On the first day, this trip felt like it would last a lifetime. We departed the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise, to start our journey. Walking the first 20 miles to the south side of San Francisco was an adventure in itself, and it was just the beginning.
We felt like celebrities a few times on the trip, from press conferences to newspaper, TV, and radio interviews. As we walked we realized that people were living vicariously through our journey to enjoy a bit of adventure themselves. And we learned to love talking about it as well.
California provided us with amazing views and our first glimpse of how nice everyone in the country would be to us. Some of the areas we walked through are currently threatened by the Butte fire and it saddens us to think that the amazing people who helped us are in danger. If any of you are reading and need help, reach out to us, as Rebecca’s family lives nearby (but in safety) and could maybe help.
Tim was most excited to see the Western states. He had never been west of the eastern edge of Iowa and the mountains and rivers were all new to him. California was also where we made our first soul-crushing (temporarily) decision to hitchhike out of a dangerous situation. The elation of completing our first state later that day made up for the sadness we had from not being able to walk the whole country by ourselves.
Nevada was one of the most memorable states. The strollers we had to buy to carry 5 gallons of water each are still the purchase we talk about the most from the trip. Pushing those 30 miles a day for weeks gave us an appreciation for parents everywhere (as well as shin splints). They also opened up conversations with many people on the road. Some would stop to ask what we were doing, others out of panic to make sure our “babies” were ok.
For us, Nevada was a final frontier. If we could complete that state, we could finish the country. But Rebecca came out with an injury, and we had to recalculate our abilities. Once we dropped off the strollers, walking became easier, and yet the pain didn’t quite go away. With sometimes more than 100 miles between towns, Nevada may have defeated Rebecca. But our determination wasn’t totally destroyed, as the sunsets, grand sights, and mostly the people who supported us along the way kept us going.
Crossing the Salt Flats in Utah was our first taste of separation during the day. Rebecca rented a car in an attempt to heal her foot and Tim walked alone. She picked him up in the evenings and drove to a legal campsite for four days. The relief of knowing we’d find a safe place every evening made Tim’s walking easier (the lighter bag helped too).
Utah provided sights of red rocks, trees, hills, rivers, and anything you could imagine in the United States. But it also provided difficulties. We knocked on our first door to camp in someone’s yard, were rained on every day for two weeks straight, and found our first tick (which led to us staying in the sketchiest motel we stayed in along the way).
But we didn’t lose hope in the walk. Every day, at the end of the day, we appreciated what we were doing and kept pushing on. As we did we continued to be shocked by the beauty of the land (the wild horses and rolling hills) and the people, who continued to reach out to help us.
As we continued our rules were bent a little as we crossed a “no trespassing” sign, but only after a suggestion from a local, and shortened our days a little.
But Colorado posed new challenges. The Rockies were difficult to climb over, and the summer was finally picking up. But the most difficult challenge came from Rebecca getting sick. That night we camped on the continental divide and the next day we decided Rebecca would hitchhike and Tim would walk the 30 miles to the next town. We both survived, though Rebecca still felt a little weak, we pushed on. Denver was calling, our first planned long break. Rebecca’s foot wasn’t healed and we discussed the risks, settling on Rebecca buying a bike in Denver to get off of her foot.
With help, we sorted through our stuff and Rebecca started the middle section of the trek on a bike. This allowed Tim to push for longer days and carry a (slightly) lighter pack. The rest of the country until Illinois would be flat and easy, but hot and humid.
After our amazing rest in Denver, we joined the Lincoln Highway and continued our journey. Rest days always made us feel as if we were really on vacation, so it was a rough start back up again.
We met up for lunch on some days and figured out how to settle into our own speed. Rebecca would bike ahead and set up camp and get food while Tim would struggle along behind, excited he never had to think about where we’d sleep that night.
As we entered Iowa, the differences between biking and walking became even more apparent. Rebecca quickly began praising the beauty and thrill of Iowa while Tim struggled with both the uphills and downhills along the way. The corn seemed to go on forever. But we kept meeting amazing people, and feeling more impressed with ourselves and our abilities every day. So many times we wanted to sit for a longer break, but we knew the longer we waited the later we’d be. We pushed on, only to feel elated at the end of each day as we discussed what we’d seen. The sights and sounds, as well as the smells, changed along the way in each state. Nebraska had the smelly feed lots, and Iowa had the gorgeous breezes.
We only ate sweet corn a few times on the trip, but we saw more corn than we could care to ever see. America produces too much corn. But we got used to it soon and appreciated the space in the country. Illinois provided some relief as we found a canal trail to walk on that wasn’t in view of as many corn fields. But the heat and humidity from the summer was at its prime, and the bugs were crawling. Even though we complained for part of the day, people reminded us to be happy. We got offers of cold water or soda and honks and waves as we walked or biked by roads.
Our stop back home in Chicago was a turning point on the trip. We took a week off and it felt like we’d never left, yet that everything had changed. We navigated a city that used to be home to visit friends and participate in familiar activities.
After a week with friends we spent a couple of days with Tim’s family in Indiana and even had time to attend a wedding. But the trip couldn’t stop forever, so Rebecca grabbed her pack again and we both started walking.
We visited familiar sites along the way, seeing Tim’s college friends and college campus, Valparaiso University.
Indiana was maybe one of the most uninteresting states in landscape, but we met many incredible people wanting to help and encourage us along the way, and was very nostalgic for Tim.
Ohio provided us with new friends every day. People pulled over to talk, donate, or give us water. The buildings started to look more Eastern and the towns were older than any in the west. We enjoyed the rundown look of Old Highway 30 but also the vibrant life of the residents. An annual yard sale event was taking place as we walked and we were able to see more pedestrians than ever before on the trip before we headed north to meet with another one of Tim’s college friends for a rest day in Wadsworth. People question us often about the nicest state and we never hesitate to mention Ohio. While a few particular people stand out as especially nice, the state was filled with outwardly friendly people. We never had a day without a kind conversion, and we even made the front page of a newspaper!
As we moved out of the public lands of the west we began to depend more on nice homeowners to allow us a yard to sleep in. These people that we met all excitedly shared their space with us. And we got more comfortable in our small tent as a home.
By the time we crossed the Pennsylvania border (and met the most giving woman at a Wendy’s) we knew we were close to finishing the trip. We got into Pittsburgh and updated our resumes and began searching for jobs, but the freedom of the trip lingered and we only submitted a few applications.
Pittsburgh was our must surprising city on the walk. With three days to explore, we were able to get a view of life in the city and both dreamed of moving there one day. But walking through Pennsylvania was one of the hardest states. We met some great people who housed us and fed us along the way, but the shoulder on the road and the traffic kept the difficulty up. We struggled through a few days, even opting to reroute a few times. But the beauty of the Appalachians made up for the challenges. We camped on the Laurel Highlands Trail and the Appalachian Trail, enjoying true wooded hiking for the first time.
While we reminisced about the walk we discussed the Lincoln Highway. As one of the first coast to coast roads in the U.S. it gave our nation’s residents a chance to explore this land open to them in an easy way. And we were out to do the same thing. By seeing the whole country we both have grown to appreciate what America (and the world) has to offer.
So we climbed over the mountains and counted the days to our final destination: New York City. The days wore on and both of us remained perpetually sore. By eastern Pennsylvania Rebecca’s foot injury returned, but with only about 150 miles left she wasn’t going to give up now. Tim groaned in pain from his hips to his muscles. But every evening, when we stopped for the day and joked about the things we’d seen and people we’ve met we became more excited that we had almost completed the trip.
Crossing into New Jersey, we were ready for the end, but devastated that it would be over soon. We saw our first dangerous animal in the least likely of all states.
We finally spotted the Manhattan skyline, but it wasn’t until we saw the George Washington Bridge that it had hit Tim that the walk was over, we’d made it! The next morning when we crossed the bridge and into New York City/state Rebecca became a little emotional. Giving up the freedom of the trip will be hard. But the freedom only begins to compare to the people. Soon, no one will stop us in the street to chat and we’ll have no excuse to talk to strangers or sneak into a store, hiding our backpacks so we don’t seem too homeless. The adventures that quickly became our regular life would disappear. We stayed in Brooklyn and bought some normal clothes to wear, leaving behind the faded and smelly clothes of the past 5 months. Soon we would seem like normal people again, and the trip will fade into our history.
But we made it to the ocean anyway. Completing five months of hard work and daily endurance. Stepping into the Atlantic among cheers and smiles, we both realized our lives will be forever changed. This trip gave us an opportunity to see people in a way neither of us have seen them before. It also gave us the chance to see ourselves in ways we’d never imagined. We’re both stronger and weaker than we initially thought, and were forced to work together to make our plans work. We’ll never regret the decision to walk, even if we never do it again.
Today we walk away, looking for our spot to fit into in the real world again. Jobs, a city to call home, a bed, a schedule, and endless memories that may end up in a book.
April 9th – September 9th 2015
We walked through:
154 days, including 18 rest days
Tim: 7,117,937 steps