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.