Why I'm Doing It: The Short Answer
Why I'm Doing It: The Long Answer
Route and Timetable
Equipment and Supplies
Why I’m Doing It: The Short Answer
Many people ask me the following questions when they hear about my walk: Am I raising money for a cause? Am I trying to set a record? Am I running from the law? My answer: I’m just doing it for the hell of it. Or, more precisely, I’m doing it for its own sake, for the value inherent in the act itself. Hence the name of this website: I’m just walkin’.
Why I’m Doing It: The Long Answer
From John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row:
Once when Doc was at the University of Chicago he had love trouble and he had worked too hard. He thought it would be nice to take a very long walk. He put on a little knapsack and he walked through Indiana and Kentucky and North Carolina and Georgia clear to Florida. He walked among farmers and mountain people, among the swamp people and fishermen. And everywhere people asked him why he was walking through the country.
Because he loved true things he tried to explain. He said he was nervous and besides he wanted to see the country, smell the ground and look at grass and birds and trees, to savor the country, and there was no other way to do it save on foot. And people didn’t like him for telling the truth. They scowled, or shook and tapped their heads, they laughed as though they knew it was a lie and they appreciated a liar. And some, afraid for their daughters or their pigs, told him to move on, to get going, just not to stop near their place if he knew what was good for him.
And so he stopped trying to tell the truth. He said he was doing it on a bet—that he stood to win a hundred dollars. Everyone liked him then and believed him. They asked him in to dinner and gave him a bed and they put lunches up for him and wished him good luck and thought he was a hell of a fine fellow. Doc still loved true things but he knew it was not a general love and it could be a very dangerous mistress.
I’m not walking because of love trouble. And lord knows I haven’t worked too hard. But the rest is right on. I’m anxious. I’m not sure what I’m doing with my life. I need an adventure. And I do want to smell the ground and look at grass and birds and trees. I want to savor the country. And there’s no other way to do it save on foot.
A couple of years ago I started a walking group called Hey, I’m Walkin’ Here! in New York City, and my love for walking really blossomed over the course of our adventures. Moving through the world at three miles an hour, you can fully take in your surroundings. There’s nothing separating you from your environment. You notice things that go completely undetected by people zooming by in cars. It’s such a rich experience: you can see, hear, and smell everything around you, and even touch and taste things if you feel like it.
There’s also no obstacle to stopping and exploring things when you’re walking. When I’m driving, I find myself saying “Oh, I should have stopped there” as I go flying by something that looks interesting. The idea of having to impede your progress, turn the car around, and find a place to park is such a mental barrier to exploring when you’re driving. Even on a bike there’s a hesitancy to stop and climb off the saddle to go check something out. But it’s easy when you’re walking. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing; you just walk in a different direction for a little and have a look around.
But perhaps the thing I find most important about walking is how connected it makes me feel to the space I’m passing through. I think it’s because walking is the way we experience our homes. We walk to the fridge, we walk to bed, we walk around the yard. We walk to the copy machine, we walk to the coffee machine, we walk around the grocery store. So this is that same familiar stride, that most basic form of locomotion we know so well, but through vast, immense, unknown places. It’s a way to live a continuous line across the country as if it were my home.
I’m very drawn to the simplicity of this whole pursuit. Each day I’ll wake up, pack all my possessions back in my cart, and walk a little farther. That’s it. That’s the extent of my world. I’m just walkin’. I think everyone dreams about such a simple existence from time to time, when the worries and pressures of modern life start to accumulate. This is my chance to live that dream for a while, and see how the reality compares to the fantasy.
So there you have it. That’s why I’m walking across the country.
And if that doesn’t do it for you, I stand to win a bet.
Route and Timetable
My starting and ending points are Rockaway Beach, New York and Rockaway Beach, Oregon, respectively. Here’s a rough outline of my route. I’m sure I’ll have to make changes as I go, so I haven’t spent much time on the details. This is basically just Google’s walking directions from one Rockaway to the other, with a few modifications. I’ll mostly be walking on paved roads, preferably rural highways with decent shoulders and low traffic volumes.
The total distance will be somewhere around 3100 miles, kind of like these guys but the exact opposite. I’m hoping to cover around 15 miles per day, which would mean seven months of solid walking to get to Oregon. Throw in two months worth of rest days, and you get my total trip estimate of nine months.
My general plan for lodging is to walk until late afternoon, then start knocking on doors and asking if I can pitch my tent on people’s farms (preferable) or yards for the night. If I’m lucky, I’ll even get invited in and offered dinner and/or a hot shower and/or a bed for the night. If I’m not around any houses, I’ll push my cart off the road a bit, ideally into a wooded area, and set up camp there.
Equipment and Supplies
I’m pushing my stuff in the converted Runabout stroller you see above. My Runabout was made and generously donated by Roger Berg, and it rolls like a dream. The major advantage of pushing a cart, rather than carrying a backpack, is that it takes a lot of weight off your back and, hence, your feet. Walking on pavement (which is what I will mostly be doing) is rough enough on the feet without 50+ extra pounds bearing down on every step. I got the idea to use a cart (and many other good ideas as well) from the amazing Gary Hause.
Here’s what I’m carrying with me:
- Camping gear
- Three pairs of convertible pants
- Three long-sleeve button-up shirts
- Two sets of long johns
- Three pairs of underwear
- Four pairs of socks
- Four handkerchiefs
- Three bandanas
- Fleece jacket
- I’ll need a warmer jacket when next winter rolls around
- Knit cap
- Wide-brim sun hat
- Baseball cap
- Reflective vest
- Rain gear
- Camp towel
- Sewing kit
- Standard first aid kit and first aid book
- Hand and foot warmers
- Two lighters
- Emergency whistle
- Mosquito head net
- Dental floss
- Deodorant (like it’s gonna do any good)
- Biodegradable concentrated camp soap (for washing myself and my clothing)
- Hand lotion
- Lip balm
- Nail clippers
- Small mirror
- Anti-chafing stick
- Tools/fix-it supplies
- Lots of waterproof plastic bags
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Small shovel
- Small cooler
- Food (I’ll stock up as much as I need to make it to the next town; these are some typical things I might be eating)
- Dried fruit
- Granola/trail mix
- Peanut butter
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (in my cooler)
- Cheese (in my cooler)
- Hummus (in my cooler)
- Bowl, cup, and spoon
- Water (I may need up to a gallon a day during summer)
- Water purification tablets (for when I don’t have access to clean drinking water)
- Two books (to be traded for other books when I finish reading them)
- Journal and pens
- Electricity-related things
- Chains and locks to secure the cart
- Pepper spray
- Toilet plunger handle (for defense against stray dogs)
Items added as I approached grizzly bear country: