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How Do You Give an ­Elephant a Bath?

Would you walk 30 miles for the answer?

Ruth Doherty, along with her father Jonathon, chalks jokes and words of inspiration along the 30-mile route of the Chesapeake Challenge MS Walk, which her mother Dotty has taken part in for six years.

It won’t be the walkers who are sorest after Sunday, June 10’s two-day, 30-mile Chesapeake Challenge MS Walk. It will be the chalkers.
    For the past several years, my husband, Jonathan Doherty and our 24-year-old daughter Ruth have chalked jokes and pictures along the route of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual fundraising walk on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. My husband and daughter started their chalking to help me go the distance. But when they missed a year for Ruth’s college graduation, walkers noticed.
    “Where were the jokes last year?” asked a young man, jumping up from a set of push-ups he and his companions just completed, determined not to let a 30-mile trek get in the way of their Shaun T Insanity workout. “We look forward to them on every walk.”
    The first day’s 20 miles along Kent Island roads and trails take seven or more hours. Walkers can tell if others are behind them by the laughter. Or the groans.

Walker Dotty with family chalkers.

    What’s gray?
    A penguin in a blender.
    Jokes, no matter how bad, get funnier as the day gets hotter, the miles longer, the feet more tender.
    By the second day, distractions are dearer still. Early on, two miles after Chestertown amid waves of soybeans, walkers read, Corn! accompanied by a chalked ear with long tassels. Searching the green fields, walkers shook their heads, confused. A few paces later came the next note: Ha ha, made you look!
    Jonathan and Ruth can’t dawdle. Trying to stay ahead of the fastest walkers, they get off their bikes, comb their joke books, squat, write the set-up on a stretch of asphalt, stand up, walk 20 paces, squat and write the punch-line, stand up, get back on their bikes, pedal 100 yards, stop and get off again.
    For 30 miles.
    When they have time, the jokesters turn to their artistic talents. A huge butterfly alights on the pavement with the message: I believe you can fly! A bottle of bubbles and wand sport the title: Pop MS. A turtle pushing a wheelbarrow offers Rides $5.
    Drawings accompany jokes:
    How do you give an elephant a bath?
    First you find a really big duck.
    Like all good shows, theirs ends with a finale. Last year, Ruth covered the sidewalk with Winnie the Pooh characters cheering the walkers for the last leg to Washington College. At the finish line, Jonathan had chalked giant flowers and balloons, with two messages: We love you! and No MS!
    This Sunday, over the celebratory lunch, the walkers will compare blisters. The chalkers will gaze at their abraded fingertips and knees. They know what Monday will bring.
    “We won’t be able to walk down stairs!” Ruth says.

Dotty Holcomb Doherty will be walking in her sixth Chesapeake Challenge MS Walk.