This time last May I was just beginning to prepare to walk across the United States. I had no idea what I was getting into. I had never walked more than a dozen miles at a time; I had never owned a backpack or a tent; and I certainly never thought I’d become comfortable swapping stories with the complete strangers I’d meet in my travels.
A year later, and with some 900 miles on my shoes, I’d like to think I’m now a seasoned pro. And yet, as I prepare to pick up where I left off in Chicago, I have been having delusions that I will somehow be able to take more supplies with me without taking on additional weight. I’ve forgotten the physical demands on my body–the mental and emotional toll of being completely at the mercy of strangers. I’ve told myself I can quickly, and effortlessly, walk 550 miles from Chicago to St. Louis to Kansas City.
It is with mixed emotions and fears that I prepare once again for a life on the road. There is no denying the addiction and the thrill of being a wandering traveler. Nor can I describe the deep satisfaction of walking up a mountain, strolling into the local bar at the first crossroads in miles, and enjoying a beer with new friends. It revives my belief that the world is mostly a good place. At the same time, as I look ahead at the route I will travel, I understand there will be long, hard days to come. My stress fracture, though now healed, is ever on my mind. The route I will travel means I will face more than a few multi-day stretches with nothing but fields and trees–a much more challenging undertaking than what I tackled as I walked from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. And I will be walking without a financial cushion to ensure my belly is always full and my head always finds a safe place to rest.
A reasonable person would perhaps be content with reaching Chicago safe from harm. A logical person would suggest I wait until I can better prepare for the trip and ensure an adequate budget. A rooted person would point out the stories to be heard on my doorstep. A cautious person would know that in pushing ahead I face uncertain risk of life and limb.
But my journey beckons. Despite the difficulties ahead, on I must travel. So, here goes nothing, again.
–By Jennifer E. Cooper