St. Bede parishioner walks from Richmond to Williamsburg, raises money for WHOM

Bob Mahr at the beginning of the Virginia Capital Trail at Dock Street in Richmond, June 21, 2024. (Photo/Vicki Mahr)

On a day in which temperatures reached 99 degrees, Bob Mahr was sweating out the 53.5-mile walk from Richmond to Williamsburg.

From end-to-end, Mahr walked down the Virginia Capital Trail, which starts at Dock Street in Richmond and ends in Jamestown, following the James River.

He began the walk the night before, walking for five hours on Friday, June 21, before picking up the following morning and walking for another 12 hours and 47 minutes. He maintained a steady 3 mph pace throughout the walk.

In the evening on June 22, he enjoyed a hard-earned beer at Billsburg Brewery, where the trail ends.

What began as a personal challenge, said Mahr, became a fundraising effort for the Williamsburg House of Mercy (WHOM), a non-profit that helps the homeless. Mahr publicized his walk on social media, through email, and by word-of-mouth, and raised over $4,800 in pledges for WHOM.

“It was hot, but I got it done,” said Mahr. “It was quite the experience.”

Mahr, who is a parishioner of St. Bede, Williamsburg, and a volunteer at WHOM, also says that he had a lot of help along the way.

“My wife was driving up and down John Tyler Highway all day with ice baths, rags in ice water, making sure I was hydrated,” he said. “Virginia Capital Trail has trail monitors, and they knew about my walk, so they had people out there looking to see if I needed help.”

Mahr dedicated each mile to a different prayer intention, including a mile for his newborn granddaughter, a mile for a neighbor with pancreatic cancer, and a mile for WHOM. He also listened to parts of an audio recording of “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

At two particular moments, Mahr said he had to turn to God for guidance on the journey.

“I felt so good during the walk that I started wondering, ‘Am I actually feeling this good, or am I convincing myself?’ So I asked the Lord, ‘Am I doing well?’” Mahr recounted. “Both times, I felt a comfort and a sense of, ‘You’ve got this, you’re good’ – and it wasn’t me speaking.”

At the end of the walk, Mahr said he had a few small blisters, along with tight calves and hamstrings, but was otherwise physically well. “I never got to a point where I had to force myself to do something I wasn’t capable of doing,” he said.

The original inspiration for Mahr, a Maryland native, was a 50-mile hike taken by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1963. At the time, President John F. Kennedy had discovered an executive order dating to the Theodore Roosevelt administration that all Marines should be able to walk 50 miles.

Bob Mahr enjoys a hard-earned beer at Billsburg Brewery in Williamsburg after completing the 53.5-mile Virginia Capital Trail, June 22, 2024. (Photo submitted)

When the president tried to reinstitute the directive, he faced some backlash from his staff. His brother, Robert, then walked from Washington, D.C., to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in dress shoes, completing the 50-mile journey in 17 hours and 50 minutes, to prove it could be done.

For several years, a walking group in Maryland held a 50-mile hike annually in honor of Kennedy. Mahr, a former Division I football player at Lafayette College, was interested in the challenge, but never participated. When he moved with his wife to Williamsburg two years ago, he discovered the 53.5-mile Virginia Capital Trail ran almost through his backyard.

“I’ve hiked sections of the Appalachian Trail – I did 20 miles in one day a few years ago,” said Mahr. “I occasionally get itches to do challenges.”

Originally, his hiking partner from the Appalachian Trail was planning to join him on the Virginia Capital Trail. But when his friend had to drop out, Mahr decided to promote the solo journey as a way to raise funds for WHOM.

“I sent an email out to a list of people, and within five minutes, my former college football coach sent me back and said, ‘I’m in for $1,000,’” said Mahr. “And it grew from there.”

He advertised the challenge on his LinkedIn page and with the Appalachian Trail Club. The Virginia Capital Trail social media account covered his walk, and although they did not provide a link to donations, Mahr says he knows of at least one person who found out about the walk through their coverage and donated.

“I’m not in the position where I can write a check for thousands of dollars to WHOM,” said Mahr. “But if I’m in the position where I can raise that money, I can give my time and my talent.”

“I had some great prayer time. I had some great conversations. I had a neighbor join me for four hours on Saturday morning. A couple teenagers came up to me on bikes and recognized me,” said Mahr. “It was quite the experience, and very rewarding.”


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