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GENERATIONS: Sue Bruns: Mall walkers escape the subzero days

I unpack my laptop and camera. On this subzero morning, I sit comfortably on a leather loveseat in the middle of the Paul Bunyan Mall with views of the front door, Riddle's Jewelry, Bath and Body Works, the Dairy Queen, JCPenney's, Wick n Scents,...

Robert and Jane Unash moved to the Bemidji area from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They enjoy walking at the mall during the colder months. Sue Bruns | For the Pioneer
Robert and Jane Unash moved to the Bemidji area from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They enjoy walking at the mall during the colder months. Sue Bruns | For the Pioneer

I unpack my laptop and camera. On this subzero morning, I sit comfortably on a leather loveseat in the middle of the Paul Bunyan Mall with views of the front door, Riddle's Jewelry, Bath and Body Works, the Dairy Queen, JCPenney's, Wick n Scents, a few kiosks and Tradehome's shoe sale table.

I'm looking for mall-walkers, and within minutes, I have identified a few.

A woman in walking shoes, leggings, a skirt, and quilted vest walks by at a brisk pace, adhering to the unmarked walking parameters of the mall. A few minutes later, Ron and Vi Hendricks enter and begin their first lap. As they walk by, I tell them what I'm doing and ask to talk to them when they're done.

Bemidji-Pioneer-February-2019-picture-4808760.jpg
Sue Bruns

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Another couple arrives. The woman walks with her purse over her shoulder; her husband uses a cane. Their pace is slower than the others, but walking, no matter what pace, is a good thing.

One more couple arrives. The woman sees me, waves, and asks, "Are you working on your next column?" "Yes. Are you here to mall walk?" I ask. "That's what I'm writing about."

"Oh, yes. We had to get out of the house before we kill each other," she laughs, and gives me permission to use her line as long as I don't identify her.

By now, my first mall walkers have completed a lap or two. They stay close to the storefronts, following the floor pattern's division of color. The pervasive direction is counter-clockwise. (One walker tells me it's a bit disturbing when someone goes the opposite direction).

The mall-walkers I'm observing complete a lap in 4.5 to 10 minutes, occasionally extending their route with a loop through JCPenney's or Kohl's. When I take a lap around the mall, my Fitbit counts 619 steps, but I take fairly big steps. Another walker's count is just under 700.

When Ron and Vi finish their six laps, they stop by to visit. "That's enough," Ron says. Vi says they aren't regulars at the mall. She prefers to walk outside when the weather isn't so bitter. Just walking around their property can give her a mile or so. Ron acknowledges that it takes a nudge from Vi to get him out to the mall. They zip up their jackets and head out into the subzero day.

As they leave, I see Pat Lind, walking solo, keeping a good pace. She waves at me as she passes by. Pat has been an avid walker for 30 some years, and a winter time mall-walker for about two years. "I don't keep count of my laps," she tells me. "I try to walk six days a week and at least half an hour, sometimes an hour."

She wears earbuds and listens to the radio as she walks. Sometimes her husband Lloyd joins her after he has coffee. When they walk together, the pace is a little slower and the earbuds come out to allow for conversation.

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Two other solo walkers are making the rounds. One, I learn, is Susan Sether, who walks six days a week for about 40 minutes. Today, she is walking at the mall because it was convenient. In better weather she walks outside. Sometimes, when she goes to a BHS basketball game, she arrives early and walks the track above the gym before the game. She likes walking alone and keeping her own pace.

The other solo is the briskly paced woman in the leggings and quilted vest-the most stylish walker I've observed. Like Susan, she enjoys keeping her own pace. When she walks outside, she usually goes about two miles, so she aims for a comparable distance when she walks at the mall between November and March. She has been a mall walker for at least 10 years and walks five or six days a week.

"You see a lot of the same people from day to day," she tells me, happy to visit, but preferring anonymity. "It's a great place to walk."

When the couple with purse and cane complete their final lap, I introduce myself and ask if I can visit with them. They are Robert and Jane Unash, married 53 years, Bemidji transplants from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For the past few years, they've been mall walking on and off during the colder months.

"My doctor says I should walk," Robert says, but admits that Jane's nudging gets him going. "We've been doing pretty well this year," he says. They do four laps at the mall. "We visit as we go-say hello to the shopkeepers and other walkers," Jane tells me. Although they don't know everyone by name, the regulars are familiar.

When I ask if I can take their picture, Jane says, "Oh, we'll probably break your camera lens."

"No," I tell her, "I think you'll inspire other walkers." "I hope so," she says.

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Ron and Vi Hendricks are mall walkers at the Paul Bunyan Mall in Bemidji. Polly Scotland | For the Pioneer
Ron and Vi Hendricks are mall walkers at the Paul Bunyan Mall in Bemidji. Polly Scotland | For the Pioneer

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