Harrower said.

The experience has opened their eyes to the many hiking trails throughout the state, including plenty right in their neighborhoods.

Kari McCarthy and Jen Doherty, both of Brunswick, hike Ragged Mountain in the midcoast area.  Credit: Courtesy of Helene Marsh Harrower

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 minutes down the road or 2 and 1/2 hours, there are so many wonderful places,” said Kari McCarthy of Brunswick.

Due to concerns about COVID-19, the hikers communicate with each other openly about what precautions they wish to take while hiking together, whether it’s wearing masks, social distancing, driving separately or opting to be in a pandemic pod.

“We’re really careful on trails, and when we research the trails, we look for ones that aren’t crowded,” Perrotta said.

They don’t have any solid plans for the group, though they envision it evolving over time. In the summer, it may include kayaking and camping trips. And for now at least, they plan to keep their numbers small — though they have invited their kids to join when they’re home from college.

“In another time, we might have said ‘the more the merrier,’ but it’s harder to have a big group right now,” Doherty said. “I think we’re committed to doing something every week, and as the seasons change, we’ll change what we’re doing.”

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...