Columns

2010.08.18 Coast to coast on U.S. 20

on . Posted in By The Way

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.

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