How to Walk Across America
Every month or so, I receive an email from someone seeking help in planning his or her own walk across America. I think it’s great – before I left, I contacted other walkers, studied literature – and I’m happy to pass on my knowledge. Here are a handful of tips:
1. Take some time and consider why you really want to walk. Is it for a cause you truly believe in? Are you temporarily frustrated with your present situation? Is it simply to see what’s out there? Are you truly, truly dedicated to the walk, because if not, you’ll be quitting in a very short time.
2. Do a training walk for at least a week. Try hiking the roads between two cities in your state. Did you find that you enjoyed or hated the solitude? Did you pack too much equipment? Are you comfortable sleeping outdoors, or on people’s couches? Did you get used to living and in sweaty, dirty clothes? How many miles a day can you realistically cover?
3. Read “A Walk Across America” and “The Walk West” by Peter Jenkins. Then read “The Walker’s Journal” by Robert Sweetgall and “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson.
4. Carefully plan your route before you leave. How many miles between towns, where you can get food? How many miles between cities, where you can buy new camping equipment or a new cell phone? Where will you be in July, when the temp hits 100? Where will you be in December, when it gets dark at 4:30? Know your road numbers and distances like you know your prayers.
5. Unfortunately, I cannot give a figure as to how much to save up, but consider up-front costs (equipment, one-way plane fare), monthly costs (insurance, cell phone, student loans), and daily costs (food, food and more food).
6. Get familiar with www.CouchSurfing.com. It’s a great web site.
7. I did not do much fundraising for my trip since technically I wasn’t walking for a cause. Remember companies and corporations would much rather give to a legitimate non-profit than a single individual. That said, I’d work any networks you may have, and try for local, small businesses (where you can walk in and actually introduce yourself to the owner). I’d also recommend Andy Skurka’s page, which is here: http://tinyurl.com/3jtyawp
8. Set up a web site. It doesn’t have to be super fancy; a few days on blogspot or wordpress (like this one) will get it done. Then design a sign with the name of your web site and attach it to your backpack. Make sure the sign is printed clearly and largely enough to be read easily by someone driving by at 50 miles per hour. You’ll be amazed how many people will approach you, or turn their car around, when they see your sign and want to learn more about your project. It also helps legitimize your perambulations in the eyes of of the police (generally drug dealers don’t stroll through town with their web site posted on their back). Hand out business cards with your name, phone number, email and web site. This makes it easy for folks you meet to remember you and for the media to contact you.
9. Likewise, stay relatively clean and clean shaven. You’ll be more approachable and possibly get more invitations for places to stay if you look decent and trustworthy, instead of like a castaway from a Pirates of the Caribbean shoot. Remember, this is your job and your passion. Be professional.
10. Don’t expect fame or fortune from your walk. Walk because you truly want to learn something about yourself and about your country, not because you think you’ll get a book deal or get on TV.
That said, I invite anyone who is interested to check out our semi-regular Walk across America Conference Calls. I began organizing and hosting these free events two years ago as a way for aspiring walkers to pick our brains, current hikers to share what they see, and veteran walkers to swap their road stories. In all, they’re a good way to connect with the community and help make sure your walk is a success.
In addition, I’m pleased to say that in conjunction with Hostelling International – Eastern New England Council, we will be holding our very first Walk across America Conference in November 2012. Please contact me for more information on the conference calls or the conference.