FAQ’s #3

This is our third round of Frequently Asked Questions. We have put together a combination of questions we are frequently asked by people we meet on the road, as well as a few questions we received from a fellow JV friend.

Do you feel like people are so responsive to you when they think you are homeless because you are two young white people, and don’t appear as “stereotypical” homeless folks?

Yes. We definitely recognize that our privileges such as our skin color, youth, and socio-economic status benefit us immensely on the walk. Because of our race we are likely viewed with less suspicion by residents when we enter a new town and some of the brand name gear we carry signals a certain level of wealth. We realize that the benefits and privileges of our appearances offered us in everyday life carry over into our experiences on the walk.

I am not of the opinion that you are doing this, but have you received any criticism for “playing poor,” by actual homeless folks or otherwise? Or is your advocacy completely appreciated?

Not yet. We try and be very upfront about what we are doing to make it clear we are not pretending to be homeless. We have a sign on the front of our cart that says what we are doing and, when people give us money, we always explain that it will go to a homeless day shelter. A few times on this trip, people have wondered if we are presenting ourselves as homeless as a way of raising awareness for homelessness, and we want to clarify  that is not at all our intention. We look the way we look because of the nature of our trip, and are using the cart we are using because it is the most practical means of traveling across the country by foot. The only way we are attempting to raise awareness about homelessness is by engaging people in conversations about our experience working at JOIN, and the importance of affordable housing in all our communities. Often, when people do mistake us for being homeless, they will offer us money for food or shelter. While we keep a tally of all the money we receive, and put it towards the fundraiser at the end of every month, we also always want to be clear about where the money goes.Some people would prefer to give their money directly to someone experiencing homelessness rather than an organization, and we want to respect that. The only times we have received criticism for our advocacy is when people think the money we raise goes to our expenses and the leftover goes to the shelter. However, this is not the case. We saved our own money for over a year, so that everything raised goes directly to the shelter. Overall, everyone we have met has been supportive of the cause and we have had many productive conversations about affordable housing and homelessness.

How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?

Danny: I’m currently rotating between my third and fourth pair.

Abby: Three.

What’s your longest day yet?

We did a 35 mile day in eastern Colorado, which was tough but the weather was very cooperative.

What’s your favorite state?

Danny: It’s tough to say, since we’ve seen such gorgeous scenery, and experienced such hospitality and generosity, in each state, but my vote goes to Colorado. There were so many different landscapes across the state, from the flat, rolling, Kansas-like plains of the east, to the Rocky mountains, to the desert of western Colorado. It’s had some of the coolest, funkiest little hippy towns, some of the nicest weather we’ve had, and all the amazing views we got while crossing the mountains.

Abby: I don’t have a favorite state. It’s hard to compare them because they all bring different challenges and experiences.

Do you think your man/lady combo is an advantage/disadvantage in your travels, when being approached by strangers or asking to camp in their yards?

We think it’s an advantage having a man and a woman. When we knock on someone’s door asking to yard camp, Abby always does the talking because we think a woman appears less threatening. When we are approached by strangers on the road Abby feels it’s an advantage having Danny because she is less vulnerable than she would be alone. It also can be comforting when we’re staying with a single person.

Are you tired of each other?

Not yet, but San Francisco is still a long ways away (joking!)

You have shared so many beautiful anecdotes about community and hospitality, but are there long dry spells in between where you feel on your own, or have been rejected at all along the way?

Abby: Especially now that we are out west there are definitely times when it feels like we are on our own compared to the east coast and midwest. Even though we have experienced so much hospitality and community with strangers, I definitely miss the familiarity of relationships from back home, since we are always the outsider.  We’ve been really lucky not to get rejected much along the way, with the exception of some internet trolls on news articles about us haha.

Danny: It’s something I was aware would happen going into the walk, but I still find myself overwhelmed by the isolation that can kick in. We obviously have each other for company, which is great, and we have met and become friends with countless kind strangers along the way, but there are long stretches where the experience can be lonely. There are constant reminders on social media of nights out with friends that you missed. There is a constant bombardment of news that can make me feel removed from the real world. The trip as a whole is a very internal experience, in which you spend a lot of time with yourself. As challenging as it has been to be removed, it has also allowed ample time for writing and reflection that we wouldn’t otherwise get.

What’s the best site you’ve seen?

Abby: Similar to the favorite state question, it’s difficult to pick a best site. However some good ones have included the top of Cottonwood Pass in Colorado, the WWI history museum in Kansas City, the Gettysburg battlefields, the plains in Kansas, and the view of New York City from Jersey City to just name a few.

Danny: My favorite sites are all the tourist traps in the small towns we’ve passed through. The world’s largest ball of sisal twine, in Cawker City, Kansas is definitely up there. The world’s largest easel, with a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Three Sunflowers In A Vase,” in Goodland, Kansas was very questionable. The world’s largest pecan in Brunswick, Missouri was the biggest tourist trap of them all. It was a sculpture, not a real pecan. SMDH.

Are you walking back when you’re done?.

Abby: Nope

Danny: Hellll no! I’m currently planning on taking a train back, and am hoping to pass through some cities that we didn’t get to see, but we’ll see how that goes.

Genoa, Colorado

When we turned onto the I-70 frontage road, I saw a sea of broken machinery, rundown trailers and dilapidated homes, spray-paint covered trains filled with raw materials, and a single grain mill, acting as the standalone skyscraper of the town, Genoa, Colorado. At the top of the mill were the words Genoa Grain Co., faded gray into the off-white coloring of the concrete. At the bottom was a man working in a dark blue jumpsuit, with any further description made impossible by the distance between us. The man was working at the base of the building, using a shovel to lift something off the bottom step of the staircase leading into the building, and then methodically turning to drop the substance into a bucket. After performing this task for a bit, he switched his tool of choice to a broom. He stretched his leg to the third step, nimbly avoiding sullying his work on the first two, and began sweeping the third step, as deliberate with his broom as he was with his shovel. I watched this man perform these simple tasks, and I felt a confusing mixture of admiration and discouragement. Admiration for the commitment to craft that was evident in his accomplishment of a simple task like sweeping. Discouragement at the loneliness of the sight, and, what then felt to me, like the poverty of the landscape behind him. 

In hindsight, I am ashamed of my sadness at the situation. I realize now it was not sadness I felt, but pity. From what vantage point did I have to feel pity for someone? Moments before we entered Genoa, I’d been listening to the Joe Rogan podcast, where he and Sebastian Junger discussed Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In the interview, Junger asserted that “human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered ‘intrinsic’ to human happiness and far outweigh ‘extrinsic’ values such as beauty, money and status.” In my moment of pitying the man, I had resorted to a condescension connected to the comforts of my life before the walk. I was assuming that the ways of life that I have always known, and that modernity has conditioned me into, were not only superior to life in Genoa, but were simply a more desirable way to live. An accumulation of possessions, an ownership of things, and an ascension to a certain stratosphere of social status were all the methods of measuring oneself, and developing a sense of ones own worth. This man seemed to be in pursuit of the inverse of these values. He seemed to be closer aligned with the prescribed practices Junger detailed in Tribe. Again, this is all an assumption, made in a moment of internal debate, based on an interpretation of events seen from a distance. I assumed this man lived in Genoa, a town of 139 of people in eastern Colorado. I assumed he had lived there his whole life, and had worked this job for most of it. And I had taken a negative outlook towards these assumptions. I did not pay attention to the admiration I felt for him, for the pride he took in his work, and the diligent effort he was putting into it. I did not assume that by living in a town of 139 people, he might have developed intense bonds with his community. I did not assume that he might love his job, and the satisfaction he might get from working at the same place for many years. The more I thought about the little personal information I had about this man, the more I realized how misguided my discouragement was, and how, although our lives are greatly different, we derive our meaning from the same things.

I am incredibly lucky, grateful and privileged to have all the comforts in life that I have. But it is not the comforts or the possessions I have that make me happy, or make me fulfilled. It’s all the things that I presume to have in common with the man at the mill. A family or community to love and be loved by. A few friends to call on or laugh with. A duty or task to find purpose in. These few things can create a sense of identity and a sense of purpose in anyone, and are all we should ever be looking for, according to Sebastian Junger. This man has his home here in Genoa, presumably along with his family and his community. He has his job here at the mill, where he performs his duties with due diligence, and takes pride in his work. That is a life well-lived. 

In the moment, as I questioned my own reaction, I turned and faced away from the man. I looked away, across the bustling interstate, towards a gray-blue farmhouse, where one man was exiting the house and another was approaching it. I watched these two men, clad in black leather biker gear, grab each other in a warm embrace on the front lawn, and turn back towards the building. They crossed the driveway, with a picturesque background of golden wheat fields, passing the rundown pickup truck and trailer in the driveway, to reenter what I now recognize was their home.

– danny

In Defense of Kansas

        Right after we finally exited the western slope of the Rocky Mountains we met a woman fly fishing in a small coal mining town who asked us what we were doing. After hearing about the walk, she shook her head in shock that we had walked through Kansas. She bombarded us with questions about walking through the Sunflower State, but didn’t inquire once about how we just made it through the Rockies. Her reaction is typical. When people we met asked us about our route early in the trip we often heard something like “you have to walk through Kansas? I hope you make it.” Kansas was the state people expressed the most concern about, not the Rockies, not the desert, not the 110 miles in Utah with no services, and not the Sierra Nevada. Kansas. People seemed more worried about us dying of boredom than they did about us getting eaten by bears or frying in the desert. At 400 miles across, Kansas is the widest state we will walk through and many people who had driven through it warned us about the tedium of the landscape and couldn’t imagine spending more than 6 hours on the road, let alone 3 weeks. However, our experience could not have been more different and I found that Kansas is a state where you can really only appreciate the beauty of the landscape and the character of its residents by walking. Below are some of the highlights from our time in Kansas.

Hillbilly Golf

     Walking towards Manhattan, Kansas a woman named Tina pulled over in her minivan and invited us to spend memorial day weekend with her and her husband, Ponch. We learned later that they were both veterans and Tina had recently suffered an unexpected heart attack and decided to retire and spend more time exploring the country. Tina invited their neighbors over for a barbecue, showed us around the Kansas State campus, took us to her favorite Thai restaurant, and brought us to scenic viewpoints of the Tuttle Creek Lake. We discussed politics, Tina’s time working for the government as an environmentalist, the military, homelessness, farming and more. We agreed on many issues and disagreed on some, but overall our conversations gave me hope for what effective political discourse could look like during this time. It didn’t matter that we were a group of people with vastly different backgrounds, ages and experiences because everyone at the dinner table listened respectfully to each other talk about the challenges facing our respective communities and our hopes for how to build a better future.

     However, the highlight of our time there was when Tina and Ponch took us to the community golf course practically in their backyard and taught us how to play what they call “Hillbilly golf.”  The rules to Hillbilly golf are there are no rules. We drove around on golf carts to the best holes to watch the sunset and hit as many balls off the tee as we wanted and then played whatever ball we felt was best. Or, we just threw the ball where we wanted to hit it. We crushed Keystone Light, while laughing hysterically whenever we whiffed the ball, which was often. There were no pretensions of clothing, silence, rules, and etiquette. Just golf clubs from Goodwill. Just tooling around. Just learning about another community. Just joy. “Hillbilly golf,” my kind of golf.

World Records

     Kansas is home to some pretty great world records. We stopped by the world’s largest ball of twine and the world’s largest easel. We also visited the geodetic center of North America; not a world record, but still a cool landmark.


National Historic Sites

     Nicodemus, Kansas was the first African-American settlement west of the Mississippi River during the Reconstruction era. Newly freed slaves made the difficult journey to Kansas in hopes of creating a better life unavailable to them in the the south. Today the town is home to a visitor center with exhibits on the history of the town and African-American pioneers and 5 historic buildings from the early years of the settlement. The women who worked at the museum, some of them descendants of the first pioneers, were incredible. After we left the museum a storm developed and they drove out to check on us 3 times to make sure we were okay. When the storm looked like it may turn into a tornado they found a friend with a pick-up to give us a ride to safety. You can learn more about Nicodemus here.


Rural Landscapes

     Kansas’s landscape is subtly stunning. Whereas the majesty of the mountains and canyons of a state like Colorado can be appreciated in every mode of transportation, from driving to flying, Kansas’s beauty is much harder to see at 60 miles an hour. On the eastern side of Kansas there are rolling hills dotted with idyllic farmhouse and many lakes and state parks. As we moved west there was an endless sea of golden wheat; when the wind blows the strands change colors slightly, giving off a mesmerizing sparkle. When corn stalks are in their infancy, less than a foot tall, they are such a bright lime green that in the morning it looks like there are fields filled with glowing neon lights. In western Kansas we could walk ten miles and still see an outline of the grain elevator from the town we had stayed in the night before. Sometimes it felt like you could see to the end of the world. The sides of the roads are filled with tiny wildflowers, probably impossible to see in a car, that were all shades of pink, purple and yellow. The sunsets were some of the best we’ve seen yet. I could go on and on, but I’ll let our pictures do the rest of the talking.

sunsetcowsgrain elevatorlongviewfarm sunsettuttle creek rivernature reclaimingdanny limestonekansas farmcreeklong roadwildflower


Old Journal Entries

Editor’s note: These are a few old journal entries that I reread recently that capture the sentiments I held in the early goings of the walk. Some are comical, some are enthusiastic, and some are anxious for things to come, with no real awareness of how the trip would unfold.

Addt’l editor’s note: The editor and author of this article are the same person. Basically, there is no editor for this site.

Today felt easy enough. A good headspace in the morning, with some nice interactions outside the post office, followed by frustration over the lack of interviews we’ve done with people, the lack of pictures I have taken, and the lack of writing I’ve done. Some Kanye, a Sports Movie Hall of Fame podcast episode, and, of course, walking, cured some of that negativity. We’re about 100 steps from the road right now, about 300 from someone’s home, 5 from running water, and I feel pretty on edge. I’m going to have to get used to this I guess. The good news is that tent life seems more opportunistic for writing, which will certainly be helpful in the near future. While my memory of today feels strangely vague, it’s walking experiences like today, where the monotony and repetition of it are able to therapeutically lift me out of some negativity. I haven’t quite reached the transcendent walking experience that I imagined, and hoped for, (and laughed at the idea of), but it is nice to be able to recognize the cathartic, balancing elements of the walk while it’s happening. In the days and weeks to come, I hope my mind naturally continues to turn inward. For now, I’ll start my nightly routine of listening to standup comedy and passing out.


3/22 One of our first nights camping. We were just off the highway, in an area of woods we weren’t certain we could camp in. We may have been all smiles for the camera, but we certainly weren’t smiling when it dropped to 15 degrees that night!


Today felt like one of the easiest, quickest days in awhile. We got a good night of rest at the motel yesterday, and were able to squeeze in a good, free breakfast out of them too before heading out. And after that it was just a straight shot down Route 30 all day long. We stopped for bathroom breaks, and to buy some apples and take some pictures, but aside from both the great lunch break we took, and beginning to ascend the mountain in the last hour, today mostly felt like a blur. But lunch was great, our waitresses were incredibly friendly and intrigued by the walk, and both the mom with her four kids, and the older woman in the booth next to her, were wonderful. Both simultaneously managed to be supportive and friendly, while maintaining their concern and incredulity. Especially the mom. She even offered to pick up our lunch, but, at that point, another patron at the diner, a mysterious one who left without interacting with us, had paid our tab already. That diner was a microcosm of countless interactions we’ve had. We have our recited responses to their familiar questions, and we have the certain jokes we make whenever we’re talking with people, but it’s always the kindness and concern we receive from these strangers that makes walking all day easy. And the spot we’re camping tonight? Couldn’t be more ideal (fingers crossed). It’s just off route 30, so we can hop right back on in the morning. It’s flat for our camping gear. It’s near a precipice that looks out into the valley of the state forest, with the peaks and ridges towering behind us, and, most importantly, it’s warm. So far, it’s as comfortable as the hotel beds we’ve slept in, with the added comfort of solitude in my tent, the stars above me, and the chirping of cricks lulling me to sleep.


3/24 Still one of our favorite campsites. We found this ledge looking out over the Appalachian Trail just in time for a beautiful Pennsylvanian sunset.


2 nights in a row camping, 2 days in a row pushing Caddie up and down mountains, 2 and 1/2 days without a shower. Sleep deprived, sore and smelling like shit, we have officially begun experiencing what the rest of the trip will be like. It finally feels like we are living on the road, experiencing each day as a backpacking, instead of the young couchsurfing adventurers we began this trip as. It’s easy to idealize the values and experiences that led us to this trip when you have a kind, welcoming audience to wax poetic to about it. Now, we are removed from familiar places, pushing ourselves physically and the internal questions we were excited for seem that much more daunting. It was easier to feel safe and secure when we had a destination to reach, a warm bed to end our day in, and a hot shower to begin the next day with. The comforts of music and Marc Maron, and of reading and writing, are going to have to carry me that much farther. Pleasant interactions won’t just be something to write about at the end of the day. They will be all I have to write about at the end of the day. The challenges of the past two days have made the challenges to come on this trip that much clearer. With some music to walk to, a pen and paper to write with, and an open mindset, I feel ready to confront them.


3/26 Just an example of some of the rolling hills we had to climb in Pennsylvania.

– danny