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I'm Just Walkin'

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10.06.09

I’m Just Walkin’

Matt Green is just walkin’.  The civil engineer is taking a break from work and journeying from Rockaway Beach, New York to Rockaway Beach, Oregon, just for the fun of it.  He began March 27 and expects to arrive at his destination by the end of the year, walking about 15 miles each day.
Follow his journey on his website, www.imjustwalkin.com.  Each day, he uploads photos of sights along his way, captioned with pithy comments.  They may feature pretty scenery, or people he meets, or unusual signs or objects he spots.  Read the comments posted by viewers walking with him in cyberspace.
From Matt’s home page, click on “the details” to learn why he’s doing it (you can read the short answer and/or the long answer), view his route and timetable, see what he does about lodging, and discover what he packed for his journey, including clothing, camping gear, food, supplies, tools, gadgets and electronics.  Each item is carefully selected for function and size, as it all has to fit in his cart, a repurposed jogging stroller built especially for this journey.
Once you dip into Matt’s website, you may find yourself hooked.  You may want to view his entire journey, and will likely find yourself returning every few days to check up on his progress.  It’s like taking your own mini-vacation without leaving your driveway.  And if it whets your appetite for more walking accounts, we can recommend a few you might enjoy.
Peter Jenkins recalls the places he visited and the people he met during his journey to find his country and himself in “A Walk across America”, published in 1979.  One of the people he met was Ben Susman, Tazewell optometrist, on Route 16 between Tazewell and Marion on a bitterly cold winter’s evening.  Dr. Susman gave him some apples, which may have saved his life.  During Peter’s walk, he met his future wife, Barbara.  Together, they wrote “The Walk West: a walk across America 2” (1981), about wandering the Louisiana bayous, crossing the Rockies, and reaching the Pacific Ocean.
Accounts of walking are not a new thing, of course.  Walking to raise money, even, is not new.  In 1896, a Norwegian immigrant and mother of eight children named Helga Estby was behind on taxes and the mortgage when she learned that a mysterious sponsor would pay $10,000 to a woman who walked across America.  Hoping to win the wager and save her family’s farm, Helga and her teenaged daughter Clara, armed with a compass, red-pepper spray, a revolver, and Clara’s curling iron, set out on foot from Eastern Washington. Their route would pass through 14 states, but they were not allowed to carry more than five dollars each. As they visited Indian reservations, Western boomtowns, remote ranches and local civic leaders, they confronted snowstorms, hunger, thieves and mountain lions with equal aplomb.

Their treacherous and inspirational journey to New York challenged contemporary ideas about femininity and captured the public imagination. But their trip had such devastating consequences that the Estby women's achievement was blanketed in silence until, nearly a century later, Linda Lawrence Hunt encountered their extraordinary story.  She has researched their journey and resurrected the story for modern readers in “Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America” (2005).
Christopher Wren, retiring from his work as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, decided to walk from his office in New York City to his home in Vermont (while his wife drove).  “Walking to Vermont: from Times Square into the Green Mountains—a homeward adventure” (2004) is his often hilarious account of that journey.
Beginning in midtown Manhattan, he saunters up Broadway, through Harlem, the Bronx, and the affluent New York suburbs of Westchester and Putnam Counties. As his trek takes him into the Housatonic River Valley of Connecticut, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and along a bucolic riverbank in New Hampshire, the strenuous challenges become as much emotional as physical.
Struggling under the weight of a fifty-pound pack, he gripes, "We might grow less addicted to stuff if everything we bought had to be carried on our backs." His rite of passage into retirement, with heat, dust and blisters galore, calls forth vivid reminiscences of earlier risks taken, sometimes at gunpoint, during his years spent reporting from Russia, China, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa.
Recently returned to New Hampshire from twenty years spent living in England, Bill Bryson’s journey, described in “A Walk in the Woods: rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” (1998) bears some similarities to Wren’s.  He lugs a heavy backpack and suffers from heat, dust, and blisters, too.  He and his overweight hiking buddy get into some very funny misadventures, and don’t quite hike the entire 2,200 miles of the trail, but as we wander with them, we learn a lot of interesting history of the Trail and better understand the serious environmental state into which it has fallen.
For thoughtful excursions into nature, try reading Thoreau.  Perhaps “Walden” or “The Maine Woods” or “Cape Cod” will refresh with an appreciation of nature’s beauty and the desire to simplify life.
For these and other absorbing armchair travel accounts, visit us at www.tcplweb.org or call 988-2541.

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