As of January 1st 2014, I have put my schooling on hold and resigned from my RN position for the upcoming walk. For the next two months, I will be preparing both mentally and physically for the long road ahead.
Choosing and mapping a route:
Of the numerous ways to cross the country, it all comes down to preference. Some choose a northern or central route, while others prefer the southern approach. I have personally decided to leave in March from a central location on the east coast and here’s why:
As a general rule, temperatures become warmer as we travel south in the United States and move closer to the equator. With this in mind, I knew that if I planned to begin further south, I could start walking earlier in the year and experience milder winter conditions than if I began further north. Granted, there is still a strong possibility I can run into snow in the Appalachian mountains; however, a March departure from Virginia Beach should give me enough time to reach Colorado in the late spring/early summer to pass through the Rocky mountains without the fear of being blocked by snow in the higher elevations.
After I figured out a rough idea of what states I wanted to walk through, I began to map out the roads I would be taking through said states. I used a combination of paper and Google maps to do this. I used a highlighter to trace my route on the paper maps, but Google maps came very handy because of the Street View feature they have. It allowed me to look at roads up close and make sure they had appropriate areas to walk on. For example, while plotting my way through Colorado, I originally wanted to follow US 50 through the central part of the state. The map key showed me that the road was an undivided US route. I pictured it to be a quaint little alternate road seldom traveled because of the interstate paralleling it up north. To confirm this, I put my little orange Street View man on the road to get an up close look at where I could be potentially walking, and it was not what I had expected. The road looked incredibly busy, and though I will be walking a few busy roads, especially out east, the shoulders are wide enough to accommodate for my safe passage. This segment of US 50, however, had no shoulders, a drop-off on the right, a cliff face on the left, and traffic along with Semi-tractor trailers flying around countless blind turns. As beautiful as the landscape is, I have decided to choose an alternate route through southern Colorado just to be safe and Google Street View is awesome to help making sure the roads are safe to walk on. On the lines of mapping the safest possible route across the US, I always tried to remember what options I did have while choosing roadways. Number 1: it is illegal to walk on interstates and there may be laws that even prohibit pedestrians to walk on other limited access roads that vary state to state. In Kentucky for instance, I will be following US 119 out of Williamson and the road is limited access in certain segments for about 2 days walk. Out of concern that I may be picked up by a Police Officer in that stretch, I called the state Police Department in that district and told the officer who answered what I was doing and where I was walking. I was told that there were several bridges on that stretch of road that say, “No Pedestrians;” however, the officer told me they are not usually strict with Pedestrians as long as safety and good intentions are taken into consideration by the walker. My lesson learned was that when in doubt about walking on a specific road, ask the authorities. They will help however they can. This brings me to my number 2, Bridges: On some of the busier roadways, it is illegal to walk across large bridges. On my walk across America, the last thing I want is to be escorted to the other side of a bridge in a car. End Result: (“Ya I walked across America…except for that half-mile stretch across the Mississippi”). With this being said, the bridge that goes across the Mississippi River from Chester, IL has a no Pedestrian policy. For longer than I should have pondered it, I tried to think of other ways I could get across Illinois into Missouri without the use of a car or boat, but the Chester bridge seemed like my only logical way across, being the only crossing for dozens of miles north and south of it. I thought to myself, “Maybe I should just walk it and hope I don’t get caught” OR “Maybe I can swim?” (Yep, definitely thought about this.) In the end, I finally realized after far too much thinking that calling the local dispatch would be my best option. When I called the Chester Police Department and told them what I was doing, the kind officer told me, “Oh, just let us know when you need across, we can shut the bridge down momentarily to let you get into Missouri.” And again, the lesson taken from bridges is that when in doubt about crossing them, ask the Police! They WILL help as best they can!
My number 3 aspect of plotting a route goes with 1 & 2, but 1 & 2 may not even be an issue depending on number 3, the type of road. I have come to realize that there are Pros and Cons in choosing both a busier US highway or a seldom traveled back country road. On the US highways, they are often divided and bustling with a heavy flow of traffic from each direction. They may also have the large overpasses or limited access areas I discussed above. In spite of this, I have come to learn from Google’s Street View, that these roads USUALLY have a decent shoulder to walk on. They also travel through towns with places to sleep and re-stock far more frequently than on a back country road. In the east, I will be following quite a few of these roads (ex. US 460 in Virginia); however, when I am able, I will be jumping off these roads simply because of the danger of high speed traffic. The county and state routes may be less direct at times, lack a wide shoulder, and have fewer resources, but they are generally less traveled and safer to walk on. Besides, I am looking forward to experience the tranquility that comes with the road less taken
After I smoothed out the rough route, I went back and fine detailed it further by making a list of ALL the towns I will be in, important phone numbers for places in each town (Police Stations, Motels, Campgrounds), and estimated distances between cities to act as a rough outline for my journey.
Though I plan on using paper maps for my journey above electronic maps, I found this amazing App called Maps With Me. The reason I mention this is because even though paper maps present common roads to follow in each state, they lack many details of back road and city travel. The App was $2.00 and it allows you to zoom in anywhere in the country, view details of a city or road, and even get directions. It sounds a lot like any online map database, but the best part is that it is all offline. You download the maps to your phone and are able to access them without the use of GPS, data, service, or internet. This means I can save my phone battery by keeping airplane mode on while I look at the fine details of a state, city, or road.
Physical preparation and conditioning:
At the least, I figured that becoming a bit more physically in shape would help in easing the transition from normal day to day activity to the new norm of carrying 40+ pounds through the elements. The first step I took to physically condition myself for the long road ahead was by far the most challenging: self-motivation. I personally hate running and I really can’t stand doing the same routine of exercises for more than a week straight without growing bored (It’s a good thing I don’t hate walking). Granted, the feeling that follows a good workout is very euphoric and never fails to leave me feeling accomplished, which is why I manage to suck up my negativity towards it and push forward. With this being said, I began my training at the start of the New Year by running every other day of the week and doing sets of push-ups on the days I did not run. During my first week of this, I was running about 1.5 miles and walking an additional 2. For push-ups, I started by doing a 3 sets of 20. By the middle of January, I was running 2-2.5 miles and doing 3 sets of 30 push-ups. At this point in time, I also got myself a gym membership and used the machines to build some strength and endurance in my quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, back, and shoulders. Here is the workout I followed for 4 weeks MWF:
-Pull-Ups: 3 sets of 10
-Quad Extensions: 3 sets of 12
-Hamstring Curls: 3 sets of 12
-Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 12
-Military Press: 3 sets of 12
By the end of January and into the beginning of February, I was also running 2.5-3 miles and doing 3 sets of 50 push-ups in addition to the gym equipment.
By mid-February, I decided to start walking with all of my gear in order to get feel for how my backpack and body felt. I did a 23 mile preliminary walk (see video below) on an undivided highway in the cold and snow to see how a bad day of walking may feel like in Western Virginia and in the Appalachians. It also gave me the opportunity to make any ergonomic and packing adjustments before departure. For instance, towards the end of the preliminary walk, my left hip and calf were killing me and I had a few blisters on the medial balls of my feet as I hobbled into a Waffle House. This showed me that though I may have been prepared with all the necessary gear need to walk across America, I certainly was not carrying or packing it correctly. It was not pleasant experience to be in such pain, but I must say it was definitely a blessing in disguise. As a result, I went to the local REI and had an expert show me some tricks on packing and adjusting the straps of my backpack (Thank you Dave!). I also bought a different pair of shoes with better ankle support along with some Orthotic inserts to better support the flat, wide paddles I call feet…
At the end of doing what I did to physically prepare, though it probably could have been more and better organized, I am convinced that the various trial walks with all of my equipment were of the most benefit to me. As I have mentioned before, the only way to truly prepare for walking 20+ miles a day for months on end is to simply go out and do it; however, when looking for the next best thing, pushing your body to see how but 1 out of 180 days could feel like is the right place to start!
Water on the route: -Water=life. Period. In the east, I am not too concerned with finding water since my route follows numerous service areas filled with different resources for re-filling my supply; however, as I move through western Missouri and into Kansas, resources, towns, and services become more scarce as does the water. In the western deserts and higher elevations the demand for water increases and places to replenish it will continue to be scarce. There will be stretches in Utah and Nevada where I will have 0 services for days at a time. Let’s say I am walking 4 days without services. Assuming, at least, I am drinking approximately 4 Liters of water a day (a little over 1 gallon) and a gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. I will need, at least, 4 gallons of water or 33.4 pounds worth.
*Update: After doing some more research and listening to suggestions, there is a strong possibility, I will be drinking closer to 2 gallons in these areas (66.9 pounds in a 4 day stretch).
To accommodate for the weight of this water on top of all my other gear, I will need something to take the weight off my body and here it is!-
I decided to go with the Croozer-2 child bike trailer/stroller/jogger from Amazon since they offer free shipping and this particular brand and model got great write ups for durability and simplicity. It was very easy to put together with minimal effort and I was able to drop the child seats in the trailer to make an incredibly spacious storage compartment; however, the tires are all pneumatic (require air). This in my opinion is great for travelling in familiar territory where spare tubes and equipment for changing a flat are easily accessible, but I do not want to be attempting to change or patch a punctured tube in the middle of nowhere and transporting the extra weight needed to do so…The next section is my solution to avoiding flat tires.
The stress of finding, receiving, and installing solid foam tire inserts: As I began my search for airless tire inserts, I knew I needed two 20″x1.75″ (47-406) tubes for the rear tires and one 16″x1.75″ tube for the front. I originally thought, “These will be a breeze to find.” Well, the rear wheel tubes were easy to track down; however, the smaller front wheel tube proved to be a challenge to locate. After doing some online research, I found a specialty site that carried both sizes. On January 10, 2014, I ordered the three tubes. A few days after ordering, my credit card was hit with the cost. I thought nothing of it and waited for the email that verified shipping. 12 days later, I still heard nothing so I tried to call the company and there was no answer, then a busy signal, and sometimes I would get disconnected. Next, I talked to somebody on a “live chat” about the status of my order and they told me to send an email to an address that was not even listed on the site. I sent multiple emails to different addresses and still could not get ahold of anyone. Suspicious of being potentially scammed, I called my credit card company and they removed the charge- *whew.* Well it turns out that after I called the credit card company, the legitimate owner of the tire/tube site wrote me an email swearing in a fit rage for demanding a refund and calling my credit card company. He tried to give me pointers on how to run a business, and I kindly returned the favor by telling him how to provide decent customer service without ignoring clients and cussing out potential buyers.
After running far away from a bad experience in online shopping, I went to the Kenda (airless tire manufacturer) website to see if I could order directly from the factory. I was out of luck, but the website listed a number of distributors in the US that sold their product. I clicked on Pennsylvania locations and there was only one in the entire state; however, in the quest for airless tubes, this was a turning point. I was ecstatic and lucky to find that the only distributor in the state was a 15 minute drive from my home! It was a small store that dealt with selling power chairs and mobility accessories to the physically disabled. When I called them up to tell them I needed tire inserts for the stroller I am pushing halfway across America, the employees of Able Mobility (www.ablemobility.com) were nothing short of kind, helpful, and patient with my request! Without question, the senior service technician, JP, was able to specially order the exact tube sizes I needed and in a little over 24 hours, they were already in and I believed that the hard part was over…
When I went to pick them up on January 23rd, I never thought I would be so excited to hold 3 foam rubber rings in my hands. Before I left, JP wanted to know if I had someone available to install them because of how difficult it is to do so. I had already asked my local bike shop (www.westlibertycycles.com/) if they could do it and they agreed, so I left the store to go and have them installed. The tubes, tires, and rims were dropped off at the bike store and left overnight. On January 24th, I received a call from the bike shop and was prematurely happy to pick them up. Sounding out of breath, the bicycle tech said that the inserts seemed too big to fit the wheel and that he had broken several tools in the process of trying to apply the tire back on the rim (A huge thanks for trying Rob!). Worried that I was going to have to start all over again with my search for puncture proof tires, I brought the tubes, rims, and tires back up to Able Mobility and JP (the man who’s warning I failed to fully heave on my first visit) was able to get the tires onto the rims! Whether it was a magic tool, a 10-gallon bucket of WD-40, or both, all I can simply say is thank you! The nightmare is over!
Backpack and winter gear test run!
23 mile preliminary walk: