From Santee, the finish line for my third walk across America was 30 miles away. Technically it was only 20, but I wanted my walk to total 2,800 miles, so I added a few extra steps during the last couple days.
My amazing host in Santee, Melanie, joined me for a 14 mile walk on the second to last day. We left her house with PJ and walked a circuitous route through Santee and into Mission Trails Regional Park. In the park, we followed a quiet, paved road surrounded by beautiful mountains before hitting Mission Gorge Road. Melanie is an incredibly active woman, so she had no trouble walking the miles with PJ and I. The day flew by!
I was down to my last 16 miles on March 12th! The final day of my walk had finally arrived! Melanie dropped PJ and I back off near the entrance to Mission Trails Regional Park and we started walking. I wanted to be alone for the first few hours of the day to reflect on this incredible journey.
Unfortunately, the first two hours didn’t leave much time for peace, quiet, or reflection. I lost the sidewalk shortly into the stroll and was left walking a narrow bike lane for a few miles. There were several difficult highway interchanges to navigate and a lot of traffic. After six miles, I was still battling. California continued to keep me on my toes.
Eight miles into the day, I finally hit a continuous sidewalk, stopped getting turned around (no matter how many miles I walk, I still have difficulties navigating in big cities), and was able to relax.
Melanie met back up with PJ and I five miles from the ocean. We walked quietly through Mission Bay Park, along a wide sidewalk bordering a marina, then hit the busy Mission Beach Entertainment District, complete with bars, restaurants, and an old wooden roller coaster.
I caught my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean’s white caps, effortlessly tumbling towards the coastline as we neared the boardwalk along the beach.
“What a shame, PJ. That’s the ocean – I was just hitting my stride,” I joked.
The boardwalk was filled with happy beachgoers, busking musicians, skateboarders, cyclists, and joggers.
We walked a slow two miles north to Crystal Pier, enjoying the ocean breeze and a picture perfect San Diego day.
After reaching the pier, I prepared PJ for one final sandy push to the Pacific. I struggled to get him through several mounds of sand right off the boardwalk. After a few hefty pushes, we reached packed sand.
I stopped, took in the breathtaking ocean views for a moment, and removed my shoes and socks. I gave Melanie a big smile and took a few slow steps forward. Then, inexplicably, I ran towards the ocean. PJ and I hit the chilly mid-March waters of the Pacific at a full sprint and officially completed our 122 day journey. Both of us connected every step along the way.
I was euphoric and excited as I let the chilly waters of the Pacific soothe my aching feet. I was relieved to be upright and healthy. But I also felt a familiar bittersweet feeling in my stomach – I knew I would miss the walk. Memories from all three of my journeys came flooding back as PJ and I stood in the knee deep ocean water.
I spent 99.99 percent of the last 122 days by myself, and yet, I was never alone. God was never absent, and I always felt the support from family and friends scattered throughout the country. Perfect strangers showed me incredible amounts of love and generosity. People opened up their hearts and souls to me, and I did the same. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU to everyone who helped me on this journey. This wasn’t a solo adventure. I needed every one of you.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve walked across America three times. I’m not the same person that started walk one in Virginia Beach on April 4th, 2015.
I found sobriety by the time I began walk two. I’m not the same person that left Portland, Maine on April 12th, 2018.
And I’m not the same person who left Jacksonville, Florida on November 11th, 2020. One of the consistent parallels between my walks, “real life,” and my sobriety is what can happen when a person strives for incremental progress every day. On my walks, I took millions of steps to accomplish my goals. In sobriety, I need to do the same thing. Big goals and big changes aren’t accomplished overnight. They take time, patience, and a lot of steps along the way.
As far as my journey in sobriety and continual personal growth goes, I know I will never reach the finish line. It truly is a lifelong, one day at a time process. I’m going to make mistakes (I’ve made some big ones along the way) and I’ll never be perfect. But with God’s grace, I can move on from my mistakes, become a better person, and grow during the process.
There is a sense of closure and completion regarding my “career” as a long-distance walker. I knew after my second walk I would eventually tackle the Southern States. It was just a question of when.
And now, days removed from completing this goal, another resounding truth continues to echo in my head. “Wherever I go, there I am.” I was running from myself on my first walk. I refused to face the fact that I am an alcoholic. I believed a cross-country walk would fix me. It didn’t, and my problems joined me for every step.
I can’t outrun (or outwalk) my thoughts or problems. There is no magical fix. For better or worse, I am stuck with the head that’s planted on top of my shoulders. And it is my sole responsibility to make sure that I take care of myself. In order to do that, I need to take action everyday. I need to be an active participant in my recovery. I need to seek out God in order to stay spiritually, mentally, and emotionally healthy. If I do that, everything else will fall into place. No matter what circumstances I face, whether I’m employed or unemployed, rich or poor, single or taken, I have a shot at happiness if I hold myself accountable and keep my side of the street clean.
Wherever I go, there I am. Once I FINALLY wrapped my head around the fact that I can grow into a better person, a better brother, a better son, a better friend, and a better partner, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, it opened up my eyes to the endless possibilities life has to offer. No matter what challenges life throws my way, if I do my part, I know God’s got me, and good things will follow.
Favorite Three Pictures
Days – 122
Miles – 2,800
Jars of Peanut Butter Consumed – 109
Roadside Change Count – $6.82. Just about enough for three spicy chicken sandwiches and two cheeseburgers at McDonald’s!
Cumulative Miles Per Shower – 73.68. I took 38 showers between Jacksonville and San Diego!
What’s next? That’s a great question. And I’m happy to report I don’t have an answer. A year ago, that would have driven me crazy. Not knowing the answer to where my life would take me, or not having a plan in place for the next step was unthinkable. Now, it excites me. My future is an unwritten book, and I can’t wait to begin writing the next chapter. The writing starts NOW.
With love and gratitude,
P.S. Walk on!