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How to Walk across the United States

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A cross-country road trip is a time-honored tradition, but it doesn’t necessarily mean driving. Alex Thurnher introduces five travelers who actually walked across the country and what inspired them to make the journey.

Traveling cross-country is practically a rite of passage, an age-old concept for many Americans. That is, unless you’re talking about walking across the entire continental U.S.

In the past five years alone, dozens of people have made walking trips across the United States. What drives them to embark on such a journey?

Arthur Werner believes in going that extra step, even if it’s one at a time.

Werner used to work in financial services with a large international investment company.

After retiring early he wanted to highlight his heritage on the trip. “I’m Canadian by birth, American by choice so I’ll include my Canadian roots on the walk.”

With a bad back he regrets that he’ll never be able to climb Mount Everest, but reading in his spare time always made a long adventure seem appealing. If John Smith from Iowa walked 2500 miles than he could do 3000. Jane Doe’s 3,000-mile walk certainly must mean he could traverse 3500 miles.

I spoke to Werner he was taking a much-needed day off in Inverness, Florida. He began his trek in Whistler, British Columbia and he estimates 500 miles are left to Key West. All in all, his entire trip will have twisted and turned nearly 4,000 miles. He says that seemed like a nice round number.

Werner is honoring a lot of people on his trip. He’s walking for his mother’s husband and a nephew who both passed away from cancer. He also notes that walking has since reaffirmed his support of U.S. troops and the sacrifices they’ve made.

Rather than using any funds raised for his walk, 100 percent of donations are going to a summer camp for diabetic children in honor of his son, who has juvenile Type 1 diabetes.

He commemorates others by collecting the names of those he’s met along the way, which he calls “mantras.” Those mantras break up the monotony, he explains. He keeps the names in a medicine bag made for him by a member of the Shoshoni Nation.

Through a number of events along his journey, Werner believes small acts of kindness go a long way. “We’ve got seven billion people crawling around on this planet, and you know what do we do? … If seven billion of us did one little act of kindness it would go a long way.”

He recalls one day when a car stopped and the occupants asked what he was doing. After explaining his walk for lost family members, diabetes, and the troops, the man in the front seat of the car said he was both a veteran and had diabetes. His wife had terminal cancer and his son was a veteran. The son reached over and handed him a dollar.

Another man in Nebraska told him he had diabetes, terminal cancer, and was a veteran. He received another dollar from him. It doesn’t matter to Werner how much money someone gives him as a gift, it’s that it comes from the heart.

When I asked what wisdom he gained from his trip he responds, “My philosophy in life has always been if some is good, more must be better.”

Werner likes to think of himself as a journeyman, but admits he’s not taking the same tactics as other serious walkers. He’s taking a softer course with his support vehicle, an RV that includes a shower, TV and stove. After walking 20-25 miles in a day, he can relax in his vehicle, and has even caught several football games during the season. He’s gone through four support drivers—his first one being his 81-year-old mother.

Werner has also gone through six pairs of shoes and now uses a rotation of sneakers that brings his grand total to 11. He prepares meals in his support vehicle, and during the day while he’s walking fruit is usually on the menu. Things like apples, pears, fruit juice, water, and Gatorade are easy to handle on the road.

In the home stretch of his trip he’s been actively using Facebook and talking to friends on the phone. He admits retirement or continuing to work weighs on his mind heavily, but for now he just wants to keep things simple. He says with a laugh, “I think about that 17- year-old bottle of Irish whiskey that I’m saving in the cupboard for Key West.”