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:

 - Terrain

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.

 - Wildlife

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.

 - Distance

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.

 - Elevation

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.

 - Sights

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."

 - Amenities

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.
<p>43 yr old woman is looking for someone to help share expenses and maybe look out for each other during the trip. (Lots of freaks out there, ladies. Be careful!) Wanted to leave Nov but that is not going to happen unfortunately and it's possible to leave mid March or else I'll have to just wait again til Oct 2017. Good luck everyone...may all your dreams come true! God bless~</p>
<p>Hi I have been researching how to walk across America and came across your interest for possible walking companions. My name is Deb and I have walked across Spain, France, and Italy, I'd love to talk further about your plans. Deb</p>
<p>Hi Deborah, Wow sounds like you have a ton of experience. This is going to be my first time.You can find me here if still interested. https://www.facebook.com/solina.marie</p>
<p>I'm not sure if anyone looks at this anymore, but I am planning on walking from upstate New York to anywhere in the far West Coast. The route isn't thoroughly thought through yet, but I am looking for a walking buddy of some sort. I am sick of feeling like I have accomplished nothing in my lifetime and am seeking any sense of fulfillment. You can email me at lukashughes13@gmail.com or facebook me at simply Lukas Hughes. My profile picture is of me at graduation. </p><p>Peace and Love</p>
<p>amazing info man i plan on taking a walk across montana soon and this guide will be extremely helpful! i plan to walk from my favorite place lincoln mt to my home town culbertson in memorie of my father and to honor my mother aswell its only about 400 miles but this guide hopefully provides me with the necessities to do so!</p>
Me and my fiancee plan to travel north from Daytona Beach, FL - Asheville, NC - San Diego, CA on Saturday September 3rd, 2016 we will have two dogs limited funds and backpacks. Anyone see us your welcome to join and appreciated for help.
<p>21 here from Northeast TN, going to South Florida then planning a bigger trip from east coast to west, would enjoy company and tips!</p>
<p>When do you leave? Because i have had the same idea ever since i was in the 10th grade. Now im in college and I still plan on going. I wanted to go from The ever glades of florida to the HoH national rainforest in washington</p>
Hey there! I don't know if you're planning on going still but I'm 20 from Central NJ wanting to head to the west coast, maybe if the journeys coincide we could meet up
<p>Have you left yet? I'm in Michigan right now and wanting to head to California where I'm from soon from the East Coastline. My name is Joceline btw =)</p>
<p>Hi - I just sent you a message on fb. I am a 36 year old woman, also originally from MI, wanting to do a west coast to east coast ASAP!</p>
<p>Cool! I'm starting a walk from Indiana to NC to touch the coast and then I'll walk back to the West Coast =)</p>
<p>hey man, i'm also 20 from central-ish nj and am taking the american discovery trail this summer</p><p>http://www.discoverytrail.org/</p>
<p>Have you left yet? I'm in Michigan and ready to walk to California. I'm Joceline btw =)</p>
<p>Joceline - sent you a message on FB .... lets go!!!!! sooner the better!</p>
<p>hey man, 21 from north bergen. looking to walk to the west coast starting soon before august 1st. if you haven't left yet, would love to walk together. lmk!!</p>
<p>hi me and my friend are planning to leave for california from ny any where from august to october. if you havnt left yet we could meet up some where</p>
<p>Hey!! I'm in Florida and looking for company for a big trip- if you're not here yet/still here and would like some company please message @ripmainblog on tumblr. :)</p>
<p>I am looking for someone to join me on my epic adventure. I am wanting to walk west coast to east coast as soon as possible. I need to find myself, I am terrified to do this alone .... anyone up for the adventure of a lifetime?</p><p>lostgyrl@silentlyscreamining.com</p>
I live in the midwest and I need to figure out how I can get to East Coast and start somewhere so I can get to the west coast that's why I was scared to and how much money you need but otherwise that's it all planned out then
<p>are you set on your route? would you be willing to do west coast to east coast?</p>
We an do it together
I'm in when are you planning to leave? I have a trip planned for next year if you want to join I also live in the midwest
<p>I have just spent the last few hours reading this entire article, and i must say its amazing and inspires me! I am a fellow wanderer and nomad, all though i have been some what stationed/stuck in my current location south Mississippi for around 3 years now and im about ready to up and pack my bags, gear, and bike! Im gonna try and take a journey all across the US! Like you i have lost my father some years ago, he was a traveler of sorts been to more places then me, he was a trucker for over 35 years. He and other reasons are my inspirations plus im doing it for myself. Thank you for sharing your incredible adventure!</p>
<p>sent you a message on fb</p>
I'm 49, will turn 50 this year, and my life is utterly blah. I'm going to walk across the country to try to raise a few dollars for breast cancer research. My cousin, who is more like a little sister to me, was diagnosed when she was about 33, had all the chemo and radiation, and went into remission. A few years ago, the cancer returned. This time she did a double mastectomy - I think her comment was &quot;I'm not going to let my boobs kill me.&quot; I've got nothing going on in my life, so I thought I'd try to raise some money, even if it's just a few bucks, for breast cancer research. I figured that this stunt would be odd enough to get my acquaintances to donate something.
<p>did you go? are you still interested?</p>
I'm super scared I'm already but what should i do should I go for it
<p>lets go!</p>
I'm 3, live in Philadelphia and would love to walk across the country to San Francisco California. I lost my marriage and would do the walk in the memory of the love that I carry for this girl. Would any one join for this amazing journey?
I'm a 37 years old guy and looking for a walking companion.
<p>I am in the same situation, I am wanting to go west to east .... ASAP, any interest?</p>
I am 39 female and not in the best shape. I have depression and am becoming anti-social. I have always wanted to do this to see the world a different way/ slowly.my family all but my husband are for it. I'm a little scared but am buying small items, ie...stroller back pack, food for camping when it's on sale. I've been planning this for about 2 yrs. I plan to get closer to God by finishing the bible. And getting to know my limitations. I know I have rescue if needed. But I hope to make it when I start out. Signed scared but determined
<p>did you do this or are you still? I have the fun trifecta of ocd/anxiety and depression. i am ready to walk/jog/crawl .... whatever it takes from west to east coast asap ... I am a 36 year old woman.</p>
Hi, where are you at regarding your plan for this journey?
I'm 40 and planning to do the same. Maybe our paths will cross.
<p>So, did you leave yet? I am also planning a cross country trip and I am leaving Oct. 7th, two days from now. Please check my site......Hawk's Walk across the USA..........it's on Facebook. Which route will you be taking? Take Care, Jim</p>
<p>So, did you leave yet? I'm not planning a cross country trip, but I am curious to know how it went for you. I didn't find anything about Hawk's Walk...</p>
Ive made it no where in my life thus far. I want to find a walking mate. Im heading west i live in illinois. I need to do this to prove i can do something.
If anyone is interested email me at w1nged1@outlook.com<br>
<p>I just sent you an email.</p>
<p>I am 43 years old. Lost my mom a few yrs back and things haven't been so great at home. I need to get out in nature and breathe in some good clean fresh air. Get closer to God. It may sound crazy but I do think this walk will help. I'd like to go from Charleston, S.C. to Seattle, Wa in December. In mid Sept I'm thinking of a shorter walk from Charleston to Jacksonville, Fl. Anyone interested please contact me.</p>
<p>Hi</p><p>I am doing an west coast to east coast walk ...soon, if your interested.</p>
<p>Hello Everyone! I am a 26 year old male and plan on departing from Las Vegas to colorado and then hopefully to florida it will just be me and my 16 month old dobie.So anyone looking to link up and share paths for a while feel free to email me at Palacio@yahoo.com this is my first time ever doing this so I will be learning as i go :) One step at a time but I will get there! much peace and love to anyone in need !</p>
Im a 42 yr old guy wanting to walk from arkansas to washington state...anybody wanna go just me and my dog...
<p>I'm wanting to leave in Nov. When are you leaving?</p>
<p>When are you leaving?</p>
In 3 years i will be traviling from the beaches in virginia to sunny L.A . We must wait for military obligations to be done with, but none the less the time will give us more preparations. None the less i was wondering if any one has any advice before a first timmer goes.
<p>Hey guys! So cool to see so many people interested in adventures! I am 27, and planning to walk from Orlando FL, to New York. Though I am planning this for many personal reasons. This will also be a documentary blog about America. Specifically focused on homelessness, and different types of adversity within a wide span of communities. Diversity is key. Everyone has their own struggles, whether it be a regular 9-5 blue collar, or struggling homeless man/woman, I want to tell their story, and give people a different perspective on life they otherwise would not be able to experience. Throughout my (or our) journey, I (we) will be interviewing many people, asking about their lives, how they got where they are, and what they learned throughout their journeys as well. Sort-of a way to get their story out there, or in the least, vent. Most of the trip will be a mix between camping, and walking. Lots, and lots, and LOTS of walking, lol, and will take anywhere from 18, to 28 days. But that is part of the adventure. If you think you'd be interested in walking with me, you can contact me through my Email: jonimerks@gmail.com, or just send me a pm here through *Instructables. Happy adventuring! ;)</p>
<p>I am walking from Spring/Houston Texas to head up toward Colorado then over to Oregon</p>

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Bio: I recently graduated with a BS in Chemistry and am currently pursuing a masters in Chemistry at University of California, Irvine. After returning from an ... More »
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