I played a lot of games to keep myself entertained during my 150 day Maine to Oregon walk. One of my favorites was “How did Ben’s walk across America end?” When I found myself doing a necessary, but often ridiculous trip task, like hanging a bear bag in the dark or running across a narrow bridge, I would ask myself “How did Ben’s walk across America end?” And then answer my question, from an outsider’s perspective, depending on the situation. “Well, he broke an ankle when he slipped on a rock. He was hanging a bear bag.” Or “He didn’t run fast enough across a bridge, and ended up in the grill of a semi.” My answers were typically accompanied by a good laugh. Facing very real dangers daily is part of every cross-country walk. I was always one distracted driver, one slip, one snake bite away from a catastrophe. The game was my way of reminding myself that every successful step of this journey was a blessing. I coped with the dangers I faced by looking them square in the eyes and laughing. Walking in fear was not an option. But I certainly had a healthy respect for the dangers that lurked around every corner.
On September 8th, 2018, I turned 32. And I finally was able to answer the question “How did Ben’s walk across America end” in a satisfactory way. It would end with a final step into the Pacific Ocean in Seaside, Oregon.
I arrived in Seaside on the afternoon of September 7th. I could have finished that day, but I wanted to sleep one mile away from the ocean. I wanted to officially be on the road, walking across America, for one more night. It would allow me time to reflect. I would return to a “normal life” soon enough. I wanted to be the crazy walker just a little longer.
The morning of the 8th began like every other walking day. I threw on my favorite smelly polyester athletic shirt (a Denver Broncos shirt I wore on the final day of my first walk) and running shorts. I put on my sock liners and compression socks and laced up my walking shoes. I slathered my face, neck, arms, and ears in sunscreen and threw on my Kissing Camels ball cap. I walked out to PJ and pushed on his tires to ensure they had enough air in them for the final mile.
My hosts from Portland, Steve and Irene, were making the trip to Seaside to join me for my final walk. I took a few birthday phone calls from family and friends while I waited. The couple arrived at 11 AM. The three of us left Seaside International Hostel and walked towards downtown.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. A light breeze blew off the ocean. Irene, who is a professional photographer, was across the street taking photos. Steve, who was at my side when we left the hostel, slowed down and walked 30 feet behind me. I took in the moment, praying that I could soak up and remember every small detail from my remaining steps – every bump in the sidewalk, the smell of fresh cut grass, the chirping birds, and the whoosh sound PJ’s rain cover made as it brushed up against the left tire.
150 days of memories flashed before my eyes while I walked down quiet Holladay Street. There was the bear spray incident in Ontario. Close encounters with cars. Middle fingers. Blisters. Heat. Smoke. Wind. Solitude.
And there were the people. Completing my walk would not have been possible without hundreds of people (spanning 10 states and two Canadian Provinces) helping me out on a daily basis. The folks I met housed me, fed me, hydrated me, clothed me, encouraged me, inspired me, and loved me. I could not have done it without my family’s unwavering support. And I certainly wouldn’t be standing here, upright, healthy, and happy without God’s steady hand on my shoulder. I am eternally grateful for the support and love I have been shown by family and friends, near and far.
As fate would have it, Seaside was hosting a vintage car show over the weekend. Classic cars were parked along the downtown drag. The avenue was closed to vehicle traffic – pedestrians only. Finally, after 3,400 miles, I had found a driver free street after turning right on Broadway.
PJ and I slowly meandered through the crowd, receiving the typical “what the hell is this guy doing” looks. We reached the Seaside Promenade, where an American flag whipped in the wind over a statue of Lewis and Clark, who ended the first half of their groundbreaking expedition just north of that spot. The two explorers are peering west at the majestic Pacific.
I walked down a ramp to the beach just left of the statue. At first I could still push PJ through the sand, but it eventually became too thick. PJ needed to touch the ocean, too. I pulled him the rest of the way.
I pulled PJ for 75 yards. I joked with Steve that I should have finished my walk at high tide. “Almost there!” I yelled. I was out of breath as we approached the water.
I took off my shoes and socks and paused before taking my final steps into the ocean. I was singing the Britney Spears song “Oops I Did It Again” as I walked into the Pacific.
The cold water felt heavenly on my feet. I stood there for some time as waves soaked my knees and crashed against PJ’s wheels. Blisters from 3,400 miles of walking were soothed. The water washed away the loose skin from the soles of my feet. I felt like I was dreaming. And just like that, it was over.
Total Days -150
Total Miles – 3,402 (Officially!)
Total Peanut Butter Jars – 115
Total Loose Change Count – $9.12
Favorite Roadside Find – The Pacific Ocean.
Favorite Three Pictures
“Progress, not perfection” was the mantra for my journey. I made geographical progress every day, but was never perfect while doing so. More importantly, I wanted to make personal progress. I didn’t set out on this trip to “fix myself” or have an epiphany about how we can attain world peace. I set out to learn more about myself and continue to grow as a person. I’ll never be perfect. What fun would that be anyway?
Walking was my catalyst for progress, and will continue to be moving forward. Thanks to the people who came into my life during the walk, and the challenges along the way, I have made some progress. Walking has impacted my life in countless ways – I have been sober since April 16th, 2017. Walking is my favorite coping mechanism and allows me to deal with life’s stresses in a healthy way. Walking continues to teach me patience. Walking forces me to slow down and offers a front row seat to the beauty our world has to offer. Walking keeps me healthy, physically and mentally. And walking offers an opportunity to be introspective and reflective.
Fortunately, a person doesn’t need to walk across America to reap the benefits of walking. Just lace up your shoes and go. Anytime, anywhere. The benefits are steps away. I truly hope that my journey has inspired you to get out and walk.
On that note, I think it’s about time for a walk.
With gratitude and love, walk on!