Dr. Bob's Route
ONE STEP AT A TIME
AMERICANS OF ALL AGES SET OFF ON THEIR GREAT JOURNEYS, WALKING ACROSS THE COUNTRY FOR A CAUSE OR A NEED.
DRU SEFTON, Newhouse News Service
is nearly 3,000 miles wide. Many Americans see just a fraction of those
miles. Others cross all 3,000 alone, on foot, step by step.
are teenaged, middle-aged, elderly. Some have a message to promote,
others wish to learn. Some carry money, but many depend on strangers.
They take months or years.
No organization tracks their treks. Many walk and return anonymously. Yet they still walk. Why?
was pretty much, I heard an inner voice telling me what I needed to
do," said Lori Bohannon, 40, who departed Mendocino, Calif., in March.
"I just kind of left. It was the first time I put on my backpack. I
broke in my shoes along the way."
Bohannon said she is "just a
mom" walking to "raise awareness about the impact of U.S. policy
decisions on the futures of children around the globe."
Wallis, 32, wanted to hear the concerns of rural America. She left
Seattle bound for Washington, D.C., two years ago -- and is still
"It is a calling," she said late in April from
Clarksburg, W.Va. "Pilgrims have been around for a long time. It's an
old profession not often exercised in modern society."
Haddock, better known as the campaign finance reform advocate "Granny
D," began her walk in 1999 at age 90. Peter Jenkins was just a college
kid when he set off in 1973, with no cause but the restlessness of the
Robert McNary, 54, a retired physician in Lavina, Mont.,
knew he would walk when he encountered a man and his horse on their own
walk across the country. "I put him up for a couple nights," he said.
"That was my confirmation that I needed to walk."
McNary, who is
interested in symbols, carried his version of the American flag -- a
golden heart superimposed on a single large star in the field of blue
-- to the Statue of Liberty. He walked from June to November 2002.
have been fascinated by these journeys "since time immemorial," said
William Graham, who teaches the course "To Far Places: Literature of
Journey and Quest" at Harvard University.
"There's almost no
culture that doesn't fasten on various great journeys," said Graham,
dean of the divinity school. "It's ubiquitous largely because of the
whole metaphor of the journey from birth to death."
motifs link cultures and ages. "One is that journeying opens up your
eyes and educates you," Graham said. "Another is that any journey, if
meaningful, cannot be too easy. It has to have difficulties to become a
meaningful transition for growth and development."
Many face that struggle in loneliness.
"I wished I'd had company," McNary said.
Granny D discovered a different longing.
a great loneliness out there, in the country," she said in a telephone
interview. There was a time when Americans could contact their
governmental representatives and "they'd listen to you," she added.
Granny D, who lives in Dublin, N.H., prepared
nearly a year before beginning her walk in January 1999, in Pasadena,
Calif. She was followed by a support vehicle through the scorching
desert and fought blizzard conditions in Appalachia. Averaging 10 miles
a day, she made it to Washington in February 2000.
she said, "that people are very generous and very kind. I walked as a
pilgrim and never went without a meal or a bed."
Other walkers agree.
"I'm having my needs met every day," Bohannon said.
accepted a ride across the desert when she couldn't carry enough water.
The driver, she said, was "a self-proclaimed right-wing
ultra-conservative ex-Green Beret." Bohannon chuckled. "We disagreed
about almost everything. It was a wonderful conversation."
recalled a rancher in west Texas who passed him repeatedly in a pickup
truck before stopping. "Boy, what are you doing?" the rancher asked.
self-described "long-haired hippie" at the time, Jenkins told the
rancher he was traveling the country and had walked there from New
York. The rancher paused, then said, "You wait here, my wife's gonna
make you lunch."
Not all encounters are heartwarming. One night
in northern New Mexico, a man "either drunk or high" got out of a car
and waved a knife at Jenkins, screaming "he wanted to cut my head off."
He left agonizing minutes later when another car approached.
said she's felt "rejected and ridiculed and looked at like I was
crazy," sometimes for weeks on end. Living homeless also is tough:
"It's an awful experience to ask for help. People make you feel like a
And the journey is physically difficult. Bohannon is
fighting arthritis. Wallis' dog, Sherpa, had cuts on her paws stitched.
Jenkins went through one pair of sneakers in just 11 days. Granny D was
hospitalized with dehydration and pneumonia.
McNary, who carried some cash, finally took to sleeping in motels after a particularly awful night of "horrendous mosquitoes."
The experience changes lives:
Granny D wrote a book and is now in demand nationwide as a political
speaker. "It's not often a woman of 93 gets to go traveling as much as
I do," she quipped.
-- Jenkins is now 50 and living on a farm
outside Nashville, Tenn., with his wife and six children. He wrote two
books on walking -- "A Walk Across America" and "The Walk West" -- and
five others about travels worldwide. His original walk, which took six
years, "taught me life is best lived if you don't worry too much about
-- McNary, known as "Dr. Bob" back home, "realized
after walking along that when you do something valuable, you just don't
do it for a moment. You persist in many different ways."
Bohannon and Wallis, meanwhile, walk on.
with her dog, Ebony, calls her journey a "Trek for Truth." She misses
her husband, their 10-year-old son, Josh, and her stepdaughter,
Mandela, 15. She's soliciting letters of concern from people she meets.
are lots of issues," said Bohannon, who in early May had just passed
through Flagstaff, Ariz. "People are afraid of the Patriot Act, afraid
of chemicals being put into the earth and the water and air."
hopes to arrive in Washington in October and present the comments to
first lady Laura Bush. "If she doesn't want to meet me in the White
House," Bohannon said, "I'll meet her anywhere -- within walking
Wallis and Sherpa probably will arrive in Washington
"in a little over a month," Wallis said, on their "Walk for Democracy."
They carry about 600 "grievances" she hopes to present to President
"There've been people waiting outside the White House
since the 1970s to meet with a president," she added. "I'm pretty
realistic as to what to expect.
"But for me, this is kind of
what the American spirit is all about," Wallis said. "Despite obstacles
and with no support, you can still accomplish the impossible."