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!

Rocky Mountain Hi

When I left Jordan on July 22nd, 132 miles of ranches, farms, and the Judith Mountains separated me from Lewistown. My stopping points on the five day walk were pretty straight forward – Sand Springs Campground, the Hill Family Oasis Bed and Breakfast, Winnett City Park, and Little Montana Truck Stop. It was nice having a lineup of civilized sleeping spots planned. I could carry less water during my daily walks and wouldn’t be camping in the rattlesnake infested long grass off the road.

To be fair, I have only seen a few rattlesnakes in Montana, and they have all been small ones that had been run over by cars. Still, snakes were constantly on my mind. Like bears in Canada and fireworks and trains in North Dakota, every area offers its own unique challenges. Though my compliants about fireworks and trains in North Dakota seem pretty petty now.

The Sunday walk to Sand Springs was beautiful and quiet. Sundays are typically my favorite day to walk (low traffic levels). I enjoyed a nice shoulder and never grew tired of endless ranchland. I started playing a new game – spot the cows – to keep myself entertained. I would peer far off into the distant hills and look for herds of black cows grazing in the fields. I arrived in Sand Springs early in the evening after a 32 mile walk and was able to enjoy an unobstructed view of the setting sun.

There are very few trees on the windswept Montana prairie, but there happened to be one right in line with the setting sun in Sand Springs!

My friend Gary Anderson, who I met on my first walk in Oberlin, Kansas, set me up with a spot to stay at the “Hill Family Oasis,” which is a B&B on the Hill’s ranch near Mosby, the night after I left Sand Springs. It was a short 18 mile walk to the turn-off. A few miles before my destination, I walked up a hill and caught my first view of Montana forests. The ponderosa pine weren’t thick, but I was elated. 30 days ago I was excited to leave the forest. Now I was pumped to be back in one!

Kevin, his wife Gayla, and mother Dolores, treated me incredibly well during my stay. Their shower pressure was top notch (I hadn’t bathed in a week), the spaghetti dinner we shared was delicious, and Kevin took me on a tour of the ranch for dessert. Since Dolores’s husband passed away in 2016 (they had been married for 60 years) the family has sold off most of their cattle and leased a good chunk of their land. They still have 150 sheep and a few cows on the remaining 10,000 acres. The sun was setting as we rumbled down dirt roads in Kevin’s pickup truck. Buddy, one of the ranch’s working dogs, sat in the front seat between Kevin and I.

The Hill family and their hounds. From the left, Dolores with Copper, Gayla, Kevin holding Buddy, and Ace stretching out. I got my people and dog fix during the visit! Thank you for the great visit, Hill family!

It was a quiet two days of walking from Mosby to the Little Montana Truck Stop. Highway 200 had a few narrow stretches, but didn’t have the roller coaster hills I encountered between Circle and Jordan.

Low traffic levels allowed me to walk to the middle of the road and take a picture of a narrow, but flat stretch of highway near Little Montana Truck Stop.

I began the 31 mile walk to Lewistown around 7 AM on July 26th. I desperately needed a new pair of shoes and wanted to get to Shopko before they closed that night. At 11, I had to take a weather delay as a storm came barrelling over the Judith Mountains. I left PJ 10 yards off the highway and sat in my camp chair in a grassy ravine and waited for the thunder, lightning, and rain to stop.

My “storm shelter.”

After the storm passed, I walked up and over the Judith Mountains. I had a feeling the climb and descent were tame compared to what I will face in the Rockies, but it was a nice warm up. Once I started the five mile downhill walk into Lewistown, I could see several more mountain ranges in the distance. More dark clouds over those mountains discouraged any dawdling. I beat feet into town and arrived at Shopko, dry, with time to spare.

I decided to take a rest day in Lewistown to relax and recuperate before my push to Great Falls and the Continental Divide. It was a great decision. Lewistown sits in the Judith Valley and is surrounded by five mountain ranges. Well-maintained historic buildings line the downtown strip alongside large neon signs that mark where the restaurants and casinos are. It was also a very walkable town, complete with smooth sidewalks, plenty of crosswalks, and ramps on street corners (as opposed to curbs). PJ was thrilled.

The Judith Theater in downtown Lewistown.

I left Lewistown well rested and set my sights on Great Falls, 103 miles away.

On my first day out of Lewistown, I approached the tiny town of Windham, 34 miles into my day, when thunder and lighning began in the Little Belt Mountains just west of town.

PJ and I went into jogging mode and hustled towards an open sign that was visible from the top of a hill. The sign belonged to “Bar 87,” one of the few businesses in town. It was the first bar I have gone into on my walk. I quit drinking in April of 2017, so bars are no longer my scene. But in this case, it was the best shelter available! I sat down and ordered a Coke when a woman named Lennis sat down next to me. She ordered dinner to go, and we got to talking. When I told her about my “Walk for 60” mission, she gave me a big hug, saying “We met for a reason!”

Lennis is 74 years young, and a widower. Her husband of 27 years passed away in March, 2017. She decided to sell her home in Windham and start fresh in Great Falls. One thing she is especially excited about is getting more active. The uneven gravel roads in town aren’t safe for her to walk, and Montana winters are brutal. She will have access to sidewalks and an indoor exercise facility at her new home. Lennis quickly invited me to stay in the loft at her house.

We crammed some great conversations into my 12 hour stay. She had an emotional few days preparing for her move, and was admittedly lonely. I hope that my stay helped her feel a bit less lonely. I know it had that effect on me! I am excited to see how her fresh start and new exercise regimen go.

Lennis outside of her home in Windham. Thank you for your company, hospitality, and friendship!

I was reenergized by the fortuitous new friendship I found in Windham. I walked hard the next two days and arrived in Great Falls on July 30th near dusk. I had no idea where I was going to stay, so I called the KOA in town and decided 46 dollars was too expensive for a tent site. “I would rather sleep in a field than pay that,” I stubbornly told myself. As it turned out, I camped in an unused field that neigbored the KOA.

I began my trek toward Roger’s Pass and the Continental Divide the following morning. My Dad was on his way up from Colorado to pull me off the road for a few days, and my goal was to arrive in Lincoln by the time he made it into Western Montana. Lincoln is 88 miles west of Great Falls.

It was a hot few days of walking after leaving Great Falls. The mercury soared to 96 degrees (the hottest temp on my trip to the point) on my walk from Vaughn to mile marker 117. Smoke from Western wildfires made the air hazy and temperatures seem even hotter. I camped off the highway in a low spot, hidden from passing cars. Without trees stealth camping is a challenge!

I arrived at the base of the Rocky Mountains on August 2nd. Highway 87 was a beast even before I got to the mountains. The road would climb a massive hill, drop into a valley, then climb a hill out of the valley on the other side.

This photo, taken about 12 miles from where I started my climb up Roger’s Pass, doesn’t do the substantial elevation changes any justice!

I was beat by the time I began the four mile, 1,500 foot climb up Roger’s Pass. It took two hours, but I arrived at the summit, nearly collapsing.

Roger’s Pass was a long, steady, draining climb, ending at 5,600 feet. Fortunately there was an ample shoulder and plenty of places to stop and catch my breath (and take a few pictures)!

From the summit of Roger’s Pass and the Continental Divide, Lincoln was an 18 mile downhill walk. I camped just past the summit in Helena National Forest before walking into Lincoln the following morning. Three days prior, I told my dad I would be there at noon. I arrived at 11:20! Ahead of schedule!

Trip Stats

Days – 114

Miles – 2,628

Peanut Butter Jars – 90

Loose Change – $7.06

Favorite Roadside Find – A toy giraffe I named Jerome. I duct taped him to PJ’s flag pole. I have had a few “mascots” on my walk – Tipsy the horse, a Spongebob figurine, and now Jerome!

Favorite Four Pics –

My dad’s arrival was certainly emotional! For the first time in 114 days, I saw a familiar face. It is a true blessing to be able to spend some quality time off the road, exploring the beauty of Northern Montana with Dad!

Roger’s Pass was exhausting. The hills that led up to the climb were what did me in. But the climb was another reminder to keep putting one foot in front of the other….No matter what. Eventually the mountain will end, and if you stop, you can’t get to the top!

Thanks to a wet spring and early summer, it has been a hayll of a year for hay farmers.

I passed this art installation about 20 miles west of Lewistown. I have no idea what it is, but it certainly provided something different to look at.

I am incredibly excited to spend the next four or five days with my dad…We plan to explore Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, and several Lewis and Clark Historical Sites. I am going to cherish every minute….And I will certainly be ready to tackle the remaining 800ish miles separating Lincoln and the Pacific Ocean!

Walk on!

A Big Sky Walk

After a quiet day off in tiny Ray, I was ready to finish the North Dakota chapter of my walk and start fresh in Montana. However, the state line was still 50 miles away and I needed to pass through the oil boom town of Williston. I had a feeling that was going to be a challenge.

A local warned me of construction north of town on U.S. 2, so I followed a series of paved (but narrow) county roads into the Williston area. Traffic was light until I hit town, which happened to be right at rush hour. It was a slow last six miles to my host’s house. I moved off the road to let semi-trucks and passenger cars pass more times than I could count. I got a handful of dirty looks and a few middle fingers, but vehicles still slowed down. Some people look at you like you ran over their dog when they need to take 1 minute out of their day to slow down for a walker on the side of the road. I wish I could say to them “Believe me, I wish I had a shoulder so you wouldn’t have to slow down and I wouldn’t have to risk a rattlesnake bite by moving off the road!”

I arrived at Lisa and Roger Hennesy’s house around 8 PM. Roger had to pick me up in a church parking lot two miles away because I plugged the wrong address into my phone. Initially I blamed it on Google, but this time it was my Googling. I credit my mistake to the heat and Williston traffic!

I had an incredible stay with the couple. The two moved to Williston during the oil boom and recreated their lives in North Dakota. Roger worked 110 hour weeks driving oil trucks while Lisa managed the Blaisdell/Stanley RV Park where I stayed a few days prior. They lived in a 20 year-old RV for two years before upgrading to a FEMA trailer. Several of Lisa’s children lived with them intermittently at the park. They walked through the parking lot in the brutal wintertime to the “cabana” to cook and shower. Their hard work and sacrifices paid off. They have a comfortable life in Williston now.

Lisa is also a thyroid cancer survivor. The cancer left her vocal cords 80% paralyzed, which restricts her breathing. But by being an avid walker, Lisa keeps her lungs strong and is able to push herself further physically. She participates in yoga, hikes with her kids, and even attends P90X classes, which doctors didn’t think would be possible.

Lisa and Roger are a great example of what hard work and determination can lead to. They overcame one little challenge at a time. Eventually all those little victories added up and they have a great life (and some great stories) to show for it.

I left the Hennesy home July 13th and ran a few errands before heading out of town.

1My walk underwent a major route restructuring during my rest day. My initial plan was to follow U.S. 2 clear through Montana. I heard from countless people that the towns of Wolf Point and Poplar were very dangerous, especially since I was traveling on foot and sleeping in a tent most nights. Camping options were limited or non-existent, and most of the hotels had gone out of business. Highway 2 also follows the Missouri/Milk Rivers and a rail line. The mosquitos are legendarily vicious and I had my fair share of noisy trains in North Dakota. Plus there was bound to be more traffic. After taking these factors into consideration, I elected to drop south and walk Highway 200/87 to Lewistown and Great Falls. There were fewer services and towns, which meant less traffic (in theory). The challenges of this route scratched my adventure itch in all the right places.

I walked 25 miles southwest out of Williston and spent my last night in North Dakota camping on the banks of the Missouri River. After 10 miles the following morning, I arrived in Montana!

The skies were bigger as soon as I passed that sign!

North Dakota was a challenging state to walk through. It was mentally grueling, and unexpected obstacles like nuclear mosquitos, passing trains, inconsistent shoulders, and fireworks wore on me. I didn’t have many restful nights of sleep. Still, I was grateful for the kind folks I met, and I knew that the rough walk through the Roughrider State would prepare me for the trials ahead in Montana.

I spent my first night in Montana in Sidney. Locals welcomed me with open arms. A construction worker gave me a bag of candy. Matt and Bobbi, the duo working at the Subway in town, bought my sandwich. And my camping spot at Bagnell RV Park was comped by Candy and Tim, the owners. These small gestures made me feel right at home!

From Sidney, Highway 16 followed the Yellowstone River through a beautiful valley into Glendive. The 52 mile stretch took two days to walk. Traffic levels steadily decreased as I moved away from the Bakken Oil Region and Williston. Badland formations, corn fields, and ranchland lined the road.

Common scenery off Highway 16 between Sidney and Glendive.

I arrived in Glendive in the early afternoon. I elected to get a cheap hotel room (which was only 15 dollars more expensive than a campsite would have been!) for the night to clean myself up and rest.

I walked to Circle over the next two days. The scenery remained similar – endless ranches, a lot of cows, and hills on the horizon. Traffic levels continued to dwindle. I came across four cross-country cyclists, which added some nice roadside socializing to an otherwise quiet two days.

I camped in the middle of nowhere off the highway past the halfway point to Circle. The stars were incredible. The only sounds I could hear were the occasional moos from cows grazing in nearby pastures. I’ll take moos over a train’s “whooo-whooos” any day!

Wide open spaces under big skies between Glendive and Circle.

I arrived in Circle on July 18th and camped at Horse Creek RV Park for the night. Disappointingly, their showers were out of order (which knocked 5 bucks off the camping fee), but their immaculate laundromat was in full swing. It’s very difficult to make a laundromat feel homey, but the Horse Creek RV Park accomplished the feat! Nice hand crafted wooden tables were placed near the windows, Western decor hung on the walls, and a TV with cable hung in the corner. The floors were spotless. Laundry was higher on my priority list than a shower (though anyone caught within ten feet of me may disagree). I have said it before and I’ll say it again….Never run out of clean socks!

I considered taking a day off in Circle, but I was nervous about the next stretch of my walk and wanted to tackle it instead of sitting around thinking about what I would face on Highway 200 west of town.

I was told the road had “a lot of truck traffic,” that it was narrow, and was very hilly. Of course, everyone has a different definition of “a lot.” But I didn’t doubt that it would be narrow and hilly. There was no turning back after leaving Circle. A rest area with potable water was the only “service” available for the next 67 miles until I reached Jordan.

The ensuing two day stretch tested everything I have learned during my 5,000 miles of walking American and Canadian roads.

I enjoyed a shoulder for the first 13 miles, then poof, it was completely gone for the next 36 miles. The road was barely big enough for two semi trucks to fit on side by side. PJ and I literally walked on the road, taking up a quarter of the lane. I didn’t listen to music. I didn’t daydream. I immersed myself in the walk, carefully picking up cars with my eyes and ears as they approached me from both sides. If a vehicle didn’t scoot to the other lane when they were 100 yards away from me, I moved off the road. Sometimes that was difficult, considering there was a 30 degree slope off the road in spots. I needed to carry five gallons of water for the stretch, so PJ was heavy! It took every ounce of strength I had to keep my buggy from toppling over and falling down the hillside.

Highway 200, about 25 miles east of Jordan. The grade of the road looks relatively tame here, but trust me, it was a hilly son-of-a-gun.

The wind complicated matters. At its gustiest, the breeze made it difficult to hear cars coming from behind me. And when I walked up a hill, I obviously couldn’t see (or often hear) whether a car was approaching. If a vehicle crested the hill I was climbing, I immediately moved off the road. The trouble was, there wasn’t always a safe place to simply scoot over considering the dropoffs next to the road. After a few of the climbs (and having to dodge a few oncoming cars), I decided I would need to walk with traffic going up hills, then against it everywhere else. At least walking uphill I could look behind me and see if a car was coming. The most important thing was to be as visible to drivers as possible.

Highway 200 – up close and personal, in all its narrow glory!

This unnerving “game” went on for a long 36 mile stretch which spanned two days.

31 miles into the 67 mile walk, I arrived at the rest area and decided to camp there for the night. My feet were throbbing the following morning. I put on the pair of shoes which felt best (I was grateful to have four pairs to choose from!) and got on the road. My feet loosened up slightly as the day went on.

PJ and I had an interesting encounter shortly after leaving the rest area. A man named Dan pulled up in an ATV asking “Have you seen a bull around?”

“A bull?” I confirmed. “No I haven’t, but I will keep my eyes peeled.” I took Dan’s number in case I saw his bull. So now, not only was I worried about passing cars, but there was a bull on the loose. What does a person do if they come across a bull on the highway? Aren’t bulls attracted to red? Crap, I thought. I’m wearing a red shirt! PJ is red! My flag, which is effortlessly blowing in the Montana breeze, is red! That bull is going to gore us! I cautiously scanned the grass along the road while looking ahead for cars.

30 minutes later, I saw a big black blob run across the highway. Dan’s ATV was right behind it. “Bull!” I yelled. They were 200 yards ahead of us. A few seconds later, the bull ran back across the road with Dan close behind, and eventually ran off into a field north of the highway. I was glad Dan found his bull and PJ and I didn’t end up as shish kebulls.

With the neighborhood bull safely in his pasture, I continued my routine…left side downhill, right side uphill, move for a car. Repeat. The hills kept coming, but thankfully traffic levels remained manageable. Mercifully, I reached a shoulder 16 miles from Jordan. I was safe, but still needed to walk into town on my achy feet. PJ and I made it as the sun set. My feet felt numb by the time we arrived in town.

The sunset over Jordan was even more beautiful considering the difficulty of the previous two days!

From start to finish, that 67 mile stretch was as difficult as any two-day walk I have completed. My adrenaline was still pumping at midnight. I didn’t want to go to sleep. But once I finally hit my smelly sleeping bag, I was out like a light.

Trip Stats –

Days – 101

Miles – 2,307

Peanut Butter Jars – 79

Favorite Roadside Find –

On my last evening in North Dakota, this sweet dog (who I named Sebastian) started following me. I passed a house with a mean sounding German Shepherd in the front yard barking. I kept walking and felt like I was being followed. I turned around and saw the cute little guy. I told him to go home but he kept walking the shoulder with me. After a half mile I stopped and gave him some water and beef jerkey. I petted him for a while. He had a nice collar but no tags. I assumed he lived at the house where the shepherd was. Someone would surely miss his fluffy face so I carried him back to the house down the highway. The German Shepherd was still barking in the yard so I couldn’t ring the doorbell. I hoped that was his home! I nearly had a new travel buddy, but PJ wouldbhave gotten too jealous!

Loose Change – $6.86

Favorite Three Pictures –

Montana directories look a bit different!

I felt inclined to post a picture PROOVING North Dakota is not flat! This was just south of Williston, looking North.

Badlands just north of Glendive.

From what I’m told, the highway widens west of here. Towns will continue to be 30-60 miles apart until I reach Lewistown, 133 miles down the road. Rumor has it there are some mountains ahead, too.

I will continue to take this journey one step at a time and enjoy every obstacle and every blessing that presents itself. Until next time!

Walk on!

The “Peace” Garden State

Many North Dakota license plates say “Discover the Spirit,” above an image of rolling plains, distant hills, and a buffalo. I have yet to see a buffalo, but I have been discovering that spirit for the last nine days and 251 miles while walking from Michigan to Ray. It has been a wild, loud, and often frustrating (but beautiful) spirit that has provided a significant mental challenge as I push further west.

The majority of the scenery between Michigan and Minot consists of endless soybean, corn, and canola fields on pancake-flat plains. Devil’s Lake, along with numerous ponds and wetlands, did provide something different to look at along the way.

One of the “arms” of Devil’s Lake in the late afternoon.

Highway 2 and the wind managed to get under my skin during the first few days out of Michigan. The eastbound shoulder (which I walk, facing traffic) was paved for the first 30 miles of North Dakota, then the paved portion inexpicably stopped for miles and miles. A gravel and rock shoulder replaced it (much like the shoulder of my old Canadian walking partner, the Can-Can). However, the shoulder on the westbound lanes of the highway was paved 99 percent of the time. It was more like 50 percent on my side of the road. “Why does that side of the road get the best shoulder,” I continually whined. The howling wind, monotonous scenery, and maddening shoulder fed my “walker’s rage.” At one point I cursed the entire state of North Dakota. And then alologized to the whole state a minute later when I realized how ridiculous I was being. I had such great shoulders for the previous 450 miles of my walk, I unreasonably expected them to continue. When they didn’t I took it out on an entire state! At least I realized the errors in my thought process. The 50/50 bumpy shoulder lasted for 120 miles (the shoulder has been great since Minot though).

On the six-day walk to Minot I camped behind a gas station, at an RV Park in Leeds (thanks for the spot, Jan!), and at three city parks in Rugby (the Geographical Center of North America), Towner (the cattle capital of North Dakota), and Surrey. I will admit I thought camping in these small towns would be quieter. But North Dakotans love their fireworks! I heard my first few fireworks on July 1st in Michigan, and continued to hear them every night until July 8th. They celebrate Independence Day for eight days in North Dakota!

School’s out for summer….School’s out forever! This abandoned one room schoolhouse was just outside of Rugby.

I had a short, six mile walk into Minot after leaving the city park in Surrey. For the first time since leaving the Atlantic, the mercury cracked the 90 degree mark, which is pretty remarkable considering it was July 6th. I spent a little time wandering through the North Dakota State Fairgrounds and downtown. Minot had a nice “Western feel” and I enjoyed my walk through town, but I was exhausted from the heat and was ready to shut it down for the day. I ended up at Roughrider Campground on the west end of the city.

The kind woman working the cash register gave me two complimentary tokens for the pay showers. Initially she only handed me one taken. She must have caught a healthy whiff of my U.S. 2 highway stench and thought “a five minute shower isn’t enough for this guy. Better make it 10.” I gladly accepted the second token when she handed it to me. I surely needed it!

Downtown Minot. I will need to saddle up for the hot, windy, and desolate West!

The landscape began changing west of Minot. The city itself sits in the Souris River Valley. Bluffs with sparse pine trees and shrubs line the river. I enjoyed seeing, and walking, some hills. My walk has been nearly flat since leaving the shores of Lake Superior.

As I approached Stanley over the next two days, I walked past fewer farms and through more ranchland. I did some serious mooing at cattle when I passed the first few herds grazing in their pastures right off the highway. I was still in rural country, just a different kind of rural.

I had also arrived in the oil rich Bakken Region. Oil wells blend right into the modest grassy hills of the area. Locals have told me that traffic is nothing like it was during the “oil boom” five years ago. Still, I have experienced a significant increase in vehicles as I have walked further west into the state. Maintenance trucks for the oil wells, which are typically half-ton pickups, can be just as loud as semis. I have “gone silent,” (my term for putting in earplugs) to lessen the impact of road noise on my ears.

An oil well just west of Stanley. Oil operations are becoming more common as I get closer to Williston. I will be in the Bakken for another 100 miles west of Ray.

I reached out to the Blaisdell/Stanley RV Park when I left the Minot area and was able to set up a free place to sleep for the night in the park’s “cabana.” I walked 36 miles from the Roughrider Campground to the park. Lisa, the owner, was incredibly helpful. I had a roof over my head for the first time in North Dakota. I slept in the cabana hallway on my sleeping pad and had access to free laundry, a shower, a fully operational kitchen (though I didn’t cook), and a few couches.

The cabana at Blaidsell/Stanley RV Park. The park was a bit rugged (typically used by oil and contract workers), but the cabana felt like a Holiday Inn to me! Thank you for the spot, Lisa!

I had a short 15 mile walk into Stanley the following day, where I camped at yet another city park. Locals suggested trying a “whirly-whip,” (not to be confused with a whippit, which is very different!) at Stanley Drug. Employees use an old-school ice cream mixing machine to prepare the whirly-whip. The old fountain was a happening place on the hot afternoon. I bellied up to the soda fountain bar and ordered a peanut butter and vanilla whip. It was just what the doctor ordered on a hot afternoon!

After a calm few days storm wise, I had a rough two nights in Stanley and Ray. Between passing trains twice an hour (the tracks were about 30 yards from my tent) and a strong storm that pushed through town in Stanley, it was a restless night.

Encountering severe weather has been a consistent issue on the plains of Western Minnesota and all of North Dakota. This was the view to the west from the Stanley water tower. This particular cell produced a tornado in Watford City (65 miles southwest of Stanley).

I arrived in Ray on July 10th after a 36 mile walk and set up camp as distant thunderstorms closed in on the town. Right as I was getting ready to go to sleep, my phone notified me of a severe thunderstorm warning. I put on my shoes and jogged into town (PJ was safely tied to a bench under a gazebo) as the storm blew in. I waited the storm out at a welding shop. A man named Joey happened to be working late and invited me in when he saw me running by. By the time the storm passed and I was back in my tent, it was 12:30. I woke at 8 this morning and decided to take a day off. Williston would have to wait!

Trip Stats

Days – 91

Miles – 2,058.5 – I hit the 2,000 mile mark at mile marker 111 on Highway 2!

Peanut Butter Jars – 67

Loose Change – $6.26

Favorite Roadside Find – A hefty North Dakota license plate.

Three Favorite Pictures

Proof that North Dakota is not entirely flat!

Much of the scenery in North Dakota is incredibly serene and idyllic. Minutes later, maddening winds, truck noise, and a bumpy shoulder are there to greet me. It has been a roller coaster walk!

I spent the 4th of July at the Geographic Center of North America in Rugby. I loved seeing the American, Canadian, and Mexican flags blowing together in the North Dakotan breeze.

The “Peace Garden State” hasn’t always been peaceful thanks to trains, trucks, fireworks, relentless wind, and bumpy shoulders. I am constantly reminded to be patient, persistent, and to avoid having expectations for what I’ll face in coming days. Just because I have a smooth shoulder today doesn’t guarantee a smooth shoulder tomorrow!

I am 54 miles from the Montana border. I am sure North Dakota has a few more loud surprises in store before I reach Big Sky Country.

Walk on!

So long ‘Sota…Hello Dakota!

The walk out of Grand Rapids, Minnesota was filled with a handful of fun interactions that only added to the fond memories I will always have of the town.

I swung by KAXE Community Radio and did a 15 minute live interview, which was a little intimidating, but a ton of fun. I had to make sure I didn’t use any “road language,” because mine can get a little vulgar depending on the circumstances.

Across the street from the station, I visited with Eric (who had set up the interview), his wife Laura, co-worker Lara, and Eric’s sister, Katy. The group works at a CPA Firm their family owns and operates. I didn’t know accounting could be so fun, considering it was always my least favorite class in Business School.

The group introduced me to “Donut Diplomacy.” It is a regular tradition where they settle in-house squabbles or simply bond over a box of donuts. I had my first ever banana donut, which is a banana shaped donut with banana flavored frosting on top. Aparently they are a “thing” in Grand Rapids. Understandably so. It was delicious. We shared a lot of stories and a lot of laughs.

The “Donut Diplomacy” group. Thank you all for the great memories!

I left town around noon and began the three day, 70 mile trek to Bemijdi. The majority of the stretch passed through Leech Lake Indian Reservation and Chippewa National Forest. I camped next to a gas station in Ball Club, then stealth camped off a bike path outside Cass Lake the following night.

My favorite encounter on the reservation was with Chief Jay and his wife. We visited for 45 minutes. The Chief ended up giving me an eagle feather for good luck, a bouquet of plants that included sweet grass, sage, and cedar, and a hand-made leather pouch filled with tobacco. It is customary to spread a little tobacco on a piece of land as a gesture of appreciation. Chief Jay also broke off some pieces of the cedar, knelt down, and dropped them into my shoes to protect my feet. I was expecting the cedar needles to itch, but they didn’t. And my feet have been feeling great ever since! Thank you Chief Jay!

I arrived in Bemijdi on Sunday, June 24th, and already had a host lined up. Mike and Karen Forbes had agreed to put me up for the night after hearing about my walk when I arrived in Grand Rapids. And what a night we had! Mike made spaghetti for dinner and we visited around the table like old friends. The Forbes are an intriguing couple. They are both active in the outdoors and enjoy biking, camping, hiking, kayaking, and fishing (though I didn’t have much advice to offer on the kayaking or fishing fronts). The couple even lived in a teepee for two years, which is no small feat in Northern Minnesota!

They also have chickens and bees that live on the property. Karen asked me if I wanted to collect eggs for breakfast. I reluctantly agreed. I have a phobia of small spaces and domesticated/city birds, so I was nervous. It took five minutes longer than it should have, but I eventually made it into the chicken coop and retrieved six eggs while one rooster and seven hens watched me closely with their beady little eyes. Karen gave me a huge hug when I emerged, eggs in hand. She described the spectacle as “adorable.” I am glad no one else witnessed it. Karen also showed me her beehive and let me sample some “home grown honey.” I don’t have any issues with bees so when she opened the hive, I leaned in to take a closer look!

Mike, Karen, and their two dogs, Greta (right), and Reyna (left). Unfortunately our family had to put down our 13 year old black lab/sheperd mix, Tillman, a week before. It was nice to have some dog therapy. Both of their hounds are German Shepherds. Thank you for your hospitality, Mike and Karen!

After leaving Bemijdi I was four days and 115 miles from the North Dakota border. I always have a little pep in my step before reaching a state line.

50 miles west of Bemijdi, I emerged from the forest and arrived on the Minnesota prairie, complete with sugar beet farms, corn fields, and a few national wildlife refuges.

After walking through forested areas for the majority of my walk, being able to see 5, 10, or 15 miles into the distance was refreshing. I have always loved ths wide open spaces of the plains! After camping in city parks in McIntosh and Crookston, I began my final push to the Grand Forks, North Dakota area.

About 12 miles from town I anxiously watched a thunderstorm form on the horizon. There was only a 30 percent chance of rain that afternoon, so I played the odds when I left under sunny morning skies. The storm ahead grew and dark, menacing clouds closed in on me. I saw a sign for a rest area, two miles away, and started running. Five minutes into our clumsy run, a red pickup pulled over. “There is hail headed this way,” the man told me.

I joked in my Rapids radio interview that “PJ is not a jogger,” and “Why would I ruin a good walk by running?” In a scenario where hail is involved, PJ and I become avid runners. The ominous and sinister clouds swirled overhead. I eyed the small clump of trees that surrounded the rest area, in addition to a farm house that was a quarter mile south of the road. If it started raining or hailing, I would leave PJ on the roadside and make a mad dash for the house. Somehow, it never did. The storm missed us by a half-mile.

Looking back at the storm after it had safely passed. I could see the wall of water, and probably hail, a half-mile north of the road.

By the time we reached the rest stop it was obvious we were in the clear. I stopped, turned around, and was in awe of the spectacle I just witnessed. I dropped to my knees and prayed, right in the long grass off the road shoulder, thanking God for his protection. My whole body continued shaking for some time.

After the frightening thunderstorm debacle, I was anxious to get to Red River Recreation Area, where I planned on camping for the night. Unfortunately more severe storms were expected overnight.

It was a quiet night at the campground until 4 AM, when my phone started buzzing, alarming me of a severe thunderstorm warning for the area. I threw on my flip-flops and hustled to the campground shelter and waited out the storm. The alert said 60 mile per hour winds and hail up to an inch in diameter were possible with the storm. Hail that size would surely shred my tent and PJ. The storm pushed through town with an incredible lightning display, torrential rain, and wind, but no hail. I was grateful PJ lived to roll another day considering the weather of the previous 24 hours!

Within 20 minutes of resuming my walk on June 29th, we crossed the Red River and arrived in North Dakota, the eighth state/province of the trek. Minnesota had certainly gone out with a boom!

Beard today, gone tomorrow! I decided to ditch my beard at the Minnesota/North Dakota border. My face lettuce was getting too scraggly and hot, so I decided to start the second half of my walk with a clean look. It felt good to see my chin again!

PJ and I spent the morning wandering around downtown Grand Forks and the University of North Dakota’s campus. The UND Fighting Hawks (formerly known as the UND Fighting Sioux) have a gorgeous campus.

I really enjoyed the city. It reminded me of Fort Collins, Colorado, where I graduated from college. Massive trees lined the residential streets, it was very pedestrian and cyclist friendly, and had a very laid back, friendly vibe.

Despite a 4 PM departure from Wal-Mart on the west side of town, we managed to walk another 13 miles to Emerado, where I set up camp behind a gas station.

Our walk the folowing morning began just before 7. I hoped to arrive in Michigan, 39 miles down the road, by nightfall.

My first full day in North Dakota went relatively smoothly. I am expecting the wind to be my biggest opponent across the Peace Garden State. The terrain has been flat and there are very few trees, so there is nothing to stop the wind from howling!

Clear, big blue skies over beet, soybean, corn, and canola fields were around every corner. A surprising number of wetland areas off the highway provided habitats for migratory birds. It was nice to have consistent bird chirping to accompany sounds from the wind and passing cars.

One of the roadside ponds near the tiny town of Petersburg, North Dakota.

PJ and I arrived in Michigan with daylight to spare, covering 39 miles in just over 13 hours. The walk from Grand Rapids to Michigan totaled 240 miles and took nine days.

We will be taking a rest day in the quiet and friendly town before continuing west to Devil’s Lake, Minot, and Williston druing our next walking stretch.

In total, I will have slept in Michigan for four nights during my walk! Two nights in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and two nights in Michigan, North Dakota! I even have dinner plans with a friendly couple, Don and Laurie, who own the oldest house in town (built in 1901).

Trip Stats –

Days – 81

Miles – 1,808.5

Peanut Butter Jars – 56

Roadside Change – $5.39

Favorite Roadside Find – A bungee cord. I found it between Grand Forks and Michigan. I was able to use it to bungee down my solar panel on top of PJ so it won’t blow back in my face when a semi-truck passes and sends a gust of wind my way.

Favorite Three Pictures –

Thunderheads and ominous skies to the east after these supercells passed just north of U.S. 2.

Polkadots in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This is high on the list of the most unique houses I have seen on my walk! I nicknamed her the Home of ‘Dipp’n Dots .

Yellow and green canola fields in the North Dakota countryside.

PJ has gone through his first pair of “shoes” on the walk (though I have still only disposed of one pair for myself)! I put fresh new tires on my buggy this morning.

We are ready to continue our windy two-step down U.S. 2! We will tackle any and all obstacles that are blown our way!

Walk on!

Land O’Lakes

From Wayne and Marie Ferguson’s house, the U.S. – Canada border was a mere 36 miles away. I left Thunder Bay on June 12th and began the last leg of my trek through Ontario. Highway 61 weaved through farm and ranchland and was surrounded by rocky hills with flat tops. They reminded me of mesa country in the West, but with lush vegetation.

There was very little traffic (and no 18 wheelers!) to go with a massive shoulder clear through to the border. It made for a peaceful final stretch in Ontario.

I arrived at customs the following afternoon. In total, I walked 1,115 miles in Canada. 1,000 of those were in Ontario. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with America’s northern neighbor, but I was excited to arrive in Minnesota!

Getting back into the states was a breeze. The only item I was bringing back with me I was worried about getting across the border was a “bear stick” Marie had bought for me. The stick was made by a craftsman in Thunder Bay. It looks and functions like a normal walking stick, but the handle can be removed, which exposes an eight inch spear. It can be used as a weapon against a bear in a worst case scenario….if yelling and bear spray don’t work! I was worried it could be considered a “concealed weapon” or something, since the spear is hidden.

When the border agent asked me if I had any weapons, I told him about the stick. He interrupted me and simply said “That’s a good thing to have. Lots of bears around this area.” He moved along to his next question.

It was a painless border crossing. With my steps across the Pigeon River and a successful pass through customs, I had officially arrived back in the U.S., in the Central Time Zone, and in Minnesota. I achieved three milestones in a matter of minutes! I was happily back in the land of miles, gallons, pounds, and 100 deet bug spray, which wasn’t available in Canada for “health reasons.”

After taking several ceremonial selfies next to the “Welcome to Minnesota” sign, I began my 400 mile walk through the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

I was greeted with some great Minnesotan generosity within a few miles of crossing into the state. A man named Steven, who was visiting the “North Shore” with his kids, pulled over to visit with me. He wished me good luck as I began the mile long climb up Mount Josephine. Near the summit, Steven came back with a care package that included an antioxidant drink, a bag of almonds, a pouch of jerkey, a can of bug spray, and a tin of Altoids. “I bet nobody has given you Altoids yet!” Steven joked. He was right. I hope it wasn’t a subtle hint that I hadn’t been using enough toothpaste!

There were several breathtaking views of Lake Superior from the summit of Mount Josephine before the highway descended into Grand Portage.

I never grew tired of the incredible views of Lake Superior during my 24 day, 550 mile walk around the lake!

It took 1,355 miles, but I finally had my first brush with law enforcement as I made my way into Grand Portage. The town is on a reservation, and one of the Tribal Police Officers pulled his vehicle over to talk with me. I gave him my usual walking spiel before he issued me a stern warning.

“It is against our laws for someone to camp on reservation land, unless it’s at the marina campground. The res continues for another 10 miles outside of town. And since I have warned you, if you do camp in the woods and we catch you, we will arrest you for trespassing. Wouldn’t want to ruin your trip.”

I forced a smile and thanked him for the warning. I would either need to camp in town or walk 10 more miles off the reservation (though some would argue I’m already “off the reservation” considering this walk I’m on). I had already walked 25 miles on the day.

As I approached the campground, I met Anthony and Cecilia. The couple worked at the marina and had just finished their shift for the day. Luckily, they were able to set up a free site for me for the night, which made my decision very easy! I thanked the couple and relaxed at the campground for the rest of the evening. I visited with some other campers and nursed my feet, which had been “firing up,” as I like to say, over the last few days. Unfortunately, my right foot was not alright. I had a few blisters on the sole of the foot, one on the big toe, and a strange rash around the toes. My left foot was great, though. I took some benadryl when bed time rolled around, hoping the red bumps were just an allergic reaction to something (maybe remnants from my errant shot of bear spray a week earlier?).

I had crystal clear weather the following day for the 35 mile walk to Grand Marais. To my surprise, my feet felt pretty good. Julian, a man I camped next to at the campground in Grand Portage, was on an out-and-back cycling trip from the Twin Cities to the Canadian border. The weather was supposed to get nasty for a few days and he decided to wait it out at the campground in Grand Marais. He invited me to camp with him for the night, which allowed me to walk into town as daylight faded without having to worry about where I would sleep.

Julian and our travel companions at the campground in Grand Marais. I truly enjoyed his company. Thank you for hosting me, Julian!

Like the weatherman predicted, some pretty intense storms rolled through in the early morning hours. I stayed in my tent until the rain, thunder, and lightning stopped. There was a high probability of rain off and on for the next three days.

Julian invited me to stay at his campground as long as I wanted, but ultimately I said “To hell with it. I’m going to walk.” I psyched myself up for a potentially very wet few days.

On the way out of Grand Marais I was able to do an interview with WTIP Community Radio in their studio, conveniently located right off the highway. It led to some great connections down the road.

After 65 days on the road, I believe that I am a great example of a person with a “face for radio!”

Amazingly, the rain spared me for the rest of the day. Dark clouds were visible to my south and east throughout the day. The day before, the lakeshore was peaceful under sunny skies. Small waves lapped at the shoreline. Today, the lake was angry. Three foot waves violently crashed onto the rocky coast. I hadn’t seen this side of Lake Superior yet!

Despite the late start, I managed 27 miles and ended my day camping in the woods just past Tofte.

Although I was greeted with partly cloudy skies in the morning, a cold, soaking rain moved into the area by 10 AM. Temperatures were in the mid-60’s but the wind and rain made it feel 10 or 15 degrees cooler. Was it really the middle of June?

I pressed on through the cold and wet weather and arrived in Little Marais. By then the rain had let up, but fog had settled in. A vehicle pulled over near the middle of the tiny town and a man named Gary, who owned the AmericInn in Silver Bay, got out of his car. Gary heard my radio interview and offered me a room for the night at his hotel. I was so excited I nearly hugged him, but didn’t want to stink up his finely pressed suit.

I walked the final eleven miles to Silver Bay and had another pleasant surprise – sunshine! The sun stayed out for the duration of my walk before more storms moved in overnight.

I was thrilled to be safely inside. I spent the evening doing laundry, nursing my feet (which weren’t any better, but weren’t any worse either), and eating cans of tuna fish and chili with tortillas and cheese wiz. I couldn’t have been happier.

I slept in the following morning and wasn’t on the road until 11. I took a brief trip to Black Beach and said goodbye to Lake Superior. My walk around the lake had been spectacular. I had experienced the lake’s many moods – sunny and peaceful; foggy and mystical; stormy and angry. I will always have fond memories of impressive Lake Superior!

Black Beach in Silver Bay, Minnesota.

I left Silver Bay knowing that I was going to be in for a wet afternoon. After I left the grocery store, I made it about four miles before thunderstorms sidelined me for two hours. I don’t mind walking in some rain, but I draw the line at walking through thunder and lightning. I found a low spot off the road and sat under my umbrella, waiting for the lightning to stop. As I contemplated whether I would get any more walking in, the storms steadily dissipated and I cautiously resumed my stroll. The clouds slowly lifted and I managed another 12 miles. Patience had paid off.

The following day was one for my personal record books. I started my walk at about 7 AM and felt amazing. I had some pep in my step and my feet felt like new. The terrain was flat, traffic levels were low, and I had a massive shoulder all day. I ended up walking 44 miles. I didn’t really plan to cover that distance….I was making good time at 15, 20, 25, and 30 miles, then said “Why not?”

The only problem was I started looking for a sleeping spot once I hit the 40 mile mark, and had walked off national forest land. A wet spring left grass on the roadside chest deep and impenetrable for PJ. I walked into darkenss and desperately looked for somewhere – anywhere to sleep. I crossed a bridge and passed a baby skunk. It startled me a bit so I went to the other side of the road. Another baby skunk! Back to the other side, and boom! A third baby skunk. Fortunately I never saw mama skunk. Getting sprayed by a skunk would be about the worst thing that could happen during my walk – aside from an injury, PJ breaking down, getting arrested by Tribal Police, or being mauled by some animal. I decided it was good luck I hadn’t been sprayed. A mile later I came across a tiny town and decided to sleep behind the Town Hall. I “slept” in my full body bug suit for five hours, woke up at 4 AM, and continued walking to avoid detection. What a day it had been!

Looking back towards the sunrise the morning after my 44 mile day. This picture was taken at 5 AM. It gets light early in Northern Minnesota!

Over the next two days I covered the remaining 60 miles to Grand Rapids in a relatively smooth fashion. Initially, I was planning on staying with an old co-worker from the Loop in town, but he thought I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, not Minnesota.

Fortunately, I had met Dan Nielsen’s parents at the AmericInn in Silver Bay. Dan and his wife were on a four day backpacking trip while his folks watched the grandkids. Dan had reached out to me through Facebook, wishing me luck on my walk. I explained that my lodging plans had fallen through. He set up my stay for two nights at another AmericInn in Grand Rapids, and even took me out to lunch during my rest day in town. Thank you Dan!

Dan and I enjoyed a delicious lunch in Grand Rapids. There was a grizzly bear skin on the wall behind our table. That grizzly made the black bear I met in Nipigon look like a teddy bear!

There are a handful of helpful Minnesotans who have made contributions in one from or another to my walk during the last week. I am forever grateful for the generosity and love I have been shown in this incredible state!

Trip Stats

Days – 71

Miles – 1,569.5

I also completed my first 200 mile week of the trip, walking 209.5 miles in seven days from Grand Portage to Grand Rapids. It was a grand walking stretch!

Peanut Butter Jars – 47

Roadside Change – $5.03

Favorite Roadside Find – Two perfectly wrapped hard candies next to a lucky penny.

Favorite Three Pictures Plus a Bonus Pic-

The calm after the storm outside Silver Bay.

An angry Lake Superior outside Grand Marais.

I came across a very unique art display off Highway 61 just north of Grand Marais. Can you spot the famous “Wilson” from Castaway?

Minnesota Vikings wildflowers!

The Minnesota, North Dakota border is 190 miles away! I am so excited to start my Two-Step down U.S. Highway 2 on day 72 of my walk. Until next time!

Walk on!

A Superior Walk

The 11 day, 291 mile walk from Wawa to Thunder Bay has had its fair share of ups and downs….And I’m not just talking about walking the hills and mountains surrounding Lake Superior!

The mercury soared on my way out of Wawa. Afternoon highs were in the low 90’s and humidity hovered around 70 percent. In another month that may feel like a cool day, but considering it was my first dose of summer heat, I was toasty.

On the bright side, the cashier at a gas station I stopped at near the end of the day said the unseasonably hot temps would kill most of the black flies*….he did, however, caution me that more would hatch in coming days when it cooled of.

*I am happy to report that through Thunder Bay, the black flies have been a non-issue! That could change down the road, but I have lucked out so far!

Darkness quickly approached after I had walked 32 miles. I settled on a spot next to a lake in Obatanga Provincial Park. The black flies weren’t an issue as I set up camp, but the mosquitos ate me alive. It was as if they decided to swarm me right as I started pitching my tent. I put on my “bug jacket” and soaked myself in deet, but it didn’t deter them.

I hurried into my tent, drenched in sweat and bug spray. I itched all over. I hadn’t put on my “bug pants” in an effort to see how effective “Ben’s 100 Deet Bug Spray” was on its own. The nuclear mosquitos of Northern Ontario must be resistant because my legs and feet itched until morning. A constant mosquito buzz accompanied me through a restless night.

Even though the Can-Can didn’t follow Lake Superior for a few days, there were plenty of beautiful rivers and lakes to enjoy on the walk from Wawa to White River.

After steamy temperatures the day before, my walk into White River was much cooler. Overcast skies, periods of light mist, and temperatures in the low 50’s were a drastic change. Canada’s schitzofrenic weather continued to keep me on my toes.

I camped at a free campground in Winnie the Pooh’s hometown of White River. My site was right behind an A&W Restaurant. I don’t know if the employees were grossed out or impressed when I downed seven junior burgers for dinner.

I couldn’t resist taking a bearded selfie with Winnie. I just wish this was the only bear I encounted during my last stretch. More on that later!

The weather improved for two days after leaving White River, leaving me comfortable conditions for the two day, 56 mile walk to Marathon.

From there, the Can-Can returned to the shores of Lake Superior. With that came some spectacular views, but plenty more hills and mountains to climb, too.

The weather coming out of Marathon was rainy, cool, and foggy once again. About 10 miles into my walk, a small sedan pulled over. The driver, who was about my age, hopped out of the car and said “I know exactly how you feel right now.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had just met “Fast Eddy.” Eddy completed a 601 day run from BC to Newfoundland (and then turned around and ran back) in 2015 and 2016. His run totaled 12,100 miles. When he told me about his achievement I was speechless.

Fast Eddy gave me a great morale boost, in addition to an apple, a soda, and a toonie for a cup of coffee at the next C-Store down the road.

Midway through my day I walked through a thick fog bank for about two hours. At times it was so thick I couldn’t see a vehicle approaching me (even with their headlights and/or hazard lights on) until they were 30 yards away. I didn’t bother walking anywhere near the road and stuck to the far left side of the bumpy, unpaved shoulder for safety’s sake. It was an unnerving stretch! But thanks to the morale boost from Fast Eddy, I was able to walk 34 miles. I was thrilled with that total given the lousy weather conditions.

Lake Superior blanketed in thick fog outside Marathon.

I continued to check small towns on Highway 17 off my list over the next two days, walking through Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Rossport, and Pays Plat. There were plenty of nice views of Lake Superior, along with some exhausting climbs, during the stretch.

Approaching Lake Superior from just outside of Rossport.

My seventh day out of Wawa began about 20 miles east of Nipigon. At about 6:30, I woke up to a series of footsteps and snorting near my tent. I froze, fearing what creature was on the otherside of my tent wall. I had slept with my tent fly open, and when I rolled over and looked out the door, a big black bear had walked through my camp and was smelling PJ. “That’s a (insert numerous expletives) bear.” I said out loud.

He was about 10 feet away from my sleeping bag. My heart pounded and my mind raced as I decided what to do. I started talking to the bear as I reached for my can of bear spray. This certainly wasn’t “Winnie the Pooh.” That boy was big, and based off the size of his gut, he was having a successful spring of eating.

“Hey there big fella. I’m just passing through. No need to be alarmed.” I said in a calm voice. I thought about my options. I could make a bunch of noise and try to scare him off. I could just lay there and hope he left. But given the fact I was still inside my tent, I was stuck. I took the safety cap off the spray and decided to use it to try to get him to run off.

I didn’t appreciate how sensitive the trigger on the cannister was and inadvertently sprayed the corner of my tent as I unzipped the door. The “phhhhhew” of the spray coming out made the bear jump. Then he fixated on my tent.

I quickly aimed at the bear’s face and let it fly, hitting him square in the nose (and also spraying PJ in the process). He looked stunned and clumsily walked into the woods seconds later, pawing at his face and running into a few tree branches during his escape. I stayed in my tent for a few minutes, stunned. I eventually got out and dumped a gallon of water on the portion of my tent I had sprayed, mopping up the peppery water with dirty shirts and socks from my laundry bag.

After packing up camp I got back on the road, disheveled from the experience. My high visibility vest, which was resting on PJ’s handlebars, had an empty granola bar wrapper in one of the pockets. I also neglected to pull out other scented items, like sunscreen and bug spray, and include them with my food bad and toiletries which were hanging a good distance from my tent. I had made an amatuer mistake, I thought, and all but invited the bear to my campsite. I had gotten sloppy. As I thought about the whole ordeal, I rubbed my eyes, not remembering there was still pepper spray residue on my hands. They started burning and watering. I had to sit on the side of the road for 20 minutes waiting for the pain to subside.

As I sat in my little camp chair on the gravel shoulder I felt a huge sense of embarrassment and regret set in. What was I thinking? I had gotten cocky, thinking “I have these woods figured out. I have these bears figured out. I have this walk figured out.” As the burning in my eyes continued I had to accept the fact that I had a lot to learn. And no matter how many miles I walked, the road (along with the animals that inhabit it) would continue to be unpredicatable. I needed to accept that and know I would never have it mastered. That things could change in an instant and I must do my best to always be ready. And most importantly, be open to continual learning and improvement.

I had been served a huge piece of humble pie for breakfast. And then I laughed, thinking about what a glorious and ridiculous journey I was on. My day got considerably better from there.

I aired out my tent during lunch, hoping to get rid of the peppery scent inside, and arrived in Nipigon later that evening. I hadn’t showered in eight days, so I decided to camp at the Nipigon Marina Campground for the night and rinse the unappealing aroma of B.O., sunscreen, bug spray, and now bear spray, off my body.

I had called the campground earlier in the day to let them know I was coming. When I arrived, Sean and Cora (two of the camp’s employees) were waiting for me. They had set up a tree tent for me to sleep in for the night. The green tent, suspended by three trees, hung about four feet off the ground. It was like sleeping on a cloud!

The eco-friendly tree tent campground in Nipigon is the first of its kind in North America. It also offered spectacular views of the Nipigon River. There were even pelicans fishing in the distance! Who knew pelicans ventured this far north into Canada in late spring!

From Nipigon, Thunder Bay was still seventy miles away. First, I needed to do laundry. Once again, I was out of clean socks. I stopped by a truck stop, which luckily had a stackable washer/dryer unit in a hallway next to the restaurant kitchen. I was expecting to have to sweet-talk a trucker out of a Tide Pod, but the Husky Travel Center provided laundry detergent.

As I was waiting for my clothes to dry, Dan and Susan Shaver (who insisted I looked good with a beard and said I didn’t need to shave) struck up a conversation with me. They invited me to stay in their yard, 27 clicks down the highway. I arrived at seven and enjoyed porkckops, potatoes, salad, and ice cream with the friendly couple.

I walked the final 40 miles into Thunder Bay over the next two days. I arrived at Marie and Wayne Ferguson’s around 5 PM June 9th. Marie is Lesley and Paul Morin’s niece. I stayed with the Morins in Sudbury. For the first time in three weeks I would have a roof over my head! I was pretty exhausted from the adventures of the last 291 miles, but a mountain of steak, potato salad, ice cream, and the couple’s company perked me right up. Their sweet and energetic seven month old Husky/German Sheperd mix, Echo, helped too!

I am resting for two days in Thunder Bay and preparing to conclude my walk in Canada and begin trekking through Minnesota, which is about 40 miles away.

Trip Stats

Days – 61

Miles – 1315.5

Peanut Butter Jars – 40

Favorite Roadside Find – New to me sunglasses! My previous pair broke. Duct tape around the rim provided a temporary fix but their days were numbered. After a little cleanup the new pair works great and is stylish enough!

Loose Change Count – Stuck on $4.66

Favorite Three Pictures

Visiting the Terry Fox Memorial outside Thunder Bay has been one of the highlights of my trip. Terry was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1970’s. He lost his right leg to the disease. In an effort to raise money for cancer research, he began a run across Canada, called the “Marathon of Hope,” in 1980. He ran a marathon per day with one good leg and a prosthetic. He started at the Atlantic in St. John’s and ran 3,339 miles over the next 143 days. The cancer returned as he approached Thunder Bay, and he had to stop his run for health reasons. He passed in 1981. Terry left a lasting impression on his native country and is certainly an inspiration to me!

A beautiful morning on the Nipigon River next to my tree tent!

I bid the Can-Can adieu once I arrived in Thunder Bay. It has been a challenging, beautiful, and often maddening road. I wouldn’t change a second of it! Except for my encounter with the resident black bear at kilometer mark 695!

A heartfelt thank you to all of the incredible Canadiens who made my walk through Ontario truly memorable. Ontario will always have a very special place in my heart!

My next post will come from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” I am coming for you ‘Sota!

Walk on!

North?

PJ and I continued our walk across America and Canada on May 24th after we successfully crossed the International Bridge back into Ontario, cleared customs, and connected about a half-mile worth of steps.

It was much simpler getting back into Ontario than it was entering Quebec. The border agent only asked a few questions and didn’t even bother searching PJ. In fact, she never even saw him. I spoke to the agent inside the customs building while PJ lounged on the bus.

I met a man named Peter on the Bridge Bus. He helped me hold onto PJ while we crossed the bridge. The same driver from our first bus trip, Mike, knew the drill and was incredibly helpful once again. I’m positive having PJ completely block the aisle wasn’t up to code, but he sure made my life a lot easier and a bit more entertaining. Thank you Mike and Peter!

Walking north out of the Soo felt odd after a few hours. As the sun dipped lower in the sky, to my left instead of straight ahead, it felt as if we were walking the wrong way. I assured PJ we weren’t lost.

The Can-Can started climbing some pretty impressive hills outside of the Soo. I passed a sign saying “Welcome to the Superior Coastal Highlands.”

We crested a hill, came around a corner, and the road unfolded like a ribbon down into a valley and up a hill on the other side, four or five miles away. My adventure juices started flowing and I could barely contain my excitement as I let out a loud “whooooooo!” on the side of the road.

My enthusiasm was tempered a bit as dark clouds started moving in an hour later. I quickened my pace and got to a country store in Goulais River as light rain started falling. The cashier gave me permission to set up camp at the brush line next to the parking lot. It rained off and on overnight, but the clouds steadily cleared the following morning. I anxiously awaited my first glimpse of Lake Superior.

After walking through a tricky construction zone, I arrived in Havilland and feasted my eyes on Lake Superior. It was big, beautiful, and rugged. I greeted the lake with a hearty hello and said “I’ll begin my walk around you now.”

Batchwana Bay near Harmony Beach.

The Trans-Can circumnavigated Batchwana Bay for the rest of the day, giving me some great perspective on how vast Lake Superior is. In the distance I could see some impressive hills which I would walk in coming days.

Sunny afternoon skies gave way to dark clouds and the first rumbles of thunder of the trip.

As the storm approached, an older man pulled over and gave me a chocolate cupcake from a birthday party he was hosting that night. “You can probably camp in the bush at the Provincial Park three clicks ahead.” I didn’t understand two things – what a click was, and why we were weren’t invited to the party. Then I quickly remembered 36 hours on the road transformed me from a respectable looking member of society to a border-line lunatic walking down the road with a three-wheeled stroller.

As soon as the man pulled away, a biblical, torrential rain storm pummeled me. I arrived at the park 30 minutes later after several road-splash facials from passing 18 wheelers.

I took cover at the park’s information kiosk and called an RV Resort a mile down the road to get their camping rates. The owner must have taken pity on me because she made an exception to their “no tenting policy” and let me camp next to the playground, high and dry on a little hill, for free.

The rain let up later in the evening and I walked across the street to the bay, which was covered with a layer of fog. I watched the sun set and marveled at the blessings of the day, despite the soaking.

Another round of storms with some intense thunder and lightning moved through overnight but skies were clear in the morning, other than the consistent layer of fog around the lake.

The ensuing three-and-a-half day, 100 mile walk from Batchwana Bay to Wawa was pure magic. The highway followed Lake Superior’s rugged coastline for a few hours, then turned inland and climbed into the coastal highlands. The road was often even with the canopy of 100 foot pine trees. A relatively reassuring rope guardrail separated the pavement from steep drop-offs.

From the hilltops the lake was always hidden by a layer of fog. When the road returned to lake level, it would plunge into the fog and the temperature would drop 15 degrees.

I was able to camp within a stones throw of Lake Superior for two nights. Once on a little bluff overlooking the lake, and once on a sandy beach I found after doing some offroading on a hiking trail with PJ.

Our sandy camping spot. It was difficult to get to, but well worth it.

The sunset over Alona Bay. My tent was pitched about 10 feet from where I snapped this photo! What a view, and it only cost free dollars and 26 miles of walking.

There were two big coastal climbs that we walked up and down en-route to Wawa – Montreal and Old Woman Bay Mountains. PJ was loaded down with an extra 45 pounds of water when we left Batchwana Bay (there were only two campgrounds and no gas stations for 100 miles, and I didn’t want to rely on a campground for water). Fortunately, PJ is on a rapid weight loss plan. He looses about 12 pounds of water weight per day. The climbs came on days two and three out of Batchwana Bay, so he was a little lighter, making for slightly easier climbs.

We quickly climbed out of the fog at the base of Montreal Mountain and tackled the two mile ascent. It wasn’t like climbing a mountain pass out west, but still left me breathless (because of the elevation gain and the views)!

I ended up walking 36 miles the day before arriving in Wawa in order to have a short, two hour walk into town. My time in Wawa has essentially been a rest day. I chatted with a number of people in town while I wandered around, and also did a few of my favorite trip activities – drank chocolate milk, ate Subway, and grocery shopped.

The owner of the Wawa RV Resort, Renee, has let me camp for free for the night. I happily did laundry (and now have clean socks again!), trimmed up my beard, and have met some nice folks at the campground. A few of my neighbors popped by to visit and offered some friendly words of encouragement….plus a bag of homemade cookies and some warm popcorn.

I am about 290 miles from Thunder Bay and will turn back Ouest in a few days. White River (two days), and Marathon (four days), are the next stops on the bushy horizon.

Trip Stats –

Days – 48

Miles – 1,022.5 I hit 1,000 miles on day 47, which will end up being about one quarter of the way through my walk!

Peanut Butter Jars – 29

Roadside Change – $4.66 I only found one coin in the last six days. It was very rusty and difficult to identify, but I am pretty sure it is a well-traveled quarter.

Favorite Roadside Find – A toss up between a Florida license plate and an unbroken bong. Both led me to wonder why they were thrown out or left on the roadside.

Favorite Three Pictures

So many to choose from!

I was thrilled to get a selfie with yours truly, PJ, and the massive “Wawa Goose” all in one frame! I saw my first sign for the goose outside Deep River (350 or so miles ago). I couldn’t wait to honk at her when I arrived in Wawa (even though I honk at geese when I pass them daily on the highway). This one was a milestone!

This was taken from the highway shoulder as I started climbing “Old Woman’s Bay” Mountain. The fog was thick over the lake but the sky was clear after gaining a little elevation. To be honest, that old woman was a bit crotchety and stubborn, because that hill kept going, and going, and going. It was a challenge after I had already walked 27 miles that day.

I followed a little hiking path to the lake for lunch on my fifth day out of the Soo. This particular stretch of lakefront, which I nicknamed “Driftwood Beach” was littered with massive tree trunks and stumps that Superior had returned to shore. It was a reminder of the power that this lake has! It moves gigantic, hundred year old trees like toothpicks!

I am hoping to have a string of marathon distance days on my way to Marathon, Ontario!

Walk on!

-Ben

The Twin Soos

I left Sudbury, Ontario on May 16th and finally had my sights set on Sault Ste. Marie, the first big “Milestone City” of my walk. The Soo was just under 900 miles from my starting point, and is roughly one-fifth of the way between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on my chosen route.

I came out of Sudbury walking hard. I was reenergized by a restful day-and-a-half break. The Morin’s revolving refridgerator door gave me plenty of fuel for the first three days of the seven day trek. I walked 90 miles in three days, camping next to “Jeremy’s Truck Stop” in Nairn Centre, then out in the woods for two nights before approaching Blind River.

On the walk out of Sudbury, I passed the Sudbury Smokestack, the second tallest structure in Canada (the first is the CN Tower in Toronto). The smokestack, built in 1972, is tall enough to get mining emissions into prevailing winds and out of Sudbury’s immediate atmosphere, into less polluted air. Construction occurred at a time when the city needed to take drastic measures to clear the air.

Near the end of my third day out of Sudbury, I met the Regional Chief of the Ontario First Nations. We had an incredible roadside talk about Native History, famous First Nation walkers, and society’s shift away from walking as a mode of transportation. As a touching gesture, Isadore gave me a wool blanket, which I used during the next few chilly nights.

I expected to maintain my 30 mile per day pace when I started my walk to Blind River, but I simply hit a wall. I walked about ten miles, got into town, and heeded my body’s advice, which was telling me to slow down. I went to Tim Horton’s for a cup of coffee and was immediately greeted by Fern and Kathleen McCoy. “We are the REAL McCoys,” Fern insisted after introducing himself. The couple invited me to stay with them for the night. “You were looking pretty tired when you walked up,” Kathleen told me. I agreed without a seconds hesitation.

I stayed in the guest bedroom/art studio at the McCoy house. Fern, who was in the middle of a food fast, sat at the dinner table and visited while Kathleen and I enjoyed homemade spaghetti and coffee. The couple (who were big hitchhikers and traveling musicians in the late 70’s) continually host travelers passing through town. They have hosted cyclists, hitchhikers, people down on their luck, and now, a walker. And considering they have seven children (five of which are boys), they knew exactly how to host a hungry and exhausted walker!

Fern and Kathleen outside their vibrant home. Fern’s father built the house 70 years ago.

It is always amazing what a good night of rest, some incredible company, and a massive portion of spaghetti can do! I ended the day after leaving Blind River 30 miles west near Thessalon and slept next to an old service road. Without any bugs (yet), I didn’t even bother setting up my tent. I slept like a baby under the warmth of my new wool blanket and a starry sky.

I came very close to the North Channel of Lake Huron twice between Thessalon and Bruce Mines. Overnight lows around freezing and cool morning temps have left me starting most days with my beenie and high-visibility down jacket!

On my sixth day out of Sudbury, I decided to give it my all in an effort to get as close to the Soos as possible. At about six in the evening, I left the Can-Can and followed a few country roads for the rest of the day. The walk led me through farm and ranchland.

There are many Amish families in the area. I was passed by a few Amish carriages on the highway. Off the Trans Can, I saw a few men out in their fields with horse drawn plows. Another was walking his fields, checking on his cows and calves. Amish homes were pretty easy to spot; no cars were parked outside and there weren’t electrical lines running to the houses. Their well kept homesteads typically had a long strand of clothes hanging from clotheslines stretching from the house to a tree in the yard. Signs advertising beautiful hand-built sheds (which were on display next to the road) led me to marvel at their independence from modern technology and the many luxuries people take for granted.

Only a few cars passed me during that four hour span. It was a beautiful evening and I enjoyed the peaceful, easy feeling of the countryside. For that four hours I was able to forget about everything and simply get lost in the moment. I walked until the sun dissapeared behind the bluffs surrounding Sault Ste. Marie.

One of the Amish homesteads, complete with pristinely cut and organanized wood piles.

Aftera 36 mile trek the day before, Sault Ste. Marie was a mere 17 miles away. I was in town by noon.

I was thrilled to arrive in the Soo! The next challenge for me was crossing the International Bridge (over which walking is illegal) where I could pick up a care package my folks had mailed to me, care of general delivery, at the post office. I also needed to mail some items home, which was significantly cheaper from the U.S.

My best option was to take the Bridge Bus, which conveniantly operates on the hour from 7 AM to 7 PM. I evenutally found the stop downtown. When the driver pulled up, he looked at PJ and I and just shook his head, looking down at the bus floor.

“Any chance we can hop on?” I asked the driver. He didn’t look too happy.

“Can you get him up the bus stairs?” He asked. I looked at the stairs, looked at PJ, and looked at the driver, shaking my head no. “Let me pull over up here,” he grumbled. The driver pulled into a parking spot up ahead so other buses could load and unload.

I introduced myself to the driver, Mike, and explained my predicament. “You have walked from where?” I told him my starting date, how many miles I had walked, and my plan for the next few days. He quickly became cordial and quite helpful. Mike lowered an electric wheelchair lift, which PJ perfectly fit on, and raised him up. I carefully pulled PJ onto the bus and held on tightly as we cruised over the St. Mary’s River into Michigan. We cleared customs with no problem!

I spent the afternoon walking errands…I stopped by a shipping store and mailed Forest (my backpack who has been my domestic and international travel companion for 10 years) home in an effort to have more room inside PJ for other pertinent items. Forest was with me for the entire walk in 2015, so it was bittersweet parting with him. I did keep the detachable top of the pack with me so a piece of Forest will still play an integral roll in my journey. Later on that afternoon I purchased a small camelback to carry. In honor of Forest, the pack is green, just like him. I named him Little Forest.

I have spent two nights camping at the Soo Locks Campground in the Michigan Soo, resting, enjoying the locks, and taking in other points of interest in this charming city.

The Soo Locks are a must-see engineering feat in Sault Ste. Marie!

My rest day in the Soo has also allowed ample time to prepare for the next leg of my journey, which incudes a BIG route change. I cannot walk across the International Bridge, which I knew about when I chose my route. Initially I thought I would be ok with skipping those three miles. Ultimately, the driving desire to “connect all my steps” will take me back into Canada and I will return to the Trans Canada Highway to walk around Lake Superior. The Can-Can will lead me along the hilly coast of Lake Superior’s Eastern and Northern Shores, and through plenty of “Bush,” as the locals say, before passing through Thunder Bay, where I will head south into Minnesota. The route will add about 190 miles to my walk, sounds physically demanding, desolate (there is a 100 mile stretch with no towns or services), and more adventurous than the alternative. I am all in!

Trip Stats –

Days – 42

Miles – 879

Peanut Butter Jars – 25

Roadside Change – $4.41 I found a loonie this week, which is a Canadian dollar coin. It has a loon on one side, hence the nickname!

Favorite Roadside Find – Not necessarily a “find” per se, but the wool blanket given to me by Chief Isadore was hands down the best thing I have acquired on the roadside during my walks! What a touching gesture!

Three Favorite Pictures –

My scenic country road walk approaching the Soo was foal of entertainment and serenity. On a side note, I clearly have plenty of time to create punomimal puns while I walk.

I have retired my first pair of shoes on the trip. The white Sauconys started showing their miles with holes around the pinky toes on both shoes, and the tread was nearly gone. A general rule of thumb is once they start talking it’s time to say goodbye!

I couldn’t decide whether this was a pickup truck or dump truck…It sure is nice to have spring in full swing, finally!

In the words of the late Tom Petty, tomorrow we go “Into the Great Wide Open!”

Walk on, eh?

-Ben