The Journey Begins

Day 1–July 4, 2009 (Washington, D.C.-Rockville, 12.5 miles)

As I began my 3,000 mile journey from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco it was hard not to notice the difference between the haves and the have-nots in this country. I started my walk at the Lincoln Memorial among those who are celebrating the nation’s independence, people who have worked hard and deserve a day off. But just a couple miles away in Georgetown, I walked among those who have nothing but the clothes on their back. Those who call Georgetown home are among this nations richest. Those who line its streets begging for a buck are among its most poor.

The way we treat others says something about who we are as human beings. That so many in the United States are allowed to live in poverty says we think it is OK for our fellow man to live without basic needs and rights. As I walked past the shops in Georgetown, I was a little sad about the things I will be giving up while I am walking, and felt a certain pang of guilt that I don’t want to have to give up all my stuff even if it means others can get out of poverty. Certainly there must be a way to achieve balance.

The start of my journey was both thrilling and scary. Going onto the Mall the park police initially told me that I couldn’t take anything larger than a napsack. Eventually one guy volunteered to search my backpack for possible contraband fireworks and alcohol. He said someone else earlier had to check a bag belonging to a homeless person so it was his turn–whatever that meant.

A few miles into my trek I met up with my parents in Georgetown. My dad walked with me for a few miles before we met up with my mother and had a quick lunch. They plan to meet up with me again later on in the trip. I am truly lucky to have such supportive parents, people to catch you when you fall. I would hate to think of the struggles I would have encountered as a poorly-paid recent college graduate (and even well after) without a helping hand. I like to think I would not have ended up homeless but I know it would have been a constant struggle to pay rent.

As I walked I certainly got some strange looks. People do not expect to see a single woman backpacking through Montgomery County. Just as I was on a roll, I encountered the infamous Beltway. Google maps seemed to suggest all I needed do was follow Wisconsin Avenue, which became Rockville Pike, but it briefly became a divided highway with minuscule shoulders. I was trapped inside the Beltway. It was nearly 45 minutes before I gathered the courage to walk along the highway. Then, suddenly, halfway across there was a sidewalk. I will never understand the random starts and stops of suburban sidewalks. Perhaps if more people got out of their cars there would be more sidewalks. Certainly there are sidewalks in heavily populated urban areas, but in the suburbs it is only the poor and the newly immigrated who walk–people unlikely to complain if the sidewalk suddenly drops off along a busy and dangerous highway.

At the end of my first day I was only able to walk about 13 miles. Though I would have liked to have gone further, I decided from the start that I will not walk in the dark. By the time I arrived at the Hilton hotel in Rockville I was exhausted. The guy at the desk who checked me in said he knew somene doing a long walk as well and wished me luck. When I got into the room and took off my shoes a carpet has never felt so good. Exhausted, I crashed on the very, very comfortable bed.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper