What are you grateful for?

Over a year ago when we were planning for the walk we had the idea to make the blog a photo story telling project all about gratitude and have that be the theme of the walk. We decided it would work better to keep the blog more broad, but we still wanted to do posts where we interviewed people we met on the street or stayed with and asked them what they were grateful for; below are their answers.

“Life. I’m just grateful for life. I thought when I was 25 I wasn’t going to make it. I’m 29 now and I’m going to be 30 in august. Ha, you wouldn’t even think I’m that old!. I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety and my depression sometimes gets the best of me, but I’m still here. I don’t ever give up. I don’t stop. That’s what I’m telling you guys– keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Follow your dream.”

“I’m grateful we can travel to see the Pittsburgh Penguins. We live in New York and it’s an eleven hour drive, so we’re very grateful we’re able to come and experience it. We’re a mother and daughter and it’s fun to experience it together.”

 

 

“I’m grateful for these two jobs I got and this beautiful day. I deliver flowers and I clean offices at night. My favorite part about the flower job is meeting new people and making them smile. I got in trouble with the law before so I’m used to judges taking my money, but when I delivered flowers to a judge he gave me ten dollars as a tip, so that was a good one.”

“I’m grateful for people who are vulnerable around you and who let down their walls and allow themselves  to be loved.”

 

“I’m thankful for having a  community of friends here who are great for adventuring and having fun and also calling me on my faith. At the beginning of the semester we went under the Steubenville bridge and we made a 50 foot rope swing and we climbed out on the beam and spent 6 hours out there just jumping off and having fun.”

“I’m thankful for family and how much they support me in any of my stupid or smart decisions and for always being there for me. The most recent example of this is the other day I was struggling with a philosophy paper and I called up my sister and said “hey you’re an English major can you help me out with this?” and she did. But more than just helping me with this she asked me how my life was going and what I was doing and I told her these crazy plans I had for my future and she said “good idea.”

“I’m grateful for driving. It’s time I can spend alone and being an introvert that’s huge for me. Also, this week especially I’m grateful for fixing broken wounds that have happened in the past and making a lot of progress.”

 

“Looking anywhere, I can find gratitude. Look at that guitar. It’s a bunch of shit that comes from elements of the earth that people throughout time have crafted together that creates music. If you draw the lineages of everything, it is all something that people have created, and that people have dedicated their lives to making. This drywall, these musical instruments, a bed and it’s linens. Everything can be traced back to it’s past, and thinking about that can make me happy to just be in existence each day.”

 

 

“My family is what I’m most grateful for. My family has suffered some adversity, and to get to here I consider myself very fortunate. My grandfather suffered adversity being Italian in the area he grew up in. I never had to deal with any of that shit because of what my relatives went through. I’m grateful to be doing something that they never had the chance to do. They made everything a lot better for me today.” 

 

“I went to my grandmother’s 80th birthday party in Philadelphia about a month ago. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me. I feel gratitude for all of the people in my life who raised me. There’s an unending, deep well of gratitude for them. They taught me social mores, they taught me how to treat people well, to not be hateful to people that are different than me, and thank god that these people are still in my life. I’m trying to express to these people how I feel now. They taught me how to laugh. My grandmother suffered a lot, but she taught me to laugh at how absurd life is and taught me how inconsequential so many things can be. When I hang out with my friends I laugh at things in my life that should be terrible, and should be upsetting, but we always are able to find humor in them. A sense of humor is a sense of goodness.”

IMG_3969We’ve made our way into our sixth state, and the beautiful, flat plains of the Midwest!

If you haven’t yet, make sure to check out our story in Newsday, and to follow along on our Facebook and Instagram pages! @walkacrossamerica2017

FAQs Round 2

Here are the answers to the questions readers emailed us! If you think of more you can ask us in the comment section.

How is your sleeping? Getting enough? Sleep hard?

AB: Sleeping well! Had some trouble sleeping while camping when it was really cold (15 degrees), but now that it’s warmed up my tent feels like home.

DF: Besides some of our nights outdoors in the cold, I am typically so exhausted by the end of the day that sleep comes easily, and quickly. Even if it’s only four or five hours, it is such a dead sleep that I get all the energy needed from it.

Do you set an alarm to wake up?

AB/DF: Yes. Usually around 7 depending on the day. (A month and a half in though, our bodies seem to be set to wake up then anyway.)

When you walk, do you have any tendencies, like you generally are not on your phones? Or is that a good time to text, etc. and catch up with people? How about podcasts, music.

AB: I usually listen to something about half the time depending on the day. If it’s a tough day physically, like when we’re crossing mountains, I don’t listen to anything so I can focus. Sometimes I will listen to music, podcasts, or books on tape I can download from my library. I don’t like looking at a screen while walking since I am prone to tripping, so I usually don’t text much unless I need to.

DF: For me, it’s all dependent on the day; my mood, the size of the shoulder of the road, the distance we have to go, they all determine whether I fill my day with podcasts and music, call friends and family to catch up, or allow myself to get lost in my head, and think about what I’ll write later that night. More often than Abby, I’ll use music and podcasts in a strenuous part of the day to motivate myself through it.

What is the longest you’ve gone without showering?

AB: 3 days. We’ve been very lucky to be invited in by people who we’re yard camping with so we’ve been able to shower more than expected. Out west we will probably have to go much longer.

DF: 4 days. I win. Or lose, depending on how you view showering. Actually, I agree. I lose.

One month in, I’d love to hear what your general daily schedule is. Walk right away? Walk in chunks with breaks? Walk without breaks to power through?

AB: We usually wake up, eat, pack up and start walking. We are flexible and sometimes will stay to chat with our hosts in the morning too if they want to. Now that we’re in better shape we don’t take as many breaks. Sometimes we will stop for lunch somewhere or sometimes we will eat a sandwich while walking and won’t stop at all. We pay attention to how we feel and base our breaks on that. Now that it stays light out later sometimes we will walk for 8-10 hours. Our farthest day so far was 26 miles.

DF: We’re almost always on the road within an hour of waking up, depending on whether we’re having breakfast with our hosts, or are breaking camp. And then from there, it is usually two to four hours before we stop for lunch.

How are your blisters? Blister management is prob a big part of your thoughts??

AB: I had some really bad blisters the first two weeks and blister management was a major part of my thoughts and made walking pretty unpleasant. Now that my feet are toughening up I don’t think much about it much any more. I used to get up extra early to put moleskin and duct tape on all the problem areas.

DF: I’ve lucked out with blisters, and haven’t had too many hassling me. The most contact I have had with blisters is when Abby continually shows hers to me, despite my objections.

AB: I’ve had to settle for sending pictures of my blisters to my mom instead since Danny won’t look at them and I want to feel validated ;).

How do you deal with feminine hygiene?

AB: I haven’t really needed to do anything different than normal. I wear tampons and/or pads just like usual and change them when we stop at gas stations. Once we are in the mountains and desert and have multiples days of walking without crossing through a town I will need to store used products in a ziplock bag until I can dispose of them properly. Some women use products like the Diva Cup for thru-hikes like this, which is also a great option. I meant to get one before I left but forgot about it until it was too late and I don’t want to experiment with a new product while on the road.  

Are you going to wear the same pair of shoes the whole time?  Do you have shoes you rotate? Will you buy new shoes?

AB/DF: We both have two pairs of shoes we rotate. We will need to rotate in new ones once each pair has over 600 miles and begin wearing out.

How much hours of research/planning did it take before you left? Are you finding you do lots of research/planning each day as well?

AB/DF: We started planning seriously about a year before we left. Many many hours went into preparation, whether it was researching other blogs that have done similar excursions, or learning about the legalities of camping and walking on highways in certain states. We still have some planning to do each day though. Mostly, we plan out exactly what route we will take, and then research places to stay that night.

What comfort from home do you miss the most?

AB: Vegetables.

DF: IPA’s.

What’s the most challenging situation or moment you’ve faced so far?

AB: We started having problems with one of the wheels on our cart and a well-intentioned stranger offered to try and fix it, but ended up making it worse and ultimately unusable. Luckily we were able to get a new wheel sent and the cart is working like new, but it was stressful trying to figure out how to fix it and get a new wheel since we don’t have a car and weren’t in an area with public transportation.

DF: This situation was similarly challenging for me, especially in learning how to balance being a good guest, and an openness to receiving the generosity of others, with a necessity for self-preservation, and a need to assert our opinions for the overall benefit of the walk.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve had so far?

AB: It’s been really rewarding just seeing how well strangers have treated us. It also felt really good once we finished crossing the mountains in Pennsylvania because that was our first major physical challenge.

DF: The experience we talked about in the soup kitchen in Coatesville continues to move me in unexpected ways. Whatever it was that allowed that place to exude dignity and grace in such a humble way, it continues to serve as a reminder of all the good we have seen so far.

How do your feet feel?

AB: Blisters are much better. My feet will still feel sore after a long day, but overall they’ve started to adjust pretty well.

DF: Tough. Any of the blisters I did have have calloused over, and, nearly 700 miles into the walk, they feel much, much stronger than when we started.

What’s the first thing you’re going to eat when you get back home?!

AB: I will go to my favorite Indian restaurant in Minneapolis called Nameste and order a huge portion of vegetable curry and chicken masala.

DF: I want to wake up, and get coffee and a bagel from Kookaburra. I dream of waking up, and getting coffee and a bagel from Kookaburra. If I get home later in the evening, I won’t eat till the next day, so I can wake up, and get coffee and a bagel from Kookaburra.

One Month in!

The past week took us through one last mountain and three states. After yard camping in Everett, PA we stayed in the Schellsburg State Forest, yard camped near Indian Lake, and stayed in Jenningstown, Lawson Heights, Greensburg, Pittsburgh, and Steubenville, OH.

While in Pittsburgh we were hosted by Jess Mardo, a Stonehill Alum studying for her masters in public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Despite being an over worked grad student, Jess made us lasagna and took us to Pamela’s for breakfast. During our stay with Jess, we were also joined by our first guest walker, Anna Butler. Anna walked with us for the next three days, offering her wildlife biologist knowledge and skills whenever we asked. We were especially grateful for Anna’s wildlife knowledge when we encountered a 3 foot snake along the Pan Handle Trail. She assuaged our fears, assuring us it ate rats, and not humans named Abby and Danny.

After crossing one of Pittsburgh’s 446 bridges, we made it to the west side of the city, and stayed that night with Elessa, a Jesuit Volunteer Corp alum, and her boyfriend Mike. Both Mike and Elessa are from the area, and they shared their knowledge and love of the city over sandwiches from Primantis, a classic Pittsburgh joint.

On April 5, we crossed through three states in a single day. We began in Pennsylvania, crossed through West Virginia, and ended the day in Ohio, at Franciscan University in Steubenville. We couchsurfed with Miriam, Clare, and Erin, who are clearly the coolest kids on campus. We were treated liked celebrities as we walked through campus with them, and then spent the evening in their dorm eating pasta and chatting with their friends. Miriam and Clare run an amazing travel blog that you can check out here.

Below we’ve included some photos from the past week, so be sure to check them out!
Our next major stop is Columbus, OH, which we hope to reach in about a week.

Yard Camping

We arrived in Everett, Pennsylvania, a town with less than 2,000 people, as dusk was falling. Before this week we had mostly slept in the homes of friends and family friends, of couch surfers, camped in state forests, and, occasionally, we stayed in motels or Airbnbs when there was still snow. However, as we moved further west, and reached less populated areas, our connections became fewer, and we began to look for other options. Thus, yard camping.

 

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The small town of Everett is located about 120 miles outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

In theory, yard camping is simple. You walk up to a house, knock on the door, explain to the person who you are, what you’re doing, and then ask to pitch your tent in their yard for the night. Of course, there is the obvious complication that yard camping requires an enormous amount of trust between strangers. There is no review system for someone showing up at your house, like there is for couchsurfing or Airbnb. There is no exchange of monetary goods like there is at a motel. There is no implicit understanding that you won’t kidnap a person’s dog, like there is when you stay with a friend. Needless to say our first time yard camping, we were nervous.

The first house we considered mistook our wave as a greeting, waved back, and drove off before we could offer our bizarre take on an elevator pitch. We were 0 for 1. A few minutes later, we were entering a more densely populated part of town, and spotted another house. With a welcome sign out front, a spacious backyard and a small dog barking at us from the window, we agreed to knock on the door. A woman opened the door with a kind, welcoming smile, and the same small dog in her arm, with that merciless bark. We pitched it exactly as we had practiced. “I know this might sound kind of crazy,” and “we would totally understand if you say no,” were our opening and closing remarks. And with a kindness and generosity we didn’t expect, she invited us to stay in their yard. After two minutes of talking with her husband, Bill, who was outside grilling, he offered us the warmth and shelter of their garage. After we brought our stuff over there, grateful to have a roof over our heads on a rainy night, their daughter, Mallory, came to the garage and invited us in for dinner. All the anxiety we had had about where we would stay that night, and about approaching people asking to camp in their yard, had worn away with each kind gesture the Waltman family offered us.

We set our tents up in the garage, and went inside for burgers. During dinner we talked about the logistics of the walk, and joked about craziness of it. We talked about the ways homelessness affects a small town like Everett, and a lot of the experiences we had while working in a shelter. They told us about a number of other camp sites we could use in the next few days. More than simply discuss these topics, we convened with this family at their dining room table, laughing and relaxing with them the way you would with your own family. After dinner, Teri, the mother, and Mallory, took us to The Igloo, the local ice cream shop, and treated us to some much-appreciated butterfinger blizzards. We learned about these people, and related to them through shared experiences. We learned Teri grew up in Everett, and had lived there much of her life. We learned of Everett’s nickname as the “little town that can.” We crashed that evening in our tents, filled with a warm meal, showered, and grateful that little dog had caught our attention.  We all have that dinner table that we break bread with our loved ones at. On this trip, complete strangers have opened their doors for us, and welcomed us to break bread with them like we were family as well.

Posing for a selfie with Bill, Teri, Mallory and Ellie

On our second night yard camping camping, we were less nervous and more strategic in choosing our location. We decided to add proximity  to a gas station or convenience store as part of our criteria for choosing a house. We were grateful Bill and Teri had invited us in, but we knew we could not expect, or count on, that kind of hospitality. Being near a gas station would allow us to use the bathroom, brush our teeth, and get changed before bed. We knocked on a door in Central City, Pennsylvania, and could see an elderly couple, and two kids, who we later learned were their grandkids, watching us from their living room. After giving our pitch, and handing over our business card, they advised us to set up on the side of their house to avoid any of the flooding in their yard. After a good night of rest, we got to talking with the elderly couple in the morning, and they graciously invited us in for coffee and a shower. Then, after parting ways with our hosts, and a few miles into our walk, we received a Facebook message from the mother of the two grandkids we had seen the day before. They had looked on our website, seen that their house was on our route, and the kids wanted to give us a gift for our trip. They even had a sign on their mailbox to make sure we did not miss them. When we got there, we were greeted with Gatorades and fruit, and hung out with the family while the two grandsons played basketball. Their grandparents even drove to the house to say goodbye one more time! For us, it was another moment of connection and friendship, and another example of the incredible kindness people have offered us along the way.   

The welcome sign that stopped us in our tracks

What is interesting about yard camping is it goes against what we are taught growing up. Don’t talk to strangers. Mind your own business. Be careful; there are dangerous people out there. Be self reliant. We view yard camping as an opportunity for strangers, and us, to see the basic goodness in others. Yes, there are risks, for us and them. But it is a chance for humans to see what happens when they let their guard down a tiny bit. For our part, we present our most gracious selves, trust the strangers hosting us, and try to be good receivers. In some cases, that can mean being quiet and non-invasive, and simply respecting the land we are on. Other times, that might require us to be gracious, engaging guests, grateful that we were lucky enough to be invited inside. We look forward to meeting and connecting with people through yard camping in the near-future, knowing the kindness that is possible.

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.  

-Abby

Philadelphia

Crossing the Appalachian Mountains

The past few days we have traveled from Gettysburg to Breezewood, crossing, and camping in, a portion of the Appalachian Mountains along the way. In this time, our love/hate relationship with Caddy became pretty clear to us. Unpacking our gear, and retrieving our food leaves us ever grateful for her, but lugging a loved one up 2,000 feet would put a strain on any relationship.

After camping in state forests for the past few days, and getting a better sense of the mountains, we hope to arrive in Pittsburgh sometime around April 1st.

For now, check out the slideshow from South Central PA below!

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A Cast of Characters

Editor’s note: There is swearing in the article below.
Addt’l editor’s note: The editor and author of this article are the same person. Basically, there is no editor.

I don’t ever want to forget the man on the bike. Or how one of our hosts, Sheldon, forever changed my opinion on Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Nor do I want to forget what we learned tonight. That “south central Pennsylvania is the snacks capital of the world.” I don’t want to forget the fun we had on the biggest hill we’ve faced yet, as Abby took on her “Van Gogh” persona, and took dozens of soon-to-be-deleted photographs. I won’t forget Kim, the woman who ran her coffee shop like it was her home. The woman whose face remained resting in a smile, who welcomed us into her shop with warm coffee and stories to share. I don’t want to forget the first celebrity spotting we had, when a woman backed her BMW up a hill to tell us she recognized us from facebook, she was praying for us, and she would be donating money to JOIN for us. Most of all though, I don’t want to forget the man on the bike. What an imposition he was. What a know-it-all. What a ridiculous claim he made that the big war was coming. The one to end all wars. The one that the powers-that-be had been planning. The one that would kill all obese and technology-reliant people. What a character. What an un-self aware person. What a strangely caring, and concerned neighbor he was to us. What a fucking character. Like the man outside the auto body shop said, “it’s the journey, not the destination.” And this journey has had a cast of characters with more quotes than we can write down, and more wisdom to share than we could absorb in a lifetime. These journal entries are not being written by me, they are being colored by the beautifully unique individuals that are filling our days, feeding our hearts and fulfilling all the fantasies that we had about this trip, and the wonderful people we would meet along the way.

— Danny

Gesundheit.
Van Gogh’s work at her finest.

Van Gogh not taking photo time seriously

Days 17-20 – Downingtown to Hanover

The past couple days we walked from Downingstown, PA to Hanover, PA stopping in Christiana, Hallam, Lancaster and York. While in Lancaster we stayed with couch surfing hosts Sheldon and Naomi. After hearing we had done Americorps, Sheldon and Naomi invited their family friends Amy and Kerry over, who are both NCCC Americorp alums. Amy now works for an organization building affordable housing in Lancaster, and Kerry will be biking across part of the country, and building affordable homes along the way, with a program called Bike to Build. Stay tuned for a blog post to learn more about the affordable housing issues affecting Lancaster.

We owe a big thanks to Sheldon and Naomi for their hospitality, and for connecting us with their friends, Roger and Donna, who later hosted us in York.

We head to Gettysburg today, and will be camping in state forests for the next few nights!

big hill

Danny taking on a huge hill east of York

Hanover

Outside Hanover, PA

york

Downtown York, PA

Walking with Dignity

It takes five minutes to drive through a town like Coatesville, Pennsylvania, but in the forty minutes it took us to walk, we were struck by the simple beauty of it’s design, and the warmth and hospitality of the residents we encountered.

Take Tom, for instance. Our first interaction in the town, Tom had a handsome, white beard, a round face, and United States Army veteran hat atop his head. Tom was outside his home, shoveling snow, when we came walking by with our massive pushcart and neon safety vests. We helped him shovel his walkway, he shared stories from his childhood in Coatesville, and from his experience in the army, and soon we had developed a rapport with this stranger. Before we parted ways, Tom made a donation to JOIN, paid for our lunch, and urged us to be safe on our journey with the sincerity of a close friend.

Or take the man shoveling outside the massive brick building, who saw our cart, and, assuming we were homeless, invited us inside for a warm meal. “It’s not much, but it does the job,” he said, motioning us over from the street. Even after we explained we weren’t homeless, and talked about the walk, he still invited us in, eager to help out a neighbor. They may not have had much, but the soup was warm, we rested our legs, and the one man working exuded a gentle grace and humility that would welcome any stranger. “Quiet dignity” was how we described it afterwards. With a quiet dignity and calming grace, they were serving those most in need in their community. We left that building frustrated by the evident lack of resources available for them, curious what homelessness looked like in a city so small, and grateful for the beautiful, humbling experience they invited us into.

Or take the woman driving past us towards the freeway, who slowed her car down, and shouted at us “where ya going?” When we replied San Francisco, she grabbed a $20 bill from her pocket, raised her hand to the sky, and waited for us to cross traffic to retrieve it.

Often people see our cart and assume we are homeless. They avoid eye contact with us, looking away before reading our sign. What has struck us about some places is how friendly people are to us, despite thinking we might be homeless.

Quiet dignity. A community like Coatesville was ready to embrace a stranger as if they were neighbors, even if that stranger was actually just two crazy kids, trying to walk across America.

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