[at-l] Walking article

South Walker southwalker at windstream.net
Fri Mar 8 10:16:19 CST 2013


 

>From the NY Times. Note the bold area, which spoke to me, reminding me of
what I had noticed the first time I was around thru hikers; they seemed
devoid of expectations of the coming trail experience. While I was worrying
about the coming fords and the mountains of Maine they didn't seem to care
what it might be like. They had walked from GA and what was ahead didn't
matter. Whatever it was would be dealt with. When I reached that state of
mind on my thru I felt a burden lifted and the voice in my headed which
always worried about what was to come became quiet. I was free at last to
simply walk. It was joyous.

 

Walking the Country as a Spiritual Quest

 

    by KATE MURPHY

    March 2, 2013

    

 

 

KEN ILGUNAS, who is 29 years old, arrived at the Gulf Coast town of Port
Arthur, Tex., last month after hiking 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada,
crossing through the American heartland. On his arrival, he met a
big-hearted Texan who knew of him from reading his blog and generously
offered him dinner at his home and a place to stay for the night. "To walk
across this country is to fall in love with mankind," Mr. Ilgunas said.

 

He's one of a growing number of pilgrims who are lacing up boots and
sneakers to walk across America. While their treks may not have the
religious underpinnings of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, Mecca,
Jerusalem or the current Kumbh Mela gathering in India, which ends on March
10, they are nevertheless acts of faith and quests for existential meaning.

 

Mr. Ilgunas had just finished his master's in liberal studies at Duke, and
was living at a classmate's farm in Stokes County, N.C., working in exchange
for lodging, when he decided to hit the road. He had read the 1979 memoir by
Peter Jenkins, "A Walk Across America," and hoped for a similarly
transformative journey. So he stocked up on granola and dehydrated meals at
Whole Foods and Sam's Club and had a friend mail them in parcels to various
post offices along his route. But it was the kindness of strangers he
encountered along the way that really sustained him. "In most every town,
some complete stranger would offer me a ride, a meal, a handful of money or
their home for me to sleep in," Mr. Ilgunas said. "This trip had made me
proud to be an American."

 

Jonathon Stalls, 30, of Denver, walked 3,030 miles, along the America
Discovery Trail from Lewes, Del., to San Francisco, with his dog in 2010. He
decided to take off because he was burned out from the demands of attending
design school, working as a waiter and playing semiprofessional volleyball.
"I wanted to slow down and live life at a pace we were built to travel," he
said. "I wanted to trust and depend on the land and on myself." During the
242 days he spent on the road, he stayed with 120 strangers whom he met when
they idled their cars beside him or struck up conversations with him at
libraries, convenience stores or parks. "I am forever marked by the openness
of people, sharing meals with them and exchanging stories," he said.

 

Since 2010 there has been a proliferation of blogs describing cross-country
walks, often in excruciating detail. Judging from the numerous posts about
bleeding blisters, muscle strains, stinging insects, inclement weather, bear
scares, lack of food and leaky tents, many were woefully unprepared for the
task.

 

"The arduousness is what makes it an act of devotion," said Rebecca Solnit,
author of "Wanderlust: A History of Walking." "Part of the desire to do it
is to accept that the world is unpredictable and you will trust what the
world sends your way and you will cope with it."

 

RATHER than walking to demonstrate religious commitment, many dedicate their
cross-country walks to a cause recalling Peace Pilgrim (a k a Mildred Norman
Ryder), who walked more than 25,000 miles across America from 1953 to 1981
for world peace. Mr. Stalls, for example, walked to benefit the microlending
organization Kiva, while Mr. Ilgunas walked the length of the proposed
Keystone XL pipeline to draw attention to its impact on the environment.

 

"It's a selfish thing to take a pilgrimage just for yourself," said John
Seyal, 26, of Louisville, Ky., who with his wife, Kait, 27, spent nine
months last year walking coast-to-coast with their two dogs to raise
awareness of pet therapy. "I don't think that kind of selfishness or
soul-searching is a bad thing, but we recognized a way we could do something
good with it."

 

The Seyals said they embarked on their journey because they didn't like the
way their lives were going. Working at uninspiring factory and restaurant
jobs, they felt they were conforming to society's values rather than
following their hearts, and were losing faith in people.

 

"Almost everyone who does this has some sort of generalized unhappiness with
themselves and the world," said Tyler Coulson, 34, who in 2011 quit his job
practicing corporate law at a large firm in Chicago to walk across the
country with his dog. "No one who is happy and content wakes up one day and
says, maybe I'll go live in a tent for eight months," which was how long it
took him to walk 3,200 miles, from Rehoboth Beach, Del., to San Diego. Since
returning, he's been dividing his time between writing self-published books,
lawyering and advising others on how to prepare for cross-country walks.
"I'm a better and happier person," Mr. Coulson said.

 

Walks across America tend to end with a baptismal dip in the ocean. "You
have no idea the feeling I had putting my feet in the Atlantic waters," said
Richard Noble, who quit his job as a film festival cashier last year to walk
2,700 miles from San Francisco to Jacksonville Beach, Fla., for gay rights.
His trip was fully financed by strangers who gave him money, food and
shelter en route, as well as donated online through his blog. "You can't
experience that kind of generosity and be the same person you were before,"
he said.

 

Anthropologists have long argued that pilgrims occupy a so-called liminal
realm outside of, yet proximal to, society. "In this space you can achieve a
direct human interaction that doesn't take into account hierarchies, so
people become intimate very quickly," said Ellen Badone, author of
"Intersecting Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism" and
professor of anthropology and religious studies at McMaster University in
Hamilton, Ontario. "Stepping into this extraordinary sphere leads to
extraordinary interactions where you very quickly become close and find that
people are willing to go out of their way to be helpful."

 

Arthur Werner, 58, who left a financial services sales job in Bellevue,
Wash., last June to walk across the country after a series of emotional
blows, figures he's talked to hundreds of people along his route. "We are so
insulated and sterilized by all our electronic forms of communication and
our inane posts on Facebook that we just don't sit down and have
heart-to-hearts with people," he said. "It's been very touching and
self-actualizing for me." He plans to complete his walk in April at the
southernmost tip of the continental United States, Key West, Fla. But he
said the final destination was beside the point: "It really is all about the
journey."

 

Kate Murphy is a journalist in Houston who writes frequently for The New
York Times.

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