Looking for a free, no-strings-attached hug from a middle-age woman?

Deering Oaks is the place to be Saturday.

Carol Hasbrouck and Joyce Claflin of St. Petersburg, Fla., will be there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., arms open.

Why did they come all this way to give hugs? As it turns out, that’s not the only reason they came to Maine. And they didn’t come straight to Portland from Florida. Their journey actually started June 20, and it’s only about half over.

Hasbrouck, 56, a divorced mother of two grown sons, was laid off from her job as a mortgage specialist in January. As she started looking for other jobs, she realized she had no interest in taking a job she hated. She knew she liked to help people and knew she liked to travel.

“But I’ve never seen a job description like that,” she said.

So she created her own. She would travel the country, stopping along the way to volunteer wherever she was needed. She would “let go and live in the moment.”

When she told Claflin, who is 60, single and her roommate, Claflin said, “I’m going with you,” and promptly quit her part-time marketing job.

They didn’t have a plan at first. They knew they wanted to stop in Minneapolis, where Hasbrouck has family, and they imagined stopping at other places where they knew people.

“We had friends who thought we were absolutely crazy,” Hasbrouck said.

Maybe they are crazy. They call themselves “Dames Gone Wild,” after all. They detail their exploits in a blog of the same name and wear matching T-shirts wherever they go.

Since they left Florida in mid-June in Hasbrouck’s 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe, they have made 17 stops. In some cases, they have stopped in cities where they know people. In others, their hosts have been friends of friends, sometimes several degrees removed from the two women.

Once they get to a city, they ask their hosts to identify a nonprofit organization that could use some help.

Then they help.

They have cleaned bathrooms at a youth shelter, hosed down pet cages at a humane society and scrubbed yoga mats at a rehabilitation facility.

On Thursday, they donated four hours stuffing envelopes at the Cancer Community Center in South Portland. The nonprofit center has a staff of six and relies heavily on volunteers to provide a variety of support services to cancer patients and their families.

They chose Maine because Claflin used to live in Scarborough and has a friend in Portland with whom they could stay. They chose the cancer center because that friend has battled cancer.

Their next stop is Massachusetts, but before they leave Maine on Saturday, they want to give out some hugs, which they have done in other communities during their journey.

“What can I say? I’m a hugger,” Claflin said.

So far, the two women have driven more than 7,000 miles. They likely will drive several thousand more as they head south, hugging the East Coast until they reach their home state in mid-October.

“Some days you do get tired,” Hasbrouck said. “It’s a lot of travel and living out of suitcases. We’re not 20 anymore.”

Hasbrouck and Claflin haven’t be shy about contacting media outlets during their journey. They have selfish reasons for wanting their story out: They need donations to help fund the trip.

Although they have enjoyed free lodging and even some free meals courtesy of their hosts, the dames have other expenses, including gas.

“The first time I had to call to ask for donations, I almost threw up,” Claflin said.

But Hasbrouck said they have other reasons for wanting to share their story, and they insist it’s not about them.

“We haven’t met a bad person the whole time,” she said. “That’s something people should know. We want people to know about all the good we’ve seen.”

And they don’t feel guilty about that self-promotion.

“For the first time,” Claflin said, “my soul feels free.”

 

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell