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.
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
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>Hey I am entertaining the idea of walking across the country from east coast to west coast.... Only difference beside direction of travel will be that I am paralyzed. I have recently come across an alternate wheelchair that will give me the mobility needs to make the journey physically possible, but I was wondering if you could help me plan a route based on your experiences and a little input from my specific needs.</p>
<p>Lightning storms are not a bit rare in the East. Here in Ohio, they are a semi-regular thing from at least April through October. In Florida, it's a year-round thing.</p>
<p>How much money did it take you to do this? Did you get sponsorships? I want to do walk a cross America with my . How much money will we need?</p>
<p>how did you live unconnected (without internet) for months?</p>
<p>dear bryan</p><p>i'm in the beginning stages of planning my first coast to coast walk and would like some of your imput on the following questions. i'll continue reading your guide - perhaps the answers are there but in the meantime:</p><p>what type of cart did you use? </p><p>what were the pros and cons of it?</p><p>do you have other cart recommendations</p>
<p>My friend,</p><p>I am planning a long backpacking trip through our country, the United States. I have been studying, budgeting and learning for half a year, and am now beginning the process of mapping my way and getting a somewhat good idea of the parts I will walk through. The first issue I will have to tackle is walking out of the desert. I see you got both in, and out, of Arizona alive. The first thing I need to learn is how to walk out of the Arizona desert, where I reside. Could you give me detailed accounts and useful tips for walking through the desert? I would greatly appreciate it. Congratulations on your endeavor, I can't wait for my walk.</p>
Wow that's a long journey!
Harder not either, and help not hell xD
I read your entire article maybe a dozen times. I don't know why, but it speaks to me. I'm leaving mid December to start back packing across the country for love and to find some inner piece I've been wanting. I have questions, and I can't find answers, but I'm glad you posted this. My trip will be either than yours, but maybe I can find Hell on the way. Get back with me sometime! maniac5123@yahoo.com
<p>I have wanted to walk across the country for some time now. You have given me some ideas on how I would go about doing it, but I have one thing that is stopping me from accomplishing my goal, and that is my dog. If I make the trip with her, I have to plan for her as well, which makes the trip at least twice as difficult.</p>
sorry about rockwell
Thanks for sharing.I read every bit your instructional. Im leaving from ocean city maryland in march expecting to reach san francisco by october. I may have some more questions for you over the next few months but i thought id reach out now. Thanks
I live in Warsaw, Poland and currently I'm trying to translate your instructable. One day I want to walk across U.S. too. :) <br>Best wishes <br>-J.
Well thanks Bud for sharing all this with us. I have been trying to find out about walking from East to West of the USA. I am from England. I guess originally I wanted to walk around the globe. The idea came to me after I had done the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Something triggered inside of me as if it's the first time in my life I have found what I really want to do. I more I walked the more I was in touch with my real feelings. So walking across the USA would be the experience of my life and then we will see what the future holds. Your story is touching.
I had a friend who walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela - it was an inspiration for my walk to some extent. My hope is that you get a chance to come across the pond and continue on. Best of luck to you, friend.
You rock! Thanks for sharing the wonderful story and all the great info--I'll be using a lot of it.
This would be a really fun thing to do and I imagine you would come back with so many stories. Do you have any <a href="http://www.arcfinancialllc.com" rel="nofollow">financial advice</a> for anyone considering such a trip.
good job! i wouldn't even drive across country let alone walk or bike.
Go denmarrk
Curious about the cart. Do they actual sell carts like this? I'm not very crafty would I be able to find one at a camping store or somewhere else?
What we used was a run-about brand stroller, and took away all the seats and miscellaneous extras that we didn't need. <br> <br>You can find the one we used here: <br> <br>http://bergdesign.net/triple.htm <br> <br>They're a bit pricey, and we bought ours used on eBay for about $100. Try to shop around to see if you can get a good price - you may even get one donated if you let them know you'll be journeying with it.
Wow, this is a great story! When you did this journey, did you hire a <a href="http://www.lvaccident.com/html/job.php3" rel="nofollow">accident insurance?</a>
I enjoyed reading this story, and was so sad to learn that Rockwall had died... Thank you for sharing your story, and for reminding us of the gift of feeling love and gratitude.
A good meal for training is rice and eggs.<br> <strong>2 1/2 cups steamed rice<br> 2 eggs<br> some butter<br> a splash of soysauce<br> a wooden spoon</strong><br> fry the rice with the butter<br> mix the eggs with the soysauce<br> put the rice in a bowl<br> fry the eggs<br> then when the eggs are almost done throw in the rice<br> mix and put the rice and eggs in the bowl and enjoy.<br> perfect it as you cook it each day.<br> I like to put in a small amount of rice viniger in the rice while it cooks.
Given their weight, cost and power consumption, I'd think twice before bringing laptops and smartphones to this kind of journey. A cheaper, older phone (think along the lines of Nokia 3310 or a bit more advanced) can go for a week without charging, survives nearly everything that could happen, and still can be used to make emergency calls or get vital information from the net.
Hey, This is something I've been contemplating doing for a while, and just have a few questions. 1) How do you find a place to sleep every night? Do you run into any legal problems sleeping on the side of the road or other places? 2) How much water do you bring at one time, and how do you keep up a steady supply of it? And lastly, a weird question, but for travelling across the country it seems kind of important - on long stretches where there really arent' any towns, or it's night time and nothing's open - what about restrooms? haha. if you can answer any of these it'd be a huge help.... :) Thanks for the instructable, awesome information, and inspiring!
After me and my best friend graduate High school and before we enlist we plan on making our walking into a charity for war veterans.<br>
I'm 60 and at a cross roads in my life. Your description was very enlightening and gave me the encouragement to continue moving forward with a new career. Thanks for the instructable.<br>
Thank you all for your generous comments, advice, and emails. I'm a bit overwhelmed by the amount of viewership going on (considering that this is my second Instructable ever), but I'm learning to adapt with intermittent internet access.<br> <br> <p> Made it to New Mexico; hanging out at university in Silver City. Since I've got some proper communication equipment, I'd like to share a few more photos from the road with ya'll.</p>
Great writeup! I only have a couple of suggestions;<br><br>http://freecampsites.net/ maybe of help to you,<br>and I didn't see anything on having any kind of music for entertainment, what may work with your solar panel is to use a small USB powered speaker and a lithium ion battery. The speaker in mind is the Rosewill RNA-SYM 2.1, <br>http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16836280003<br>and a small battery like a backup battery for cellphone with a USB plug, and your good to rock out all day!<br><br>Good luck with your journey and I wish you the best!
Me, being a swede and just barely entering adulthood with all it's cons and pros... Well, this inspired me to make a similar journey. <br>After some years of studying and working I will walk the frozen north. After that, if the world will allow it, I would love to walk America!
First of, absolutely love this Instructable so far.<br>And for the question; i own a duster and a cowboy hat. Would this suffice for a cross country journey with some warm clothes under the duster itself?
Keep it up brother! Life is way too short to not follow your dreams.
After a bicycle tour I learned to swear by chocolate milk. It has all the necessary ingredients for such an endevour: fats, complex and simple carbs, and even some protein. You can find some even fortified with potassium which is good to keep those muscles from cramping up. <br><br>This has really made me jones for the road again. Keep on treking.
I second the chocolate milk recommendation! It is a quick way to replace 1000 calories and it can pack quite a bit of protein as well.
Your walk is giving you and education that you'll not get with a masters degree. Money can't buy that kind of education. God be with you!
I admire your openness and spirit of inquiry. This piece has been on my mind for a few days. If you are motivated, write a book! I'd read it. Doesn't need to have any overarching 'message'. <br>'In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few'. (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind).<br>Stay safe and keep your beginner's mind.
Keep up the good work i am very interested altho i prefer Biking but costs would go way up for maint on the bike well here is a IDble i like <br><br>http://www.instructables.com/id/Backpacking-Cooler/ i found this and RobbySkateboard said Wouldn't it be nice if you could go backpacking for a week and be able to have an ice cold soda on that last day? Or to keep sausage and eggs cold for longer? Well for the total cost of less than 10 bucks you can! This is a cheap and effective DIY. The whole thing weighs barely anything even with 3 ice packs, you'll definitely be carrying more weight from the food you'll be keeping cold rather than the cooler and cooling packs themselves. This project will take you an hour or so and the payoff would still be worth it even if it took 10 hours.<br>
Truly Wonderful.<br>Really enjoyed reading this, <br>Thank you for producing something so inspirational.<br>I wish you good luck for the rest of your journey.
Sounds like a ball ! ! I've often thought about doing a walk about. It runs in my family. Both of my grandfathers were noted for going walk about. One of them went for a walk &amp; wasn't seen again for 18 years. Of course, he was declared legally dead in the meantime &amp; everyone was really surprised when he showed up again. The other one would only be gone for 2 or 3 months at a time.<br>Have a great trek. You'll have stories to tell for the rest of your life - - -
I really enjoyed reading about your experience so far and look forward to hearing more about your continuing adventure. Your instructable was very informative. It's dangerous in my town to try to walk to the store a mile away (no sidewalks, no shoulders and the drivers are crazy) so reading this made me long for the days when I didn't have a car and I walked everywhere in the towns I lived in. There is something about walking with a purpose that makes me feel peaceful and more aware of my surroundings.
Oh and I just wanted to add that when you say a backpack can cause stress on the back and shoulders, perhaps this is because it was fitted, worn and/or packed improperly. The hipbelt of a pack, when worn and fitted correctly, transfers almost all of the weight to your legs, so if anything a backpack might cause stress on your hips, knees, and/or ankles, but not your back or shoulders. By loading the pack with the heaviest items close to the body and between the shoulder blades, this creates a stable load where the shoulder straps are there merely for balance. The hip belt does all the work. Makes for some diesel quads and calves!
Ah, that must have been it then. As I'm looking forward, I'm finding that I would much rather prefer a lbackpack over a cart, especially once I get out of desert country. Like I say, much of the weight is in water for these week-long treks through the sand.<br><br>And yes, I thought about the odds of meeting another man on the road. Not to mention he was just about done with his trek, whereas I had just started.
I would modify that cart to have a skin on it add a couple solar cells and some batteries you would have lights and computer power. I would also add an alarm to it they make a bike alarm that will go off alerting a pager you carry. Look into hammocks they are light weight since you have this trailer you could carry an A frame this way you only need one solid spot to anchor to then you drive a couple stakes in the ground this way your camp could be set anywhere since you use a tarp to cover your hammock and cart. Some places you could probably add a sail to that cart and the wind from the semi trucks could very well propell you down the road. If you wanted to you could build a small frame to cover you as you walked for rainy days.
One thing about the tent, never, never, NEVER keep food in your tent to keep it away from critters. They can smell it through the tent, and will try to get it if they want it enough. You don't want a bear or mountain lion coming in to get a snack. Even smaller animals like raccoons can mess you up pretty bad, and can carry diseases.<br><br>Use a rope to suspend your food from a tree, out of reach of most of the critters. If they do get it, not a big deal, better than them getting you!
You met someone else who just happened to be walking around the country as well? The odds of that make it a bit hard to swallow, but I'll buy into the Forrest Gump aspect of it. I'm a total believer in &quot;Hike Your Own Hike&quot; but in regards to the cart, damn son! Wouldn't it have been much more practical to carry an average of 20 or 30 pounds on your back, 40 pounds at the very most (including food and water)? I've hitch hiked and tramped a bit, albeit not yet on the scale of your journey, but to me, the most beautiful thing about living this lifestyle is the simplicity of only needing a few things, and relying on your creativity and a dash of luck to take care of the rest. Beyond the Ten Essentials (knife, compass, first aid kit, shelter, extra clothing, etc), not much else is needed for humans to make it out there. But hey, like I said, Hike Your Own Hike brother! Hopefully I'll see you out there one day (from the front seat of a car, I save my walking for the woods!).

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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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