Bayou Country

I was 16 miles from the Louisiana state line when I woke up on December 7th. It was a chilly 39 degrees outside as I packed up my gear. The woman camping “next door” brought me a cup of piping hot coffee, which helped warm me up. I walked back to the highway and said goodbye to the Gulf of Mexico around 8 AM. I had enjoyed walking next to its beautiful waters for a few days.

The last 16 miles in Mississippi were incredibly peaceful. I walked a few back roads that had next to no traffic. I remembered my friend Wanda I had met a few days before, who loves walking without her phone or music. She inspired me to stash my phone inside PJ and walk in silence for the first four hours of the day. I cherished my quiet surroundings and got “lost” in the beautiful forests I walked through.

After 12 miles, I hit the wide shoulder of Highway 90 and closed in on Louisiana. I crossed a bridge that spanned the White River and officially hit the fourth state of my journey. As you’ll see in coming days, walking across bridges will become part of my normal routine!

Maybe I’ll touch up on my French in Louisiana?

I walked across a total of five bridges in the first four miles of the Pelican State. Although none of them had a shoulder, traffic levels were low, which made crossing them much easier.

I reached the outskirts of Slidell near dark. Louisiana came across as sinister and unwelcoming initially. Most of the land directly off the road was fenced. Private property/no trespassing signs were hung on trees every 30 feet. The forests were thick, dark, and brambly.

I reminded myself not to worry about where I would sleep. A solution would present itself. It always does. “Keep the faith.” A few miles later I passed a fishing shop that had a Coke sign hanging in the window. I noticed a nice grassy spot under a massive live oak tree on the property. That looked like a great to sleep, I told PJ. I went inside. The smell of gutted fish hit me as soon as I walked in. Six men were sitting around a table, drinking beer. This place was half fishing shop, half bar. All their eyes fixated on me. I said hello with a big smile. I bought a Coke and some snacks and introduced myself.

The owner of Jes Tackle is an older man named Richard. He was skeptical at first….about me, about my walk, and about my sleeping there for the night.

He must have picked up on some desperation in my eyes. I didn’t want to face the shoulderless highway to the west of me at dark and at the peak of rush hour. “I’m not saying you can camp there, but I’m not saying you can’t either. Catch my drift? If something happens to you, I’m not responsible. And don’t break into my shop overnight,” Richard said, only half kidding.

It wasn’t a ringing endorsement, but was good enough for me. I talked with the beer-sipping Louisianans for a bit before heading outside and setting up camp. Right before dark, one of the men from the “bar” came over to my tent and gave me a box of brownies, a half dozen oatmeal cream pies, and a full box of nutty butty bars. I was set on the junk food front for weeks. Best of all, nobody messed with me overnight. After all, I’m the crazy guy in the tent pushing the jogging stroller across America.

I made my way through Slidell in the morning and began a 31 mile walk down the Tammany Trace. “The Trace,” as the locals call it, is a paved recreational path that runs from Slidell to Covington. I spent a blissful day-and-a-half on the trail free from vehicle noise and narrow bridges. It was heavenly. I cowboy camped on a horse path right off The Trace near Convington on my second night in Louisiana.

A little fall foliage on The Trace!

It was back to reality after making it through Covington. I was three hard days from Baton Rouge and I had some tough walking on Highway 190 ahead of me. My biggest obstacles so far in Louisiana have been bridges. On the walk from Covington to Hammond, I crossed 11 of them. From Hammond to Walker, there were 10 PJ and I clumsily jogged across. Most of them were 20 or 30 yards long. Four were about a quarter of a mile. In the case of the longer bridges, PJ and I actually walk with traffic. None of the bridges had shoulders, so by walking with traffic, we force cars to slow down and scoot over for us if they can’t safely get around. I literally put my life in the hands of motorists. There is nowhere to bail if a driver isn’t paying attention (though I do wait for a sizeable gap in traffic before crossing a bridge).

After a few crossings, we got the hang of it! After a 27 mile walk from Covington, I camped outside a gas station in Hammond. I reached Walker (appropriately named, I’d say) the following night. We hit town at rush hour and came to a bridge that was way too dangerous to cross given the traffic levels. Fortunately, there was a nice level spot under the bridge where I camped for the night.

One of the highlights from the stretch between Covington and Baton Rouge was meeting Bobbie Jean and her daughter, Haley. The duo puts together holiday gift boxes filled with chocolate and other goodies and delivers them to homebound seniors and people who tend to be isolated during the holiday season. They love spreading holiday cheer in their community! They certainly brightened my day by visiting with me for a bit and sending me on my way with a box of cholotaes. Insert Forrest Gump reference here! Keep doing what you’re doing, ladies, and thank you!

I pushed PJ across the tricky bridge that led into downtown Walker early the following morning when traffic was at a minimum. From downtown Walker, the walk into Baton Rouge was a narrow, high trafficked, difficult 24 mile walk. Without a wide shoulder, I pushed PJ through the roadside grass, mud, and on some uneven slopes. But we made it to the Mighty Mississippi in one piece.

After 31 days and 720 miles of walking, PJ and I reached the quarter-pole on our third walk across America in Louisiana’s capital city.

PJ and I hit the Mississippi right next to the USS Kidd. This is the third time I have walked from the ocean and reached America’s mightiest river!

I’m taking the weekend off and staying with Terry Jones. I met Terry on my first walk at a gas station in Central Wyoming. He was helping his daughter, Robyn, move to Washington State. Terry reached out to me a few weeks ago and invited me to stay with him when I hit town.

Terry and his girlfriend, Insa, have spoiled me rotten with some amazing meals at Mike Andersons (a staple for seafood in the Baton Rouge area), and at Houmas Plantation. I have gotten my fill of oysters, shrimp, crawfish, crab, and catfish – all delicious! I hadn’t eaten any seafood on my journey before reaching Baton Rouge (packaged tuna fish doesn’t count). Terry and Insa are very generous, kind, thoughtful, and fun people. I couldn’t ask for better hosts – thank you both!

Terry and Insa, enjoying some bread pudding for dessert at the Houmas House. They know how to treat a hungry walker!
The Houmas House was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The old plantation has incredible gardens and was festively decorated for the holidays. I even spotted a few reindeer!

I’ll be leaving Baton Rouge Monday, December 14th. My original plan was to walk Highway 190 through the rest of Louisiana, but after getting some local advice from Terry, I will be following a few smaller highways up to Alexandria and then continue west from there. 190 has a few mile long causeways without shoulders that would be dangerous to walk. Heading to Alexandria will add a few miles, but it will be worth it to walk a quieter, safer road – in theory!

Favorite Three Pictures

I am doing my best on this walk to “be where my feet are” and enjoy the beauty and possibilities of today. With so much alone time, it’s easy to get caught up in the past and dwell on mistakes or regrets, or think too much about the future and what I’m going to do after this walk. But when I’m able to be where my feet are and live in the moment, I’m more likely to enjoy right now and experience some growth TODAY. Everything else will work itself out!
Enjoying some views of the bayou near White Kitchen, LA.
The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. This is the second capitol building I’ve visited on my walk! The first was in Tallahassee, FL.

Walk Recap

33 days, 720 miles walked

24 jars of peanut butter consumed

Roadside change count – $2.65

Favorite roadside find – A pair of brand new, high visibility, cool weather gloves. I found them while I was searching for a camping spot outside of Walker.

Bridges crossed in Louisiana – 30

Encounters with law enforcement – 0

Miles per shower in Louisiana – 37.66

Until next time, walk on!

-Ben

Sunshine, Cotton, and Magnolias

It was a good thing I had a roof over my head in North Pensacola. It poured…all day. But by the morning of November 30th, I was left with dry, sunny skies. My 27 mile walk to Robertsdale, Alabama, was a day of many firsts for this walk.

I hit the first state line of my journey after nine miles and entered Alabama! A new state always provides a morale boost. After 429 miles in Florida, I was certainly ready for a new state abbreviation.

PJ’s photography skills need a little work, but not bad for his first try!

There was one immediate difference after reaching Alabama – the shoulders. Florida spoiled me with impeccable shoulders for every mile. Alabama’s were narrower, bumpier, and had rumble strips, often in the center of the shoulder, which make for a bumpy ride and thoroughly annoy PJ. Nevertheless, we adjusted quickly and made pretty good time during the sunny 27 mile walk to Robertsdale.

Another trip first – I actually had a host lined up for the night before leaving in the morning (and I would get to sleep in an RV)! Cami, who has followed my walks on Instagram, invited PJ and I to stay on her property when she realized I would be walking through Baldwin County. When we arrived, a smiling Cami was waiting in the front yard. Had it not been for COVID, I’m sure she would have given me a big welcome hug. I felt at home immediately. The RV was stocked with food, coffee, and fresh towels. She even bought a space heater to keep me warm overnight considering the temp was supposed to dip into the upper 20’s. And, I was able to shower for the THIRD day in a row! We shared travel stories for a few hours before bed and visited again in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the restful night in Cami’s “she-shed,” as she calls it. Thank you for your hospitality and making me feel so welcome!

Cami and I outside of her “she-shed.”

From Cami’s house, I walked due west on Highway 104 and met up with the East Shore Trail, which meandered through historic neighborhoods and into quaint downtown Daphne. I ended the day cowboy camping off Highway 98, but not after a little excitement.

Near the end of the trail after dark, I came across a wooden barrier right in the middle of “Gator Alley,” which is a popular boardwalk where people can spot alligators in the surrounding water. I searched for a way around the roadblock, but PJ can’t swim and he’s also afraid of alligators. The nearby highways also passed over the waterway, but were heavily trafficked and didn’t have suitable shoulders. If I walked a series of secondary roads to bypass the swamp and nearby interstate, it would have been a 14 mile detour (only to end up a mile north). It was a real head scratcher.

My best option, it seemed, was to roll the dice and hop the four foot tall roadblock. After all, the boardwalk on the other side looked stable to my amateur eye. I unloaded PJ and clumsily lifted him over the barrier. He needs to walk more because he was heavy. After I made it across the sturdy wooden pieces, I quickly reloaded my gear and gingerly pushed PJ across the wooden planks until we were safely on solid ground. Thankfully, we didn’t end up as an alligator’s entree. Curiously, there weren’t any signs or barricades at the end of the trail announcing it was closed (nor were there any next to the roadblock). Maybe it was some elaborate prank by some neighborhood kids. I’ll never know.

I was excited to walk into Mobile the following morning. I was pushing PJ across the Highway 98 Causeway as the sun came up over misty Mobile Bay.

I made a few new friends, Jeff and Larry, four miles into my day. They were fishing and having a few beers when I rolled by. We chatted on the roadside for 15 minutes. I declined the offer for a beer (by the grace of God, that’s easy to say no to these days) but accepted some breakfast sausage and a bag full of cookies. I got both their phone numbers in case I ran into trouble in Mobile. As I snapped their picture, they let out a loud “Roll Tide!”

I met some awesome people in Alabama, but I’m still not a Crimson Tide fan! Sorry fellas!

I continued towards Mobile after the fun roadside chat. Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct (or legal) route for a pedestrian into downtown Mobile. I had to do a big loop to the north and walk the three-mile long Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge before heading back south into downtown. The bridge rose hundreds of feet above the Mobile River and was the closest thing to a mountain I have walked on my journey so far. The views from the “summit” were breathtaking. After a three mile walk south through the Mobile Railyards, we finally hit downtown.

A view from the top of the mountain!

Mobile is a lovely city. The sidewalks we walked were lined with stately, Southern homes and live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. I camped off a bike path on the south end of town as Christmas music from a nearby mall lulled me to sleep.

One of many live oak tree tunnels in Mobile.

It was a suburban walk through South Mobile and Theodore for 15 miles before getting back into the country. I passed by field after field of Alabama’s cash crop, cotton, before reaching Grand Bay. There, I had a care package from home waiting for me. The box included a new solar panel, a sleeping bag liner, snacks, a sports page from the weekend the Broncos beat the Dolphins, and a nice note. Thanks Mom and Dad!

My feet still felt fresh an hour before dark so I walked another four miles to the Mississippi State Line. I camped in the woods right next to the welcome sign!

Two down – six to go! A little too much grass in that picture PJ, for future reference.

After a stormy night, I began the 85 mile walk across the Magnolia State. Traffic increased as I neared Pascagoula, but the shoulder on 90 was MASSIVE. I could have fit five PJs on that thing! It certainly made for some comfortable walking. After a visit to Lighthouse Park in Pascagoula, I continued into Gautier (pronounced go-shay. French pronunciation isn’t one of my strong suits). I met my host for the night, Thomas, at city hall. One of my good friends from home put me in touch with him. We loaded PJ into the back of his truck and made the 30 minute drive to his house. Thomas and I had a blast sharing our travel experiences with one another. After so many nights of stealth camping on this walk, my appreciation for hosts (and a roof over my head) has gone…through the roof! Thank you Thomas!

On day two in Mississippi, I finally hit the Gulf of Mexico in Ocean Springs. Since then, I have been “going Gulfing,” as I like to say. After passing through Ocean Springs, I walked across the Biloxi Bay Bridge. The wide pedestrian lane allowed me to take in the ocean and enjoy the views. I also walked with a woman named Wanda for two miles – my first walking partner of the trip! Wanda completes a seven mile, marina-to-marina walk every Saturday across the bridge. She doesn’t bring her phone or listen to music, she just walks as a way to reconnect with her surroundings and herself. Thank you for the company, Wanda! Keep walking!

My first views of the Gulf from Ocean Springs!

For the remainder of the day, I had a break from traffic and walked a series of sidewalks, bike paths, and boardwalks along the Gulf. I struck up a few conversations with other walkers and a few cyclists as the day progressed. With the advantage of a safe pathway to walk, I continued my day well after dark, eventually passing through Gulfport. There was a beautiful light display at the city park and they were showing “Elf” on a projector screen. PJ and I enjoyed dinner and a show before walking another three miles.

Gulfport getting festive!

I pushed PJ onto the beach at 8 PM and cowboy camped 20 yards from the water. Hands down the best camping view on the trip!

After enjoying the sunrise on December 6th, our Gulf walk continued through Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, and into Waveland, where I am camping at Buccaneer State Park. My goal was to get here at 3 PM. We arrived at 2:58. I hoped to get my tent set up by 3:30 since rain was supposed to move in at 4. I had camp ready to go at 3:40. Minutes later, the rain started. For a guy without a schedule, I sure stuck to the schedule today!

The campground tonight is 13 miles from Louisiana – I hope to be in the Pelican State by noon tomorrow!

Favorite Three Pictures

I call this “The Hand of Palm.” This view took my breath away.
The Bay St. Louis Bridge.
Approaching downtown Mobile from the wrong side of the tracks.

Bonus Photo – what would you call this? A snow castle? Sand man?

Trip Stats

26 Days, 590 miles

Jars of Peanut Butter – 18

Roadside Change – $1.82

Miles Per Shower (it’s a new walking metric I created) By State

Florida – 71.66

Alabama – 90 (just one shower!)

Mississippi – 42 (trending in the right direction!)

Favorite Roadside Find – My camping spot right next to the Gulf!

Until next time, walk on!

Ben

Grateful in the Panhandle

I resumed my walk from the banks of the Ochlockonee River on Saturday, November 21st. When I was originally planning my trip, I intended to walk the Gulf Coast from Panama City to Pensacola, then over into Alabama. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sally hit the coast in September and damaged the Pensacola Bay Bridge, causing it to close for repairs. With that bridge out of commision, I didn’t have a feasible way to get to Pensacola from the ocean.

Plan B was to continue my trek through the familiar forests of the Florida Panhandle. From my campground, I continued down Highway 20 for another three days, passing through Blountstown, Youngstown, Bruce, and Freeport.

Crossing the Appalachicola River outside of Blountstown. This three-mile long bridge rose high above the tree tops and offered expansive views of the water and adjacent forests prone to flooding. A pedestrian walkway and the setting sun made it even more enjoyable!

The scenery unexpectedly changed on the walk from Blountstown west. Thick roadside forests quickly dissapeared. At first, I thought it was an anomoly. But it continued for miles. Trees were snapped in half like toothpicks. Houses and businesses were missing roofs and windows. Many were left abandoned. It was an eerie walk for the entire day. I asked Google that night and discovered the damage was due to Hurricane Michael, which hit the Florida Gulf Coast in October of 2018 as a Category 4 storm. Logging is one of the biggest industries in the area. 95 percent of the land in a four county area sustained significant damage. It will take years, possibly decades, for the area to recover economically. It was a sobering reminder of Mother Nature’s power.

After 40 miles of dilapidated forests, familiar Florida pines returned closer to Bruce. When I was five miles away from town, I decided to call the Bruce Country Store to see if I could camp on the business’s property. The owner, Diana, granted me permission, even though they would be closed by the time I got there after dark. It was the first of hopefully many “contactless COVID camping” experiences.

My Highway 20 ride concluded at Freeport, where I headed north on Highway 331. Given that we rarely walk due north, I promised PJ we weren’t heading the wrong way. I experienced some nice road magic on the way to DeFuniak Springs. A man pulled over and gave me an ice cold Gatorade. Then, a woman gave me three homemade turkey sandwiches and a big bag of chips outside of a Wal-Mart.

“Are you living on the side of the highway, honey?” She asked with her sweet, Southern draw.

“By choice, yes. I’m walking across America.”

“You be safe now. Eat up.” That was my Thanksgiving feast!

And the following morning, a man out jogging simply gave me five dollars. He didn’t ask where I was going or what I was doing. He just wished me a happy Thanksgiving and said “God bless you.”

From DeFuniak Springs, I picked up Highway 90 once again. I will be on 90 through the rest of Florida, most of Alabama, and all of Mississippi. My second stint on 90 is off to a rainy start.

After 13 days of picture perfect weather, rain and thunderstorms have settled into the South. The weather has certainly kept me on my toes. I have been doing my best to get in my miles despite the rain.

Thanksgiving Day was the wettest day of the walk so far. I was in between towns when a torrential downpour moved through. I walked through the chilly storm before stopping at a city park and resting under the cover of a gazebo. It gave me an opportunity to talk to my parents, sister, and brother on the holiday in relative comfort. After the the rain let up I was feeling froggy, so I walked another 10 miles, well after dark, on the quiet highway. The stars even came out for the last few miles.

Thanksgiving certainly looked different for a lot of people this year. For me, it was a reminder to appreciate and be grateful for the small things in life. A tent to sleep in during overnight storms. The opportunity to charge my phone so I could talk to my family and text friends. Viewing a beautiful, misty lake at sunrise. Appreciating the shoes on my feet. Being grateful for taking small steps every day to maintain my sobriety. At the end of the day, it is all the small things that add up and make life complete. The trick moving forward is to remember those things every day and have an attitude of gratitude. All good things will follow from there.

As I neared Milton and Pace in coming days, I left rural Florida and entered Northern Pensacola suburbia, complete with traffic, strip malls, and construction zones. PJ and I dodged cones and cars for 30 miles before reaching a hotel eight miles from the Alabama border. With two inches of rain possible in the next 36 hours, splurging for a hotel room seemed prudent! Plus, I get to watch the Broncos play New Orleans. How is that for timing?

From my hotel room in North Pensacola, I will begin my walk to Mobile, which will take two days. Mississippi and Louisiana will be “right around the corner,” Lord willing. Drier, but cooler weather (lows around freezing!) are expected for the next several days.

Favorite Three Pictures

One of the highlights from the week was walking Historic State Highway 1 outside Milton. The brick road was built in 1921 and is now used as a recreational path. I followed it for a peaceful nine miles. Follow the red brick road!
A misty lake at sunrise outside of Crestview on Thanksgiving morning. Certainly a view to be grateful for!
The historic library in DeFuniak Springs. This quaint little town had Southern charm and was quite festive. City employees were hanging Christmas lights and putting up decorations the day before Thanksgving. It got me in the holiday spirit…I may have even sang a few carols during my walk that day.

Trip Stats

18 days, 420 miles walked.

Peanut butter jars – 13

Loose Change Count – $1.42

Favorite Roadside Find – A Florida license plate. PJ is officially street legal in the Sunshine State!

Until next time, walk on with gratitude!

-Ben

Alligator Alley?

After nine full days of walking, I have landed on the shores of the Ochlockonee River off Highway 20 in Northern Florida. I am 225 miles into my third walk across America. No signs of any alligators – yet – though I did see a young black bear nearly get hit by a car yesterday! I’m glad he/she could run fast.

I landed in Jacksonville on November 10th and took my first ever Uber (one of many firsts on this trip, I’m sure) to the UPS store in Atlantic Beach where I shipped my stroller, PJ. After reassembling my travel companion, we walked about four miles north to Kathryn Abbey Hanna County Park to camp for the night. We had torrential rain overnight but dry skies in the morning to start the walk!

PJ and I didn’t waste any time and officially started our 2,700 mile journey at 9 AM. Day one included a series of bridge crossings (eight total) over marshes, rivers, and coves north of Jacksonville. Wide shoulder gave us plenty of room to steer clear of moderate traffic. The mosquitoes were still biting though!

PJ had to “suck it in” to fit on this narrow walkway across one of the bridges.

I thought I was starting my walk late enough in the South to avoid any tropical storms or hurricanes, but it is 2020…Tropical Storm Eta was slowly moving north towards Jacksonville for days prior to my walk beginning. I elected to get a budget motel room on the first night of my journey. The overnight forecast on the 11th looked terrible, and the storm was supposed to pass over the Jacksonville area around noon on the 12th. Finally, an ETA for Eta! Although heavy rains moved through overnight, the brunt of the storm passed south of me on day two. Eta had also weakened significantly. I decided to walk. Plus, the budget “motel” was quite possibly the worst lodging I have ever encountered. That says a lot coming from a guy who routinely sleeps under bridges and in the woods frequently. I would take a bridge over that place any day!

I spent day two walking through a surprisingly refreshing mist and light rain out of the Jacksonville area and into the country.

I followed the Jax-Baldwin Rail Trail for 14 miles on days two and three. No traffic and very few people!

On day three I reached Highway 90. What a road! 90 offered a big, comfortable shoulder and low traffic levels. It meandered through several state and national forests filled with towering pine, saw palmetto trees, and cyprus swamps. The occasional idyllic ranch added to the beautiful scenery. I passed through Lake City and Live Oak (where I was able to camp next to the Community Presbyterian Church as opposed to stealth camping) over the next two days.

Socially, it has been a quiet journey so far, but I have been blessed with a few memorable encounters.

About 15 miles outside of Madison, something red in the grass caught my eye. It was a 2 of hearts playing card. I pick up a lot of stuff I find on the roadside to keep as random trip momentos. I thought the card would make a nice bookmark.

About a mile later, a woman named Patty pulled over in a big F-150 truck. She asked me where I was going and what I was doing. “God put you in my path today, Ben,” she told me. Patty lost her son to a heroine overdose three months ago. Her beautiful turquoise eyes were full of pain and sadness.

She was honest about the fact she has drug issues, too, and how she relapsed a few weeks ago. When I told her I was in recovery, her eyes lit up. “That’s why we met.” She said fighting back tears. “I need to hold myself accountable.”

We visited on the roadside for a while and said a prayer together. Patty gave me a donation and asked me to pass along 10 of the dollars she gave me to someone in need down the road. I will.

I said goodbye to Patty and thanked her for sharing her story with me. I took lunch 20 minutes later to reflect on Patty’s generosity and openness.

As I munched on a sandwich, a man in an old white Cadillac pulled over. John greeted me with a big smile. He explained how he had helped another cross-country walker a few years ago. He asked if I accepted donations. I said yes, and that they went towards daily expenses. He pulled a 10 out of his wallet. “Do you have a five you can give me back? I’m pretty strapped right now.” Unfortunately I didn’t. I insisted he take the money back, but he refused. “Keep all of it and have a great walk!” I thanked John and tucked away the bill. I was blown away by Patty and John’s generosity.

As I finished eating lunch, I pulled the card out of my pocket. “Weird, I thought. It’s a 2 of hearts, and two people with two huge hearts just went out of their way to help me out.” Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.

My new friend Patty. We have kept in contact, and will continue to do so, since meeting on day six.

My next few days took me through Madison and Monticello. I cowboy camped (no tent, just a sleeping bag under the stars) in some woods off the highway both nights.

I reached Tallahassee on day eight. Instead of getting a hotel room for the night, I elected to do laundry and found a spot to urban stealth camp. Tallahassee joins my ever-growing list of cities, which includes Montreal, Ottawa, Kansas City, San Fransisco, Norfolk, Lexington, and the Portlands where I have successfully stealth camped!

Yesterday I took in Florida’s capital city on the walk west through town. I stopped by the capitol building and meandered through FSU’s campus before reaching Highway 20 and walking to my current location.

The old capitol building in Tallahassee.

All in all, I am thrilled with the way the first 10 days of my journey have gone. Due to COVID, people are understandably wary about approaching a man pushing a stroller down the side of the highway (more so than normal!). But I still had numerous pleasant encounters with people, and the folks I have met have been very friendly and helpful.

From Riverfront Campground, I will begin the 225ish mile walk towards Pensacola and the Alabama border tomorrow morning. I’m hoping to be in the second state of my journey a day or two after Thanksgiving.

Favorite Three Pictures

What a view from Highway 90 outside of Live Oak!
I have always been a sucker for Spanish Moss. This photo was taken near sunset outside of Sanderson.
My “two of hearts” experience reminded me I am not alone on this walk. God has a plan. I need to keep my eyes open and be on the lookout for His signs!

Trip Stats

10 days, 225 miles walked

Jars of peanut butter – 7

Roadside change – .52 cents

Favorite Roadside Find – 2 of hearts playing card!

One flat tire – the road really “screwed” me. I picked up a massive screw in my front tire yesterday, which quickly caused a flat.

Thanks for reading! Walk on!

Ben

Southbound

On November 11th, 2020, my much anticipated third walk across America should begin. I purposefully throw in some sort of disclaimer when I talk about my upcoming journey. During these unprecedented times, plans can change in an instant. When folks have asked how long this walk will take, I tell them “exactly four to eight months” because truthfully, I don’t know how things are going to go. Flexibility and staying positive will be essential if I hope to successfully complete my crossing of the Southern States. With so many unknowns and our country in a constant state of change, I have adopted three key mantras for my walk. “Control what I can control,” “a new set of problems requires a new set of solutions,” and my personal favorite, “one day, one step at a time.”

In theory, my walk will begin in Jacksonville, Florida, and I will trek west for the foreseeable future, passing through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas (with 800 miles of walking in the Lone Star State, I’ll let you know if everything really is bigger in Texas), New Mexico, Arizona, and California. My walk will end in San Diego and will take as long as it takes.

First, I would like to address the elephant in the room (or maybe it’s a donkey, depending on the outcome of the election). It’s no surprise that I have caught a little flak about deciding to walk across the country in the midst of a pandemic and potential election-related chaos. I fully comprehend what is at stake and have a plan in place to keep myself, and others, safe.

Here are my self-imposed guidelines. Wear a mask in public. Sanitize my hands regularly. Carry a week’s supply of food and water to limit grocery store/gas station trips (gasp, that means less coffee since I don’t carry a stove!). Avoid staying in hotels/motels (I’m frugal by nature and love camping, so no problem there). Avoid bars and parties (check, I’m in recovery). Limited indoor dining (I’m fine with tuna fish, cheese-wiz, and peanut butter, thank you). Avoid crowds and large gatherings (I feel uncomfortable in crowds anyway). Socialize with people outdoors (I will be outside 99.9 percent of the time on this journey). I’m also planning on avoiding densely populated areas and big cities whenever possible. Though I would like to visit the Alamo in San Antonio. Fortunately, I will have plenty of solitude on this walk, but I assure you, I will respect local rules and regulations relating to COVID. If a state locks down, I will lock it down, too.

Now, onto the fun stuff! My “jogging” stroller, PJ, is already packed up and on his way to Jacksonville. Currently, he is aboard a UPS semi-truck – probably in the middle of Missouri or Illinois. He will probably beat me to Jacksonville by a day. After I land on November 10th, I will make the 25 mile, three hour, city bus trip from Jacksonville International Airport to The UPS Store in Atlantic Beach where I will pick up and reassemble a very claustrophobic and pissed off stroller (PJ doesn’t like confined spaces). From there, we will walk four miles north to Kathryn Abbey Hanna County Park and camp for the night. My walk will begin on the beach the following morning.

I took PJ out for several evening training walks while preparing for my upcoming journey. He is certainly showing his age (there are 5,500 miles on those axles and rims) but I’m confident the old boy has what it takes to lug my gear from the Atlantic to the Pacific one more time.

Physically, I am ready for the journey. I spent the summer as a “lawn care professional,” (though I prefer “grubby lawn guy”) cutting grass. After mowing roughly 1,400 lawns (and walking about 1,500 miles) over the summer, trading a lawn mower for a jogging stroller should be a relatively easy transition. My summer and fall also included plenty of hikes in the mountains and evening walks. I was on my feet a lot! I’m hoping to dive right in and start covering some decent miles (22-26 miles per day) right away.

My training for this walk didn’t stop at cutting grass. The incline in Manitou is one of my favorite hikes. I also climbed up and down Pikes Peak in late August. The 26 mile ascent and descent took about 10 hours.
One of my highlights from 2020 was making the trip to Western Wyoming and hiking 23 miles over two days on the Oregon Trail with my good friends, Anj and Jan.

My next update, hopefully, will be from the shoulder of Highway 90 in the Florida Panhandle.

I realize how blessed I am to be able to attempt a third crossing of the U.S. on foot. None of this would be possible without my sobriety (which began on May 14th, 2017), my evolving spirituality, and the amazing support from friends and family scattered throughout the country. Walking is a powerful tool that I utilize on a daily basis in recovery. I hope that my journey inspires you to walk. I hope that if you are struggling with alcoholism or an addiction issue, my story encourages you to ask for help. If my experience and efforts help even one person, all of this will be worthwhile.

Get ready for some great stories from the highway shoulders of the South and plenty of mediocre puns. This is going to be a blast!

Walk on,

Ben

TEDx Talk

I love public speaking! In February of 2017, I was given the opportunity to share my story on the TEDx stage at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. My talk, titled “Step(s) in the Right Direction” challenges people to take small steps every day in order to achieve their goals and dreams.

I hope that I will have more opportunities in the future to speak about my journeys across America and my life in sobriety.

Do the Walk of Life

I played a lot of games to keep myself entertained during my 150 day Maine to Oregon walk. One of my favorites was “How did Ben’s walk across America end?” When I found myself doing a necessary, but often ridiculous trip task, like hanging a bear bag in the dark or running across a narrow bridge, I would ask myself “How did Ben’s walk across America end?” And then answer my question, from an outsider’s perspective, depending on the situation. “Well, he broke an ankle when he slipped on a rock. He was hanging a bear bag.” Or “He didn’t run fast enough across a bridge, and ended up in the grill of a semi.” My answers were typically accompanied by a good laugh. Facing very real dangers daily is part of every cross-country walk. I was always one distracted driver, one slip, one snake bite away from a catastrophe. The game was my way of reminding myself that every successful step of this journey was a blessing. I coped with the dangers I faced by looking them square in the eyes and laughing. Walking in fear was not an option. But I certainly had a healthy respect for the dangers that lurked around every corner.

On September 8th, 2018, I turned 32. And I finally was able to answer the question “How did Ben’s walk across America end” in a satisfactory way. It would end with a final step into the Pacific Ocean in Seaside, Oregon.

I started my walk on a Thursday morning, so every Wednesday night, I would get out my U.S. map and Sharpie in my progress from the last seven days. Here is the final product!


I arrived in Seaside on the afternoon of September 7th. I could have finished that day, but I wanted to sleep one mile away from the ocean. I wanted to officially be on the road, walking across America, for one more night. It would allow me time to reflect. I would return to a “normal life” soon enough. I wanted to be the crazy walker just a little longer.

The morning of the 8th began like every other walking day. I threw on my favorite smelly polyester athletic shirt (a Denver Broncos shirt I wore on the final day of my first walk) and running shorts. I put on my sock liners and compression socks and laced up my walking shoes. I slathered my face, neck, arms, and ears in sunscreen and threw on my Kissing Camels ball cap. I walked out to PJ and pushed on his tires to ensure they had enough air in them for the final mile.

My hosts from Portland, Steve and Irene, were making the trip to Seaside to join me for my final walk. I took a few birthday phone calls from family and friends while I waited. The couple arrived at 11 AM. The three of us left Seaside International Hostel and walked towards downtown.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. A light breeze blew off the ocean. Irene, who is a professional photographer, was across the street taking photos. Steve, who was at my side when we left the hostel, slowed down and walked 30 feet behind me. I took in the moment, praying that I could soak up and remember every small detail from my remaining steps – every bump in the sidewalk, the smell of fresh cut grass, the chirping birds, and the whoosh sound PJ’s rain cover made as it brushed up against the left tire.

150 days of memories flashed before my eyes while I walked down quiet Holladay Street. There was the bear spray incident in Ontario. Close encounters with cars. Middle fingers. Blisters. Heat. Smoke. Wind. Solitude.

And there were the people. Completing my walk would not have been possible without hundreds of people (spanning 10 states and two Canadian Provinces) helping me out on a daily basis. The folks I met housed me, fed me, hydrated me, clothed me, encouraged me, inspired me, and loved me. I could not have done it without my family’s unwavering support. And I certainly wouldn’t be standing here, upright, healthy, and happy without God’s steady hand on my shoulder. I am eternally grateful for the support and love I have been shown by family and friends, near and far.

As fate would have it, Seaside was hosting a vintage car show over the weekend. Classic cars were parked along the downtown drag. The avenue was closed to vehicle traffic – pedestrians only. Finally, after 3,400 miles, I had found a driver free street after turning right on Broadway.

PJ and I slowly meandered through the crowd, receiving the typical “what the hell is this guy doing” looks. We reached the Seaside Promenade, where an American flag whipped in the wind over a statue of Lewis and Clark, who ended the first half of their groundbreaking expedition just north of that spot. The two explorers are peering west at the majestic Pacific.

I walked down a ramp to the beach just left of the statue. At first I could still push PJ through the sand, but it eventually became too thick. PJ needed to touch the ocean, too. I pulled him the rest of the way.

I pulled PJ for 75 yards. I joked with Steve that I should have finished my walk at high tide. “Almost there!” I yelled. I was out of breath as we approached the water.

I took off my shoes and socks and paused before taking my final steps into the ocean. I was singing the Britney Spears song “Oops I Did It Again” as I walked into the Pacific.

The cold water felt heavenly on my feet. I stood there for some time as waves soaked my knees and crashed against PJ’s wheels. Blisters from 3,400 miles of walking were soothed. The water washed away the loose skin from the soles of my feet. I felt like I was dreaming. And just like that, it was over.

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Trip Stats

Total Days -150

Total Miles – 3,402 (Officially!)

Total Peanut Butter Jars – 115

Total Loose Change Count – $9.12

Favorite Roadside Find – The Pacific Ocean.

Favorite Three Pictures

Steve and Irene made an incredible day perfect. Thank you both for your company, time, and support. We really peeled some layers off the onion in our conversations. I am forever grateful for your friendship!

I still prefer my method of transportation with my all-time favorite travel companion, PJ. He now has 5,400 miles under his belt. I am proud to say PJ rolled EVERY inch on this journey.

The sunset over the Pacific in Seaside. A fitting sight after an epic adventure!


“Progress, not perfection” was the mantra for my journey. I made geographical progress every day, but was never perfect while doing so. More importantly, I wanted to make personal progress. I didn’t set out on this trip to “fix myself” or have an epiphany about how we can attain world peace. I set out to learn more about myself and continue to grow as a person. I’ll never be perfect. What fun would that be anyway?

Walking was my catalyst for progress, and will continue to be moving forward. Thanks to the people who came into my life during the walk, and the challenges along the way, I have made some progress. Walking has impacted my life in countless ways – I have been sober since April 16th, 2017. Walking is my favorite coping mechanism and allows me to deal with life’s stresses in a healthy way. Walking continues to teach me patience. Walking forces me to slow down and offers a front row seat to the beauty our world has to offer. Walking keeps me healthy, physically and mentally. And walking offers an opportunity to be introspective and reflective.

Fortunately, a person doesn’t need to walk across America to reap the benefits of walking. Just lace up your shoes and go. Anytime, anywhere. The benefits are steps away. I truly hope that my journey has inspired you to get out and walk.

On that note, I think it’s about time for a walk.

With gratitude and love, walk on!

Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific or Bust

After a quiet night of sleep in Three Mile Canyon, I set my sights on Portland. I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last night I would sleep in my tent on my walk.

Part of the reason I had taken the previous afternoon off was to plan out my walk into Portland. Not so much where I was going to sleep, but the best way to go about tackling the interstate ahead.

People had warned me about some narrow stretches on I-84 and several construction zones. I used a combination of Google Satellite and Street View, and Oregon’s Department of Transportation website to plan a route that would make upcoming miles as safe as possible. I memorized which exits to take, where I would follow frontage roads, where I would walk with traffic, and at what mile markers several unavoidable narrow bridges were. The most challenging stretches of the walk would be between Hood River and the east side of Portland, which I would hit three days after leaving Three Mile Canyon.

My 36 mile walk to The Dalles was straight forward. I just had to put one foot in front of the other 76,000 times. I officially entered the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area a bit west of Rufus and approached The Dalles at dusk. Impressive Mount Hood was visible to the southwest and the massive Dalles Dam was lit up like a Christmas tree as I made my way into town.

Finding a place in a city to pitch my tent was always problematic. After I ate three cheeseburgers, a chicken sandwich, and an ice cream cone, I slept behind some trees with a view of the McDonald’s arch where I just had dinner. I would walk a fine line between bum and simplistic traveler in my final days in Oregon.

Hood River was my destination the following day. After 20 miles on the interstate, I was able to follow the lone stretch of the Old Highway 30 Historic Bike Trail that hadn’t been affected by the Eagle Creek Fire the year before. The trail climbed several hundred feet into the hills surrounding the Columbia River. As soon as I gained elevation, I went from a semi-arid desert landscape into beautiful ponderosa pine forests. Moss covered logs and rocks lined the forest floor. I was transported to a different world in a matter of miles. The views from the trail were incredible, too.

At the high point of the trail, I met a man named Ian who was out for a jog with his three-year-old daughter. He invited me to stay with his family in Hood River. I jumped at the opportunity to sleep inside for a night. Their home was three miles out of the way, but I didn’t mind.

Once I got into town, I headed due south. Downtown Hood River sits on a little bluff above the Columbia. To get to Ian’s house, I had to climb out of the valley floor….again. The road I chose from downtown had a 20% grade. I took a running start but quickly slowed down. I wasn’t sure if I had enough energy to get to the top of the 75 yard hill. I had already walked 30 miles and was beat. PJ and I moved painfully slowly. A family walked past us, clearly amused. I was out of breath but felt like I owed them an explanation. I paused at an intersection. “I am walking across America. These hills suck after walking 30 miles already!” They laughed and approached me.

“I think you dropped something,” the father said. I looked around, confused. He handed me a 20 dollar bill. I thanked them for the donation and pushed harder up the remainder of the hill, not wanting to show my exhaustion.

I arrived at Ian’s house 20 minutes later. The family had a heaping portion of fish and steamed rice waiting for me. I was thrilled.

Ian outside his house bidding me good luck!

I retraced my steps in the morning, heading back down the 20% grade of 12th Street into downtown. I couldn’t walk straight down the hill considering how steep the road was. Gravity worked against me, and I didn’t think I could keep my footing as PJ did his best to race down the hill. Instead I walked down the street “slolam ski style,” carving an S shape on the pavement. I caught a few curious glances from people who were in their front yards as PJ and I slowly meandered down the hill.

Today was a big day. I hoped to get through three of the four sections of I-84 I had deemed as dangerous in my planning. I walked with traffic from mile marker 56 to 51, avoiding a construction zone and blind curve around one of the massive canyon walls. The worst part of that stretch was a half mile section where PJ’s left tire was inches inside the white line. To my right was a guardrail and the Columbia River. There was nowhere to bail. I put my life into the driver’s hands. I let out a triumphant fist pump when we took exit 51.

After another 8 miles of walking a frontage road, I arrived in Cascade Locks, home to Bridge of the Gods.

From Cascade Locks, I walked with traffic from mile marker 44 to mile marker 40 to avoid a tunnel on the other side of the road. A lengthy bridge (which, fortunately, offered a wider shoulder) was unnerving to cross but was certainly safer than a dark tunnel given the amount of traffic. I was through obstacle two of four.

The next two hurdles were a pair of shoulderless bridges. They weren’t terribly long, maybe 60 or 70 yards, but given holiday traffic levels (it was the Friday before Labor Day weekend), my best hope was to cross them at dusk or dawn.

I arrived at the first bridge at dusk, waited for a gap in traffic, and ran. PJ’s front tire started wiggling uncontrollably halfway across. “Not now PJ!” I yelled. I had to slow down to get the tire rolling true again. I sped walked the rest of the way. A semi approached 10 feet from the edge of the bridge. He moved to my right a few feet while we cleared the end of the bridge onto the safety of the shoulder. “What a rush!” I hollered. “Whoooooooooo!”

There was one more bridge to go, but it would have to wait until morning. PJ and I walked another five miles on a frontage road and ended the eventful day at mile marker 35. I slept next to a massive ponderosa pine between the frontage road and a freeway on-ramp.

We tackled the final bridge first thing in the morning. My walk started at 6. I wanted to cross the bridge before the sun came up and started blinding drivers heading east. Four cars passed us on the bridge during our crossing. We avoided any close calls, much to my relief.

“Now we can cruise PJ!”

With Portland 35 miles away, I relaxed a bit, and was even able to play tourist for a few hours with a visit to Multnomah Falls. Most of the waterfalls and scenic viewpoints were closed due to the fire. Guards were stationed 24/7 at all the trailheads and parking lots to ensure people didn’t enter the burned areas, which were about everywhere except for the interstate and the few frontage roads I could walk. The falls were a beautiful place to spend a Saturday morning.

After viewing the falls, I was even able to help a distressed motorist! A guy named Chicoby was having engine trouble. While working on his car, he managed to get a bandana stuck in one of the belts (I’m still unclear how it happened!). With the use of my needle nose pliers, a lighter, and some fine hammering, we got the bandana out. It only took an hour. Over the next 15 miles, I passed another four disabled vehicles. I was of no use to them though!

I said goodbye to Interstate 84 at the Troutdale exit and began my suburban Portland walk. I slept in an urban forest in Gresham. Other than some raccoons scurrying by my sleeping bag at 4 AM (which scared the crap out of me) it was a great spot.

I walked across the Hawthrone Bridge into downtown the following morning. After 15 days and 380 miles of walking since Tekoa, Washington, I was ready for a day off.

My arrival in The City of Roses meant I had officially walked from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon!

Back when I was having lunch at a Subway in Colfax, Washington, a man named Steve had walked in. He saw PJ outside, and said “Are you walking across America?” We hit it off immediately.

Steve walked across America a few years ago. His journey took four years – from 2012 to 2016. The main difference in our walks – he travelled with a goat! Steve was raising money for an orphanage in Africa. The goats (he actually had two on his trip, Leroy and Miles) maxed out at 10 miles per day. Man did he have some stories!

I stayed with Steve and his wife, Irene (who was part of Steve’s remote support team) for two nights. We had a ball sharing road stories. We also hit some Portland attractions, including Voodoo Donuts and Porter’s Bookstore. After a restful day off, I was ready for my final push to the Pacific.

Steve and Irene outside Voodoo Donuts.

I left Portland on September 4th. Getting out of downtown and into the suburbs was a challenge. Hills just west of the city center, and windy, narrow roads, forced me to walk south before heading west to Beaverton. After 14 miles, I reached the affluent suburb of Hillsboro, past Nike’s International Headquarters, and found a spot to sleep off a bike path surrounded by expensive condos.

I reached Highway 26 the following afternoon, and saw my first sign for Seaside – my eventual destination – 56 miles away! My heart soared.

Dusk approached and I started looking for a sleeping spot. The thick forests were proving difficult to wheel PJ into, and the roads that led into several state forests were gated shut due to high fire danger. No guards, but a gate was enough to keep me out. I settled on a spot off a logging road under some power lines. There wasn’t enough room to pitch my tent in the shrubs. Throwing out my sleeping bag on top of my Thermarest pad (which no longer held air) was my new routine.

I marveled at the Milky Way overhead. Several shooting stars made my grin even bigger.

“We are gonna coast to the ocean PJ!” I said confidently to my buggy before I drifted off to sleep. Highway 26 had been a joy to walk so far. The large, evenly paved shoulder should continue clear through to Seaside. Oregon had different plans.

PJ and I started rolling down the road at dawn the next morning. My plan was to finish my walk on September 8th – my 32nd birthday. 40 miles in two days should be a breeze!

After a few easy miles, the highway began a steady climb through Oregon’s Coastal Range. The mountains weren’t massive, but a 1,000 feet of elevation gain still had my heart rate up. After lunch and a nap at a rest area, we reached the summit of the coastal range at 1,642 feet.

From there, the shoulder quickly dissapeared. PJ and I were faced with “Double G’s” (guardrails on both sides of the road), blind curves, and a new obstacle – shade. The massive trees that lined the highway cast shadows on the road, which would make it a bit tougher for cars to see us, especially when they would drive out of sunlight and into the shade. I lashed my bike light to the handlebars and put it in strobe mode to be more visible. Despite my strobe light, it didn’t feel like much of a party. I darted from one side of the road to the other when approaching a blind curve. Then ran back across when the road briefly straightened out. I wasn’t thinking about how many miles were left. I was too busy making sure PJ and I didn’t end up in the grill of a logging truck.

At one point, I ran over a spring that caused my right tire to go flat. I pushed PJ off the road, moved several six foot logs, and pumped up the tire, hoping it would hold. It would have been a dangerous spot to go through the process of changing a flat. Fortunately, the tire held.

It was a stressful, but strangely fun afternoon.

In addition to some shoulderless stretches, Highway 26 also had a tunnel and a long bridge that were a bit dangerous. Fortunately there was a button to push before entering the tunnel (and crossing the bridge), causing a light to flash to warn drivers of a walker/biker in the tunnel.

After 10 miles of shoulderless walking PJ and I called it a day 22 miles from Seaside. Our last night spent outside was under a canopy of pine trees on a springy bed of pine needles.

I couldn’t wait to get started the next morning with Seaside in sight. PJ and I immediately climbed over one final hill, David Douglas Summit, at a modest 1,300 feet, and began the long, curvy descent into Seaside. It was literally all downhill from there!

I forced myself to stop and take breaks once I was within 15 miles of Seaside. I wanted to slow myself down and really soak in the last few miles of my walk. It was glad I took some breaks to relax because the walking into Seaside was anything but relaxing. The road had widened slightly, but a steady stream of cars left me on my guard. I was less than 10 miles from the Pacific, but might as well have been back in Montana. I chipped away at the remaining miles into town. 9….8….7….6….

“Just get to Seaside. Just get to Seaside.”

At 3 o’clock on September 7th I arrived at the “Welcome to Seaside” sign. Traffic was so heavy it took 10 minutes to get across the road so I could get a proper photo to commemorate the moment. Passing cars had no idea what I went through to get a picture next to that damn sign!

The Pacific was less than a mile away. I didn’t want to see it yet. My 32nd birthday was the next day. The ocean, and the official completion of my walk, would be my birthday gift.

Trip Stats –

Days – 149

Miles – 3,405

Peanut Butter Jars – 114

Loose Change Count – $9.12

Favorite Roadside Find(s) – Fruit! Blackberries (which are considered an invasive plant in much of Oregon) grew wild nearly everywhere off Highway 26 between Portland and Seaside. When I was low on energy I just stopped and picked a handful of berries! Or as I was waiting for a line of cars to pass before darting to the next “safe zone” on narrow 26, I would snag a few berries and snack next to the highway.

Favorite Three Pictures –

The Columbia River, looking west, from Cascade Locks.

The Richmond Neighborhood in Portland. Looking surprisingly fallish on September 2nd.

Stop and smell the roses – but no picking!

Spoiler alert! I made it to the Pacific! I will be putting together another blog post in the next week detailing my final, eventful mile to the ocean. Steve and Irene took the time to come join me in Seaside on my final walking day. It would end up being one of the best days of my life. The emotions I felt, and some closing thoughts about this amazing journey, deserve their own post.

Walk on!

The Oregon Trail

Washington was a grind. The seven day, 187 mile trek through the Evergreen State gave me all I could handle!

I left Tekoa on August 19th with my sights set on an RV Park in Steptoe. Considering the previous two weeks (with the exception of one clear day between Missoula and the Idaho border), smoke in the air was my new normal. I followed two roads to get to Steptoe – State Highway 27, and Hume Road. Both peacefully meandered through mostly harvested grain and lentil fields. The parched rolling hills had a yellowish-brown color that nearly matched the hazy skies.

Thanks to light Sunday traffic, the shoulderless roads were quiet and quite enjoyable to walk. I picked up consistent cell service for the first time since the Montana-Idaho border, and arrived at my campground just in time to participate in a fantasy football draft.

My neighbor, a chatty 10 year-old boy named Devin, was very interested in my walk and provided some company for the evening. He offered suggestions for ways I could get across the country faster. My favorite – strap a sail to PJ and ride on top when the wind was at our back.

As I went to sleep, thicker smoke blew in from the northwest. By morning, air quality readings were wavering between unhealthy and very unhealthy levels (they had mainly been moderately unhealthy up to that point). I decided I would continue walking. After all, I’d still be breathing in the smoke if I just sat in my tent. I figured my body would tell me if it couldn’t handle the air.

The walk into Colfax went off without a hitch, and I continued west from there to a little town called Dusty. Route 26 west of Colfax was named the “Pelouse Scenic Highway.” I renamed it the “Pelouse Smoky Highway.” The 17 mile walk to Dusty was surreal. I couldn’t see much on the other side of the grain fields that surrounded me. I felt like I had been dropped on some strange, polluted, alien planet, left to fend for myself.

Dusty only added to the strange day. It might as well have been a ghost town. The lone surviving business was a gas station, which had been closed for two hours by the time I arrived at 7 PM. There wasn’t a soul around. I decided to sleep behind a rock mound at a rest area outside of town. While I waited for the sun to set, I sat on some impeccably manicured grass next to a cemetery. The sun was a fiery red as it dipped lower on the horizon.

Rocky stealth sleeping in Dusty.

Thanks to considerably clearer skies the following morning, I had a little pep in my step. My target destination for the day was Washtucna, 35 miles down the road. Locals warned me of heavy harvest and college traffic on the highway. To my pleasant surprise, traffic was light. I enjoyed the scenery throughout the day. I left “Pelouse Country” late in the morning and walked into the “Scablands,” which are unique scab-looking rock formations on the hillsides, only found in this part of Washington.

The hills have scabs!

About 10 miles from Washtucna, I reached another big milestone on my walk – the 3,000 mile mark. I stopped and sat on a gravel pulloff to take in the moment. As I was preparing to resume my trek, a passing motorcyclist named Ken stopped to see if I needed help. We ended up visiting for 45 minutes.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Ken would play a huge roll in my walk in coming days. He surprised me with bananas and 12 pouches of tuna the next morning in Washtucna, put me up in a hotel in Kennewick, and set up my camping spot in Umatilla. Ken has taken several cross-country motorcycle trips on 20 dollars by relying on the kindness of strangers to help him out. Clearly, he pays it forward when he gets the chance. Thank you Ken!

After an overnight stay at a city park in Washtucna, and the pleasant morning visit from Ken while I was drinking coffee at a little cafe, I walked 14 miles south to Kahlotus. Despite the wonderful morning, I was exhausted and didn’t have any more miles in my feet. I think the string of 90 degree days, smoky air, and desolate areas finally caught up with me. I got permission to camp at a park in town and turned in early, hopeful for a better walk the following day.

Pumping the brakes a bit and resting payed off big time. I covered 36 miles in 12 hours and ended in the peaceful sounding town of Eltopia. Despite a great day of walking, I had no idea where I was going to sleep. I eventually walked down to the railroad tracks next to the abandoned downtown strip and began searching for a clearing in the sagebrush that provided the lowest probability of an encounter with a rattlesnake.

I came across a woman named Shea who was searching for her weiner dog that wandered off. I helped her look as I explained my dilemna. She said I could sleep next to an abandoned school she lived next to, as long as I didn’t start a fire or mind ghosts. She later told me about paranormal encounters she has had since she moved into an RV next door (mainly unexplained noises and footsteps on her RV roof). Shea gave me a tour of the school grounds. The 84 year-old building had seen better days and was very creepy, but sleeping next to it was my best option.

“I’ll just be here for the night, ghosts,” I said while I set my tent up. “I mean you no harm!” It turned out to be a pleasant night!

School has been out in Eltopia for some time.

I rolled out of my tent in the morning and couldn’t believe my eyes. Clear blue skies! I packed up quickly and started my walk to the Tri-Cities. Originally, I planned on avoiding the area (bigger cities tend to be a fustercluck to walk through). But once I discovered I could walk the Interstate on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, I rethought my route plans. The presence of more services and several long stretches of paved bike paths through the Columbia River Gorge, plus the walkability of an interstate, made it a no brainer to cross into Oregon due south of the Tri-Cities.

What was supposed to be a breezy 24 mile day turned into a 32 mile adventure. A flat tire six miles in set me back about an hour, and once I neared the outskirts of Pasco, Google’s directions sent me to a private railroad crossing with no trespassing signs posted all over the place. I had to turn around and ended up back at the same spot where I left the highway two hours earlier.

Once I was finally on the right roads, I hustled to Kennewick, where my motorcycle buddy Ken set me up with a hotel room for the night. It was amazing to have a comfortable bed, shower, and a McDonald’s next door after an eventful day.

The highlight of walking through the Tri-Cities was crossing the Columbia River between Pasco and Kennewick on the Ed Hedner Bridge. I didn’t expect the river to be so big!

I began my final stretch in Washington the following morning. I followed Bofer Canyon Road out of Kennewick before being forced onto the interstate. A dead end sign at the Coffin Road exit left me with no choice but to illegally walk the interstate for eight miles. I walked 15 minute miles to get to the next exit in two hours. Either passing cars didn’t call the highway patrol on me, or I walked fast enough to get off the freeway before authorities could catch up with me!

Bofer Canyon just south of Kennewick. Some big hills and 30 mile per hour head winds made for a challenging stretch out of the canyon bottom. I also met two cyclists named Leslie and Chris, who were out biking into the wind. They gave me some encouraging words that helped immensely!

After getting off the interstate I had a short three mile jaunt across the Columbia River (again) on a freeway adjacent bike path into the final state of my journey – Oregon!

I camped at a riverside RV Park in Umatilla on my first night in the Beaver State.

My first two days in Oregon have been pretty quiet, aside from the constant flow of traffic on Interstate 84. I camped at the city marina in Boardman last night and am staying at an Army Corps of Engineers campground tonight in Three Mile Canyon. My site is a stones toss from the Columbia River. With beautiful blue skies overhead, I decided to cut today short at 14 miles and enjoy the peaceful Oregon desert and riverside accomodations.

Trip Stats –

Days – 138

Miles – 3,150

Peanut Butter Jars – 108

Loose Change Count – $8.55

Favorite Roadside Find – As I was chatting with my sister on the phone outside of Washtucna, a woman pulled over and gave me a tin of cinnamon rolls and four muffins. Hands down the sweetest thing I’ve been gifted on the roadside!

Favorite Three Pictures –

“Goat’s Heads” have become my biggest nemesis in Washington and Oregon. They are EVERYWHERE…Even on nicely paved shoulders. They have caised one flat tire for PJ, and countless holes in my tire tubes. Fortunately, the self-sealing tubes are holding up pretty well when I simply reinflate the tires after a puncture.

I have been craving a quiet campground on a blue sky day in the middle of nowhere for weeks now. Three Mile Canyon provided the perfect spot! It will mean an early start and 43 mile day to Rufus, but should be worth it!

It was nearly dark when I crossed into Oregon, and this happened to be the first “Oregon themed sign” I passed after I left Umatilla. It will have to do for my “Welcome to Oregon” moment! I’m crossing my fingers for a safe walk to the coast.

From Three Mile Canyon, I am about 170 miles from downtown Portland. Seaside, my eventual destination, is about 90 miles west of that. I will primarily be on the interstate until The Dalles. From there, I’ll be able to follow some bike paths, frontage roads, and Old Highway 30 for stretches to get a break from I-84.

I am excited to start my push to Portland in the morning! Walk on!

How ‘Bout ‘Dem (Washington) Apples?

It was a great four day Montana holiday with my dad. He certainly succeeded in spoiling me. Four nights in hotels, access to a vehicle, coffee on demand, and daily showers were a much needed respite from the walk. We saw a lot of sights, had a lot of laughs, ate heartily, and did plenty of relaxing. My feet enjoyed the vacation, too, and were fresh and clean coming out of Lincoln. I was as ready as I could be for the road ahead.

After connecting a miles worth of steps through Lincoln with my dad, we hugged goodbye and I switched back into walking mode. Missoula was 80 miles west. I had the luxury of seeing the road I would walk clear through to Missoula after Dad had picked me up in Lincoln.

Highway 200 follows the Blackfoot River to Missoula and was a joy to walk, with the exception of a 12 mile stretch right outside of Lincoln. The river side of the road (which I would ideally walk) was lined with a series of 12 guardrails that forced me to walk with traffic intermittently. Fortunately, there were no “double G’s” (my walker’s slang for double guardrails) which can get very dicey without adequate shoulder room.

There was little or no room next to a series of guardrails along the Blackfoot River. I was forced to walk with my back to traffic for segments of a 12 mile stretch. Unnerving, but necessary!

I camped in Ovando my first night after leaving Lincoln. This friendly little Montana town caters to cross-country cyclists and the occasional walker. They have a little bike shop, cafe, general store, and a free campground. Or for five bucks, you can sleep in a teepee, covered wagon, or their historic jail building. I initially chose the wagon, but someone came and emptied the neighboring porto-potty, sending the smell into my would-be sleeping quarters. I moved to jail.

I have spent two nights in jail on my walk! The first was at the Ottawa Jail Hostel.

I arrived in Missoula after another two days of meandering along the Blackfoot River. I took my time getting through town. Missoula has a great college-town vibe (it is home to the University of Montana) and was a happening place even though school wasn’t in session yet. The Blackfoot empties into the Clark Fork River just outside of town. Plenty of people could be seen floating down the river in inflatable rafts, trying to stay cool. One bank temperature sign read 106.

I was on the west side of town at dusk and planned on camping near the river when I met a woman named Audrey who was out walking her dogs, Barley and Rowdy. She invited me to camp in her yard. When we arrived at her house, she asked if I needed anything. A bathroom to freshen up was at the forefront of my mind, but Audrey said she was apprehensive about me coming inside her home. Of course I understood! She brought me out a bucket of hot water and a washcloth so I was able to clean myself up a bit. Thank you for the camping spot and hot water, Audrey!

From Audrey’s yard, I was down to my last 110 miles in Montana. My route to the Idaho border was a little tricky. The interstate crossed the Clark Fork a dozen times. Some of the bridges spanning the river had shoulders, others didn’t. I wrote down directions for the first time on my walk and thought I had a plan in place that would spare me from any dangerous bridge crossings.

I walked a state highway to Frenchtown, where I began my first of several walking stints down Interstate 90. 10 miles later, I left the interstate and followed a frontage road towards Alberton, where I camped in the woods under cover of some beautiful Ponderosa Pines in Lolo National Forest.

I walked 41 miles the following day (my second 40 plus day of the walk) and camped next to the Clark Fork at a free campground five miles east of St. Regis. Unforseen construction on the interstate (which made several stretches impassable) forced me to throw my directions out the window and follow a few detours, which added four or five miles to my route. The extra miles were well worth it to stay safe!

This was the prettiest stretch of frontage road I have ever walked! The quiet road offered great views of the Clark Fork.

From St. Regis I walked to the “Route of the Olympian,” a trail that paralelled the interstate and climbed 30 miles to the Idaho border. According to Google, it was paved a few miles outside of St. Regis. Google couldn’t have been more wrong! PJ was infuriated! The trail was more of a rocky dirt road. PJ and I could barely manage 1.5 miles per hour. Fortunately, we were able to bushwack through the forest and make it back onto the smooth interstate shoulder.

I camped next to the St. Regis River near Saltese on my final night in Montana. I soaked my feet in the frigid river water just before going to sleep.

I walked the interstate over Lookout Pass and into Idaho the next day. Lookout was a relatively easy climb and offered some great views of the Bitterroot Range, despite the smoky skies. Smoke and haze in the air have become the new normal over the last few weeks. Fires burning all over the West have left the areas I’ve been traveling through blanketed in smoke. I did have one clear day between Missoula and the Idaho border in which I could actually see the forest for the trees. I have decided to pretend the area is continually covered in a layer of smoke scented fog.

Idaho wins the award for the most scenic welcome sign! I took a nice long break atop Lookout Pass and reflected on the 32 day, 680 mile walk through Big Sky Country.

I was stoked to be in Idaho. It is always rewarding to check a state off the list, but 72 of my 90 miles in Idaho would be on a PAVED bike path. I couldn’t wait for a quiet few days of walking!

I walked downhill from the Idaho welcome sign into Mullan, then picked up the “Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes,” which spans most of the Idaho Panhandle. I arrived in funky Wallace (the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe,”) and camped at an RV Park. I hadn’t showered in a week, and even though the water was only luke warm, it felt amazing.

Following the Coeur d’Alene Trail was an amazing way to travel through Northern Idaho. The first 25 miles passed through the silver mining towns of Mullan, Wallace, Silverton, and Kellogg. At one time, the Silver Valley of Idaho produced more silver than any other area in North and South America. From Kellogg the trail left the freeway and followed the Couer d’Alene River for 30 miles. Wildlife was plentiful on the trail. I spotted a moose, deer, an owl, osprey, blue herons, and plenty of chipmonks (which would always prompt me to yell “Alvin!”).

The final 12 miles of the trail ran along Lake Coeur d’Alene, and included a walk across the Chatcolet Bridge.

The Chatcolet Bridge was one of many highlights along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

Although the scenery along the trail was beautiful, my favorite aspect of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes were the people! There were plenty of other cyclists along the path, but only one bearded man pushing a stroller decorated with a giraffe and a duck. I talked to a handful of people along the way. My favorite encounter was with Shane and his three kids, Ben, Gus, and Isadora. The family lives in Eugene, Oregon, and drove to Idaho to ride the trail. Shane carried the camping gear and food on his cargo bike, while the kids carried their own clothes and water on their bikes, complete with their own little saddle bags. They biked from the west side of the trail to Kellogg and were returning to their starting point when we met. The family covered about 30 miles per day. I joined them for a snack at a trailside picnic table. The twin 7 year-old boys encouraged me to camp with them in Harrison that night. I couldn’t turn them down! I joined them for a mac’n cheese and hot dog dinner. The kids asked me a lot of questions…including some tough ones, like “what’s your favorite bug?” Their scary stories were tough to beat, too.

New friends on the trail!

After 32 days in Montana, Idaho took a mere three-and-a-half to cross. I arrived in my second to last state of the journey, Washington, on August 17th.

A handful of vehicles pulled over and said hello as I neared and crossed the state line last evening. A man named Larry, who has been farming in Eastern Washington for the last 58 years, bought me dinner at a little restaurant in Tekoa last night. Thank you for the great welcome to Washington!

After 10 days and 286 miles of walking since Lincoln, I was ready for a rest day! I am camping at a city park in town and spending the day off my feet, playing catch up, and planning my route through Washington.

Trip Stats

Days – 129

Miles – 2,922

Peanut Butter Jars – 101

Loose Change – $8.10

Favorite Roadside Find – About a mile from where I said goodbye to my dad, I came across a toy car and a little note underneath a stone. The note was a touching, encouraging message from my dad. He bought the car at a pawn shop in Great Falls during our visit, and I have been using the rock to pound in my tent stakes….the rock is much more effective than my metal coffee mug! Thank you pop!

Favorite Four Photos-

I’m not sure why I like this picture so much! This was taken near Alberton, MT. The railroad along the Clark Fork has been decommisioned for some time, so the rail bridge over the road no longer exists. This spot was a little eerie, especially at dusk.

The Coeur d’Alene River near sunset.

Can you guess which is my favorite vehicle parked at the Wallace RV Park for the night?

This powerful statue greets visitors at the trailhead for the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Plummer, Idaho. 15 miles of the trail is on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. The statue honors Native Americans who have died serving our country. It is a beautiful, moving piece.

From Tekoa, I am less than 500 miles from the Pacific…PJ and I will have our work cut out for us on the walk from Eastern Washington to the ocean. Increased traffic from farm vehicles (harvest season is at its peak) and college students headed back to school at Washington State, along with a hot and smoky forecast will only add to the challenges down the road. This is going to be a hell of a push to the Pacific!

Walk on!