How To Walk Across America:
UPDATE: I have completed my journey, where I ended in New Orleans and flew back home to return to graduate school. The following was written during the second month of my journey.
I would like to provide any future walkers with the resources and advice to set out on their own journey across the country. Much of what I have written is culled from experience, some comes from advice given to me from other travelers on the road.
So take a look around and explore the contents. I hope that my journey will inspire you to take on your own challenge.
For the EXTREME! Challenge:
So what makes walking across America EXTREME!?
For one, the distance of a transcontinental walk at 2,500+ miles can be physically challenging. Whether you're pushing a cart or carrying a backpack, the strain and stress of continuous sojourns at 15 - 30 miles per day can quickly deplete your physical resources if you're not prepared. Weather and conditions can quickly wear you down, ranging from scorching heat, to bitter snow, to high-velocity winds.
The duration of the walk itself can push your emotional and spiritual limits. Most of the time, you'll be out by yourself in the scorching Southwestern deserts or endless fields of corn in the Midwest with little more to do than keep walking, anywhere from 4 to 12 months. I met a man who was walking from Maine down to Florida, across to California, then north into Washington; he'd been walking for more than 7 years coast to coast.
And finally, if your finances are thin like myself, you can expect to be camping off the highway, under bridges, or in an abandoned house. Occasionally, I've met kind-hearted people who've helped me with a place to stay and a good meal to eat. But the majority of the experience teeters on the edge of terror during lonely nights beside the road.
I'll break down this manual on how to walk across the country with four major sections:
In the Preparation section, we'll discuss the training, materials, and equipment that you'll need to get yourself in shape and ready to step out the door into the wide, open world of the road.
The Walking section will involve the actual mechanics of day-to-day walking, from nutrition to stretching. I'll go over some of my own challenges I've had to face from my current walk.
For the Journey section, I included an in depth discussion of the emotional and spiritual elements of walking for long periods of time. For me, these pieces are the flesh and bones of my purpose for walking. If you're not inclined towards what I will introduce in this section, feel free to skip over them. They are not necessary for an actual journey, but I believe they make a journey far more rich and alive.
I've placed any files and external resources here for your reference. Also, I will be adding other resources that I wasn't able to include in other sections. In addition, I'll have added a few personal pieces here for sharing with the world.
My name is Bryan. I've taken a one-year deferral from graduate school at Stanford to walk across America, soaking in the moments each step of the way. I recently lost my father from a stroke, which spurred me to take action in my own life. I've always wanted to see the world up-close and meet the lovely characters that make up humanity, and so I figured I'd do it the most intimate way I could.
Walking is my way of getting to know myself and others. I grew up walking to most places in my neighborhood, and every evening, I'd take a walk with my mom beside the beach. In college, if I had an intricate chemical problem I was trying to solve, I'd go take a walk and break apart the problem under the trees of Aldrich Park. So I have had good memories of walking in my life.
I've walked about 500 miles east from The Shire in University of California, Irvine and currently resting in the city of Globe, AZ. My journey will take me through Las Cruces, NM; El Paso, TX; Austin, TX; New Orleans, LA; parts of Mississippi; parts of Alabama; and finally, Florida. My plan is to walk into Jacksonville, FL by August 2012, just before I head back to school.
The journey has taught me many lessons, and I hope I can share some of my experience to someone who would want to walk a journey for themselves.
So far, so good.
Step 1: Preparation: Purpose
I believe the most critical piece of any journey, regardless of transportation mode, requires some purpose or aim. Before buying the equipment, before the training, before stepping out of the door, determining what your reason for walking at all may be far more useful for your journey than any other piece. It may also be the most challenging, and you might discover that walking across the country is more a fantasy than a purposeful way to spend your time.
Also, if we consider any business or project, there is always the element of a mission statement to guide the enterprise towards its goals. Discovering a purpose for your journey is no different.
I found that during my darkest moments out on the road, when I'm aligning my mind and heart towards my purpose, the road lights up and I regain a sense of direction. Some days I'll ask myself why I'm out here at all, mulling for hours or even days in despair. But I spent many months carving out my intention for the walk, so eventually I lead myself back.
Your purpose can be anything. You could be walking for a cause, such as cancer, homelessness, education, or in memory of a loved one. Mildred Norman, better known as the Peace Pilgrim, walked for 28 years and crossed the United States seven times for world and inner peace. John Francis walked for 17 years in silence for the sake of environmentalism.
Or you could walk for the fun of it. It's truly up to you to decide, and discover your purpose.
There are a number of ways to discover one's purpose, anything from embarking on a multi-day vision quest to taking on a meditation retreat. One particular method I've really liked, and adapted it to discovering my purpose for this walk, is outlined on Steve Pavlina's Personal Development blog. It takes about half an hour, but the method is rather powerful. You can find it here.
I am walking the miles that my father couldn't, to keep his watch wound everyday in his honor.
Step 2: Preparation: Principles
If purpose is your direction, principles are your sail. Some examples would be compassion, dedication, reasoning, or integrity. When I talk about principles, I neither mean strict moral codes to be rigorously followed, nor half-hearted statements with loose interpretation. Rather, I mean guiding ethics that are followed in spirit. Principles can help you to make quick decisions when in a murky moral situation. Sometimes, they can mean the difference life and death.
Consider someone whom you admire. What are the qualities this person possesses? What about this person do you admire, in their conduct and way of being? I recommend creating a list of these qualities from many admirable people in your life and using them to guide your walk.
In my own experience, the principles I follow have supported me through my walk by reminding me how to conduct myself with others. Occasionally, I have had to gently remind myself to bring compassion to someone I found disagreeable, that they too are doing the best that they can. I've found that by honoring others for where they are in life, I've been able to diffuse many emotionally challenging situations.
Other times, my guiding principles have helped me to not compromise myself for the sake of others. There have been a few incidents where I didn't trust someone, and empowered myself to walk away from the situation as quickly as possible. Historically, I would have been more passive in such dangerous situations.
For a list of principles that guide my walk, you can find them here: http://www.wanderbyfoot.com/about/principles
Step 3: Preparation: Training
Training to walk across America can be as daunting as the walk itself. When I first began my training after graduation, I was unprepared for the boredom, soreness, and occasional injury I experienced. I'd kept in shape in college by running every morning and walking to classes; however, I still needed to up the ante on my training. It took many stalls and pauses for several months to get myself on a regular routine that yielded results. I'll outline a number of elements that I found particularly difficult.
When I first started out on my training, I had very little idea when and for how long to walk. On one day, I would walk 3 hours, and another I would walk 1 hour. The method was rather haphazard, and dependent on how I was feeling emotionally on each particular day. Sometimes I would take 'breaks' for up to a week, sometimes even a month.
So one day, I sat down with an Excel spreadsheet and decided to rigorously schedule my training days and rest days for the week, up to three months. My goal was to be able to walk 8 hours in a single day by the end of the 3 months. So to accomplish that task, I scheduled each week's training such that on Week 1, I would walk only 1 hour each day and rest for one day (Sunday). Then on Week 2, I would walk 2 hours on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and 1 hour on Tuesday and Thursday. Week 3, three hours on Monday, Wednesday, Friday; 1 hour on Tuesday and Thursday. And so on up to 8 hours per day.
After every walk, I would fire up the Excel spreadsheet and type a green smiley-face next to that particular day, to signify that I'd completed my walk. If I didn't walk as much as I'd committed to on that day, I would type in a red sad face next to the day. That way, I kept progress on how many days I was actually fully committed to training and how many days I was not.
I've included an Excel template onto this Instructable for you to view how I scheduled my training program. Feel free to use it for yourself as well.
To reduce the soreness I was experiencing every morning and cut down the potential for injury, I had a quick stretching protocol for my ham-strings, calf muscles, hip flexors, and back muscles. These stretches I learned while doing yoga in college; each body is different, so you should find out what works for you.
I introduced the stretching protocol in my training schedule, and just like the walking, I would type out a smiley face or a sad face depending on whether I completed the protocol or not.
Since I knew I would be pushing a cart across the country (rather than carrying a backpack), I also introduced sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups into my training. I would complete 25 x 3 sets of push-ups, 5 x 3 sets of pull-ups, and 15 x 3 sets of sit-ups every morning to prepare myself for the 100 lb+ weight I would be pushing every day during the actual walk.
These sets were also included in my Excel spreadsheet.
Right hydration is critical for continuous exercise, walking being no different. During the three month training period, I would drink one to two cups of water every hour both during walk training and rest periods, not including other sources of liquids. I would begin the day with a cup of water in the morning and go to bed with a cup of water at night. I am sensitive to fluctuation in my hydration, so my water requirements may be drastically different from yours.
I also carried a 1 L water bottle wherever I'd go and fill it wherever I could, to replicate how walking out of the city would be like during the initial stages of the walk across America.
I ate 3 to 5 meals per day of protein and carbohydrate-rich foods in small portions. I reduced my meat intake to adjust my body to my future diet on the road, since meat is expensive and difficult to store without a fridge. i also cut out unnecessary sugars like candy and ice cream. Sometimes I would eat out with friends at a restaurant, but for the most part, I prepared my own meals.
Here's a quick break down of the types of meals I had to give you an idea:
~ Peanut Butter on Whole Wheat Bread
~ Whole Wheat Cereal with Rice Milk
~ Grilled Cheese Quesadilla with Tofu, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes
~ Spinach Salad with Tofu, Mushrooms, Cheese, and Almonds
~ Ramen Noodles with Tofu
~ Corn and Beans on Brown Rice
~ Snacks: Bananas, Apples, Peanuts, Pomegranates, and Persimmons
Before I got serious with training, I would play computer games until 2 AM and wake up anytime from 9 - 11 AM. I found that I was still sleep deprived even though technically I was sleeping 7 - 9 hours per day. So I resolved to get to bed at a reasonable time and wake up at 5:30 AM every morning. To accomplish this, I used the same technique that I applied to my walk training: I began with an easily accomplished wake-up time (7:00 AM in my case) and worked my way backwards 15 minutes every week until I was waking up at 5:30 AM by the 8th week.
Generally, I was able to get to bed by 10:00 PM by meditating for an hour at 9:00 PM. The training was exhaustive, so I stopped having sleeping problems. In addition, I cut down computer gaming and internet browsing to 30 minutes per day.
Just as critical as walking itself, regular rest on a weekly basis can help propel your training forward. Rest allows your body to heal and recuperate from the strenuous exercise. Also, the long blankness of walking without something to distract you can be daunting at first, so having a day or two each week to adjust isn't such a bad idea.
When I was training in the California Bay Area, I scheduled a mandatory rest day each week. On those days, I would go on trips with friends or read books, so that I wouldn't just be vegetating in a dark corner. Plus, having whole days of fun and excitement kept me motivated to train. I had a lot of good memories from the training.
Step 4: Preparation: Route
The route you choose can make or break your entire trip, depending on how well you plan ahead of time for surprises along the way. My friend David and I made the mistake of choosing the Ortega Highway (California State Highway 74) as the first highway we'd walk on before making it out of Orange County. For those who are out-of-state, the Ortega Highway is well known for its spectacular car crashes owing to its ruthlessly narrow two-lane ways and bridges. At one point in time, we had to sleep during the day until midnight came to wait for the traffic to die down, so that we could pass a bridge with no shoulder. That night also happened to be the coldest we'd ever experienced. So we trudged our cart uphill for nearly ten miles in the dark, letting cars pass when they'd pass. Every hour, we switched so that one of us was always looking backwards for cars.
Then, a few miles up, we got pulled over by the police. David, being the open-dialogue superstar, calmed the situation, and the cops just told us to pull up to a candy store up ahead to sleep for the night.
Needless to say, research your route ahead of time. Be familiar with the following key elements, and your journey should be less rough than ours, at least in the beginning:
If you have a better idea of what kind of general terrain you're dealing with (sandy, rocky, rivers, forests, etc.), you can make good assumptions about what kinds of challenges you'll face in the upcoming months or years. Trekking through hundreds of miles of desert requires different gear from climbing through the Appalachian mountains.
- Weather and Seasons
I chose to walk the Southern Tier route through the Southwest into the American South. I have two best friends on the road: sunblock and shade. Even in the winter, the sun is ruthless and I've been sunburned numerous times without mercy. On the other hand, I don't have to deal with rain or wind so much on this route (so far), so there is a balance of upsides and downsides.
Your basic weather layout will be: sunny, windy, raining, snowing, and cloudy. Each has their own benefits and challenges. With sun, you have to be aware of sunburns and dehydration. With wind, you will want a wind-breaker. When raining, you'll have to waterproof all of your gear and wear a rain-jacket. In cloudy weather, temperatures can drop quickly without sun, depending on elevation and terrain. Also, the sun can still burn your skin even in cloudy conditions. I haven't yet dealt with snow, but I've heard from other travelers that it is a pain to deal with and can slow you down significantly. These are just general ideas to take into consideration; there is far more to understand when you experience it yourself.
Be familiar with the weather along your chosen route, and how it changes based on the season. Remember that your first initial months are your acclimation period; you do not want to face poor weather simultaneous while adapting to living on the road. Be kind to yourself.
- Road Conditions
The condition of the road, by far, can make a day miserable or blessed. There are "roads" out there that are just soft sand banked by rocks, which makes pushing a cart a Herculean challenge. Others lack shoulders, so the distance between you and an oncoming car driving 70+ mph can be nothing more than a few inches. I've had the pleasure of walking on roads that were completely eroded by rain and sun, which led to a bumpy ride down hill. But I'm grateful for the roads nonetheless; walking across straight desert has had its memorable difficulties.
You can never avoid the worst, but its always useful to have an idea of what you're up against while you're on the road. Prepare yourself mentally and energetically on what you'll have to experience during each month of the trip.
- Food and Water
Sources for food and water are critical. If you've been conditioned through fasting rituals, this section may be less crucial. However, many of us probably quickly fatigue after a day or two without food, especially during strenuous exercise. Know the distances between cities and towns, so that you can estimate how much food and water to carry between them. Be prepared to have the skills to hunt if emergency necessitates it.
When I was walking through the Mojave Desert, I had planned for a 70 miles stretch between two small towns, Twentynine Palms and Rice, CA. I was only able to carry 3 days worth of water because I had a 5 gallon jug with me. I stopped by a Vietnamese restaurant just before I left (I don't know how on Earth there can be a Vietnamese restaurant in a desert town), and luckily, I met up with a guy who was biking from Florida to California. He'd just come in from that desert stretch.
So we sit down together for some dinner, and tells me that the small town on the other side of stretch, well, it's an abandoned gas station. The desert stretch between towns is actually 110 miles Every map that I had told me that Rice existed, but it seemed to have disappeared into oblivion over the years. Serendipity saved me, and I was able to get an additional 5 gallons of water before I got on my way to cross the Mojave safely.
Coyotes. Bears. Snakes. Scorpions. Mountain lions. Get to know the bestiary of the areas you'll be walking through. Be prepared to take a gun, pepper spray, anti-venom, whatever you need to deal with the potential hazards along the road. I made the mistake of walking empty handed. A fellow traveler handed me a can of bear spray and told me that I'd need more than he would. Now I sleep a bit better at night.
Obviously, where you decide for your final destination will change the distance you'll have to travel through the country. If you're on a strict timeline, like myself, you'll want to have an estimation of how long it will take for you to cross the country. Granted, each journey is different, and each day is different, so contingencies, breaks, and emergencies can't be easily calculated into your walk. However, you can have some relative idea based on your walking mileage.
I'm about to walk an average of 15 - 20 miles per day. I was able to cross California and parts of Arizona in about a month, giving me approximately 450 miles per month. The route I've taken is a 2,800 mile span, so a quick estimate tells me that it should take 6 - 8 months to walk the entire country. By no means is this definitive; I may stay at in a city for a few days, or even a week, if I like. For some time, I was taking care of a newborn mouse, so my walking mileage dropped to 10 miles per day. Life sends surprises in droves.
Unless you're dying to cross mountains, they're best to avoid. Climbing up elevations poses significant challenges. Pushing a heavy weight up a hill is hard stuff, and mountain roads tend to be narrow and pedestrian-unfriendly. Also, the increased elevation changes weather conditions drastically. Nights can drop below freezing, snow and rain are more abundant, and winds can chill to the bone. Plus, you can lose reception in the mountains, which could pose some difficulties in the event of an emergency.
I've chosen a route that's few in mountainous regions, although I can't avoid them all. I've been lucky in that I've avoided snow along the way, with only minor rains in the mountains.
Always wanted to visit the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco? How about the Grand Canyon in Arizona? Maybe you'd like to see that Zen monastery in New York sometime in your life. This is your journey. It might take you off your path and increase your distance, but it might just be worth it to say, "I walked to Mt. Rushmore. From Florida."
Depending on your needs and desires, you'll want to look into the type of lodging that your route has. Hostels, motels, and hotels dot the United States and can be found in most large cities or towns. However, smaller places will require more creativity. I recommend CouchSurfing.org and WarmShowers.org, and can personally attest to CouchSurfing.org as an excellent way to meet people and get a nice place to sleep, although I haven't had the chance to use it for my current walk.
Old run-down houses are always nice places to sleep too.
Step 5: Preparation: Finances
I actually have some trouble talking about finances, as its my weakest point in my life. It is important though, and even with the most frugal of folks, you still need some source of financial support even if its panhandling on the streets.
Basically, you'll want to have a handle on how much you're going (or willing) to spend on equipment and supplies before you start your walk, then estimate the cost for food and water for the duration of your walk. It'll be highly beneficial to keep an expense log during your actual walk, so you have a better idea of how much you spend on a month-to-month basis.
Obviously, if you already have the savings for it, there's really not much problem except keeping strict to a weekly budget. Otherwise, time to get a job or asking family and friends to donate to your walk. I did the latter, which definitely helped to get me out the front door.
I spend about $10.00 per day, some days more and some days I spend nothing at all. Most of what I buy goes towards food, water, and the occasional lodging if I'm in a rough part of a metropolitan city. The majority of my costs came from buying equipment and supplies for the walk when I first started out. I spent some time at thrift and second-hand stores to keep my costs down, although you can't find everything there. That's when eBay becomes your best friend.
Looking back, I could have cut costs in many places. There are many things I wish I hadn't paid for. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.
- Initial Costs
Sleeping Bag: $70
Synthetic Briefs (2 pairs): $30
Synthetic Long Johns: $15
Sleeping Foam: $7
Waterproof Stuff Sack: $10
Wool Hiking Socks (4 pair): $15
Hiking Shoes: $140
- Daily Expenses
Bread: $1.50 per day
Water: $0.33 per day
Peanut Butter: $0.50 per day
Nutella: $0.50 per day
Oatmeal: $0.40 per day
Almonds: $2.10 per day
Dried Fruit: $0.75 per day
Tuna: $0.80 per day
Total:~$6.88 per day; ~$206.40 per month
With the occasional stay at a motel, and buying a few odds and ends, I would estimate my monthly expenses to total $400 per month. My journey should be able approximately $3,500.00 in total, if I walk for 8 months, though there is definitely room for cutting down expenses.
Step 6: Preparation: Clothing
Clothing provides warmth, protection, and comfort. It'll be your first defense against the elements along the road. You will want to do a lot of research on different kinds of materials that make up each layer of clothing and the best value for your clothes. You certainly don't need to spend a fortune if you put in the time to search thrift stores or online for used clothes. Obviously, you'll want to buy socks and underwear new, but the rest can be had at a much lower price if it's second-hand.
To get a better idea of what I'd need for my walk, I went to an REI camping store and talked with one of the sale associates. I told him my plan to walk across the country, and I asked him what types of clothing I would need to buy for the trip. So he took me around the clothing section and talked about everything from underwear to water-proofed outer shells. I just listened and took notes. Eventually, I bought a pair of hiking shoes and left.
Later, I compiled everything I learned and went online to search for information about each component. I realized that many of these pieces could be bought at a thrift store or on eBay much cheaper than at REI. There's really no reason to spend $100 on a rain coat or down jacket when you could find something similar for 1/4 the price. So far, all my clothes have functioned better than expected for the walk, so no complaints from my end.
A few pairs of synthetic underwear will work wonders along the road. I prefer synthetics because they're easy to wash, quick to dry, and wick out sweat quickly. Sometimes I hand-wash my clothes, and I really value the fact that I can put on my underwear and they'll dry in less than an hour while I'm walking. You should be able to get them cheap at Walmart; I made the mistake of buying them at Target and they cost me about $15 a pop.
- Inner Layer
I wear a wife-beater underneath all my upper body wear. It keeps me warm during the cold nights, and when it gets really hot, I can just wear the wife-beater, which keeps my entire back from getting sunburned. Plus, I don't have to wash anything else except the wife-beater because it absorbs the majority of my sweat. They're pretty cheap, you can get a couple of them for $6 at most clothing stores. I had a lot of them before the walk, so I just brought those along.
Again, a few synthetic sporting shirts do the job nicely for a walking journey. They breathe well and dry quickly. You can get great prices for them at any thrift store.
A nice pair of jeans with a leather belt will practically last forever. I also carry sweat pants that go under the jeans when the nights get really cold, in conjunction with a pair of synthetic long johns.
A pair of shorts is just as useful for warmer temperatures, so be sure to have them or pick them up along your way when the weather starts to heat up into spring and summer. I brought along a pair of shorts, though I haven't had to use them just yet.
One of the more critical pieces of wear, a well-made goose down jacket designed for freezing temperatures will save you during the winter periods. It doesn't have to cost much though; I bought mine from the Salvation Army for $20, and it works like a charm.
A wind-breaker can keep your body from chilling too quickly during windy weather, without causing your body to overheat. I carry a polyester wind-breaker that's done a good job at keeping the winds at bay.
- Rain Gear
You can either go real fancy with the rain gear and deck yourself with rain boots, a full-body rain coat with hood, and leg gaiters. Or you can go simple and just pick up a regular rain jacket. It really depends on you and how much rain you are willing to tolerate.
I like the rain, so I don't put on too much more than just a rain jacket. I haven't experienced too much major storms, but going through rains now and then hasn't done much to keep me down.
Raindrops keep fallin' on my head.
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turnin' red.
When the weather starts to get below zero, a set of durable, insulated gloves can keep your hands from falling off. I have two pairs; one for keeping my hands clean while pushing the cart, and another for insulation. I usually wear the insulated pair when I sleep as well.
If you plan to wear shoes, a good pair of hiking wool socks will make your walk much less difficult. Socks provide proper cushioning for your feet while adding an extra layer of warmth during the night. I bought a four pairs of Merino wool hiking socks from Target for $10, on sale.
There's still some controversy about whether one should walk barefoot or wear hiking shoes for long-distance travel. Personally, I prefer wearing hiking shoes, especially because the weather here can be brutally cold as the sun begins to set. However, I may plan to start walking barefoot once it gets into summer. Wearing shoes can definitely stink up your feet to no end.
Sunglasses can really reduce headaches as a result of glare from the sun. I tried walking without sunglasses for a few days because I didn't like seeing the world in the dark, and I had pretty painful headaches by the end of the day. Be sure to bring them along, they can be really helpful, especially since you'll be in the sun for many, many months.
Any cheap sunglasses that you can find will practically do, as long as they block off UV rays. They can cost anywhere between $5 to $20. Honestly, you don't really need high-end sunglasses because you'll end up breaking or losing them anyway. I'm currently up to my second pair of sunglasses.
A solid, wide-brim hat will be all you need. Nothing fancier than that, just something to keep the sun off your face and rain from drenching your hair.
I purchased my hat for $1 at a second-hand store. I later souped it up by adding a surrounding barrier of cloth to protect my neck and chin from sunburns.
- Reflector Vest
A reflector vest is a yellow or orange plastic vest with reflecting stripes that let cars know that you're on the road. You've probably seen them on construction workers or traffic officer.
I don't actually own a reflector vest. However, during the first two weeks on the road, I was walking with my friend David who owned a reflector vest. It was invaluable walking up the Ortega Highway during the night. If you plan to walk during the night as well as the day, you'll want to have one.
Step 7: Preparation: Equipment
You've got the plan.
You've got the money.
You've got the clothes.
Now you need the goods...
A lot of the equipment I bought was from eBay or thrift stores. A good portion of my equipment was donated to me, either by giving me money to purchase it or given to me directly. Here's a break-down list of what I'm currently using; you'll probably have your own inventory of materials, but this should give you a baseline for what you may need.
The cart that I'm currently is a retrofitted Runabout triplet baby stroller that my friends souped up for me by attaching a basket tray to the body with zip ties. I bought the Runabout used from eBay; I was lucky, it was quite a steal and the owners happened to be in the same area as me. The set-up is rather sturdy, and I'm appreciating the Runabout strollers more and more because they add a sexy hand-brake (MANY DISASTERS WERE AVERTED BECAUSE OF THIS). The basket tray easily let's me hold my stuff down with bungee cord and compartmentalize each section.
The steel chassis has definitely taken a good beating from the road as well, and its still going strong. I was originally worried that the wheels had rusted enough to fall apart, but I haven't had any problems so far.
A few advantages of having a cart rather than carrying a backpack are that you can reduce the stress to your back and shoulders, and you can carry far more weight (which will be critical for carrying water across 50 - 100 mile stretches of deserts). The bad news is that unlike a backpack, you have to figure out where to park the damn thing without getting it stolen, and you need much more width along road shoulders to walk along highways.
- Water Storage
When you're in a city or town, water storage will not be as much of a challenge because there will always be water available, whether from a restaurant, a grocery store, or a resident. However, once you get out in the middle of nowhere, water storage becomes highly essential.
I brought along two 5 gallon collapsible water jug from REI, which were given to me by my walking friend, David, when he decided to return home. These things are awesome because you can reduce their size while your water level creeps lower over time. Also, they're square rather than cylindrical like the 5 gallon hard plastic jugs you get for drinking fountains, so they fit better on the cart.
The problem is that they're easily punctured, and on more than one occasion, I've had to repair them with duct tape and super glue. I tossed one of the jugs after it had leaked after a repair, so now I only carry one water jug. I supplement my water jug with 2.5 gallon containers from the grocery store if I need them. Eventually, I'll have to go over to the hard plastic jugs because my current collapsible is starting to break down.
Now, I don't know very much about taking only a backpack on a walking journey. I believe that there have been many other cross-country walkers who've done as such, and you should be able to find blogs about them.
But even with the cart, I brought along a backpack just in case of an emergency or the cart breaks down. I like backpacks because they have a lot of compartments, so it makes my life easier when I'm organizing my stuff. It's also nice to park the cart and keep all the expensive electronics in the backpack, which I take in with me if I'm shopping or talking to someone. I have nothing fancy, just a regular 'Trans' backpack that I've used since high school.
For mouth hygiene, I just brought along a toothbrush and floss. I had some tooth damage in college, so I brush with toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth, but its nothing fancy, just whatever I can pick up at a Target or Safeway. I have facial gel cleanser that I use to wash my face every night using a sponge and some water. A bar of soap and a sponge does the job for my body. I don't bother much with washing my hair because I shaved off a good lump of it before I headed on the road.
I wash my feet and nether regions with a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol to disinfect the areas. It's overkill, but I'd rather keep jock itch and athlete's foot at bay for as long as I can.
Get a check-up with a physician before you start. It may be a good idea to have a feel for what kinds of allergies, injuries, and physiological imbalances you have so that you can manage them along the way. You can be prepared with whatever medication or therapies you'll need as you walk; there's no reason to stress parts of your body more than necessary.
Pack the basic medications, like pain-killers, antibiotics, cold medicine, and indigestion medicine. I'm not a big fan of poppin' pills to treat a symptom rather than a disease, but my dad was a doctor, so I took it for granted that the road can be fiercer than expected.
On the other hand, I've never felt in better health in my entire life. When I get sick, it just seems to go away the next day. And I'm more conscientious about what I eat, so I have fewer stomach aches than at home. Each body will be different, each journey its own difficulties.
- Sleeping Gear
Proper sleeping gear will be critical for a good night's rest. If you're already used to sleeping on the ground, back support and cushioning may not important for you. Otherwise, you'll need a portable pillow, a foam sleeping mat, and an inflatable sleeping pad. The foam mat will also help to reduce heat loss into the ground during the night.
And then of course, there's the sleeping bag. Depending on your route and season of departure, you'll need the proper temperature rating for your sleeping bag. Expect to see colder weather than you'd expect, especially if you're going by the average temperature of a region in the country. I use a military-grade sleeping bag that I picked off from eBay, rated at -10 F. For what its worth, I walked through the California and Arizona deserts during the winter, and the sleeping bag has worked even better than I expected.
You may also want to bring along a small, cheap tent. Snakes and poisonous bugs are prone to crawling into warm, comfortable areas, so a tent will be invaluable in keeping those critters out. Also, you can keep your food inside, away from raccoons, rats, and other vermin. Windy conditions can be pretty grueling without a tent as well.
Maps and a compass are critical. Even if you're sporting a GPS or smartphone, you'll still want to keep maps in the event you're out of signal or batteries. Learn to read a compass and a map. Unless you're a veteran at wandering, you'll probably want to know where you're going.
The Adventure Cycling Association carries excellent water-proof maps that each cover ~500 mile sections of various cross-country cycling routes. They're highly portable and don't cost anymore than $16 a piece. Plus, they describe details about lodging, elevation, amenities, stores, and water. I was gifted one along the way to Arizona from a cyclist coming in the other direction, and its been a valuable tool in conjunction with my complete map book of the United States.
You don't necessarily need any electronics to walk across the country. Plenty of people had been doing it long before cell phones or laptops, so they're more optional than anything.
That being said, a cell phone is always nice to have to keep in touch with friends and family back home, not to mention the potential 911 call if you ever needed it. A GPS is also handy to have so that you can keep track of where you're currently located in real time. And of course, there's the laptop. There's really not much you couldn't do with one; I'm sure you could even order pizza online to be delivered to you while you were walking down a highway. A digital camera isn't a bad thing to take along either. It's definitely great to be able to share a beautiful sunset in the Mojave Desert with friends.
You'll be able to recharge your electronics practically anywhere in a town or city. All restaurants and residences have some form of electricity, and most people will be kind enough to let you recharge your equipment if you let them know what you're up to. I was donated a Nomad 7 Solar Panel, which let's you plug in USB adapters to recharge your equipment. I haven't had to use it particularly often, but its been helpful nonetheless.
Given the dangerous nature of wandering through the country alone, you will want to bring some kind of weaponry, unless your purpose for walking prohibits it. I'd say that the danger mostly comes from wild animals; I haven't yet met a single person who's been malicious towards me. So unless you're a saint or a Disney princess, you're probably better off having some form of defense.
I started my walk without any sort of weapon, besides my blunt pocket knife. A guy I met going into Parker, AZ gave me his bear spray, which is basically an upgraded version of pepper spray (think Siege Mode for Terran tanks in Starcraft). He kept telling me about all the fights he'd be in at bars and how he'd meet with rather suspicious folk (think American Psycho-status). So I've kept the spray around. Just in case.
Either a flashlight or a headlight will do. I prefer headlights because I have to use both my hands to set up camp. Plus, it makes it easier to write or read during the night. Take your pick, there's a ton of different ways to illuminate your journey. Just remember that bringing a brick of a flashlight won't do you much good.
You'll also need extra batteries to have around even before you start running low. The Nomad 7 Solar Panel comes with an LED flashlight that contains four rechargeable batteries. So every so often, I'll leave the panel out in the sun and know that at the very least, I'll have that for light and electrical power.
Bring a first aid kit and learn how to use it properly. You'll also need some way to contact the police or fire department besides a cell phone. The GPS I use comes with a way to call 911; since it's connected to multiple satellites, it's less likely to lose reception compared to my cell.
I'm also carrying along the following in the event of an emergency:
~ Two Emergency Blankets
~ Instant Foot and Hand Warmers
~ Waterproof Matches
~ Fresnel Lens (to start fires using sunlight)
~ Electrolyte Powder Mix
~ Protein Bars
~ Water Purification Tablets
~ Sewing Needles
Step 8: Walking: Water
As they say, you'll have a hard time surviving more than three days without regular water intake. Physical exertion of walking only increases that water loss. Personally, I stick to water and avoid sugary drinks like soda or Gatorade. Soft drinks just make my head feel funny and causes me to think too much. I've read that for other wanderers, they enjoy the extra calories every so often, so I believe its a matter of preference rather than health. Find what works for you.
- Daily Intake
I drink about 0.5 liters every hour during the day, which comes out to be about 1.5 gallons per day. You will drink far more water than you're normally accustomed to, even during training, due to the environment. No need to be a hero though; you can over-drink water and lose electrolytes faster than you're replacing them. Most likely, you won't ever drink more than 2 gallons per day, even if its hot.
I discussed water storage in the equipment section, so I'll re-iterate that part. Something like a 5 gallon plastic jug will do just fine. At full capacity, 5 gallons should last 2 - 3 days, depending on how much you use for washing. For long stretches where there are no cities or towns, you'll want to pick up more water containers at a grocery store or pharmacy. The rule of thumb is 1.5 gallons per day that you'll walk across those barren stretch, calculated by dividing the number of miles of the stretch by how fast you walk.
You'll have a few common sources of water that will be discrete and easy to procure. You can purchase water at $0.25 per gallon or $1.00 per 5 gallons at those water dispenser found in front of supermarkets. The water is clean and disinfected, so you should have no problem even after 3 days of sitting in the jug. And then of course, you can buy actual full jugs of water at the supermarket itself or a pharmacy at about the same price.
You can get water from any fast food restaurant across the country; they all have water taps at the soda machine. At a gas station, you could also go to the bathroom and fill up the water from the tap. Water in America is definitely far safer to drink than a good proportion of the world.
If you are in desperate straits, a river or lake is pretty much your last resort. Just be sure to disinfect and purify the water beforehand to kill any bacteria or protozoans.
Speaking of disinfection, you'll want to bring along water purification tablets or a water purifier for emergencies. Last thing you'll probably want to do besides dehydrate to death is to drink a lot of water and still die because you're spewing your guts out both ends.
- Weather Conditions
Higher temperatures and drier conditions will cause you to dehydrate much more rapidly. Adjust accordingly, your body will tell you how much water you need if you listen to it.
As you continue to drink water, you'll want to replenish your electrolytes every so often to keep your nerves well-primed for muscle contractions. You can either take supplements specifically containing electrolytes, or a multivitamin.
If you're urinating clear, light yellow urine, that will mean you're hydrating well. If, however, you're urinating dark yellow urine, you'll need to increase your water intake because you're more or less dehydrating, unless you've just woken up. If it's red...well...you probably should stop walking across America.
Step 9: Walking: Food
For what it's worth, I like food a lot. Cuisine is the backbone of my Vietnamese heritage, so I had to make some adjustments to my palate as I started my journey. However, I certainly didn't stop from treating myself to the occasional good fare along the way. The picture is a shot of my Valentine's Day dinner I had with myself. I was feeling rather down that day, and to cheer myself up, I bought a bottle of white zinfandel, a chocolate bar, and a whole roasted chicken from Safeway. That sure was a good night sleeping in a storm drain with wine in one hand and a drumstick in the other.
I do what I can to keep myself going.
- Caloric Requirements
Walking long-distance eats up a large amount of calories. I found that I can just keep eating and eating every day, and the food just gets burned through my body like a fire. On average, I eat about 3500 calories per day.
You can use a calorie calculator to estimate how much food you'll need to eat on a daily basis. That will depend on how much you're walking each day and how many breaks you take, but you will definitely have a better grasp of your eating needs.
You can also look up the foods you plan to bring along the way to match the calories and nutrition you will need.
- Nutritional Requirements
Your body will need a tremendous amount of nutrients to keep walking and repairing itself on a continuous basis. You will need a high level of carbohydrates and lipids for energy, and proteins to grow and replace torn muscle fibers.
I eat the following more or less as my staple diet:
Snack: Almonds, Other Nuts, and Dried Fruit
Breakfast: 1 Cup of Oatmeal (soaked in cold water) w/ 1 Cup of Dried Fruit & Almonds
Lunch: 6 Tbsp of Peanut Butter and Nutella on 6 Slices of Whole Wheat Bread
Dinner: 1 Can of Tuna (5 oz) w/ Mayonnaise & Relish on 6 Slices of Whole Wheat Bread
Occasionally, I'll eat a sandwich at Subway or eat a home-cooked meal with someone I meet on the road. And then of course, once in a blue moon, someone will take me to an all-you-can-eat buffet and I'll just pig out. But I do stay away from less than healthy fast food, because I tried to eat Taco Bell once and I had some pretty bad indigestion while walking.
You can use a nutritional requirement calculator to estimate what you will need on the road:
Nutritional Requirement Calculator
Every town or city will have a supermarket or grocery store, so starvation is hardly an issue walking through the United States. In addition, there seems to be an unlimited number of restaurants in the world, so have your pick and enjoy. Your only trouble will come when you're walking in the barren stretches, but that's where you'll just have to keep a store of non-perishable food for the road.
I chose to eat mostly oatmeal, dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter and Nutella, and canned tuna because they all keep well and are high-density calories. I avoid anything I have keep cold, especially meat. Unless I'm eating it that same day, I just don't bother because keeping a cooler of ice is a pain in the butt.
I also avoid cooking. The truth of the matter is that I found it takes more effort than its worth for me, so I stick to my unprepared meals.
HOWEVER, that being said, if you are inspired to bring home-cooked meals to the road, be my guest. A simple propane or alcohol stove is all you need, with some utensils and a good aluminum or titanium pot. I've met a few travelers who prefer to have hot meals and they make the extra effort for it. Pasta with fish, warm oatmeal, rice, and quinoa are few hot delectable foods that will keep you going on the road.
At best, you'll meet your minimum nutrient requirements. Since most of the meals you'll be eating will either be processed, uncooked, or lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, you can run into malnutrition. You'll have to find a way to introduce minerals and vitamins into your diet.
I have low iron in my blood, so I usually take a multivitamin to add iron back into my diet. I also try to eat fruits and vegetables whenever I get the chance, but even so, I lack a way to keep them cold on the road. The best on-the-road fruits for me have been oranges, apples, and bananas.
Step 10: Walking: Health
During your journey, you will face many challenges. Keeping your body in healthy condition will allow it to support your mission across the country. However, the body is fragile and is prone to break down under stress for whatever reason. You will want to quickly assess the situation, determine your options, and make a decision. Sometimes, you may need to call 911 for grave emergencies. There's no use in risking your life to disease and injury, especially if you have no interest in bargaining your life for your mission.
I'm no physician, and I am basically going off of my own personal experiences. My father was a physician, so he gave me a few tips and pointers while I was growing up about certain illnesses and diseases. However, what I know is hardly clinical knowledge, so either consult a physician or read up about common ailments and injuries experienced while hiking and camping.
If you're experiencing thirstiness, headaches, dark urine, and dizziness, you're more than likely be dehydrated. The obvious solution is to drink water. However, the danger comes when you've run out of water. Stop walking and quickly get yourself to a place where there will be clean water: a home, farm, restaurant, or any other establishment. If there are people, there will be water. If you're in a situation where there are no signs of civilization, take drastic action and signal cars down the road for water.
You may need to take survival-level action if there are no cars. You can duct tape plastic bags around the leaves of brush or trees. If they are alive, they will transpire and the moisture will condense on the walls of the bag.
- Electrolyte Imbalance
Electrolyte imbalance results from drinking too much water without properly replenishing salts into your body. It can also come about through severe water loss from diarrhea or vomiting. You may experience muscle weakness and spasms as a result of excess electrolyte loss. To remedy the situation, you should take in an electrolyte powder mix with water. You can also drink sports drinks that are designed to replenish electrolytes, such as Gatorade or Powerade. Multivitamins contain electrolytes and can be used to supplement. I personally carry table salt with me in case I start feeling a craving for salts, although one could also be missing potassium and calcium electrolytes as well.
Malnutrition can come from a lack of minerals and vitamins. In addition, the food that you're eating may not be meeting your caloric or nutritional requirements; you may need more protein, fat, or carbohydrates in your diet. A good sign of malnutrition is the feeling of hunger, fatigue, or weakness. A multivitamin will take care of any trace nutrients or vitamins that are lacking, whereas for your energetic needs, you will need to simply eat more high-energy nutritional foods. Cut out foods that are empty calories, such as candy, soda, fast food, and sugary baked goods, and begin introducing fruits, nuts, and complex carbohydrates such as wheat bread and grains.
Fatigue tends to be a symptom of other problems, such as malnutrition as described above. However, you could just be exhausting yourself far more than you need to. Take a break and relax for a half hour, and you should be ready to walk again. If the fatigue is more severe, take a day or two off before attempting to walk again. Additionally, you could be experience heat exhaustion. Quickly get yourself out of the sun and cover yourself with a tarp or find shade. Treat your body like a car; too much walking can overheat your systems.
For cuts and lacerations, disinfect the area with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. If the cut is deep and requires stitching, you can disinfect a thread of floss and a needle, then sew up the wound. Otherwise, cover the region with an antibiotic and bandage.
For sprains, especially in the ankle, immediately stop walking and rest. If ice is available, apply it to the area for a few minutes. Otherwise, find a way to reduce the inflammation (cold water, cold sand, etc.), then bandage the area and keep it elevated.
In the event of a fracture, you will need to immobilize the ligament by wrapping or taping the fractured limb around a splint (any straight, sturdy object, such as a stick) or another limb/body part. For example, if you fractured your finger, you can immobilize it using another finger. If you fractured your forearm, you can strap it against your chest or create a sling for it.
Depending on the illness, they can either be treated with medication or just allowed to pass with time. A simple cold will eventually go away, whereas something like pneumonia will require antibiotic treatment, and potentially hospitalization.
I carry a barrage of antibiotics with me; I haven't used any of them, but they are there in case of emergencies. Be knowledgeable of common illnesses and their treatments.
Sunburns are characterized by intense pain along with peeling of the burned skin. Sunburns should be prevented with proper cover, such as a hat, and high SPF-rating sunscreen. For current burns, you can apply aloe vera to the area, which works wonders. Repeated burns may result in skin cancers down the line, so be cautious of sunny days.
- Fungal Disease
If you're experiencing itchiness, peeling/cracked skin, yellowing nails, and offensive odors, you've most likely got a fungal infection of the skin. Fungal infections are a pain to treat, and require long-period applications of antifungal creams designed for athlete's foot and jock itch. You'll be able to find them at any drug or grocery store. You'll just have to clean the area and apply the cream twice a day for a few weeks.
Step 11: Walking: Sleep
You will need a decent amount of sleep to keep walking each day. Walking is exhausting work, and you can tire quickly if you walk for more than you need to. My friend and I had one instance where we had to walk all through the night and into the next day to avoid on-coming traffic, and our energy was completely shot for a week. 6 to 8 hours is pretty much all you'll ever want, and a few hours less or more won't kill you.
By the end of the day, I'm usually tired out by 9 PM, and I sleep until 5 AM. By that time, I'm pretty much wide awake, but I stay in my sleeping bag and meditate to avoid the cold mornings.
Now, I'm going to talk about where to sleep for the most part. There are a few options, but they're basically broken down into Camping, Residences, and Motels/Hostels.
I really like to camp. One of the great beauties of walking the country is that you get to see the stars. When I look up at the sky right before sunset, its like a dance of light washing through the backdrop of the cosmic void. First, the brightest stars and planets will shine through, then little by little, constellations will arise like glittering gems. Then suddenly, the whole sky will erupt in fire as the entire cosmos reveals itself, with the Milky Way holding the entire galaxy in its bosom.
It's really quite a sight.
But, on with it. I've found that camping through the country can bring a myriad of experiences, as well as challenges, along the way. Sometimes it's quite a search to find the right place to sleep, as you want to avoid heavy traffic or groups of people. If you're in a city, it'll take a bit of ingenuity to keep out of sight from the police and potential hooligans. And of course, there's physical considerations, like terrain, wildlife, rain, and wind.
~ Road Shoulders
Road shoulders are by far the easiest to camp at. The land is already leveled and weeded for you, and proximity to the road keeps most wildlife at bay. However, be aware that camping in the road shoulder can lead to potential accidents with cars if your camp site doesn't have significant reflection. And then there's always the increased risk of someone spotting you and deciding to do you harm.
Personally, I haven't had any trouble on a road shoulder. Gary Rutherford, the man who's been walking across America for 7 years, told me he's been sleeping next to highways for years and never had an incident. But there's always the risk.
Ditches are quite fun to sleep in. They provide cover from cars and people, while creating a natural crevice to stick in your sleeping bag, if not your entire tent as well. You can also hide your cart in a ditch and settle down for a few days while you hit the town.
The down side is that, if it rains, that ditch was designed to let the water flow. So you'll want to watch out for the potential for flash flooding.
Underpasses are seriously awesome. I think of them as the Rolls Royce of sleeping places; I'm not so much thinking of in the city as much as in the country-side. They provide rain cover, wind cover, sun cover, a place to hide your stuff, and hard ground. I choose underpasses over anything else, if I have the chance.
However, you do get a lot of noise from the cars driving over, so you'll either need to learn to be a heavy sleeper or hope that the road quiets down during the night.
Bridges are practically the same as an underpass, just bigger. There are far fewer bridges, and a good number of them are inaccessible to pedestrians. But they can be even better than an underpass because the traffic is much more elevated above your head, so noise is reduced.
Woods provide good visibility cover from would-be hooligans. They're rather quiet and spacious, and you could do some fun exploring through them if you've got the energy. It may be difficult to get a clearing to pitch a tent, and you'll run into far more wildlife than closer to the roads. But its a great place to sleep; I always feel more rejuvenated when I'm with trees than along the roadways.
~ Open Fields and Desert
There's not much cover for open fields and desert. Your best bet is to just go far off into the distance if you feel uncomfortable sleeping where people can find you. Otherwise, it's quite thrilling to see practically nothing in every direction, except mountains and the occasional brush. It's easy to find level ground, and predators tend to avoid large open spaces because they can't hide well.
~ Abandoned Buildings
If you're afraid of the dark or enclosed places, abandoned buildings are probably not your best. But they're next to the best thing besides actual residences themselves.
Some abandoned buildings still have owners who hold rights to the land, so by law you will still be trespassing, even if the insides look completely trashed. I made friends with a guy in Bouse, Arizona who got two months in prison for sleeping in an abandoned house. Apparently, a tourist saw him break into the place, so he called the owner. The owner came in a few hours later and a put a gun to my friend, then proceeded to call the cops. Rough stuff out here in the desert.
~ Campsitesand Parks
For me, campsites and parks tend to be my last resort for shelter. You're still pitching your tent and doing all the odds and ends of setting camp. Most of them require that you pay a minimum fee of $10.00 to sleep, but you do get warm showers and place to do laundry. And campsites tend to be much safer place to stay, presumably. I also meet some great folk at campsites, so its not all bad.
I'm grateful for all the kind people who've trusted me and let me stay over to sleep, sometimes for a week. Most of them I've met through my friends and acquaintances; occasionally, I luck out and meet someone trustworthy at a gas station or shop. I've learned to trust my gut through the experience, and I'm getting better at distinguishing between someone who means me harm and someone who's out to give me a hand.
Staying at a home not only rejuvenates your physical energy, but you also get to meet someone new, perhaps someone who will become a good friend down the road. I can always appreciate a home-cooked meal and a chance to hang out with someone.
This is a bit of a no-brainer. Unless you have a family from Hell, you probably have an aunt or cousin who lives out along your road that you can call up and have yourself a place to stay.
Not much different than above. If you're a recent college graduate, you can be sure that your friends are networked with other folks at other colleges.
As I said, meeting new people along the way can be an eye-opening experience, but you'll have to learn to trust your gut if you plan to go home with them. I avoid telegraphing that I need a place to stay; usually, I just let that happen naturally. If the other person is pushing for your to stay much more than you're comfortable with, you might be dealing with someone who has sinister intentions.
There was a woman who was driving down the highway and pulled over to the shoulder where I was walking. Being a friendly guy, I start chit-chatting with her. After I told her about my walk, she told me that she could give me a ride to the next town, where she lived, and get a warm shower and clean my clothes at her place. I gently refused, because I don't take rides as a matter of just walking everywhere I go.
So we talked a bit more, and then she drove away. After she left, I had a weird feeling in my gut, because it was my impression that she hadn't much interest in why I was walking at all. I had told her that I was walking for my dad who passed away, and she just seemed to ignore it. And she kept talking about being the creator of the world, living as an ancient Egyptian, and being on the Titanic. I had some suspicion, and noted her license plate.
Lo and behold, after I walk a few miles more, she comes back to give me the offer again. Now, honestly, why in the world would a person drive miles out of their way to offer someone a place to sleep that they barely met? My creepy feeling was going on haywire, and quickly high-tailed out of there.
As I've mentioned before, websites such as CouchSurfing.org and GlobalFreeloaders.com present a great opportunity to meet new people while finding a place to sleep for free. Although there have been instances involving these websites, they are very few and far between. Still, I must admit there is the inherent risk, but if you're walking across the country, you're already taking a risk anyway.
- Motels and Hostels
At the end of the spectrum are motels, hotels, inns, and hostels. The huge pluses are that they provide everything. Clean bed, bathroom, television, free breakfast, water, and safety. You'll find them practically anywhere in a town or a city.
The downside, of course, is the cost. If you're on a tight-budget, stays are motels can quickly eat up your funds in no time.
Hostels are by far the cheapest option, at about $20 per night. I've stayed at a hostel once in San Franciso called Adelaide, and they're quite cozy even though they pack you like sardines in one room. You can meet a ton of interesting folks, mostly from other countries. And if you're lucky, you'll get some nice complementary breakfast in the morning.
Motels are about $50, while hotels can be anywhere from $80 to $150 in the United States.
Availability can be a problem, depending on where you are in the country and what type of accommodations you're looking into. For the most part, you'll need a source of communication to reserve a room before you arrive. It can be frustrating to walk 10 miles to a motel only to find out that all the rooms are booked.
Some places may have curfews, so be aware of the possibility that you won't be able to explore a place during the night.
Step 12: Walking: Weather
The weather is an unpredictable beast. Each region of the country is unique, with its own set of weather patterns and seasonal changes. Be prepared to face weather that you've never experience before.
I'm listing the type of weather that I've already encountered. I can't say much about rare sky phenomena, like lightning storms and tornadoes, but I can personally attest to the following (except snow). For the most part, this should be the general weather pattern of any place you encounter.
You'll want to wear a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen, and bring lots of water for bright, sunny days. Gorgeous as they can be, if you're unprepared, you can find yourself sunburned and dehydrated.
Be sure to keep your equipment and food waterproofed. There's nothing quite like carrying a stash of non-functioning electronics or spoiled oats. I like to bring a lot of ziplock bags and plastic bags, then wrap all my stuff in them. I was also gifted a water-proof blanket, which I've used to cover my cart on multiple occasions.
You'll also want to keep a nice waterproof raincoat to prepare for any rainstorms. Even the sturdiest raincoat won't keep you completely dry, but at least you won't be soaking to the bone.
Cold wind chills can really drop your temperature fast. They're particularly potent during the night while you sleep. Be sure to find something to break the wind during the night.
High velocity winds can also slow you down if its coming in the opposite direction. They're not so much of a pain while you're walking as much as if you're biking or running, but depending on the girth of your cart, they can still keep you from making your miles during the day.
Snow is a bit of an agglomeration of wind, rain, and cold, in that it'll slow you down quite a bit and wet your things once it starts to melt while freezing your butt off. Snow can decrease your speed as much as half, while you expend a tremendous amount of energy keeping warm and pushing through resistance. Honestly, snow isn't much fun. But you can still make snowmen.
Just plain cold weather can be hard on the body. I recommend a nice down jacket to keep yourself warm during frigid temperatures. While you're walking, you should be able to keep your temperature up, although you'll have to find a down jacket that allows your body to 'breathe' and release moisture. Otherwise, the sweat will wet your jacket and reduce its ability to keep you warm.
Cloudy weather can be misleading, in that you may believe the sun is covered. Unfortunately, UV rays can still penetrate through cloud cover and burn you, so keep your sun protection on and walk on.
Step 13: Walking: Rest
I expressed before that spending time to rest is just as important as training. The same is true for the actual walk itself. Rest can be helpful for healing an injury, settling your mind, or just enjoying the moment. As I've said, be kind to yourself. There are travelers out there who take their time, many years in fact, to the cross the country. Some just live for weeks, even months, in a single place before heading out again on the road.
There's really not right or wrong way to walk a journey. Understandably, some of us will have other plans for the future, and walking cross-country is less of a lifestyle than a single challenge amongst many. Truly though, its best to let the world flow at its own pace. Even at 3 miles per hour, you can miss the magic.
I've created a loose schedule for my rest times, throughout the day and throughout the week. I usually walk 50 minutes, take a break for 10 minutes to rehydrate and stretch, then walk another 50 minutes. After that, I take a longer break for 30 minutes to snack and drink water. After 2 of these 2-hour sessions, I take 1.5 hours to eat a meal, take a nap, and explore the terrain. Then I do all over again, so I rack up about 8 hours of walking total.
It happens to be my way of doing things. And not every day will be the same; some days I'll just chill out with some people, while others I'll walk miles upon miles into the night. While I was nursing Rockwall, the baby mouse, I had to re-vamp my schedule so that I could feed him milk every 3 hours, including at night. So everything shifts according to what's needed, but overall, I like having some solidity and routine.
I also take day-long breaks every 2 to 3 days to hang out in one place, replenish my stocks, and wash my clothes. And if I feel particularly called to stay somewhere, I'll hang out for a week. Everyone will have their own way.
I stretch about every 50 minutes to keep my ligaments loose and flexible. I do some basic stretches for my ham-strings, hip flexors, calfs, ankles, and back. Sometimes I'll stretch out my arms and shoulders because they'll get mad stiff pushing the cart. All in all, I keep it simple and quick, so I can get back to walking.
As I mentioned before, I eat meals about every 2 hours, and I give myself an hour and a half to eat. I don't like to strain my stomach, so I give myself a rest to digest and let my blood flow into my gut. I eat about 3 to 4 meals a day, depending on how hungry I get, and what's available on my cart and in the area. Pretty laissez faire about it.
- Day Naps
I take naps during the afternoon to let my stomach digest and completely relax my leg muscles. That's also usually the time when I get a ferocious amount of ideas running through my head, so I like to write them down in my journal. I get to know myself pretty well during my naps; I tend to recall memories of my past during these times, usually soft and melancholic moments in time.
Step 14: Walking: Entertainment
Miles and miles on the road, disconnected from family, friends, television, and internet (mostly). Most of the time, you'll be occupied with walking, but that can hardly absorb your entire day. Here, I give you a few ideas of what you can do to actually enjoy the walk across the country, rather than banging your head against your cart wondering why you're walking through the middle of a cornfield grinding your teeth.
Keep a record. Even if you never do anything special with it, you'll always be able to reference the moments on the road in later life. I use my journal to not only write about the day, but also to write down new ideas and inventions. I could only imagine most of my thoughts falling into the netherworld of forgetfulness if I didn't have some record of them on paper. Many times, my friends had to coax me to write in a journal, with me refusing until I realized about a month in that I could never remember everything on the road, even with the kind of memory I have.
And it's always a great story to tell friends that one day when you almost got eaten by a bear. Though I guess that sort of experience would be seared into your skull forever.
I'm sure you have some reading list of books you've always wanted to get around to reading. I know I do. I don't find much time to read, because usually its night by the time I'm relaxed and looking for a book. But every so often, I'll break out a book that a friend has given me and run through a few pages.
Currently, I'm reading Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer by Brother David Steindl-Rast, which was given to me by my friend David Cary (the guy rapping the picture). I've learned a lot from Brother David Steindl-Rast, and appreciate his approach towards Christianity. These books are a continuous reminder of why I'm walking the country.
Music is the life blood of the soul. Now's the time to get good at practicing the guitar, or picking up the fiddle. Perhaps you like to ho-down with a harmonica or a flute. Just remember that you'll need a place to store your instrument away from rain and heat. I planned to bring my father's violin along the way, but couldn't figure out a sensible way to avoid damaging the wood from the elements. Plus, I haven't played the violin since grade-school.
So instead of an instrument, I opted for my vocal chords. Singing and walking is hardly a difficult multi-tasking experience, and it's pretty nice to hear your own voice once in a while on the road. Bring some sheet music and lyrics along the way. Even if you can't sing for squat, hearing a human voice can keep you from going a little crazy.
I didn't have a way to look up lyrics, so I improvised a lot of the songs that I know and made up some new interesting versions. I have to figure out if they're any good, but I like them!
Alright, maybe going a little crazy isn't such a bad way to go.
Since I have no audience, I like to tell myself stories. It's a little bit like practice, especially when I meet new people. I've practically rehearsed any stories about the road multiple times, some with different endings.
An 8-hour walk can give you plenty of time to become more aware of your thoughts and body. I really enjoy playing a game with myself, where whenever a thought comes up in my head, I just gently place my focus on the feeling of my feet on the earth, each step of the way.
I find myself learning more and more about myself each day on the road. Meditation keeps my focus on my surroundings rather than off in thoughts about the past or future.
Sometimes, I meet fellow travelers on the road and spend time picking their brains. Other times, I just chat it up with the cashier at Del Taco. People are pretty interesting. If you just take an interest in what other people are saying, you can practically make friends anywhere.
Plus, you can get all sorts of great information about the road ahead.
Step 15: Journey: Vision
“It is very dangerous to go into eternity with possibilities which one has oneself prevented from becoming realities. A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it.”
— Sören Kierkegaard
A journey can be a fun little excursion, perhaps where you do a little good here and there, then return back to your original life without much change. Or a journey can break your soul and call you into your very reason for existence. Beyond the purpose for your walking journey, ask yourself what possibility you wish for yourself in the future. What is your dream for your human life here on Earth?
You have taken a major risk in your life to spend months at a time out in the road of life, with little more than a few trinkets and tools to keep you alive. If you bring yourself to the edge of your anxiety, that background buzzing that draws you away from taking the steps to living a full, rich existence, you may find yourself in sight of a horizon of human potential. Your human potential.
For as long as I could remember, school was rather easy for me. There was the occasional roadblock along the way, but most struggles I experienced in academia were social and emotional in nature. So I aced through high school and college without much difficulty.
My parents had big dreams for me. In kindergarten, my mother told my first teacher that I would grow up to be a doctor, just like my dad. And so the life plan laid out for me was for me to kick ass in school and keep on rocking it into medical school. I would be rich, successful, and well-respected, just like my dad. The road was paved, all I had to do was sail along it to the finish line.
Well, that made things easy for me. I didn't have to think or make any decisions in my life. I essentially went on auto-pilot, racking up awards and accolades until my CV was spilling with praiseworthy notes and words. I was a superstar.
And I was unhappy. At the end of my sophomore year in college, I'd just ended a relationship with a girl who I thought was the love of my life. I'd just won a great sum of money through a competition, and I was living in a posh condo with a professor, yet I was constantly at dis-ease with myself. I constantly asked myself if this was it, that it'd just be more sums of money, more beautiful women, and higher accolades through life.
After a few odd turns here and there, I eventually made my way to San Francisco and discovered a group of spiritual dudes and dudettes who are all about deepening the relationships with ourselves, with others, and with the world. You can find them at AuthenticWorld.org.
Without going into any of the nitty gritty details, they helped me bring more ease into my life. For the first time in my life, I finally felt as though I was actually in relationship with myself. I was feeling more expressive, more happy, and more generous than I'd ever been before. Life suddenly became an adventure, and I was beginning to see extraordinary changes in my being. I had an easier time in the presence of people, especially attractive women. I began speaking up and demanding excellence from myself.
And most of all, I was finally making decisions about my future for my self. I started taking of my body, eating a better diet, and exercising on a regular basis. I decided I didn't want to become a doctor. And I made a commitment to walk across the country before continuing on with school.
I have a vision for my life, which may change and remold itself over time. I see myself at the intersection between science and spirituality, making hard observational evidence for spiritual phenomena such as compassion, love, and joy. I see myself taking all the learning and teachings of my life, and bringing it to the world. When the time is ripe, I plan to walk across the world to bring awareness to the possibility of a global world awareness. That the reality is, we live here together as humanity.
My walk across America is only my training ground. We will see how far I go, but the possibility excites me.
Step 16: Journey: Challenge
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
You will find challenges that will push you to the edge of your known capacity. You will experience what you once thought was unbearable. Each person is unique; for one person, climbing a mountain is a piece of cake, for another, speaking on stage in front of an audience. In any case, challenges are an opportunity to grow into a newer you, one who has shed a past skin that constricts the heart and haunts the mind.
I believe that everyone's life is specially designed with all the challenges you will need to experience in a lifetime. But it is in your own hands to make the decision to walk through them and feel the burn.
Two days into our walk, my friend David and I had just climbed up the Ortega Highway lucky to still have our skin intact as car after car skidded inches away from our cart. We both joked that the Ortega would eventually be our grave, and we'd be lauded amongst the likes of Christopher McCandless as wandering fools without an ounce of common sense. After walking out from Casper National Park and onto the road for a few miles, we came upon a bridge that crossed over into a sharp turn into the mountains.
We stared in disbelief as we saw that the bridge barely had enough space for the two cars that passed in opposite directions along the road. There was no shoulder. There was no visibility to see if there were oncoming cars in either direction; the bridge was sandwiched between two mountain peaks. So we couldn't tell if there would be a shoulder on the other side of the bridge. For all we knew, it could have been shoulder-less like the bridge all the way up. And the bridge was a long way; it would have taken us about a minute to cross the bridge while running.
And there was no going back.
Conceivably, we could have called a friend to pick us up and drop us off on the other side. We could have even gone home at that point. Someone could come in about an hour, easily. I even called the local sheriff's office to see if we could get someone to block traffic for us, though to no avail.
I suppose something about that particular day, combined with the difficulty of walking uphill through brush and mud along the Ortega, shattered our wills to continue. I felt anxious and stressed. Even if we got a friend to get us across, what's to say that there would not be more bridges, more obstacles, more challenges along the way that we would to face alone. We'd be helpless then. We would be spineless brats who once conquered the academic world, only to find that all our books and knowledge were rubbish in the real world of rocks, rivers, and road.
David and I took the cart down to the side of the canyon and decided to rest our minds. I went down to the bottom where a stream was running through, and took some time to breathe and relax. Something compelled me to explore the river bank, so I took off my shoes and climbed across the fallen boulders. As my mind loosened up, something in my brain snapped, and I realized the obvious.
I climbed up along the cliffs, barefoot and all, and made it to the other side of the bridge. I walked up the grassy path leading to the road, and lo and behold, saw that there was in fact a shoulder. As I climbed back down to tell David, I saw him on the other side of the canyon. I told him what I saw, which he considered and decided that we should sleep until midnight to wait for traffic to die down, then pass the bridge. We ended up walking for hours through the freezing cold night, without knowing when the road would end.
We were eventually pulled over by the police, who proceeded to guide us to a candy store at the top of the current hill we were on. There, we slept until the morning and met up with a regular and the owners of the shop, who gifted me and David with the license plate saying, "I survived the 74".
Every hill and every bridge thereafter has felt paltry compared to our nightly sojourn. Although I don't believe either of us will want to experience that night again, I am grateful for having experienced it.
Step 17: Journey: Serendipity
"Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter."
— Julius Comroe, Jr.
Along the path of a journey, you will find that what you were first looking for was just the tip of the iceberg of what life has to offer you. Sometimes the world will conspire to line the path with gold for your arrival. Unfortunately, you can't go looking for the gold-lined path; what you find will never quite be what you were first looking for. You will just simply have to trust, let the world take your hand, and relax in the dance. The moment will meet you when you are ready.
I had just walked into Twentynine Palms, CA. It was evening, and I was getting hungry for something cooked. When I had made it to the main center of the city, I found a Vietnamese restaurant with a great big line to the front. Apparently, they were having their grand opening, and the place was completely packed. Being Vietnamese, I was craving some pho (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup) and I was absolutely curious about this new restaurant. My thoughts were, "Who the Hell lives out here that's Vietnamese?"
I go in the back and see one of the workers. I chat with him in Vietnamese, telling him that I had walked here from Los Angeles and would like to store my cart in the back while I eat at the restaurant. He's down for it, so I park the cart, take my backpack, and set myself in line.
At that moment, I was feeling particularly shy. To my left was a group of eight, presumably marines from the Marine Corp Base in Twentynine Palms with their dates. To my right was a group of nine, a family celebrating someone's birthday by the looks of a birthday cake held by someone in their party. I hadn't seen myself in a mirror for days, and I assumed that I looked rather shabby and poor carrying a dusty backpack, wearing dirty clothes. So I kept to myself and shuffled around quietly while everyone else seemed to be engaged in conversation.
The wait was long, even for a single table, and so the marines and their dates left, leaving me with the family. Something suddenly clicked in my mind, like an impulse to speak, and I asked the family whose birthday it was. One of the guys tells me that its the birthday of both father and son; they happened to share the same birthday. Interesting. So I ask the older man of the group, presumably the father, how old he was. 65, he says.
Well, that was about the same age as my dad. So I talked to him about my dad, and how he should look out for his health. The conversation flows easily, and we eventually get to talking about Vietnam. The man had been in the service during the war, and so we get to talking about how it was back then and how he'd like to travel back to Vietnam some day. The conversation eventually gets to where I'm from and why I'm in Twentynine Palms.
Secret's out. I walked.
This guy just starts going wild. He tells his entire family, then he introduces me to his wife and his friends. Everyone's asking me questions and telling me about the road ahead. By that time, my shyness is completely gone and I'm feeling good just chatting it up with anyone in the group.
About an hour goes by since I got to the restaurant, and they eventually call my name for my table. During that time, there had been another man who was waiting on a table for one, although I didn't quite notice him until I'm in the restaurant. He asks, "So, you're walking across the country?" I guess he'd been eaves-dropping on the conversation.
I figure that I basically took the only table for one until I finish eating, so I look straight into this guy's eyes and say, "Yeah, you want to join me for dinner?" I've never in my life asked a stranger to eat with me, but never in my life did I think I'd be pushing a cart across the country, so I wasn't having much trouble with 'firsts'. He accepts, and we go on ahead to our table.
He sits down, and says to me, "I happen to be cycling. I came here from Florida." Hot damn, another traveler!
When David and I planned the route back at home, we had noticed the stretch between Twentynine Palms and the next city east. The distance measured out to be 70 miles, which would be easily crossed with three days worth of water. The cart was only able to that weight of water, which was about 10 gallons (for two people). At this point in time, David and I had separated to walk at our own pace, and planned to meet up in Twentynine Palms. He was lagging about 2 days behind me, so I was going to wait for him to come.
The cyclist proceeds to tell me the dangers of the route that I'm taking, which runs through the barren Mojave Desert. Most importantly, he tells me that the next city over, Rice, CA, is actually an abandoned gas station. I look at him with some disbelief. Turns out that the desert stretch doesn't run 70 miles. It runs 110 miles to Vidal Junction, CA. That's a +6-day march through the hot, dry Mojave. I became rather worried about continuing. If David were to come with me, we'd need at least 20 gallons, which would wreck the cart, not to mention make pushing it nearly impossible.
So the gears in my head are turning. The cyclist and I start brainstorming ways to cross the desert. We come up with a few solutions, but none are particularly satisfactory for me. I would have to discuss with David later on.
The cyclist and I then move on to talk about other topics. When we decide to call it a night, he brings me back to his motel room and gives me his cyclist map, which has all the pedestrian-safe routes into Phoenix, AZ, along with details about amenities and lodging on the way. We part ways and I get back to my cart.
For me, that moment was an uncanny event of serendipity. I could have easily eaten at another restaurant, kept silent to myself in that line, or never invited the stranger to my table. However, that experience saved me from walking straight into the Mojave Desert and risk dehydration. My original plan was to continue walking through Twentynine Palms without waiting for David, because I figured I could get more mileage than him.
When David and I met up, he had decided to return home and let me know, which allowed me to walk on with enough water to pass through that desert stretch.
Step 18: Journey: Gratefulness
“The root of joy is gratefulness...It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
— Brother David Steindl-Rast
While I was walking through Phoenix, Arizona, I was invited to stay at a home in the city of Tempe. The residents of the home were very generous to me. They fed me some excellent filet mignon, did my laundry for me, let me sleep in a large bed in a guest room, and bought me extra food and supplies for my journey. They also let me stay for three days, which I gladly accepted given that I had slept beside a canal in the city of Phoenix the night before.
While I was in my room the next morning, I noticed a small, brown moving thing near my bags. I put on my glasses, and look down to see a small, baby rodent struggling for life. So I immediately pick him up and put him in a plastic container lined with paper towels, then put in a small dish of whey protein shake.
Later, I transferred him to a smaller plastic container with air holes, lined with cotton and paper towels. I did a bit of research on baby rodent care, and began feeding him the whey protein shake through the night. The next day, I picked up a few things from Target to properly care for him. I fed him baby formula through a syringe every two hours, with two feedings in the middle of the night. I eventually figured that I could strap his plastic home to my stomach by wrapping a scarf around me to keep him warm. I would sleep with him in that way.
I named him Rockwall, because he had come from a hole in the ceiling.
When we left the house in Phoenix, I had to figure out a new way schedule to meet both the demands of walking and nursing a baby rodent. I walked with him strapped to my belly. Every morning, I made a him new batch of baby formula, hydration solution, and antibiotic solution (he was sneezing and making clicking sounds, evidence for pneumonia). Then I fed him in the morning, ate breakfast, walked for two hours, fed him for brunch, walked for two hours, fed him for lunch, ate lunch, walked two hours, fed him again, walked two hours, and fed him for dinner. At night, I would set up camp and keep him on my belly while I slept. I fed him before going to bed, and at midnight. Sometimes, I fed him in the early morning, before his breakfast feeding.
Each feeding took about half an hour, as I also had to wash and disinfect his feeding syringe. I also washed him, helped him urinate and defecate, massaged his stomach, and cleaned his plastic home. The experience was humbling, as I would sometimes get formula in his noise, or make the wrong amount of formula and have to start all over. I was amazed how much time and energy it took to look after a baby rodent.
In all that, even though I was exhausted from walking and taking care of the guy, I was deeply grateful for Rockwall's presence. Every time I fed him, I felt a serene wave come over me as I watched his tiny hands grasp for the syringe. I watched him open his mouth wide and wait for his milk. Whenever I opened up his container, he would stagger towards my hands with all his might. I watched him sleep in the cotton balls, breathing heavy against the the walls as he fought the pneumonia. I loved the little fella; I felt like we were bonding. Every time I saw him, I felt my heart open wide and warmth flood through my soul.
He eventually grew out his hair to the point where he could regulate his own warmth. I still kept him against my body, but I was less protective of him against the elements while he drank milk. He grew much bigger.
On the 6th day from when we first met, he opened his tiny eyes for the first time in his life, those black pearly eyes. He didn't look around too much, as the sunlight seemed to be too strong for him. Then I fed him as usual, and went on my merry way towards Globe, AZ.
Rockwall and I eventually made it to the canyons of Gila County. I had to run across another shoulder-less bridge; I was so exhausted that I had to set up camp on the side of the road, just beside a cliff. Being so tired, I decided that I wouldn't feed Rockwall during midnight. I figured that it'd already been a week, so he had to be at least two weeks old and could survive for ten hours before morning.
On the morning of the 7th day, I prepared his meal as usual. As I lifted open the cover, I looked to see that he had defecated in the entire container, and he had passed away during the night. I gently put down his home, and felt waves of sadness wash through my body and flow out as tears. I couldn't help but weep for little Rockwall. A part of me felt guilty that I hadn't fed him in the night; other parts were angry that I didn't take him to a vet beforehand, angry that the world was taking away such a defenseless creature.
And then, I began to feel gratitude for the little guy. He has taught me, and is still teaching me, something remarkable about life. God gives all His creation, whether big or small, the power to love. To me, it was rather crazy that I would feel this much love for such a small, insignificant creature. After all, millions of rodents are born and die young.
But in life, you learn to love the particulars, the details, the small pieces that only you can see, know, and touch. Then as they pass on, you let them go. You hold gratefulness in your heart for having experienced even a moment of that love, whether towards a parent, a lover, or even a small, helpless creature. Then you let them go, and continue to love despite the hurt.
Even if I had raised Rockwall to become an adult, I would still outlive him barring any accidents. I would eventually have to let him go, anyway. and maybe I would have taken him for granted over the years, and forgotten those teary-eyed moments feeding him from a syringe. For me, I am grateful that I was able to experience the fleeting nature of life.
God gives, and takes away. We can only feel gratitude for have received at all.
Step 19: Appendix: Resources
I've compiled the online resources that I've mentioned throughout this Instructable so that you guys don't have to search through the pages again. I've also included other resources that you may be useful.
Calorie Requirement Calculator
Calorie Counter in Foods
Daily Nutritional Requirement Calculator
Water Intake Calculator
Adventure Cycling Association
Pacific Crest Trail
- Personal Development:
Just For Women Podcast
The New Man Podcast
Personal Development for Smart People
- Sleep and Shelter:
National Park Foundation
- Transcontinental Walking Blogs:
Coast to Coast by Phil Goddard
I'm Just Walkin' by Matt Green
Nate Walks America by Nate Damm
Walking Man by Gary Hause
Step 20: Appendix: Books
Here are a few books I recommend about walking across the country that I hope will inspire and motivate you to go out there and live an adventure.
A Walk Across America: by Peter Jenkins
The Walk West: A Walk Across America 2: by Peter Jenkins
Into the Wild: by Jon Krakuer
Peace Pilgrim: by Mildred Ryder, the Peace Pilgrim
Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking: by John Francis, PhD
Step 21: Appendix: Contact
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or ideas. I don't always have access to internet (about once a month), but I will get back to you as soon as I can.