“What do you think about all day?”

Abby – 

One of the best (and worst) things about walking across America is it provides ample time to think. I am often asked how I pass the time on the road and what I think about along the way. I occasionally listen to podcasts, music, or books on tape, but most of the time I am just alone with my thoughts. Going into the walk I expected this to be a great opportunity for self-reflection and creative thinking. However, more often than I’d like to admit, that’s not the case. I haven’t come up with any solutions for world peace or climate change or figured out what I want to do with the rest of my life and where I want to live. Most of my everyday ponderings are usually banal and involve food.


  1. I get intense salt cravings and this can manifest into some strange food fantasies. I once killed an hour imagining myself with a giant bucket of french fries licking the salt off each one. Don’t ask my why I didn’t just eat the whole fry in this day dream; salt cravings never make me rational.
  2. Once on a really hot day I saw a billboard for an icey minute maid fruity slushy at McDonalds. Contrary to popular belief, McDonalds is not taking over the country and I had to walk a whole 72 hours before spotting the golden arches. Well you betcha I spent almost that entire time thinking about those slushies. I imagined swimming in pools and playing in water parks filled with them. I pictured myself ordering 3 of every flavor and lounging for hours in the air conditioned booth leisurely sipping each one.  I wondered about the intricacies of every flavor and what the largest size I could order it in would be.
  3. After starting the walk we sent back a lot of gear we didn’t need and very rarely have we bought new gear along the way. The one exception to this is our $5 fanny packs from Walmart. Let me tell you, this was a game changer and should be considered an essential piece of equipment by any long distance walker. I spent a lot of time thinking about why such a practical and useful item has a nerdy tourist dad reputation. I then occupied my thoughts creating my own designer fanny pack line, with the hopes of making fanny packs cool again. Maybe this will solve the what I want to do with my life question.
  4. One of the questions I most often ask Danny is “do you think the next town will have ice cream?” With limited cell service in the desert I can’t just look up the answer, so I spend a lot of time pondering this question. Sometimes I will play a little game with the cracks in the road; I’ll pick a point in the distance and then each crack I step on will rotate every other “town has ice cream,” or “town sucks.”  Whatever answer I land on at the point in the distance gives me my answer. It’s sort of like the game kids play when when they pluck petals off flowers and rotate “he loves me” or “he loves me not.” My game is about love too.
  5. The animal I most commonly see across the country are cows. These guys are real characters and without fault they always shoot us the fiercest death stare whenever we walk by. I have never seen an animal or human with a meaner mug.  I passed a lot of time in the Midwest making up a parody to Snoop Dog’s song “Drop it Like it’s Hot,” called “Mean Muggin’ Cows.” I made up the lyrics and then imaged Snoop and I frolicking in the pastures making a music video with the cows. Snoop, if you’re reading this, let me know if we can make this happen.

Danny – 

What do you think about all day? It’s something we’re frequently asked, and the answer is always unpredictable. Throughout the day, ideas drift in and out, internal debates and conversations continually start and daydreams of the most mundane or magnificent things begin.

All day? It’s mostly logistical things, like the weather, or the terrain, or whether we will find a shaded area to rest, or whether a full 9 person lineup of American musical artists  would beat a lineup from the U.K. Important things like that. In no order, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Ray Charles, Bruce,  Aretha, Stevie Wonder, and the Talking Heads. All apologies to Tony Orlando fans and 90’s children, but that is quite the murderer’s row. Does it beat The Beatles, David Bowie, The Clash, The Rolling Stones… you know what? It’s not even worth the argument. America wins. I didn’t even include Prince, LCD Soundsystem, or any other modern music. I’ve managed to convince myself of Biggie over Pac, Nas over them both, and, again, Tony Orlando over all. Thanks to the ten hours a day I spend in my own head, I’ve become quite the cultural critic, with no one to debate but myself.

Sometimes I think about Bucky Fuller and the Earth’s rotation. Bucky Fuller was an architect, an inventor, a scientist and an author. He developed numerous inventions and architectural designs, like the geodesic dome, but his biggest impact on me came from his unique understanding of the Earth. He believed words like “up” and “down” were terms that were developed in a time when the Earth was wrongly understood to be flat, and were inconsistent with the spherical nature of Earth (Sorry Kyrie, and all the flat-earthers). Rather than saying upstairs and downstairs, Fuller believed we should say “instairs” and “outstairs,” since stairs lead inward and outward in respect to the center of Earth. I really enjoy the simple alterations to speech that he offered, and try to use them to remind myself of the fact we’re on a massive rock flying through space. Every once in awhile I’ll remind Abby that, although we are walking three miles an hour westward across the United States, the Earth is actually spinning nearly 1000 mph in the opposite direction. Silly, I know, but it’s a fun mental exercise to occupy yourself with while you’re, like we said, walking three miles an hour for three straight weeks on the same road in the same direction.

Sometimes I fantasize about grandiose ideas of being a guest on Stephen Colbert, and reminding him, to his surprise, of the time we rubbed shoulders at a Neutral Milk Hotel concert, and I uncomfortably introduced myself to his wife. Sometimes I conjure up imaginary conversations with my friends in New York. I imagine writing a book of our experiences after the walk. I imagine, I imagine, I imagine, all day long. I use the soothing rasp of Marc Maron’s interviews to break the spell of my imagination, and then I imagine hearing the rasp in person, through his headphones, sitting at his table in his garage being interviewed.

I daydream about music and movies, food and king-sized beds. I focus on important things like our mileage and water supply, and the timeline until we finish. I think about the day we’ll finish, when we will cross the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, walk the couple miles to the beach with our family and friends beside us, dive headfirst into the Pacific Ocean, celebrate and then fly home. With less than 700 miles to go, that’s the thought that most consumes me.

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


Getting Comfortable in Public Space

Italian architect Daniela Colafranceschi said, “public space is the theater of the history of mankind.” One of the biggest changes the walk has brought for me is the amount of time I spend living in, and thinking about, public space. So often I move through the world from the private space of my home to the private space of my car, only to pause in public areas.  On the walk it’s the opposite. I spend most of my time moving through, and trying to survive in, public spaces. I walk on city sidewalks, county roads, and state highways. I camp on public land. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on park benches. I map out our route in public libraries. I sit on curbs to put mole skin on my blistering feet. I take photos on bridges. I go to the bathroom in soccer field outhouses.

Relying on public space for survival brings joy and challenges. One of the best parts about walking through public spaces is how many interactions I get to have with the people I pass on the street. Sometimes these interactions are brief and it’s just someone saying hello and “how ‘bout that sunshine!” and other times I chat with someone for 20 minutes about the history of the Lincoln highway and the towns built around it. These interactions always make me feel a deeper sense of place and community, even if I am just passing through.   

The biggest challenge of spending this much time in public space is the loss of control.  My diet is dictated by the contents of a gas station. Where I sleep each night is often uncertain. I don’t know whether sidewalks and road shoulders will be shoveled after a snowstorm. I can’t control the weather, the height of the mountain, or if a gas station will have a bathroom. This loss of control has forced me to be a better planner and to have more patience with myself and my surroundings. Some days a snowstorm prevents us from walking at all, and other days my body will tell me it’s best to take a break, and even if that means 2 fewer miles for the day, it’s okay.   

If public space is a theater, then I am enjoying my time in a leading role. As we near Pittsburgh, it feels like act one is coming to a close and I’m looking forward to what plot twists, characters and set changes the remaining acts will bring.