2010.08.18 Coast to coast on U.S. 20

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

There was a really good story that I didn’t write this week. An interesting person doing something interesting—that’s what I like to write about.

But this guy didn’t want a story and he’s been turning down reporters all across the country. He said he might regret it later, but for now he isn’t interested in the publicity.

Not a bad choice, I suppose. He would just leave behind a trail of writers asking the same questions over and over, taking the same photo over and over.

I received a call Thursday afternoon from someone in Fayette. She said there’s a young man in town who is walking across the country and he has a lot of interesting experiences to tell.

We’ve done stories on cross-country bicyclists. We had one on somebody carrying a cross across the nation. I think there was a long-distance horse traveler once, plus the guys with the Segway.

But the reason I drove to meet him is because he’s walking U.S. 20. That road always has a special attraction to me.

[By the way, my daughter, Rosanna, is pregnant.]

I bicycled a few hundred miles from Albany to the Hy-Flash station south of town. I’ve driven it to Chicago. I drove the final stretch to the coast in Oregon. I suppose I need to get a good look at the thing where it empties out into the Atlantic in Boston.

When you’re driving west on 20 and pass the Chesterfield School, there’s soon a place where the road drops down and offers a long view. That’s when I think about U.S. 20 as a cross-country road stretching on toward the Pacific Ocean.

Francis, the walker, said it goes through some great territory. For example, it’s the road that goes by Old Faithful. Not a bad place at all to be walking.

But why is he walking across the country, anyway?

Fran’s website opens with a photo of him pushing his little three-wheeled cart that anyone else would use as a baby stroller. There’s appropriate music, with the Proclaimers singing:

“But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walks a 1,000 miles to fall down at your door.”

Fran has had some fall-down-at-your-door days. He was destined to have one Friday. After taking a short walk Thursday—only 15 miles to Fayette—he was going for a 35-mile day today to find a couch in Ottawa Hills.

His daily schedule is often determined by lodging opportunities to prevent camping alongside the road in the middle of nowhere. He’s finding couches all across the country via couchsurfing.com.

I mentioned that website a few years ago. It’s a list of people around the world who are willing to loan a couch to a stranger for a night. Fran has met some wonderful people that way.

But why is he walking? I’m not sure if he gave me a good answer. I wasn’t taking notes since I wasn’t writing a story. Here’s what his website says:

Why walk across the country?  Why not…We are so complacent with the idea of travel being the most comfortable, most efficient, cheapest and fastest way to get from point A to point B. I have come to the conclusion that walking is the most important way to travel. I do not always enjoy walking, especially for long distances, but I truly feel the need and importance for a pilgrimage of such magnitude as walking across the country.

He also talks about understanding what’s between point A and point B, and he’s getting his fill of experiences.

He must be up around 115 days of travel now with 700 miles to go. He said he met with weakness and pain while crossing Nebraska and Iowa. He wondered if would survive a severe storm on the Plains. He was jarred out of his solitary life when he entered Chicago.

And he was surprised when a journalist shook hands with him in Fayette, heard his “no story, please” rejection, but still sat down to talk for a while. None of the others really cared anymore once they knew there was no story.

I probably would have considered it a wasted trip to Fayette, too, except that it was U.S. 20 we were talking about.

Now, when I drive up to that spot where the road drops away to the west, I’ll remember that I don’t need a car or even a bicycle. Some people use that long road as a sidewalk.

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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