You can talk about the need to end poverty; give a dollar to someone on the street, and feel pity; or you can do something to make a difference. I’m just an average person who believes everyone deserves a home, a living wage, a community. I’m walking across the United States to talk to people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness firsthand, and to raise awareness of the growing problem.

I began my journey of 3,000 miles on July 4, 2009, in Washington. D.C., and I arrived in Los Angeles on August 20th, 2012. Along the way I made stops in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City, Wichita, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and countless other small towns and cities.

Along the way I’ve gotten arrested, survived a tornado, had a run-in with a polar bear (slight dramatization) walked for two weeks on a leg I didn’t know was broken and met so many amazing people.

When I began my journey, I had no idea what I would find. But, deep inside, I was hoping to see what made America tick. I wanted to know what lied within her soul. And I wanted to know what was buried within mine—to know that I was more than a “skinny girl afraid of spiders” as I was called by a newspaper reporter who wrote a story about my travels.

What I found was far different than the stereotypical fat, loud and selfish America we hear so much about. I was humbled by the strength and generosity of the people I met, and inspired by their stories. I will never forget the woman in Kantner, Pa., who took me in for the night and paid for my dinner when she was only earning a meager $5 an hour pay and living in a trailer with no hot water and a leaky roof. Nor will not forget the man in Sturgis, Mich., who told me of his sister’s decline into homelessness and subsequent death on the streets of Kalamazoo as his friend quietly slipped a $50 bill into my hand.

Walking gives me the rare opportunity to talk to people about the struggles they face, about their hopes and dreams, and to share a drink or a laugh. Something changes when a person puts on a backpack. People want to know where you are going and where you have been. They want to know what you have seen; and they want to tell you their stories.

So many days as I walked I have been in awe of the simple pleasures we so often miss as we zoom through life at 65 miles an hour. The quiet sunrises and moments of unexpected beauty, and the smiles and intimate conversations with strangers.

If not for a simple twist of fate, any one of us could fall  through the fragile net. Give a stranger a hand, display an act of kindness, and inspire that person to reach within and rise to the challenge.


Jennifer E. Cooper


Why are you walking?

I walked 3,000 miles from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles to talk to those experiencing poverty and homelessness firsthand, and to write a book about my journey to be called Talk to Strangers. It will be released in early 2019 for the 10th anniversary of my walk.

How many miles a day did you walk?

I walked 15-20 miles a day on average.

Where did you sleep at night?

It depended on the day. Sometimes I stayed in hotels or camped. Other days I stayed with people I met on my journey.

What cities and towns did you visit on your route?

I started my journey in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2009. From there I walked to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. In 2010 I returned to Chicago and walked through Springfield, St Louis and Kansas City; and in 2011 I walked through Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and Wichita.

In June 2012 I returned to Wichita and continued on to Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and finally Los Angeles. Just as the sun was setting on Aug. 20, 2012, I completed my journey by walking into the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica, shoes and all. Here’s a full map of My Route

How long did it take you to walk?

I initially planned to spend four months walking, averaging 25 miles a day, and arriving in San Francisco by the end of October 2009. But lack of training, the hot summer sun, and the realities of a journey with a mind of its own slowed my pace considerably. Then, just a month in, I was forced to take a month of rest to allow a stress fracture on my left tibia time to heal. For two weeks I had been walking on a leg I didn’t know was broken.

That first year I made it as far as Chicago, proud of having walked 1,000 miles and ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. I never really thought I’d make it all the way across the United States; Chicago seemed a respectable accomplishment.

But, that next spring of 2010, I decided I wanted to walk a little more. And I realized it didn’t really matter how long it took–it was all about the journey and the people I met along the way. I revised my route and forged ahead. In the end it took me six months of walking, broken up over four years.

What shoes did you wear?

I didn’t wear any special shoes, but I wore out six pairs of sneakers on my journey. The final pair was Aasics trail running sneakers.

How heavy was your backpack?

When I started my backpack was 54 pounds. After a torturous first few days I quickly reduced the weight to 30-35 pounds by twice mailing items home. Typically it was approximately 35 pounds, depending on how much water I was carrying.

What did you take with you in your backpack?

In my backpack I had a tent, a sleeping bag, a laptop, a cell phone, two bottles of water, two pairs of shorts, two pairs of stretch pants, a pair of wind pants, a pair of long underwear, two exercise tops, four long-sleeved shirts, a fleece jacket, a rain jacket, two sports bras, 14 pairs of socks, 10 pairs of underwear, miscellaneous toiletries, a notebook, and a variety of electrical cords. I also collected little bits of scrap metal I found along the side of the road.

Where are you now?

I am home in Washington, D.C. working on my book.

Do you accept donations?

Yes. I am accepting donations to design, edit and print my book. Those who donate at least $25 will receive a copy of Talk to Strangers.

Have any other questions? Ask away.

My Walk

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