The First Leg


One of the complicating factors associated with planning this long walk is that of the 3154 miles on the trail, there are 6 that are “un-walkable” for 364 days a year: those going across the Chesapeake Bay.  But … once a year there’s a sponsored Walk Across the Bay.  The southern span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is closed for about 6 hours, and it makes for a very nice 10K run/walk.

So, on November 8 of this year, I joined about 22,000 close friends on a gorgeous, sunny day to walk over the bridge.  A light breeze from the west was surely an omen of good things to come.


Odd as it sounds, I had an overwhelming sense of realism as I started the walk.  While I won’t begin the full Long Walk Home for over a year, the Walk Across the Bay was, for all intents and purposes, my first leg.  Those 6 miles, when added to the 3148 I’ll complete in 2017, would make the long line from Atlantic to Pacific complete.  And while my walk across the Bay went west to east (from Westinghouse Bay to Stevensville) there’s no questioning that the path I trod was a critical link in the chain I would spend 7 months building.

I finished in one hour and forty five minutes.  In fact, it took longer to ride the shuttle bus back over the Bridge than it did to walk the span.  I was finisher number 18896 out of 21030.  I passed 182 other participants and I was passed by 565 (I didn’t count … that’s what the official web site for the Walk emailed me later that day!).  The walk itself was fine.  Nice views, but after about 45 minutes, quite honestly, it got pretty boring.  Sky above, water below … more sky above, more water below.  As I approached the finish I felt I’d checked an important box.  With about 200 more legs to go, I’d finished Leg One.



A Long Walk Home

I’ve had the idea of taking a long walk for quite some time.  But, it was only during my solo drive from Corvallis to Chevy Chase last June that I began to think seriously of walking across America.

I thought the idea was just a fantasy or pipe dream, but found that it kept haunting me.  So, I started taking hikes… first just around the neighborhood, then for much longer distances.  One day, last fall, after walking about 17 miles in just under 6 hours I realized that this idea was more than idle whimsy, that maybe I really could do this.

I’m not a 20 year-old who can strap on a backpack, buy a case of power bars and start hiking.  I’d like to think I’m in touch with the physical limits of a 61 year-old body.  But, of course, what I lack in strength, flexibility or stamina, I make up for in financial stability!  That means that while my 20 year-old trekking alter ego humps a 40 pound pack, and pitches camp every night, I can sleep in hotels and have a support crew (well, one very loving wife) carry what I need in an accompanying (air-conditioned) vehicle; not as adventurous, perhaps, but certainly every bit as much a cross-country hike.

So, I am committed to doing this.  The walk will go from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to Nye Beach, Oregon.  I will start on 3 February, 2017, and will give myself between seven and eight months to complete the journey.  February 3, 2017 will be my Mom’s 100th birthday.

I will plan as much of the trip as I can: routes, schedules, stopover sites, equipment, etc.  I’ve already started defining the route by joining or researching groups such as the American Discovery Trail, and Rails-to-Trails.  I’ve purchased some hardware (Delorme inReach Explorer GPS/Iridium communicator) and apps (Earthmate).  And most importantly, I’ve begun something of an informal training regimen.  Since October, 2014, I’ve logged over 1500 miles of hiking, mostly suburban, mostly in Maryland. My longest hike is 21 miles and I’ve had one 3-day run of 35 miles, and a 2-day weekend of 30 miles.  Clearly that’s just a preliminary effort.  However, it’s given me the experience to learn what clothes and gear I like, and since I’ve been hiking consistently throughout the year, I know what works in cold, heat, snow, ice, rain, traffic, mud, etc.  And with only a handful of blisters, bloody feet, and leg cramps, I now have a good idea, also, of just how much moleskin, Aleve and Neosporin I will need to carry.

I’ll end this first blog entry with the question I’m asked repeatedly when I tell friends and relatives that I’m going to walk across the US: Why?  There’s a long answer and a short answer.  The long answer is that I’m ready to decompress, self-reflect, get in better shape, and see more of America.  After nearly four decades of a very rewarding career, lots of tight schedules, packed calendars and global travel, I’d like a healthy chunk of time with no agendas, meetings, conferences, or detailed plans, except to wake up each day and walk west.  The short answer to the question “why” is simply “who cares … it looks like fun”  What’s wrong with that?keens