Walkin’ West Texas

I left the Ballinger Inn on January 12th ready to tackle West Texas. The storm that dumped five inches of wet snow in Ballinger had moved out of the area. Locals told me they typically receive and inch or two every winter. So far this season, they have received almost a foot of snow! Despite the sunny skies, I was in for a few chilly days.

It was a brisk 35 degrees as I made my way towards downtown Ballinger and Highway 158. I meandered through town and enjoyed the yard art and signs in front of a curiosity shop in the central business district.

The walk north on 158 was enjoyable. Traffic was light and I had a huge shoulder all day. There was a nice mixture of farms and ranchland. I continue to enjoy the wide open skies of Texas.

Midway through the day, my friend John, who is completing Ernie Andrus’s second coast-to-coast walk, tracked me down. He sent me on my way with two of Ernie’s t-shirts, three gift cards, some cash, and plenty of well wishes. We visited on the highway shoulder for 30 minutes. Thank you for your kindness and generosity, John!

I spent the night at the city park in Bronte. The next morning, PJ and I were rolling before dawn. Sterling City, 46 miles down the road, was our destination for the day.

46 miles can be an overwhelming number of miles to walk! Even though I have walked over 40 miles four times in my “walking career” (and on two other occasions on this trek) it’s still a tough mark to hit. I simply broke the walk down into 10 mile segments, which made it seem more manageable.

After passing through Robert Lee, I found myself in a new landscape. Parched cedar covered mesas lined the highway. Yucca, catci, and thorny mesquite trees were scattered throughout the arid hills. I felt like I had officially arrived in the West!

The mesas I walked by between Robert Lee and Sterling City were no Rocky Mountains, but they were the closest thing to mountains I have encountered on my journey so far!

By the time the sun set, I was still 10 miles from town. I enjoyed a beautiful sunset before the sky filled up with stars. Flashing red lights from wind turbines surrounded me. I hit the city park in Sterling City exhausted but thrilled with the effort from the day. I haven’t slept that good in years!

From Sterling City, I slowed down a bit and took two days to complete the 50 mile trek through Big Spring. I enjoyed a rare night of stealth camping off Highway 87 under a crystal clear sky before walking through Big Spring and camping at an RV Park the following day.

The famous “Hotel Settles” in Big Spring. My walk through the West Texas city (population 25,000) went off without a hitch thanks to consistent sidewalks, walking men, and handicap ramps at every corner. Big Spring was the most walkable city I have trekked through in Texas!

After camping for the night at Arena RV Park just north of town, I covered 27 miles and ended the day in Tarzan. By the time I left Big Spring, I was squarely in the oil rich Permian Basin, which covers much of West Texas and portions of Southeastern New Mexico. The terrain completely flattened out. Oil wells and power lines towered above stumpy mesquite trees.

Although the landscape of West Texas is bleak (especially in the middle of winter!) I’ve managed to find beauty in my surroundings. Yucca and catci add splashes of green to an otherwise brown countryside. The constant churning and humming of oil wells brings me a surprising sense of calm and serentiy. Power line towers march towards the horizon in an orderly fashion.

Unobstructed views of sunrises greet me each morning. Beautiful sunsets wish me goodnight at the end of every day. Walking provides an unparalleled opportunity to find “beauty in the bleak.”

One of many breathtaking sunsets I have witnessed in West Texas.

Once I reached Tarzan, I camped in a parking lot across the street from “Tarzan and Jane’s Grill.” Unfortunately the grill was already closed when I reached town at 5 PM. I was going to look for Jane in there since I already found Tarzan!

From Tarzan, I walked 29 miles and ended my day at appropriately named Flatland Campground just east of Andrews. I had some company on the last few miles of my stroll.

A young black lab came running up to PJ and I after she squeezed through a barbed wire fence. I prepared for attack when I saw the dog barreling towards me. Fortunately, all she attacked me with were kisses! Most dogs are aggressive when PJ and I roll by. I was relieved to find one that just wanted to play. I spent 20 minutes with her on the roadside before continuing my walk. She followed us for about a mile. She didn’t have a collar and people I have spoken with in town have told me there are a lot of stray dogs roaming around. I briefly entertained the idea of keeping her and having another companion for the remainder of the walk, but she eventually dissapeared. Still, I was happy for the brief period of puppy love.

Despite the beauty of West Texas, the area has posed its fair share of challenges. There has been a noticeable uptick in traffic, primarily due to the prevalence of the oil industry. I am guessing 50 percent of the vehicles on 176 are oil related, whether they are oil tankers, sand trucks, or support vehicles. I know a few things for sure. They are all big, loud, and don’t take Sundays off.

The wind has been relatively calm the last few days, which I am grateful for. However, cooler temps and higher winds are supposed to move in when I leave Andrews.

Mesquite thorns continue to be an issue (or at least an annoyance). My left tire has gone flat three times in the last three days. However, I have been able to reinflate it after each flat and it has held for the most part. Right now, the Ben vs. Mesquite Thorns score board reads Ben – 3, Thorns – 1. I get a win every time a tire goes flat but I can still successfully reinflate it, indicating the tire sealant did its job.

I decided to take a rest day in Andrews after walking the final four miles into town from Flatland Campground. By the time I finished doing laundry and grocery shopping, it was past noon. I typically don’t get motel rooms when the weather is nice (the high was 70) but the most difficult stretch of my walk (up to this point) begins when I leave Andrews. I figured a night indoors was a good investment.

I will continue following Highway 176 into New Mexico tomorrow. Eunice is the only town in the 108 miles between Andrews and Carlsbad. From Carlsbad, El Paso, Texas is the next major destination. There’s a whopping 133 mile stretch after White City (18 miles south of Carslbad) with no services. The next 275 miles will test my physical, mental, and emotional toughness in a whole new way. I can’t wait for the challenge.

Favorite Three Photos

Big skies and unique beauty abound in West Texas.
A chilly sunrise just east of Bronte to start my 46 mile walk to Sterling City.
They know how to do gas stations in Robert Lee!

Trip Recap

Days – 68

Miles – 1536

Jars of Peanut Butter – 57

Roadside Change – $5.15

Miles Per Shower In Texas – 70

Walk on!

-Ben

The Heart of the Lone State State

I started 2021 off on the right foot (or maybe it was the left) by resuming my trek across the Lone Star State. I left the Super 8 in Fairfield around 10 AM and headed west on U.S. 84. The rain that soaked East Texas over the previous two days had moved out of the region, but overcast skies and brisk winds made for a chilly day of walking. I managed to make it 19 miles before calling it quits and cowboy camping at a picnic area off the highway. There were no signs saying camping was prohibited, so I maintained my comfortable level of plausible deniability in the event the authorities showed up. “There’s a 50/50 chance the cops wake us up tonight, PJ,” I said out loud before I fell asleep.

The roadside picnic area off Highway 84 came complete with a love seat!

At about 11 PM, I woke up to a flashlight in my face.

“Limestone County Deputies. Are you ok sir?” It seemed we lost the coin flip. I shot up in my sleeping bag and realized there were two police officers towering over me. “What are you doing out here?” I jumped into a semi-coherent explanation for why I was camping at the picnic area. The officers ended up being very understanding and cordial.

They ran my driver’s license (to make sure I wasn’t running from the law) and asked me questions about my walk. I got out of my sleeping bag, only wearing my fleece long johns, and retrieved two business cards from my pack and handed them over to the officers. To my surprise, they still let me stay there for the night. One of them gave me a fist bump before returning to his cruiser. I was still delirious when they left.

“Have a great night dudes,” I said as they walked off. It took 1,120 miles to have my first encounter with the cops!

In the morning, I walked through Mexia and trudged on towards the outskirts of Waco. As I walked further west, I encountered fewer and fewer trees and more wide open spaces. I was certainly off the “Texas Forest Trail” after leaving Fairfield.

It became obvious that finding places to camp right off the highway would be a challenge in Texas. Most of the land is private property surrounded by barbed-wire fences and marked with no trespassing signs. So I wouldn’t be scrambling for a camping spot after dark, I needed to start calling ahead to more police departments, city halls, and RV Parks and set up sleeping spots beforehand. I actually needed to do some planning!

I hadn’t done any planning on day two out of Fairfield, but lucked out with a camping spot on the east side of Waco at Homeplace RV Park where the owner let me pop my tent up near a gazebo on the property.

I walked into Waco the following morning. There were a few tricky construction zones but PJ and I were able to navigate around some concrete barriers and closed roads in order to reach downtown.

Waco has an up-and-coming downtown and a lovely series of parks and bike paths on the banks of the Brazos River.

Waco was the last big city I would walk through for a few hundred miles so I bought a couple of new bike tires, new shoes, and some supplies at Wal-Mart before heading out of town. With a lack of sidewalks, plenty of curbs, and very few walking men, it was a frustrating and challenging stroll out of town. I was thrilled to reach the Cotton Belt Trail at dusk and settle down for the night after a stressful day of “big city walking.”

I continued my walk down U.S. 84 January 4th and had a very eventful day. Outside of McGregor, a small sedan was pulled over on the shoulder. A man wearing a reflective vest was waiting for me to walk up. “I gotta hear what you’re up to,” the man said with a big smile as I approached him.

John is the first cross-country walker I have met “in the wild.” He is walking the country in honor of Ernie Andrus. Ernie crossed the US on foot over a three year period (from 2013 to 2016) at the age of 90! When he turned 95, he decided to retrace his route. This was in March of 2019. Unfortunately, health issues sent Ernie home (where he is still alive and well) when he was in the South.

John is continuing Ernie’s journey to honor him and is walking the same number of daily miles Ernie would have – between three and four. John’s expected arrival in San Diego is on Ernie’s 100th birthday – August 19th, 2023. Ernie is expecting to be there, too!  It was a pleasure to meet you, John! I love your humble attitude, patience, and gracious spirit! Thank you, John and Ernie, for the inspiration! You can check out Ernie’s page at http://www.coast2coastruns.com.

John next to his support vehicle, complete with a decal of the infamous Ernie Andrus!

After a few big hills and my first flat tire since Florida (mesquite thorns 1, Ben 0) I hit Gatesville and had my first newspaper interview of the walk with Rob, a retired police officer and new writer for the city paper. Thank you for taking the time to interview me!

Mesquite thorns will be a consistent threat to my tires throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Some thorns can be three inches long and are capable of puncturing a car tire! I’m learning to spot mesquite trees and have taken extra steps to protect my tires, including the installation of tire liners and additional sealant.

With the help of Sheri at Gatesville City Hall, I camped at Faunt De Leroy City Park in Gatesville for the night. I didn’t arrive until after dark and was exhausted from a full day of walking and social interactions.

I walked a modest 19 miles from Gatesville and camped at a roadside park 7 miles east of Evant the following day – with the permission of the Collyer County Sherrif’s Department, of course! I’m adapting to the Texas walking environment!

While planning the next few days of my walk (and checking the weather) after I arrived at the roadside park, I noticed a potential winter storm moving into Texas in four days. With towns of any significance becoming more spread out, I decided to try and make it to Ballinger, which has three hotels to choose from. Ballinger was 122 miles from the park. It would be a challenge to cover those miles in four days but it was my best option. I set up camping spots in Goldthwaite, Early, and Santa Anna. Now, I just needed to cover the miles!

The walk to Goldthwaite was a hilly, windy, 32 mile challenge. I fought a 20 mile per hour headwind all day but still reached town right before dark.

I walked another 32 miles the following day and camped at J’s RV Park in Early. I pitched my tent on concrete slab number 20 for the night surrounded by RV’s.

Santa Anna was the next stop, 26 miles down the road! I was right on schedule and on pace to beat out the storm. I ended my nine day walking leg with a 40 mile day which ended at the Ballinger Inn. I covered the final 40 miles in 12.5 hours and arrived with a few hours to spare. Freezing rain moved in overnight and I woke up to a few inches of fresh snow on the ground.

A huge thank you to Andrew and Stick Newland of Colorado Springs for sponsoring my hotel room last night! My 2nd and 3rd nights at the Ballinger Inn were provided by Jan and Vic Kennah of Ft. Bridger, Wyoming. Thank you for keeping me warm and dry!

In addition to some incredible generosity from friends back home and Wyoming, I experienced some Texas sized generosity during my last walking stint, too.

While I was setting up my tent at J’s RV Park in Early, my neighbor Cindy walked by with her dog, Zeke. We got to chatting and she insisted on “blessing me financially,” as she put it. She went into her RV while I petted Zeke and came back with a very generous contribution to my walk.

Earlier in the walking week, a woman from Lily’s Catering saw me walking down 84. She pulled over and set a breakfast burrito and cup of piping hot horchata down on the highway shoulder for me to pick up as I walked by. She just waved and drove off!

And a few days ago, a man named Bruce pulled over when I was 15 miles from Ballinger. Bruce was dressed in denim from head to toe, wore a cowboy hat, and had a burning cigarette hanging from his mouth.

“I have a care package for you,” he told me after offering me a ride into town. He went back to his car. I was expecting him to return with a few snacks. Instead, he retrieved a massive black duffel bag that was half the size of PJ. “What do you need?”

Bruce sent me on my way with three cans of soup, six microwave dinners (thankfully my hotel room has a microwave!), some cookies, saltine crackers, a bag of donuts, and a roll of TP. PJ was at capacity after Bruce loaded me up with food!

Bruce’s care package!

It was a pretty tumultuous week in America. I am blessed to be able to share stories about the kindness I have received from friends and perfect strangers during my walk. There are good people to be found EVERYWHERE! Thank you all!

Favorite Three Pictures

The Coryell County Courthouse in Gatesville. Texas has some breathtaking judicial buildings!
If these trucks could talk, I’m sure they would have some stories!
“The Golden Road.” This shot was taken from the top of a massive hill off Highway 67, looking back at Santa Anna as the sun rose. Freezing fog floating around the area made for a chilly morning walk, but led to some beautiful views!

Walk Recap

Days – 60

Miles – 1,346

Jars of Peanut Butter – 50

Roadside Change Count – $5.05

Favorite Roadside Find – The “loveseat” at the roadside park near Mexia.

Miles Per Shower in Texas – 61.57

I have walked about 430 miles in Texas so far. My arrival in Ballinger marked the geographic midway point in my third walk across America. Mileage wise, I am roughly halfway there, too!

I am taking two full days off in Ballinger and waiting for the five inches of snow that fell in the recent storm to melt. On January 12th, I will head northwest towards Big Spring, then west towards Andrews and Carlsbad (NEW MEXICO!) over the next 10 days. My walk will lead me through some desolate country. I can’t wait! Walk on!

-Ben

Trudging Through Texas

From Leesville, Louisiana, I found myself 25 miles from the Texas state line. To ensure my friend Gary (who put me up in Leesville for the night) got his money’s worth, I ate my fill of COVID compliant to-go breakfasts, drank plenty of coffee, watched some ESPN, and reorganized PJ before resuming my walk at 10 AM. It was December 20th.

I walked six miles north on the Shreveport Highway before following a few county roads to Highway 111. A few Louisianans made my last full day in their state memorable with several gestures of kindness.

Just north of Leesville, an older gentleman in a pickup pulled over and handed me a crisp 20 dollar bill. He didn’t tell me his name, or ask where I was walking or why, he just said “Merry Christmas and have a nice walk.” Another man pulled over and gave me two slices of piping hot pepperoni pizza from an untouched pie.

I munched on the slices of pizza as the sun came out around noon. I couldn’t resist sunbathing next to picturesque Lake Vernon off Highway 111 a few miles later.

I walked another 10 miles after leaving the lakeshore and camped off an ATV trail in the woods. Louisiana sent me off with a sky full of stars.

I approached the Texas state line at sunrise the follwing morning and crossed the Sabine River as the sun illuminated mist rising from the valley.

PJ took the ceremonial picture of me next to the Texas state line sign. I certainly have a lot to learn about Texas, but I know two things with 100 percent certainty – it’s a big state, and I will NOT leave a Dallas Cowboys fan!

My walk across Texas will be between 700 and 900 miles, depending on which route I take. For better or worse, I will get to know The Lone State State very well.

I had some company at the state line after snapping photos. Two men, RJ and John, who work on the nearby dam, stopped as they were driving by and visited with me for a bit.

“We weren’t sure if you were a lost mailman, selling ice cream, or out walking to talk about Jesus,” John said with a laugh. The two wished me good luck, and once again reminded me how big Texas is, as if I didn’t already know!

From the state line, I followed Highway 255 for the next 40 miles. I was admittedly nervous about the road because I knew it didn’t have a shoulder. My other option, Highway 8 to the south, didn’t have one either. Considering the lack of towns and services, I banked on 255 having very little traffic. Fortunately, I guessed correctly.

Many of the vehicles on the road were logging trucks. I didn’t appreciate the prevalence of the logging industry in this part of Texas. For whatever reason, logging trucks seem more sinister to me than the typical semi, so I have taken to calling them “toothpick trucks” to make them seem friendlier. The other challenging aspect of the stretch was the 75 mile per hour speed limit, which I have never encountered on a two lane road. I learned a few key lessons about Texas within the first 50 miles. People drive FAST, and Texans love oversized pickup trucks with big tires.

Highway 255.

On day two of my walk down 255, PJ and I hit impressive Sam Rayburn Dam and Reservoir. The walk atop the dam offered great views of the lake and provided a rare shoulder on the highway.

This was a dam fine walk!

After another five miles on narrow 255, I hit Highway 69, which I followed northwest towards Lufkin. At that point, I was in the middle of the Piney Woods region of East Texas, which includes four National Forests – Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Sabine, and Angelina. I was able to camp in Angelina National Forest outside of Zavalla after following a forest service road into the woods. Storms were forecasted to move into the area the following afternoon, so I went to sleep early and started walking before daybreak the next morning, hoping to hit Lufkin before the rain moved in.

Cowboy camping in Angelina National Forest.

I was walking by 5 AM in the morning and hit Lufkin mid-afternoon. Mother Nature cut me a break, too – it didn’t start raining until I checked into a room at Motel 6. In the morning, I walked another five miles and hit 1,001 miles for the trip, just in time for Christmas!

My sister, Katy, made the long drive south from Kansas City and picked PJ and I up near Highway 130. We spent three nights together in Galveston, TX, and celebrated Christmas together. One of the main reasons I got a hotel room in Lufkin was so I could shower and eliminate the chance Katy would leave PJ and I on the side of the road in Houston because we stunk!

Galveston was a great place to spend the holiday! The 10 mile long, 17 feet tall seawall was built in 1902 after the devastating Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 (it killed approximately 8,000 people). The seawall was built to prevent the storm surge from future hurricanes from flooding the city. The sidewalk next to the seawall is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world, and the murals painted on the seawall itself comprise the world’s longest mural!

Katy and I also enjoyed several walks through historic neighborhoods closer to downtown Galveston. Many of the houses dated back to the late 1800’s. I call this one “Pretty in Turquoise.”

Katy dropped me back off near Highway 130 at noon on December 27th. I gave her a big hug, reassembled PJ, and just like that, we were back to walking!

I felt like I was “home” within minutes of resuming my walk. It always amazes me how comfortable and at ease I feel with myself and the world when I’m on the road, like I am exactly where I need to be.

I pushed PJ 17 miles down the ample shoulders of Highway 130 and Highway 7 on December 27th, ending the day with a camping spot in Davy Crockett National Forest right next to the welcome sign.

I checked the forecast the following morning and a big storm was supposed to move into East Texas in 48 hours. I decided I wanted to push myself, physically and mentally, and attempt to make it to Fairfield, 80 miles west, over the next two days.

I started walking before sunrise and reached Ratcliff as the sun illuminated the surrounding national forest. After a pint of milk at a gas station, I turned right onto TX Farm Road 227. There, I saw something unusual – a woman walking down the highway shoulder with an orange vest and fanny pack. I don’t come across many walkers in rural areas. I caught up to her after a few hundred yards and said good morning. Jean was out for her regular morning walk. She follows 227 north for a mile to a dirt road, then turns around and heads home.

On October 5th, 2019, Jean tragically lost her daughter in a car accident. She turned to walking as a way to grieve, calm down her racing mind, and connect with God. Sometimes she listens to gospel music while she walks. Other days, she walks in silence, letting the sounds of the forest soothe her soul.

Jean and I walked together for a mile and talked about what walking means to us, and what role it plays in our lives. Although we were only together for an hour, we formed a meaningful connection. Jean admitted she was lonely and doesn’t have many friends in town. I encouraged her to call me if she needed someone to talk to. Three days later, my phone rang with a Texas phone number I didn’t recognize. It was Jean. I am grateful for the newfound friendship.

The walk north on 227 was peaceful and beautiful. The road meandered through pine, oak, and dogwood forests before passing by quaint farms and ranches.

My serene and relaxing walk ended once I reached Highway 294. With no shoulder, more traffic, hills, and plenty of blind curves, 294 gave me all I could handle.

I walked another six miles before dark, bringing my total miles for the day to 37, and reached the small town of Slocum at dusk. I pushed PJ into some woods next to a creek for the night just west of town. Fairfield was still 43 miles away.

I would have liked to start walking before dawn the next morning, but walking a narrow road with no shoulder in the dark wasn’t a good idea. PJ and I started at first light and slowly made our way through the next 20 miles on 294. PJ preached patience. We had to constantly move off the road for logging trucks, semis, and Texas-sized pickup trucks.

We reached the smooth shoulder of U.S. 84 at 2 PM after the difficult stretch. I celebrated with a series of Tiger Woods style first pumps as I pushed PJ down the massive shoulder. Drivers shot curious looks in my direction. I was still 25 miles from Fairfield, but the difficult portion of the day was over. It took until 10 PM, but PJ and I rolled into town after a 15 hour, 45 mile walk. My dogs weren’t barking – they were howling – and I was only moderately incoherent. We did it!

A friend of mine from back home – Dicko Greenwood – graciously put PJ and I up in a hotel for a few nights to recover and stay out of the rain. Thank you, Dicko! We will get back on the road New Year’s Day and begin the walk to Waco.

Favorite Three Pictures

I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas gift. Three days with my little sister in Galveston!
Highway 111 on my last day in Louisiana, right before dark. Don’t worry mom – I looked both ways before I snapped this photo!
Big, beautiful skies in East Texas.

Trip Recap

Days – 50

Miles – 1,101

Jars of Peanut Butter – 37

Roadside Change Count – $3.51

Miles Per Shower (Total) – 64.76. That’s 17 showers total since leaving Jacksonville!

Favorite Roadside Find – A Texas License Plate!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year and blessed 2021 – I am thrilled to be ringing in the New Year in East Texas!

Walk on!

-Ben

Loving Louisiana

Louisiana has presented plenty of challenges over the last six days and 170 miles. Every obstacle has been well worth the effort thanks to the beautiful scenery and a great deal of generosity and kindness from those I have crossed paths with.

Terry dropped me back off at the Louisiana State Capitol building in downtown Baton Rouge on Monday, December 14th. After enjoying temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s for the previous week, I was in for a few days of 40 and 50 degree weather. I didn’t think 50 degrees could feel that cold until I walked through the South. When coupled with humidity, a little wind, or no sun, it can feel downright frigid. The cold gets deep into your bones!

From downtown, I walked north on Highway 61 towards the John James Audubon Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. 61, also known as the “Scenic Highway,” was industrial with miles and miles of oil refineries until I was well north of town. Locals have nicknamed this part of Baton Rouge “Gotham City.” However, the city is implementing an urban reforestation project for a five mile stretch on vacant land the lies between neighborhoods to the east of the highway and industrial developments to the west. The urban forests will act as a buffer between the residential and industrial areas. What a great use of that land!

Urban reforestation just north of downtown Baton Rouge.

After 24 miles of walking, I reached the Southern Belle Truck Stop and Casino. Nashiqua, the friendly woman working the register, gave me permission to camp on the property. I turned the trucker’s lounge into a “walker’s lounge” and was able to spend some of the chilly evening inside. Thank you for the great camping spot, Southern Belle!

In the morning, I began my long awaited walk across the Mississippi. Despite hitting the country’s mightiest river in downtown Baton Rouge, I needed to walk 30 miles north in order to cross the river safely (and legally). The John James Audubon Bridge was well worth the walk! The beautiful bridge rose high over the muddy Mississippi and offered expansive views in all directions. The bridge’s cables are painted gold, giving it a gold plated appearance from a distance.

After walking through tree tunnels for much of my walk, I was thrilled to arrive in an agricultural portion of the state after crossing the Mississippi. I traded bayous, forests, and swamps for wide open spaces and sugar cane farms – and I was crossing fewer narrow bridges! I could see for miles in every direction! It was also harvest season, so watching farmers hard at work harvesting their crops entertained me for most of the afternoon. The highway shoulder was littered with sugar cane stalks that had flown out of the back of semi-trucks during transport.

Near the end of my day, I ran into a bit of a problem. I came to a mile long, narrow stretch of the highway that ran along the top of a levy. Fortunately, I found a side road that ran parallel to the main highway through the adjacent bayou/flood plain. PJ and I just had to do some three wheeling down a steep hill to get there. I spent a blissful six miles on the quiet road and listened to happy, chirping birds the whole way. I also made friends with a few construction workers who were making repairs to the flood control system. One of the men has been in recovery for four years. We had a great chat about our respective recoveries in the bayou!

The dirt road I walked on the left, with Highway 1 on the right.

I spent night two after leaving Baton Rouge at another gas station in Batchelor. It dumped overnight, but I stayed dry, cozy, and warm in my tent!

As I made my way further northwest, more and more sugar cane fields had already been harvested. That was sweet for me, because it meant less harvest traffic. Highway 1 continued to have a massive shoulder as I made my way through the small communities of Simmsport, Yellow Bayou, and Hamburg. I had a pleasant encounter with a man named Kevin late in the day. He offered me a ride before I explained what I was doing. He wished me a Merry Christmas and sent me on my way with 20 bucks for a hot meal.

I stealth camped in the woods off Highway 1 near Moreauville that night before pushing towards the southern end of Alexandria in the morning. The sun finally came back out and I was ready for some miles!

I decided to follow Highway 114 (a three mile saving “shortcut”) en route to Alexandria. Midway through the 12 mile stretch, after hitting downtown Hessmer, I took a left instead of a right. I realized it after walking south for two miles. I found my way back to 114, but my misdirection added three miles. Some shortcut, huh? PJ will never let me live it down. And although I expected minimal shoulder space on 114, I wasn’t expecting so much traffic. It was a tricky, narrow, and often frustrating stretch.

An older man saw us walking by his house and curiously asked “Why are you on this narrow road instead of that big highway?” Great question!

Another man asked if I was out collecting cans. “Nope, just out for a long walk,” I told him.

Despite the challenges, there were plenty of sights to enjoy on the 12 mile stretch, including countless beautiful homes and some fall colors.

Once PJ and I were safely back on the shoulders of Highway 1, we put in another 20 miles on the luxuriously wide shoulder and ended the day on the south side of Alexandria after walking 33 miles on the day.

I didn’t dawdle much in Alexandria. There was a storm with one to two inches of rain forecasted to move into the area the following afternoon. Without any services between Alexandria and Leesville, I decided to beat feet to Leesville.

My strategy worked to perfection. I walked about 72 miles in 48 hours and made it to Leesville an hour before the torrential, cold rain settled in. But let me tell you, my feet were beat after that feat!

Midway between Alexandria and Leesville, I met Adam. Adam works in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas traveling to different dental offices and buying their used dental supplies. He saw me a few hundred miles back and was wondering what I was doing. We visited on the roadside for a while, and talked about his job, my walk, spirituality, and the benefits of walking. Adam loves walking to relieve stress and relax. I was also able to share my story with him and explain how walking is an integral aspect of my recovery. Thank you for the company, Adam!

Thanks to a Christmas gift from my good friend, Gary Anderson of Oberlin, KS, I had a roof over my head during the storm at a Best Western Hotel. Gary and I met during my first walk in Oberlin in 2015. We have grown close over the years and I am proud to call him one of my best friends. He has helped me immensely during my recovery. Thank you for the perfect Christmas gift, Gary! And compared to the other hotels I have stayed in on this trip, I won’t have to worry about bed bugs this time around!

I ended today about 25 miles from the Texas state line. I expect to be in the Lone Star State Monday the 21st. And my sister, Katy, is picking me up near Lufkin, TX on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday weekend in Galveston. I cannot wait!

Favorite Three Pictures

Endless horizons in Louisiana farming country.
Highway 28 between Alexandria and Leesville. I love when a road stretches far off into the distance, like a perfectly placed ribbon effortlessly dissapearing on the horizon. I can see where I’m going, but I’m never sure what I’ll find when I get there.
I was able to have an unobstructed view of the sunset – a rarity on this walk – just south of Alexandria. What a great way to end the day!

Trip Stats

39 days, 890 miles walked.

Jars of peanut butter consumed – 28

Roadside change count – $3.25

Miles per shower in Louisiana – 94

Bridges crossed in Louisiana – 58

Favorite roadside find – a Louisiana “trailer” license plate. Perfect for PJ!

Lookout drivers – PJ is officially licensed!

Until next time, walk on, and Merry Christmas!

-Ben

Bayou Country

I was 16 miles from the Louisiana state line when I woke up on December 7th. It was a chilly 39 degrees outside as I packed up my gear. The woman camping “next door” brought me a cup of piping hot coffee, which helped warm me up. I walked back to the highway and said goodbye to the Gulf of Mexico around 8 AM. I had enjoyed walking next to its beautiful waters for a few days.

The last 16 miles in Mississippi were incredibly peaceful. I walked a few back roads that had next to no traffic. I remembered my friend Wanda I had met a few days before, who loves walking without her phone or music. She inspired me to stash my phone inside PJ and walk in silence for the first four hours of the day. I cherished my quiet surroundings and got “lost” in the beautiful forests I walked through.

After 12 miles, I hit the wide shoulder of Highway 90 and closed in on Louisiana. I crossed a bridge that spanned the White River and officially hit the fourth state of my journey. As you’ll see in coming days, walking across bridges will become part of my normal routine!

Maybe I’ll touch up on my French in Louisiana?

I walked across a total of five bridges in the first four miles of the Pelican State. Although none of them had a shoulder, traffic levels were low, which made crossing them much easier.

I reached the outskirts of Slidell near dark. Louisiana came across as sinister and unwelcoming initially. Most of the land directly off the road was fenced. Private property/no trespassing signs were hung on trees every 30 feet. The forests were thick, dark, and brambly.

I reminded myself not to worry about where I would sleep. A solution would present itself. It always does. “Keep the faith.” A few miles later I passed a fishing shop that had a Coke sign hanging in the window. I noticed a nice grassy spot under a massive live oak tree on the property. That looked like a great to sleep, I told PJ. I went inside. The smell of gutted fish hit me as soon as I walked in. Six men were sitting around a table, drinking beer. This place was half fishing shop, half bar. All their eyes fixated on me. I said hello with a big smile. I bought a Coke and some snacks and introduced myself.

The owner of Jes Tackle is an older man named Richard. He was skeptical at first….about me, about my walk, and about my sleeping there for the night.

He must have picked up on some desperation in my eyes. I didn’t want to face the shoulderless highway to the west of me at dark and at the peak of rush hour. “I’m not saying you can camp there, but I’m not saying you can’t either. Catch my drift? If something happens to you, I’m not responsible. And don’t break into my shop overnight,” Richard said, only half kidding.

It wasn’t a ringing endorsement, but was good enough for me. I talked with the beer-sipping Louisianans for a bit before heading outside and setting up camp. Right before dark, one of the men from the “bar” came over to my tent and gave me a box of brownies, a half dozen oatmeal cream pies, and a full box of nutty butty bars. I was set on the junk food front for weeks. Best of all, nobody messed with me overnight. After all, I’m the crazy guy in the tent pushing the jogging stroller across America.

I made my way through Slidell in the morning and began a 31 mile walk down the Tammany Trace. “The Trace,” as the locals call it, is a paved recreational path that runs from Slidell to Covington. I spent a blissful day-and-a-half on the trail free from vehicle noise and narrow bridges. It was heavenly. I cowboy camped on a horse path right off The Trace near Convington on my second night in Louisiana.

A little fall foliage on The Trace!

It was back to reality after making it through Covington. I was three hard days from Baton Rouge and I had some tough walking on Highway 190 ahead of me. My biggest obstacles so far in Louisiana have been bridges. On the walk from Covington to Hammond, I crossed 11 of them. From Hammond to Walker, there were 10 PJ and I clumsily jogged across. Most of them were 20 or 30 yards long. Four were about a quarter of a mile. In the case of the longer bridges, PJ and I actually walk with traffic. None of the bridges had shoulders, so by walking with traffic, we force cars to slow down and scoot over for us if they can’t safely get around. I literally put my life in the hands of motorists. There is nowhere to bail if a driver isn’t paying attention (though I do wait for a sizeable gap in traffic before crossing a bridge).

After a few crossings, we got the hang of it! After a 27 mile walk from Covington, I camped outside a gas station in Hammond. I reached Walker (appropriately named, I’d say) the following night. We hit town at rush hour and came to a bridge that was way too dangerous to cross given the traffic levels. Fortunately, there was a nice level spot under the bridge where I camped for the night.

One of the highlights from the stretch between Covington and Baton Rouge was meeting Bobbie Jean and her daughter, Haley. The duo puts together holiday gift boxes filled with chocolate and other goodies and delivers them to homebound seniors and people who tend to be isolated during the holiday season. They love spreading holiday cheer in their community! They certainly brightened my day by visiting with me for a bit and sending me on my way with a box of cholotaes. Insert Forrest Gump reference here! Keep doing what you’re doing, ladies, and thank you!

I pushed PJ across the tricky bridge that led into downtown Walker early the following morning when traffic was at a minimum. From downtown Walker, the walk into Baton Rouge was a narrow, high trafficked, difficult 24 mile walk. Without a wide shoulder, I pushed PJ through the roadside grass, mud, and on some uneven slopes. But we made it to the Mighty Mississippi in one piece.

After 31 days and 720 miles of walking, PJ and I reached the quarter-pole on our third walk across America in Louisiana’s capital city.

PJ and I hit the Mississippi right next to the USS Kidd. This is the third time I have walked from the ocean and reached America’s mightiest river!

I’m taking the weekend off and staying with Terry Jones. I met Terry on my first walk at a gas station in Central Wyoming. He was helping his daughter, Robyn, move to Washington State. Terry reached out to me a few weeks ago and invited me to stay with him when I hit town.

Terry and his girlfriend, Insa, have spoiled me rotten with some amazing meals at Mike Andersons (a staple for seafood in the Baton Rouge area), and at Houmas Plantation. I have gotten my fill of oysters, shrimp, crawfish, crab, and catfish – all delicious! I hadn’t eaten any seafood on my journey before reaching Baton Rouge (packaged tuna fish doesn’t count). Terry and Insa are very generous, kind, thoughtful, and fun people. I couldn’t ask for better hosts – thank you both!

Terry and Insa, enjoying some bread pudding for dessert at the Houmas House. They know how to treat a hungry walker!
The Houmas House was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The old plantation has incredible gardens and was festively decorated for the holidays. I even spotted a few reindeer!

I’ll be leaving Baton Rouge Monday, December 14th. My original plan was to walk Highway 190 through the rest of Louisiana, but after getting some local advice from Terry, I will be following a few smaller highways up to Alexandria and then continue west from there. 190 has a few mile long causeways without shoulders that would be dangerous to walk. Heading to Alexandria will add a few miles, but it will be worth it to walk a quieter, safer road – in theory!

Favorite Three Pictures

I am doing my best on this walk to “be where my feet are” and enjoy the beauty and possibilities of today. With so much alone time, it’s easy to get caught up in the past and dwell on mistakes or regrets, or think too much about the future and what I’m going to do after this walk. But when I’m able to be where my feet are and live in the moment, I’m more likely to enjoy right now and experience some growth TODAY. Everything else will work itself out!
Enjoying some views of the bayou near White Kitchen, LA.
The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. This is the second capitol building I’ve visited on my walk! The first was in Tallahassee, FL.

Walk Recap

33 days, 720 miles walked

24 jars of peanut butter consumed

Roadside change count – $2.65

Favorite roadside find – A pair of brand new, high visibility, cool weather gloves. I found them while I was searching for a camping spot outside of Walker.

Bridges crossed in Louisiana – 30

Encounters with law enforcement – 0

Miles per shower in Louisiana – 37.66

Until next time, walk on!

-Ben

Sunshine, Cotton, and Magnolias

It was a good thing I had a roof over my head in North Pensacola. It poured…all day. But by the morning of November 30th, I was left with dry, sunny skies. My 27 mile walk to Robertsdale, Alabama, was a day of many firsts for this walk.

I hit the first state line of my journey after nine miles and entered Alabama! A new state always provides a morale boost. After 429 miles in Florida, I was certainly ready for a new state abbreviation.

PJ’s photography skills need a little work, but not bad for his first try!

There was one immediate difference after reaching Alabama – the shoulders. Florida spoiled me with impeccable shoulders for every mile. Alabama’s were narrower, bumpier, and had rumble strips, often in the center of the shoulder, which make for a bumpy ride and thoroughly annoy PJ. Nevertheless, we adjusted quickly and made pretty good time during the sunny 27 mile walk to Robertsdale.

Another trip first – I actually had a host lined up for the night before leaving in the morning (and I would get to sleep in an RV)! Cami, who has followed my walks on Instagram, invited PJ and I to stay on her property when she realized I would be walking through Baldwin County. When we arrived, a smiling Cami was waiting in the front yard. Had it not been for COVID, I’m sure she would have given me a big welcome hug. I felt at home immediately. The RV was stocked with food, coffee, and fresh towels. She even bought a space heater to keep me warm overnight considering the temp was supposed to dip into the upper 20’s. And, I was able to shower for the THIRD day in a row! We shared travel stories for a few hours before bed and visited again in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the restful night in Cami’s “she-shed,” as she calls it. Thank you for your hospitality and making me feel so welcome!

Cami and I outside of her “she-shed.”

From Cami’s house, I walked due west on Highway 104 and met up with the East Shore Trail, which meandered through historic neighborhoods and into quaint downtown Daphne. I ended the day cowboy camping off Highway 98, but not after a little excitement.

Near the end of the trail after dark, I came across a wooden barrier right in the middle of “Gator Alley,” which is a popular boardwalk where people can spot alligators in the surrounding water. I searched for a way around the roadblock, but PJ can’t swim and he’s also afraid of alligators. The nearby highways also passed over the waterway, but were heavily trafficked and didn’t have suitable shoulders. If I walked a series of secondary roads to bypass the swamp and nearby interstate, it would have been a 14 mile detour (only to end up a mile north). It was a real head scratcher.

My best option, it seemed, was to roll the dice and hop the four foot tall roadblock. After all, the boardwalk on the other side looked stable to my amateur eye. I unloaded PJ and clumsily lifted him over the barrier. He needs to walk more because he was heavy. After I made it across the sturdy wooden pieces, I quickly reloaded my gear and gingerly pushed PJ across the wooden planks until we were safely on solid ground. Thankfully, we didn’t end up as an alligator’s entree. Curiously, there weren’t any signs or barricades at the end of the trail announcing it was closed (nor were there any next to the roadblock). Maybe it was some elaborate prank by some neighborhood kids. I’ll never know.

I was excited to walk into Mobile the following morning. I was pushing PJ across the Highway 98 Causeway as the sun came up over misty Mobile Bay.

I made a few new friends, Jeff and Larry, four miles into my day. They were fishing and having a few beers when I rolled by. We chatted on the roadside for 15 minutes. I declined the offer for a beer (by the grace of God, that’s easy to say no to these days) but accepted some breakfast sausage and a bag full of cookies. I got both their phone numbers in case I ran into trouble in Mobile. As I snapped their picture, they let out a loud “Roll Tide!”

I met some awesome people in Alabama, but I’m still not a Crimson Tide fan! Sorry fellas!

I continued towards Mobile after the fun roadside chat. Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct (or legal) route for a pedestrian into downtown Mobile. I had to do a big loop to the north and walk the three-mile long Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge before heading back south into downtown. The bridge rose hundreds of feet above the Mobile River and was the closest thing to a mountain I have walked on my journey so far. The views from the “summit” were breathtaking. After a three mile walk south through the Mobile Railyards, we finally hit downtown.

A view from the top of the mountain!

Mobile is a lovely city. The sidewalks we walked were lined with stately, Southern homes and live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. I camped off a bike path on the south end of town as Christmas music from a nearby mall lulled me to sleep.

One of many live oak tree tunnels in Mobile.

It was a suburban walk through South Mobile and Theodore for 15 miles before getting back into the country. I passed by field after field of Alabama’s cash crop, cotton, before reaching Grand Bay. There, I had a care package from home waiting for me. The box included a new solar panel, a sleeping bag liner, snacks, a sports page from the weekend the Broncos beat the Dolphins, and a nice note. Thanks Mom and Dad!

My feet still felt fresh an hour before dark so I walked another four miles to the Mississippi State Line. I camped in the woods right next to the welcome sign!

Two down – six to go! A little too much grass in that picture PJ, for future reference.

After a stormy night, I began the 85 mile walk across the Magnolia State. Traffic increased as I neared Pascagoula, but the shoulder on 90 was MASSIVE. I could have fit five PJs on that thing! It certainly made for some comfortable walking. After a visit to Lighthouse Park in Pascagoula, I continued into Gautier (pronounced go-shay. French pronunciation isn’t one of my strong suits). I met my host for the night, Thomas, at city hall. One of my good friends from home put me in touch with him. We loaded PJ into the back of his truck and made the 30 minute drive to his house. Thomas and I had a blast sharing our travel experiences with one another. After so many nights of stealth camping on this walk, my appreciation for hosts (and a roof over my head) has gone…through the roof! Thank you Thomas!

On day two in Mississippi, I finally hit the Gulf of Mexico in Ocean Springs. Since then, I have been “going Gulfing,” as I like to say. After passing through Ocean Springs, I walked across the Biloxi Bay Bridge. The wide pedestrian lane allowed me to take in the ocean and enjoy the views. I also walked with a woman named Wanda for two miles – my first walking partner of the trip! Wanda completes a seven mile, marina-to-marina walk every Saturday across the bridge. She doesn’t bring her phone or listen to music, she just walks as a way to reconnect with her surroundings and herself. Thank you for the company, Wanda! Keep walking!

My first views of the Gulf from Ocean Springs!

For the remainder of the day, I had a break from traffic and walked a series of sidewalks, bike paths, and boardwalks along the Gulf. I struck up a few conversations with other walkers and a few cyclists as the day progressed. With the advantage of a safe pathway to walk, I continued my day well after dark, eventually passing through Gulfport. There was a beautiful light display at the city park and they were showing “Elf” on a projector screen. PJ and I enjoyed dinner and a show before walking another three miles.

Gulfport getting festive!

I pushed PJ onto the beach at 8 PM and cowboy camped 20 yards from the water. Hands down the best camping view on the trip!

After enjoying the sunrise on December 6th, our Gulf walk continued through Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, and into Waveland, where I am camping at Buccaneer State Park. My goal was to get here at 3 PM. We arrived at 2:58. I hoped to get my tent set up by 3:30 since rain was supposed to move in at 4. I had camp ready to go at 3:40. Minutes later, the rain started. For a guy without a schedule, I sure stuck to the schedule today!

The campground tonight is 13 miles from Louisiana – I hope to be in the Pelican State by noon tomorrow!

Favorite Three Pictures

I call this “The Hand of Palm.” This view took my breath away.
The Bay St. Louis Bridge.
Approaching downtown Mobile from the wrong side of the tracks.

Bonus Photo – what would you call this? A snow castle? Sand man?

Trip Stats

26 Days, 590 miles

Jars of Peanut Butter – 18

Roadside Change – $1.82

Miles Per Shower (it’s a new walking metric I created) By State

Florida – 71.66

Alabama – 90 (just one shower!)

Mississippi – 42 (trending in the right direction!)

Favorite Roadside Find – My camping spot right next to the Gulf!

Until next time, walk on!

Ben

Grateful in the Panhandle

I resumed my walk from the banks of the Ochlockonee River on Saturday, November 21st. When I was originally planning my trip, I intended to walk the Gulf Coast from Panama City to Pensacola, then over into Alabama. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sally hit the coast in September and damaged the Pensacola Bay Bridge, causing it to close for repairs. With that bridge out of commision, I didn’t have a feasible way to get to Pensacola from the ocean.

Plan B was to continue my trek through the familiar forests of the Florida Panhandle. From my campground, I continued down Highway 20 for another three days, passing through Blountstown, Youngstown, Bruce, and Freeport.

Crossing the Appalachicola River outside of Blountstown. This three-mile long bridge rose high above the tree tops and offered expansive views of the water and adjacent forests prone to flooding. A pedestrian walkway and the setting sun made it even more enjoyable!

The scenery unexpectedly changed on the walk from Blountstown west. Thick roadside forests quickly dissapeared. At first, I thought it was an anomoly. But it continued for miles. Trees were snapped in half like toothpicks. Houses and businesses were missing roofs and windows. Many were left abandoned. It was an eerie walk for the entire day. I asked Google that night and discovered the damage was due to Hurricane Michael, which hit the Florida Gulf Coast in October of 2018 as a Category 4 storm. Logging is one of the biggest industries in the area. 95 percent of the land in a four county area sustained significant damage. It will take years, possibly decades, for the area to recover economically. It was a sobering reminder of Mother Nature’s power.

After 40 miles of dilapidated forests, familiar Florida pines returned closer to Bruce. When I was five miles away from town, I decided to call the Bruce Country Store to see if I could camp on the business’s property. The owner, Diana, granted me permission, even though they would be closed by the time I got there after dark. It was the first of hopefully many “contactless COVID camping” experiences.

My Highway 20 ride concluded at Freeport, where I headed north on Highway 331. Given that we rarely walk due north, I promised PJ we weren’t heading the wrong way. I experienced some nice road magic on the way to DeFuniak Springs. A man pulled over and gave me an ice cold Gatorade. Then, a woman gave me three homemade turkey sandwiches and a big bag of chips outside of a Wal-Mart.

“Are you living on the side of the highway, honey?” She asked with her sweet, Southern draw.

“By choice, yes. I’m walking across America.”

“You be safe now. Eat up.” That was my Thanksgiving feast!

And the following morning, a man out jogging simply gave me five dollars. He didn’t ask where I was going or what I was doing. He just wished me a happy Thanksgiving and said “God bless you.”

From DeFuniak Springs, I picked up Highway 90 once again. I will be on 90 through the rest of Florida, most of Alabama, and all of Mississippi. My second stint on 90 is off to a rainy start.

After 13 days of picture perfect weather, rain and thunderstorms have settled into the South. The weather has certainly kept me on my toes. I have been doing my best to get in my miles despite the rain.

Thanksgiving Day was the wettest day of the walk so far. I was in between towns when a torrential downpour moved through. I walked through the chilly storm before stopping at a city park and resting under the cover of a gazebo. It gave me an opportunity to talk to my parents, sister, and brother on the holiday in relative comfort. After the the rain let up I was feeling froggy, so I walked another 10 miles, well after dark, on the quiet highway. The stars even came out for the last few miles.

Thanksgiving certainly looked different for a lot of people this year. For me, it was a reminder to appreciate and be grateful for the small things in life. A tent to sleep in during overnight storms. The opportunity to charge my phone so I could talk to my family and text friends. Viewing a beautiful, misty lake at sunrise. Appreciating the shoes on my feet. Being grateful for taking small steps every day to maintain my sobriety. At the end of the day, it is all the small things that add up and make life complete. The trick moving forward is to remember those things every day and have an attitude of gratitude. All good things will follow from there.

As I neared Milton and Pace in coming days, I left rural Florida and entered Northern Pensacola suburbia, complete with traffic, strip malls, and construction zones. PJ and I dodged cones and cars for 30 miles before reaching a hotel eight miles from the Alabama border. With two inches of rain possible in the next 36 hours, splurging for a hotel room seemed prudent! Plus, I get to watch the Broncos play New Orleans. How is that for timing?

From my hotel room in North Pensacola, I will begin my walk to Mobile, which will take two days. Mississippi and Louisiana will be “right around the corner,” Lord willing. Drier, but cooler weather (lows around freezing!) are expected for the next several days.

Favorite Three Pictures

One of the highlights from the week was walking Historic State Highway 1 outside Milton. The brick road was built in 1921 and is now used as a recreational path. I followed it for a peaceful nine miles. Follow the red brick road!
A misty lake at sunrise outside of Crestview on Thanksgiving morning. Certainly a view to be grateful for!
The historic library in DeFuniak Springs. This quaint little town had Southern charm and was quite festive. City employees were hanging Christmas lights and putting up decorations the day before Thanksgving. It got me in the holiday spirit…I may have even sang a few carols during my walk that day.

Trip Stats

18 days, 420 miles walked.

Peanut butter jars – 13

Loose Change Count – $1.42

Favorite Roadside Find – A Florida license plate. PJ is officially street legal in the Sunshine State!

Until next time, walk on with gratitude!

-Ben

Alligator Alley?

After nine full days of walking, I have landed on the shores of the Ochlockonee River off Highway 20 in Northern Florida. I am 225 miles into my third walk across America. No signs of any alligators – yet – though I did see a young black bear nearly get hit by a car yesterday! I’m glad he/she could run fast.

I landed in Jacksonville on November 10th and took my first ever Uber (one of many firsts on this trip, I’m sure) to the UPS store in Atlantic Beach where I shipped my stroller, PJ. After reassembling my travel companion, we walked about four miles north to Kathryn Abbey Hanna County Park to camp for the night. We had torrential rain overnight but dry skies in the morning to start the walk!

PJ and I didn’t waste any time and officially started our 2,700 mile journey at 9 AM. Day one included a series of bridge crossings (eight total) over marshes, rivers, and coves north of Jacksonville. Wide shoulder gave us plenty of room to steer clear of moderate traffic. The mosquitoes were still biting though!

PJ had to “suck it in” to fit on this narrow walkway across one of the bridges.

I thought I was starting my walk late enough in the South to avoid any tropical storms or hurricanes, but it is 2020…Tropical Storm Eta was slowly moving north towards Jacksonville for days prior to my walk beginning. I elected to get a budget motel room on the first night of my journey. The overnight forecast on the 11th looked terrible, and the storm was supposed to pass over the Jacksonville area around noon on the 12th. Finally, an ETA for Eta! Although heavy rains moved through overnight, the brunt of the storm passed south of me on day two. Eta had also weakened significantly. I decided to walk. Plus, the budget “motel” was quite possibly the worst lodging I have ever encountered. That says a lot coming from a guy who routinely sleeps under bridges and in the woods frequently. I would take a bridge over that place any day!

I spent day two walking through a surprisingly refreshing mist and light rain out of the Jacksonville area and into the country.

I followed the Jax-Baldwin Rail Trail for 14 miles on days two and three. No traffic and very few people!

On day three I reached Highway 90. What a road! 90 offered a big, comfortable shoulder and low traffic levels. It meandered through several state and national forests filled with towering pine, saw palmetto trees, and cyprus swamps. The occasional idyllic ranch added to the beautiful scenery. I passed through Lake City and Live Oak (where I was able to camp next to the Community Presbyterian Church as opposed to stealth camping) over the next two days.

Socially, it has been a quiet journey so far, but I have been blessed with a few memorable encounters.

About 15 miles outside of Madison, something red in the grass caught my eye. It was a 2 of hearts playing card. I pick up a lot of stuff I find on the roadside to keep as random trip momentos. I thought the card would make a nice bookmark.

About a mile later, a woman named Patty pulled over in a big F-150 truck. She asked me where I was going and what I was doing. “God put you in my path today, Ben,” she told me. Patty lost her son to a heroine overdose three months ago. Her beautiful turquoise eyes were full of pain and sadness.

She was honest about the fact she has drug issues, too, and how she relapsed a few weeks ago. When I told her I was in recovery, her eyes lit up. “That’s why we met.” She said fighting back tears. “I need to hold myself accountable.”

We visited on the roadside for a while and said a prayer together. Patty gave me a donation and asked me to pass along 10 of the dollars she gave me to someone in need down the road. I will.

I said goodbye to Patty and thanked her for sharing her story with me. I took lunch 20 minutes later to reflect on Patty’s generosity and openness.

As I munched on a sandwich, a man in an old white Cadillac pulled over. John greeted me with a big smile. He explained how he had helped another cross-country walker a few years ago. He asked if I accepted donations. I said yes, and that they went towards daily expenses. He pulled a 10 out of his wallet. “Do you have a five you can give me back? I’m pretty strapped right now.” Unfortunately I didn’t. I insisted he take the money back, but he refused. “Keep all of it and have a great walk!” I thanked John and tucked away the bill. I was blown away by Patty and John’s generosity.

As I finished eating lunch, I pulled the card out of my pocket. “Weird, I thought. It’s a 2 of hearts, and two people with two huge hearts just went out of their way to help me out.” Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.

My new friend Patty. We have kept in contact, and will continue to do so, since meeting on day six.

My next few days took me through Madison and Monticello. I cowboy camped (no tent, just a sleeping bag under the stars) in some woods off the highway both nights.

I reached Tallahassee on day eight. Instead of getting a hotel room for the night, I elected to do laundry and found a spot to urban stealth camp. Tallahassee joins my ever-growing list of cities, which includes Montreal, Ottawa, Kansas City, San Fransisco, Norfolk, Lexington, and the Portlands where I have successfully stealth camped!

Yesterday I took in Florida’s capital city on the walk west through town. I stopped by the capitol building and meandered through FSU’s campus before reaching Highway 20 and walking to my current location.

The old capitol building in Tallahassee.

All in all, I am thrilled with the way the first 10 days of my journey have gone. Due to COVID, people are understandably wary about approaching a man pushing a stroller down the side of the highway (more so than normal!). But I still had numerous pleasant encounters with people, and the folks I have met have been very friendly and helpful.

From Riverfront Campground, I will begin the 225ish mile walk towards Pensacola and the Alabama border tomorrow morning. I’m hoping to be in the second state of my journey a day or two after Thanksgiving.

Favorite Three Pictures

What a view from Highway 90 outside of Live Oak!
I have always been a sucker for Spanish Moss. This photo was taken near sunset outside of Sanderson.
My “two of hearts” experience reminded me I am not alone on this walk. God has a plan. I need to keep my eyes open and be on the lookout for His signs!

Trip Stats

10 days, 225 miles walked

Jars of peanut butter – 7

Roadside change – .52 cents

Favorite Roadside Find – 2 of hearts playing card!

One flat tire – the road really “screwed” me. I picked up a massive screw in my front tire yesterday, which quickly caused a flat.

Thanks for reading! Walk on!

Ben

Southbound

On November 11th, 2020, my much anticipated third walk across America should begin. I purposefully throw in some sort of disclaimer when I talk about my upcoming journey. During these unprecedented times, plans can change in an instant. When folks have asked how long this walk will take, I tell them “exactly four to eight months” because truthfully, I don’t know how things are going to go. Flexibility and staying positive will be essential if I hope to successfully complete my crossing of the Southern States. With so many unknowns and our country in a constant state of change, I have adopted three key mantras for my walk. “Control what I can control,” “a new set of problems requires a new set of solutions,” and my personal favorite, “one day, one step at a time.”

In theory, my walk will begin in Jacksonville, Florida, and I will trek west for the foreseeable future, passing through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas (with 800 miles of walking in the Lone Star State, I’ll let you know if everything really is bigger in Texas), New Mexico, Arizona, and California. My walk will end in San Diego and will take as long as it takes.

First, I would like to address the elephant in the room (or maybe it’s a donkey, depending on the outcome of the election). It’s no surprise that I have caught a little flak about deciding to walk across the country in the midst of a pandemic and potential election-related chaos. I fully comprehend what is at stake and have a plan in place to keep myself, and others, safe.

Here are my self-imposed guidelines. Wear a mask in public. Sanitize my hands regularly. Carry a week’s supply of food and water to limit grocery store/gas station trips (gasp, that means less coffee since I don’t carry a stove!). Avoid staying in hotels/motels (I’m frugal by nature and love camping, so no problem there). Avoid bars and parties (check, I’m in recovery). Limited indoor dining (I’m fine with tuna fish, cheese-wiz, and peanut butter, thank you). Avoid crowds and large gatherings (I feel uncomfortable in crowds anyway). Socialize with people outdoors (I will be outside 99.9 percent of the time on this journey). I’m also planning on avoiding densely populated areas and big cities whenever possible. Though I would like to visit the Alamo in San Antonio. Fortunately, I will have plenty of solitude on this walk, but I assure you, I will respect local rules and regulations relating to COVID. If a state locks down, I will lock it down, too.

Now, onto the fun stuff! My “jogging” stroller, PJ, is already packed up and on his way to Jacksonville. Currently, he is aboard a UPS semi-truck – probably in the middle of Missouri or Illinois. He will probably beat me to Jacksonville by a day. After I land on November 10th, I will make the 25 mile, three hour, city bus trip from Jacksonville International Airport to The UPS Store in Atlantic Beach where I will pick up and reassemble a very claustrophobic and pissed off stroller (PJ doesn’t like confined spaces). From there, we will walk four miles north to Kathryn Abbey Hanna County Park and camp for the night. My walk will begin on the beach the following morning.

I took PJ out for several evening training walks while preparing for my upcoming journey. He is certainly showing his age (there are 5,500 miles on those axles and rims) but I’m confident the old boy has what it takes to lug my gear from the Atlantic to the Pacific one more time.

Physically, I am ready for the journey. I spent the summer as a “lawn care professional,” (though I prefer “grubby lawn guy”) cutting grass. After mowing roughly 1,400 lawns (and walking about 1,500 miles) over the summer, trading a lawn mower for a jogging stroller should be a relatively easy transition. My summer and fall also included plenty of hikes in the mountains and evening walks. I was on my feet a lot! I’m hoping to dive right in and start covering some decent miles (22-26 miles per day) right away.

My training for this walk didn’t stop at cutting grass. The incline in Manitou is one of my favorite hikes. I also climbed up and down Pikes Peak in late August. The 26 mile ascent and descent took about 10 hours.
One of my highlights from 2020 was making the trip to Western Wyoming and hiking 23 miles over two days on the Oregon Trail with my good friends, Anj and Jan.

My next update, hopefully, will be from the shoulder of Highway 90 in the Florida Panhandle.

I realize how blessed I am to be able to attempt a third crossing of the U.S. on foot. None of this would be possible without my sobriety (which began on May 14th, 2017), my evolving spirituality, and the amazing support from friends and family scattered throughout the country. Walking is a powerful tool that I utilize on a daily basis in recovery. I hope that my journey inspires you to walk. I hope that if you are struggling with alcoholism or an addiction issue, my story encourages you to ask for help. If my experience and efforts help even one person, all of this will be worthwhile.

Get ready for some great stories from the highway shoulders of the South and plenty of mediocre puns. This is going to be a blast!

Walk on,

Ben

TEDx Talk

I love public speaking! In February of 2017, I was given the opportunity to share my story on the TEDx stage at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. My talk, titled “Step(s) in the Right Direction” challenges people to take small steps every day in order to achieve their goals and dreams.

I hope that I will have more opportunities in the future to speak about my journeys across America and my life in sobriety.