How did you come up with this idea in the first place?
I’m following intuition. Intuition is a funny phenomenon – one which seems to whisper messages to us throughout our lifetimes. However, many of us, wrapped up in our busy “daily lives,” are not hearing it. We also may confuse impulse and intuition. (Test the difference by asking if whatever choice your making is more likely to be helpful or harmful to you in the long run.) True intuition will guide you toward performing noble acts – even if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing at the time – or why.
At the end of November 2008, I booked a flight to Veracruz, Mexico, where I planned to begin several months of winter-time Latin America travel with a two-week volunteer commitment. Upon booking the flight, I immediately began to hear and feel a strong, loud calling for what I need to do upon returning home: embark on a Walk of Inspiration Across America. My mission would be (and now is) to take countless steps across the country to promote and inspire everyone to take steps forward– steps of positive change to create a better, brighter world for yourself in addition to everyone around you.
Is there a link on this site to donate $ to you?
If you find yourself inspired to react in any way, I encourage you to first take strong steps forward into positive changes in your personal life.
I gladly accept shelter and food/provisions along the way. Offers of shelter, food, and occasionally supplies have all been enormously helpful to me. I have a hard time imagining how I would have made it this far without all the wonderfully hospitable people who have appeared to help me with food, shelter, and basic supplies along the way.
I’ve been handed cash from time to time by well-meaning people I’ve met along the way, but I’ ve never once asked for it. While it should be clearly understood that this Walk is not by any means a fundraising event, it is also true that any cash handed to me is spent wisely and ends up helping me on the road, and I’m thankful to all who have helped me in whatever form.
What are you taking with you?
I backpacked for the first 2,200 circuitous miles, to El Paso, Texas, carrying the following:
- Backpack: Arc’Teryx Arakkis 50L – best pack available on the market.
- Jacket: Columbia Sportswear Titanium jacket (basic, no hood)
- Rain gear: very light weight, durable Red Ledge rain jacket and pants.
- Pants: Single pair of outdoor pants: convertible, not waterproof, made by North Face.
- Shirts: 2 short sleeve synthetic shirts; 1 long sleeve.
- Shoes and socks:
- Saucony running shoes, very porous and breathable, not at all waterproof.
- Montrail hiking shoes, water resistant, except for the top of the shoe, which I often fashion a cover for on rainy days.
- 2 pairs of thick cushion Wigwam hiking socks
- 2 pairs of sock liners
- Sleeping bag: thin Marmot summer sleeping bag.
- Gloves: windproof Seirus gloves, which are labeled as waterproof, but on rainy enough days, water still gets in through the seams.
- Tent: Black Diamond tri-pod bivy tent.
- Sleeping pad: Therma-Rest foldable (very important!).
- Stuff sack pillow, which I use to store my clothes.
- Wool shawl
Since El Paso, I’ve added a Chariot Cougar, and I now carry plenty more. I also walk primarily in sandals now. Much of the gear above has been steadily upgraded across the miles as well. Still the same sleeping bag and mat though.
Where do you sleep?
Wherever I’m given shelter along the way. While it’s true that I spent a lot of nights outdoors in the forests, deserts and plains, it’s also shockingly true that over 4,000 miles into the journey, I’ve been given shelter over 90% of the time. I’m frequently hosted by contacts made on the Couchsurfing website. I’ve also been invited into bed & breakfast establishments, hotels/motels, churches, fire stations, and occasionally– people who simply stop and introduce themselves to me on the side of the road. Sometimes I am given more offers of shelter than I can accept. Other times I am given no such offers, and have to find a place to camp. Usually, the more populated an area, the greater my chances of being offered shelter.
What do you eat?
Vegetarian food that is either generously given to me, or that I acquire on my own.
Hosts who generously offer me shelter often kindly offer me a seat at the dinner table as well-there are so many wonderful people in the world!!
I mix up a protein-rich, green superfood shake every morning (donated to me), which gives me a great initial boost for the day. Chia seeds have become a daily staple as well. Foods such as these got me through many of the desolate desert miles, where “food” otherwise can only be found at gas stations or truck stops, seen every few days of walking. (Luckily, once I switched to the cart, carrying extended supplies of “healthy” food became much easier to do.)
High quality energy bars are a common day time treat for me. I’ m given top-notch bars by a materials sponsor. Other good quality bars I occasionally purchase.
The most common staples I eat on the road are bananas, avocados and chia seeds. I buy organic food as often as I can, and otherwise steer clear of the dirty dozen, referring to the clean 15 when making choices for conventional produce. I eat trail mixes when they’ re available, and I only eat whole, raw trail mixes. (Some pre-packaged trail mixes are filled with sugar, salt, and other junk ingredients, and I avoid those like the plague.)
Though I may occasionally indulge in a homemade treat that someone gives me on a non-walking day (or after I finish a day’s miles), I rigorously avoid junk food before or while on the road itself. While walking, junk food would give me a quick burst of energy– a high that will last for a few minutes before dumping me over an energy cliff into a pit of pain and struggle to finish the day’s mission. Therefore: absolutely NO junk food on the road!!
Why no longer the 20-mile per day pace?
I first began this Walk with the intention of walking 120 miles per week (six 20-mile days). Of course, absent a support vehicle, I quickly grew to learn that aiming for “20 miles per day” would typically mean that I’d either overshoot or fall short of the next community on the path– which may be 12, 17, or 25 miles away.
More importantly though, after listening to the wise advice of Skip Potts, who told me in Eugene to not get caught up with dates and deadlines, to take my time experiencing and inspiring across America, I ultimately decided to take his advice. Of course, it took arriving to the Bay Area to actually make this decision official, and over the course of the thousands of miles ahead, slowing the Walk down would ultimately prove to be the very best of all decisions made since leaving home on Day 1 of the Walk. I learned that even walking across America can happen to quickly, and slowing the Walk down really opened the door to being able to get to know the many people and their distinct communities much better than a quick walk-through would allow for.
20 miles per day could be doable, and though I’ve walked more 20+ mile days than I can keep track of, 20-mile days are much more rare for me here in the Atlantic states, where there’s a much greater population density than in many other parts of America. Every so often, I still do walk a 20-mile day (case in point: the day I arrived to Richmond, Virginia on foot). As stated though, consistently walking 20-mile days nowadays would mean that I have little time to spend with whomever may be hosting me, and also little time to spend with other wonderful people I meet along the way. In addition to this, during the winter months, long miles often translated to being caught out on the road after dark, the least desirable time to accumulate any miles on the route.
Are people invited to walk with you?
I invite EVERYONE to walk with me! Even if it’s only from one street block to the next.
Many people have walked minutes, miles, days and even weeks with me. It’s been fantastic! For anyone who wishes to walk more than a day’ s walk with me, I’d love to hear more from you!
What has your route been?
Having begun in my home of Washington State, I’ve since walked through Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and I’m currently walking across Virginia.. I rarely try to figure out all the exact roads I’ll be walking; I make these decisions as I approach new communities. I typically have a proposed walking route ready on Google Maps, then speak with the locals regarding which are the best roads to walk to the next town. This combo approach has proven to be by far the best to me across the thousands of miles.
Google Maps gave me the walking route of Highway 17 between Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz. All locals strongly advised me against doing this, warning me that there is frequently little if any shoulder room through the Santa Cruz Mountains on Hwy 17, that cars drive the many curves of the road dangerously fast, and that not even bicycles are ever seen there. They told me that due to an abundance of traffic accidents and fatalities, that Highway 17 is nicknamed “Blood Alley.” I followed their advice, and found that Mountain Charlie Road was a much safer way of getting me from Los Gatos to Scotts Valley, CA.
Have you actually been walking the entire way to Washington, DC?
When I’m invited to visit important places or speak at any nearby events that are away from my given route (e.g. schools), I frequently accept rides to the off-the-route location, on the condition that I be returned to the exact spot I suspended my walk, so that I can connect the steps and resume the walk on foot. Also, whenever a host lives miles off the route, and is willing to pick me up and return me to where I left off, I accept such offers as well.
The only “exceptions” to covering 100% of the route on foot have been two bridges, both in Louisiana (Vinton and Lake Charles) that were far, far too dangerous to attempt to cross on foot. I’ve walked at least a dozen other bridges that were also probably too dangerous to cross on foot, but after walking up and over a very dangerous bridge in Orange, Texas– shaking my head for the next hour over the great peril in which I’d placed myself– I made myself the promise that if the bridge is too dangerous, I’ll find some alternative. (I won’t be very effective on a “Walk of Inspiration” if I die trying to race across some a far-too-dangerous-on-foot bridge.)
Only two brief bridges since the Pacific Ocean have “broken my steps.” I don’t know if I’ll encounter another, but if so, I’ll simply do what I have to, to safely proceed forward.
Have you taken any time off? .
During the summer of 2010, I returned home from America’s Great Southwest desert in time to attend the funeral of Grandpa George, who reached the end of his long, productive life on the 25th anniversary of my mother’s death to cancer. I carry Grandpa George’s name forward. During the following summer, I left Austin to return home in time for Grandpa John’s memorial service, who passed after 80+ productive years of fathering, laboring, and fishing. Returning home to the family for the passing of both grandfathers was definitely the right thing to do, and I’m happy to have not hesitated on the decision either time.
Be it for a night at the home of a host who lives miles off my route, or be it to return to the family for a beloved grandfather’s funeral, every time I’ve left my path, I’ve always returned to connect the steps– so that (with the exception of two impossible-to-pedestrian Louisiana bridges) I’ve connected 100% of the steps from the Pacific Ocean all the way here to Virginia.
Do you think your walk will end all cancers?
No more than I believe that wearing seatbelts will end all traffic fatalities.
The goal is to inspire as many people as possible to take positive steps forward into living healthier, “richer” lifestyles– to act preventatively. The idea is, as with the advent of seatbelts in our cars, to inspire the click in peoples’ minds to take more Americans to take positive steps into living a healthier lifestyle. My hope is to prevent as many future cases of cancer as possible, and thereby make my contribution toward preventing so many unnecessary cancer deaths every day in America and beyond.
It would be most wonderful to work with and inspire others to prevent thousands or even millions of unnecessary cancer deaths. However, even if this walk prevents only one such death, the effort will have been well worth it…
Was lifestyle responsible for your mother’s death from cancer?
Sadly, I’ll never know the answer to this question.
Some experts say that her form of cancer isn’t preventable. Others believe that nearly all cancers are preventable and attributable to lifestyle. I’m not an expert, but in finding that today’s cancer experts broadly agree that the majority of new cancer cases are preventable, walking across America to inspire healthier, more preventative lifestyles has been so, so worth it.
My goal is to inspire changes that will prevent other families from suffering what Mom (and we) suffered. I don’t want for anyone to have to go through what we went through: the darkness of a slow death from cancer.
Are you looking to condemn people for how they’ve been living?
Not at all. I’m not here trying to inspire negative feelings of guilt for any poor decisions that you may feel you have made. Drowning in negativity or feelings of guilt only pulls us down in life, and that’s exactly the opposite of what I wish to inspire. It doesn’t matter to me where exactly you are in life right now – I’ve been simply been walking to inspire you to take the steps on your best path forward. What’s important is that we find the power today to take positive, meaningful steps forward in our lives.
Does taking this walk place your career in jeopardy?
I was moving up fast in Seattle. By the time I left, after two promotions in less than six months, I had two more offers of promotion presented to me – by two separate companies. But the golden voice of intuition was strongly calling me to shift my life to a different path.
I was in serious need of personal change and progression. I couldn’t just be making money for myself and for profit-hungry, billion-dollar corporations any longer. I felt a strong need to give back to humanity. The superiors I’ve answered to over the years have understood me well, and they’ve been very supportive of me. The way I see it: even if I only inspire positive change in one person’s life, the effort I’ve been making over the years will have been more than worth it. (My heart tells me so!)
What do you think about out there on the road? Do you ever get bored?
There are so, oh-so many thoughts that cross my mind on the open road.
Having walked a great distance, I’ve thought about how the mostly rural miles I’ve walked looked before the automobile, and even before the horse and carriage. Having walked up and down many large hills, I’ve pondered the enormity of the projects of building many roads– for example, California’s coastal Highway 1– where a simple five-seconds-by-car portion has in some spots taken many thousands of hours of planning and hard labor to make possible. I’ve thought about how drastically our standard of living has changed with the automobile, and imagined how daily life must have been before its advent; I’ve also ruminated about how addicted we are to this fast-lane lifestyle. I’ve often thought about how privileged I feel to be experiencing the environment in a way that can barely be scratched through vehicular travel: I get to see, hear, smell, touch, and absorb every wild mile far more completely than I ever could in a car. Instead of kicking up leaves as I roar by in an automobile, I see the maple leaf slowly stir it’s way through sixty seconds of sky, as it sashes its way across a city block’s distance from towering tree branch to the palm of my open hand.
Every day I’ve thought about the Peace Pilgrim, whom I was unaware of before planning this Walk, but whose relentless resolve inspires me every day, nearly thirty years after she died. I keep in mind how important positive thinking is, for across the miles, I’ve come to tell people that walking across America is about 99% mental, and negative thoughts would destroy my ability to optimistically continue on as I do. People I’ve met often pass through my mind, and I’m always enthusiastic about whomever I’ m about to soon meet as well. I think family, friends, and pets. I ponder progress I’ve made, and focus on the milestones of life I’ve yet to reach.
Boredom hasn’t been a problem for me. The combination of training and outlook have served me well through even the ultra-remote reaches of the deserts of rural California, Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas. Occasionally I’ve hungered for more human contact; however, many more times I’ve been overwhelmed by tsunamis of attention.
You walked with more politicians at the beginning of the Walk, but not as many lately. Is there a reason why?
Yes. Very early in the Walk, I aimed to strictly obey self-constructed timelines for my destinations. This worked well as far as scheduling meetings with politicians was concerned. However, I found that it’s much better to be more flexible with my decisions of walking from one community to the next. I enjoy the ability to alter my timelines by a day or two within any given week. This doesn’t work so well when it comes to walking with politicians, but it has made for a much richer overall experience of walking across America–which has overwhelmingly made my current approach the ideal one.
Do you contact the media for every town you go through?
I haven’ t been doing as much of this as I originally intended to be doing, but I’ve been hapy with the coverage given. Media coverage has been fine, and I prefer to spend minimal time finding and contacting local media. Once a reporter makes contact with me, I like to make as much time as possible available for him/her. All of my experiences with reporters have been good, fun experiences–and it seems that the more time spent simply hanging out and chatting with any given reporter, the better they write the story.
How do you decide when to take your days off?
While I originally planned to walk six days per week, it’s much more common now that I don’t accumulate any miles on the route during half the days (or more) of any given week. Speaking appearances often arise, in addition to other opportunities to be involved with locals, their families, communities and subcultures. The Walk has evolved in such a way that it’s difficult for me to predict how long it will be before I’m another 50 miles down the road. In some cases, I’ve walked 50 miles within a couple of days. In other cases, I may walk less than 50 miles of the route in a month. In every case, I’ve been satisfied with the decisions I’ve ultimately made.
What’s it like out there on the road?
Every day is a great new adventure, predictable in some ways, unpredictable in many other ways.
On walking days, provided I walk the routes locals best recommend, it’s pretty predictable that at least a handful of people are going to see the “WALKING ACROSS AMERICA” signs and stop to inquire. (Ironically, however, often no one stops on the busiest highways.) When people pull over to ask me about my signs, fun conversations typically ensue, and some of these people have turned into excellent friends across the miles– I even attended the wedding of one such random roadside stopper– when Veronica, a woman I’d met on a highway near Abilene, Texas, eventually married Stephen, her best friend, in Austin, Texas. I continue to remain in touch with both, and will visit them again. I stay in touch with and will visit many others I’ve “randomly” met on the side of the road as well.
I start out almost every day with a target destination, a prediction of how long it will take me to arrive, an idea of the weather and terrain, info regarding how hospitable the road may (or may not) be, potential hazards, etc. I never can predict exactly what will transpire throughout the course of the day. I may end up reaching my destination; or, sometimes something comes up and I settle earlier in the day; rarely, I go beyond the day’s pre-planned destination.
Zan and I left Cambria and knew that I’ d be walking along Highway 1 for a good twenty miles into Morro Bay. (Zan was the awesome Australian man walking with me at the time.) Despite the soggy forecast, we didn’t know that the rain would last for about the first half of the walk. We couldn’t predict all the great views, curves, and hills that lay ahead of us. The fact that a man named Daniel would stop near Harmony to spontaneously interview us for his website with his fancy camera was unexpected. Daniel was amazed at the happy enthusiasm we showed despite just having walked through several days of what he described as “our worst storms here in ten years.”
Upon reaching Cayucos, who knew that the restaurant chosen by Zan would end up giving us a free meal?
We didn’ t know that we’ d walk the beach for the last few miles into Morro Bay. And when we walked the beach, we were led to believe that since high tide had passed, that we’ d have an easy walk down five miles of coastline. Instead, however, we were hopping, skipping, and dodging waves for miles down the beach– occasionally removing shoes to wade through knee-high waters. Had I known this ahead of time, I probably would have said “no” to the opportunity to walk the beach. Once into it for a little while, however, we found it to be fun, and ignored every chance to return to the road all the way into Morro Bay.
Are people usually nice?
Since beginning in 2009, and having walked for thousands of miles across over a dozen states now, I’ve never once been attacked nor assaulted, nor robbed, nor ever had anything stolen from me. So many people have been so wonderful to me. Interestingly, despite the fact that local TV news reports are often rife with stories of violence (“if it bleeds it leads,” reporters privately tell me), I’ve come to learn that for the small handful of violent stories on local news every evening, a million other good stories are being ignored. I’ve only been experiencing the good side of people.
There have been times that I’ve walked through “The Hood–” the most economically depressed parts of some towns– yet have only found myself to be treated well in these places also– some times more hospitably than anywhere else in town. In fact, it’s far more common that I receive offers of assistance (food, water, shelter, etc.) from middle and lower classes areas than any of the wealthiest corners of America’s big cities– which I’ve also walked through.
“The world is like a mirror. You smile at it, and it smiles at you,” are the sage words of Peace Pilgrim (1908-1981), who spent the final decades of her life walking penniless around America to promote the cause of peace.. As the days continue to pass, I only continue to realize the value of her wisdom.
What questions do you get asked the most?
- Are you really walking across America?
- How far have you come?
- When/Where did you start?
Does anyone ever doubt that you’re actually walking all of your miles?
I imagine so.
We Americans are used to dodging deception daily from vulturous media marketers, who thirst after our hard-earned cash from any corner. Unfortunately, none of us have heard a shortage of crafty claims. I’ve met people who’ve told me they’ve walked across America, only to learn that they took rides 90% of the way across (without continuing from wherever they’ve left off). I’ve also met some legitimate long-distance walkers, who very distinctly stand out within the greater crowd.
It’s not uncommon for curious people whom I first meet to fire a series of questions at me. Others simply give me the five-second “stare of authenticity.” So far as I know, I’ve “passed” every stare of authenticity and every series of questions. That said, if anyone ever doubts that I’m walking all of my miles, I invite that person to join me for one or more days of walking, and/or serve as a support driver (tote my Chariot, water, etc.) to me for one or more days. It won’t take long for any skeptic to learn just how real this Walk is .
Of course, skeptic or not– as stated above: I’d love for anyone to join me for anything from minutes to miles– regardless of what they think of the Walk– for the Road is a truly magical experience!!
Strength, Peace, Light & Love!!