March 9th, 2019, I set off to walk across America, at the age of eighteen. And last week, December 9th, 2019, exactly nine months/275 days after my departure, I finished doing just that. 🙂
In that time, I walked through Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.
I walked through deserts and great plains, over mountains (all three of the major ranges in the continental USA – the Appalachians, the Rockies, and the Sierras), on trails, back roads, and busy highways. I’ve slept under bridges, behind buildings, in bathrooms, churchyards, graveyards, a barn, once, backyards, local parks, public land, motels, campgrounds, and the occasional Trail Angel’s home.
And I had a KICKASS time.
Flashback to late 2017 – I’m months away from graduating high school and I have no dreams, no direction. Whispers in my ear demand I choose a path to follow, but an ache in my stomach says none of them are right. I am being ripped away from my childhood, pushed from the nest into adulthood, and it scares me senseless. Worse, my mother is threatening to kick me out when I turn 18. So in that moment, in my bedroom, I steady my breath and steel my heart to the possibility that I will only have one path to walk in my future: homelessness. And I know, right then, that if it’s going to happen, I will need a game plan.
I picture a future where I’m standing on my family’s front porch, the door slammed shut behind me. That metallic click of the lock cementing my transition from loved family member to unwanted trespasser. Knowing I have no friends to take me in, I stay rooted in place, hastily shuffling through my options with shaky hands. Should I go to a homeless shelter? Squat in one spot and spend the entirety of my days begging on the streets?
I don’t know.
But in the face of a closed door, what else can I do, at first, but walk away?
So I take a step forward. Down the sidewalk, across the street, my feet picking up momentum until I’m blowing through my small town in South Carolina, where there are strip malls on every corner and the flies never die. Further and further I go, my feet sailing across the tarmac till there’s holes in my soles and a hungry pit in my stomach. I still only to patch my shoes and dumpster dive for my next meal, then I’m pounding the pavement again. Alive and free, wandering untethered to the binds of society, apart from the rat race. Making an adventure out of my misfortune-at least for a time.
This image of me as a free-spirited vagabond, drifting on the fringes of society, traipsing the country on foot every day and sleeping under the stars every night is just that: an image in my head. An escape from more practical thoughts on how to handle homelessness; a love song to the trailblazers of centuries past – the train-hopping hobos of the Great Depression era, with their bindle stiffs and tin cans, and the pioneers before them, with their covered wagons and high hopes for a better life out west.
It’s an outlandish scenario, torn from the bloody bedrock of desperation and fear within my core. But the more I think about living transiently, the more I like the thought. Until I begin fantasizing, in those fragile, fleeting moments before sleep when it’s quiet enough to dream with your eyes still open, about a life on the open road. Until, like a seed I’ve nourished to life, it sprouts into this grand idea of crossing the ENTIRE country on foot, from the east to west coast. Not because I feel compelled to, as a last resort under die circumstances, but because I suddenly, madly want to.
(I must ultimately credit the American Discovery Trail for giving me the push I needed to not only walk across the country, but to wholeheartedly fall head-over-heels in love with the idea of doing so. Finding out that there was an official route I could use to walk cross-country helped give me the confidence to start. And learning that other, regular ol’ people have done it, that its an established practice, helped normalize the idea in my head. Make it seem less crazy, less insurmountable.)
When I started, I weighed 195 pounds, had no long-distance backpacking experience, no one who believed in me, and it was my first time leaving the nest as a 18-year-old kid who thought to pack nothing but ramen noodles and granola bars for food. And who thought that all she needed to do when it stormed was attach her rainfly to her tent. Not stake it down, just attach it. Who genuinely didn’t understand why her tent even CAME with stakes when it was a freestanding tent. 🤣
And you know what? It was incredible. An absolutely, positively, phenomenal adventure. It gave me purpose, made me feel so fulfilled, so content.
When times were rough, I would always stop & think . . . this may suck, but there is nowhere else I’d rather be than here, with Faith, living through this. And the never-ending, unwavering truth of that statement would bring me a great sense of peace.
I am blessed to have had the privilege to live my dream, and to have met so many beautiful souls along the way. You guys were so kind to me. When you didn’t need to be. When it could have been easier not to be. People’s kindness along the way was like a well that I kept expected to run dry one day, but that just kept filling.
I am also thankful to have survived. Along the way, I had many close calls with cars. Many times where I couldn’t find a place to sleep and broke down sobbing. Many times where I felt unsafe and scribbled down a goodbye note to my mom in case anything were to happened. Many times where I woke up to a noise in the night and grabbed my pepper spray & knife and prepared for the worst.
Before I left, I remember thinking often, when I was alone and my mind would wander, about how this might be my last year on Earth. That I might genuinely die, soon. That I will have to risk my life if I want to live my dream.
And I decided I wanted to. And I would again. If I had to go back in time, I would make that same decision. Even with there being no guarantees. To know I might die, to have that possibility feel SO REAL, pained me before I left. But once I started walking . . . I just loved it too much for it NOT to be worth the risk. To let my fear burden me anymore. In Utah, I met a Native American man who told me “you are brave, in a time when so many people are scared to be brave” and that really touched me.
In the end, I want to thank everyone I met along the way. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your kindness & generosity was my favorite part of walking across America. Getting to meet all of you was my dream, come true. ❤
Special shout out to Faith, my partner in crime, for never failing on me and for making me smile every day with her googly-eyed face. Truly the Wilson to my Chuck Noland.
And a shout out to my past self, two summers ago, who wanted, so desperately, to walk across America but didn’t think she could do it, for a time, and that broke her heart. I want to give her a hug and tell her
WE DID IT!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO 😄🎉😄🎉
Gin & Faith, over and out!
P.S. here is a link to the video of my finish: CLICK HERE