Marcia Rothwell and Beth Sobiloff, co-hosts of “Two Grannies on the Road,” wave to spectators as they complete the River Rat Race. Sobiloff said the experience has inspired them to seek more adventures in Western Mass. PHOTO BY JASMINE NELSON PHOTOGRAPHY

News Writer
Published: 4/14/2023 4:23:18 PM

ATHOL — They may not have taken first place, but Beth Sobiloff and Marcia Rothwell still had a great time for their first year at the River Rat Race.

In fact, Sobiloff and Rothwell—hosts of the popular “Two Grannies on the Road” show—came in last out of the nearly 200 canoers. Sobiloff said she was a little embarrassed at first, but as they neared the finish line, cheers of the many spectators could be heard, urging them on. The two finished with a time of one hour, 35 minutes.

“People told us we made great time,” she said.

The two were in Athol to film an episode of their show, “Two Grannies on the Road,” in which they travel to different Massachusetts towns with a goal of seeing each one. They had heard of the Rat Race while in Orange last year and decided to make a two-day trip, one to explore the community and another to join the canoers, something which was pretty new to them. Sobiloff said they had prepped by canoeing in a lake near her home.

“It was a really fun atmosphere to be part of and really positive, very positive attitudes on everyone’s part,” she said.

Since the two were new to the race, they opted to stay toward the back, and saw both competition and camaraderie among the canoers. More than once she saw people help one another when they got stuck or began to tip over. There was a close call on their part when their canoe hit another.

“It was pretty hairy for a minute,” she said with a laugh.

The show has it roots in 2014, when Sobiloff was dreaming about traveling cross-country in an RV. Ginny Just was the show’s co-founder, and the original format was speaking with retirees who had reinvented themselves. Just left the show after retiring, and Debbie Thelen became the second co-host, eventually moving to Florida. Sobiloff and Rothwell met in June 2022 and began working together on the current iteration.

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Sobiloff and Rothwell arrived on Friday, April 7, and spent the day touring the town. Kellie’s Restaurant was the first stop, after which they went to the Athol Public Library and met with the director. She said the building is beautiful, particularly the newer children and teen sections. After that it was off to the L.S. Starrett Museum. Sobiloff said previously that experiencing a town’s history is an important part of the show and they always make time for it. Later on they stopped at Los Agaves Grill and then went to Haley’s Antiques.

“We saw all these little treasures,” said Sobiloff, of Haley’s Antiques.

The Athol Bird and Nature Center was perhaps one of their favorite places, and the two learned about the education programs and saw photos the center is collecting for a contest. A tour of Athol/Orange TV and dinner at the Black Crow Pub and Grill topped off the day. Part of the planning includes reaching out to residents on Facebook groups to get suggestions on what to see and do. Between this and the show’s increasing presence, the two found themselves recognized again and again.

“It’s happening more and more that people know who we are,” she said.

When asked if they’d consider a return, Sobiloff said they hope to. The experience has motivated them to have other adventures in the area, such as dog sledding in the Hilltowns or white water rafting in the Miller River.

“If we can do it, anybody can do it,” she said. “I think that inspires people to get out and do things and that pleases us.”

Max Bowen can be reached mbowen@recorder,com or 413-772-0261, ext. 265.