You may not know her name but Mary Jane Ausland is often recognized wherever she goes.
Ausland is known as "the lady who walks" along Crow Wing County 3 north of Brainerd. She not only walks three miles twice a day, but she often waves to passing motorists. She can be spotted wearing her Legionville baseball cap and fanny pack.
Ausland started walking along the roadway in 1994 when her veterinarian recommended she take her standard French poodle named Daisy on walks to help alleviate the dog's arthritic pain. Daisy died four years later at age 14, but Ausland continued to walk because she noticed the health benefits of walking for herself.
"It's fun, refreshing," said Ausland. "I always feel better after I walk. I have a bad back and walking really helps it."
Ausland walks twice a day, in the morning and in the early evening, from her and her husband Marvin's home on Ebinger Road to the Evergreen Memorial Gardens, where she walks a loop around the cemetery, then returns home, waving to cars that pass her by. She is afraid of being struck by a car -- once she had to run into the ditch to avoid being hit by a car passing another illegally on the right -- so Ausland stops and watches the cars as they pass her. Once the road is clear both ways, she starts walking again.
Ausland said she began her daily ritual of waving to cars after motorists started waving to her. She's become such a fixture on County Road 3 that once a young couple stopped and asked if they could take a photo of themselves with her because they've seen her walking there so often. Other people stop to chat, just to find out more about her.
"Sometimes they stop and say, 'You made my day,'" said Ausland with a smile.
Tourists tend to be the friendliest, she said.
But there are others who aren't as nice. People have yelled profanities and made obscene gestures when they've passed by. Ausland tries not to take it personally. She just figures they've had a bad day at work and are taking out their negative feelings on her. One man stopped and apologized for yelling a profanity at her when she waved to him the day before.
Ausland was born in Little Falls and raised in nearby Belle Prairie on her parents' family farm. When she was 15, her parents, Vincent and Angeline Forcier, and she and her siblings moved to Brainerd. Ausland graduated from Brainerd High School in 1955. She and her husband, Marvin, were married in 1957. Marvin retired from Potlatch in 1999.
The couple enjoys horseback riding together and riding their bicycles on the Paul Bunyan Trail. Her husband used to walk with her but his hip started bothering him so he stopped, she said. Ausland walks every day, except if there is heavy rain or the temperature is lower than 5 degrees in the winter.
"I walk according to the weather," she said. "If it's hot, I slow down to keep cool. If it's cold, I speed up to keep warm."
Ausland said walking keeps her weight down. She couldn't walk for a week last winter because of the ice and was surprised to discover she gained three pounds because she hadn't been walking.
Walking, she said, is never boring. Once a bear crossed the road ahead of her as she was starting out on a walk. She always has new and familiar faces to wave to every day. People have stopped her along the road out of concern because they hadn't seen her out walking and wondered if she had been ill.
"I've done it for so many years so I suppose they expect to see me here," said Ausland.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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