Lake Norman & Mooresville

Families adopt the walking life in town

You've seen them.

As you drive down Concord Road or Main Street here in Davidson, you notice them out of your car window. Then again, the next day. And the next.

Two women, walking. One pushes a stroller. Just ahead of them, five boys ride their bikes.

In a walking community like Davidson, it's not surprising to see runners, bikers and students hurrying to class. But Mary Alice Mitchell and Meredith Johnston are more than occasional pedestrians.

Both have made a conscious effort to forgo their cars whenever possible and adopt walking as a way of life.

The two met at the end of 2005, when Johnston moved onto Conroy Avenue in the St. Alban's neighborhood, right next door to Mitchell. Their friendship began with a shared passion - running.

The two quickly became running partners, getting up five mornings a week and knocking out 41/2 miles. On Saturdays, they do 71/2.

And that other woman you see with them?

That's their friend, Ann Boye, who often joins them.

Their shared love of exercise led them to take their kids to the first Walking Wednesday of the year at Davidson Elementary in September 2008, right when their oldest sons started kindergarten. Walking Wednesday is held the first Wednesday of each month, when Davidson Elementary encourages all pupils to walk or bike to school and increase awareness of the importance of physical activity.

It was an instant hit.

"We just decided it was really good for them and fun for us, so we said 'Let's do it again tomorrow.' And we've been doing it ever since," Mitchell said.

The families have a bit of a routine. Each morning, they head over to Davidson Elementary with Johnston and Mitchell walking and pushing Carolina Mitchell, 3, in a stroller. Their sons - Campbell, Payson and Garrett Johnston, ages 7, 6, and 6 respectively; and Grady and John Mitchell, ages 9 and 8 - ride their bikes, stopping at designated corners.

After dropping off the boys, the moms take Carolina to Davidson College Presbyterian Church preschool, then trek over to the Lake Norman YMCA, where Mitchell teaches yoga.

Even in rainy weather, the families are out there, sheltered by umbrellas. But there are always exceptions.

"If it's below 18 degrees, we don't walk, there's just too much complaining," said Mitchell. "But if it's 19 degrees, we do," she added, laughing.

Although anyone's children might whine about freezing weather, that's about the only time the Mitchell and Johnston kids do - with one exception.

"They complain if they don't have each other," said Johnston.

Although the families each remain two-car households, they make concentrated efforts to consolidate errands and frequent local businesses so they have to use the autos as little as possible.

The moms pick doctors, hair salons and businesses such as the local CVS that they can walk to. They do still drive to the Harris Teeter.

"It's too hard to walk back with all those groceries," said Mitchell, but she tries to make one big trip rather than lots of little ones.

Another benefit? "I'm not constantly going to Target and spending lots of money," said Mitchell.

"It forces you to be more efficient in planning errands," said Johnston.

The two hope that their lifestyle is contagious.

"We love to hear that we're an example for others," said Johnston.

Mitchell agrees.

"We have the privilege of living in a walkable community, so we take advantage of it. And if people want to do it, we'll tell them it's not as hard as it seems."