On Monday, April 17, 2017, I began to walk across the United States. I had hoped to walk from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and complete the walk sometime in November, but that was not the case.
Phase 1 of my journey lasted 40 days. Yes, I realize the significance of this number, but I assure you it was not intentional that I ended on a significant number. It was more about having already almost succumbed to the heat once in the Mojave Desert, and the realization that I was again headed in a dangerous direction. Because of the late (mid-April) start, I encountered a “heat dome” in the southwest US, which caused me to have to cut the trip short. It was 120 degrees in Phoenix the week I stopped walking. It was time to end the quest, and I did.
After much thought, I decided I’d give it another try. Phase 2 of my journey began on February 1, 2018. I knew a little more about what to expect, so I decided to see how I could do the second time around. My son Adam graciously agreed (with the consent of his wife and son) to provide me with up to one month of car support. During that time we would stay in motels together; he would drop me off in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon after I’d completed a day of walking. This worked fine, until it didn’t–a week after reaching my first goal (walking from Chambless, CA to Kingman, AZ to make up ground I was not able to walk the first time around) I developed severe blisters on my left foot at the base of my toes; the skin split, my foot became painful and swollen, and after seeking medical care in Mesa, Arizona I decided to abort the walk yet again. I dropped Adam off at the Phoenix airport and then drove myself home to Oakland, where I saw a podiatrist the next day. Basically, I needed to rest the foot and let it heal.
After two weeks of resting and healing at home, I decided, once again, to continue. I packed my gear and took the Greyhound bus first from Oakland to Los Angeles, and then to Las Cruces, New Mexico, a location closest to the spot (Duncan, AZ) where I’d first had to give up because of the excessive heat in the desert. This starting point would allow me to avoid walking on Interstate highways, which is not permitted.
Many friends, family members, and strangers followed my progress on Instagram: @jazztonight or friended me on Facebook: Robert Schoen. The posts may also be read on my website: notesalongthejourney.com
Below are the answers to questions people ask me most about this journey.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
- Why are you attempting to walk across the United States?
At this point in my life, I wanted to do something that most people do not do. Ever since reading Peter Jenkins’ 1979 book, A Walk Across America, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve read a number of accounts of men and women who’ve walked across the US, and decided that if I was ever going to try, the time was now.
- Why is the time “now”?
I’m 71 years old, and I’m not getting any younger. Although there have been people older than I who have successfully walked from coast-to-coast, each year that goes by decreases my own chances of success. Thus, now is the time.
My father, Michael, passed away on March 7, 2017 at age 96. I did not consider starting the trek while he was alive. This journey is in honor, and dedicated to his memory.
- Aren’t you afraid for your safety? Getting attacked? Being robbed?
Every account I’ve read about walking across America is filled with people offering generous and kind assistance, food, money, shelter, and good wishes. Also, I’ve lived more than half my life in Oakland, California, which some people are afraid to drive through, which is utterly ridiculous. People are generally good. The only time I’ve ever been mugged was in one everyone’s favorite cities, Barcelona.
- Will you be carrying any weapons?
After seeing Jason Bourne kill a man using a ball-point pen, I carry a similar pen on this trip.
I also have a can of Bear Spray, which is just pepper spray. I don’t expect to use it, but when people ask me this question and I tell them I’m bringing the pepper spray, they seem to feel better about my being able to thwart evil-doers.
- What route are you taking?
I began my journey at the beach near the foot of the Santa Ana River Trail in Huntington Beach, California. I then walked to Flagstaff, Arizona. Originally I was going to head north towards Colorado. But I decided to avoid the snow (it turns out there were severe snowstorms in the area I would have been traveling through); so I decided to continue on Old/Historic Route 66 and Interstate I-40 for several more states. However, an Arizona highway patrol officer informed me along the way that pedestrians are not permitted on the Interstate systems in most or all states (although cyclists generally are). Thus “My Plan” changed once again.
Phase 2 of my journey began by “making up” the approximately 125 miles I avoided walking in the Mojave Desert during the heat dome and, after I recovered from my foot injury, resumed in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
I’ve learned that one needs to be flexible on a trip such as this, and I’ve changed my projected route several times. Currently, I’m heading north from Oklahoma through Kansas to just south of Kansas City. Then I plan to walk east, mostly on Highway 50, to Cincinnati (where my son lives). From there my direction will be toward Pennsylvania and New Jersey, catch a ferry (or ride) to New York, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (I was born in Brooklyn), and then walk south to Coney Island. Ocean to Ocean. That’s the plan, but I will continue to re-evaluate the route as necessary, so don’t be surprised if it changes. Wish me luck!
- What about shoes?
Everyone wants to know about shoes. My conclusion after a lot of research and trial pairs is that there is absolutely no perfect shoe for such a journey–you’ll probably get blisters no matter what you wear. I started with two pairs of Ecco BIOM Fjuel racer sneakers. I discarded those after buying a pair of North Face trail shoes. After a few hundred miles those wore out and I bought a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilators in Flagstaff. I love the Merrell’s and bought two new pairs for the Phase 2 of my journey (one pair is waterproof). In spite of early success with these shoes, I developed severe blisters. Long distance walking is a tricky thing.
I also have a pair of Teva sandals and some flip-flops for around the motel room. For socks, I’m wearing Darn Tough Merino Wool/Nylon/Lycra hike/trek socks. Nothing but the best. I also tried some Injinji socks–the ones that have individual spaces for your toes. I wasn’t enamored. I’ve also worn Smart Wool “liner socks” with my Darn Tough socks with mixed results.
- What about technology?
I’m carrying an iPhone 7 Plus and a 12″ Macbook. I’ve got a Mophie XXL battery pack (a great unit!) and also have a small solar charger.
- Will you be staying in touch?
Yes. I post pictures and text on Instagram and Facebook each day. These daily posts will also be available to read on my website blog, Notes Along the Journey (notesalongthejourney.com).
- Are you afraid or apprehensive?
Not as much as you might think. I’m as prepared as I can be, but you can’t anticipate everything. I’ve tasted failure and defeat, but have tried to persevere. I do get anxious when I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping.
- Where will you sleep?
I generally sleep in a motel room or in my Kelty Salida 2 tent. I’ve also slept in a few backyards, behind a restaurant that was being renovated, and in a shed. I like Best Western hotels, and often use the Wyndham Hotel Group (Super 8, Days Inn, etc.). I’m also comfortable with Motel 6 and stay in independent motels when necessary. I like it in a motel and I also like being in my tent. Each provides a different nighttime experience. Looking at the moon and stars through the tent in the desert is a glorious experience. Sitting in the Jacuzzi at the Best Western after a long day of walking is also pretty glorious. Rain, heat, and high winds can spoil an otherwise pleasant tent experience.
- What are your greatest concerns?
Dogs. I’ve had several encounters, and I anticipate more.
Heat. Extreme heat. 105°F and higher.
Cold. Extreme cold. Snow.
Wind. High winds. Wild fires.
Getting sufficient nourishment on the road, where services are very often lacking, can be an issue. While I generally don’t eat meat or poultry and rely on fish and vegetable protein, I’ve made an exception because of this unusual situation and have added Progresso canned chicken soups to my diet. I eat it out of the can–2 portions–when there’s no microwave available, e.g. in the tent.
I’ve added protein/meal bars to my daily consumption as required; these deliver 10-12 grams of protein in an easy-to-consume format. Peanut butter & chocolate work for me.
I don’t drink alcohol, and people always want to buy you a beer. When you say “no” it can be interpreted as an insult. Especially by men who have already been drinking beer. The one time this happened to me, I bought a round of beer for everyone at the bar and drank a soda. No one cared. I wound up sleeping in the backyard of one of the guys at the bar.
- What do you think will be the most difficult part of your trip?
This walk is tough on ones body, particularly the feet, legs, and back. Heat, cold, wind, the sun, precipitation–these elements are not always your friends.
Social media was initially a challenge, but after several weeks I was posting photos and text each day and making other edits to my site as needed. Occasionally there’s a poor cell signal that delays the daily post.
It’s difficult seeing all the litter on the roadsides. Dealing with the excessive temperatures of the desert, the winds of Texas and Oklahoma, and the obstacles and barriers when trying to walk in a country that is not friendly to walkers are all challenges.
But the biggest problem is walking on highways and roads that do not have an adequate (or any) shoulder. Sometimes it can make a grown man cry.
- How far do you walk per day?
About 15-22 miles per day. I’ve walked 27 miles on several occasions. My speed is typically 2 to 3 miles/hour while pushing the kart. The actual distance traveled depends on the terrain and weather. I had never walked 18 miles in one day ever in my life before this journey started. After several weeks of walking, I did it almost every day.
- What about your wife?
We miss each other a lot! But, as she’s told me, she’s making the best of it. She has seven grandchildren, good friends, two book clubs, mah jongg games, and many, many books to read. We FaceTime pretty much every night.
While I’m sure she’s not happy about me being away, I do think she understands this is something that’s important to me. She knows I’ve done everything I could to prepare for the journey. I did not ask for permission, and she never raised an objection. She’s encouraged me to continue when others did not.
- Are you crazy?
One of my friends told her doctor about my trip and he asked if I’d “been evaluated.” When I told my own primary care doctor about my planned journey during a pre-walk checkup, he thought it was a cool idea and made a few suggestions. That’s why I go to my own doctor instead of my friend’s doctor.
- Are you carrying a backpack?
Are you crazy?
I’m pushing a Runabout Kart designed by Roger Berg, who lives in Oregon. (“Kart” is his preferred spelling.) This is fast becoming the preferred walking cart used by long distance walkers. It was originally designed as a baby stroller, custom built by Rog to accommodate as many babies as needed to be put in the cart. My model has been adapted, with a plywood base to which is bolted a 27 gallon plastic container. Rog put a smaller container in front of it, but I replaced it with a Stanley cooler, secured with two heavy-duty bungee cords. When I soon realized I was pushing too much weight and the balance was out-of-whack, I gave the Stanley cooler to a trucker I met, which improved things. (Later I reinstalled the smaller container and use it for my camping gear.) The kart itself is a thing of beauty. I’ve dubbed it “Walker” and posted many photos of it. I wanted a vehicle that will not get flat tires and is built for optimum storage and technical superiority. This is it. It’s also served as a “walker” when I could barely walk.
- Coast to Coast?
Coast to Coast means Ocean to Ocean. I started from Southern California so as to avoid the Rockies, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierras in the winter.
My proposed destination is Coney Island (Brooklyn is where I was born). But as I said before, I continue to re-evaluate my route all the time.
- How did you prepare (physically) for this trip?
Pull-ups, pushups, squats, and planks. I walked 3 miles around Lake Merritt 3-6 times a week. (I got blisters anyway.)
- Aren’t you afraid you’ll look like a homeless person, and people will treat you as one?
Frankly, I don’t think most people will make this mistake, even though in a way I am homeless. I don’t smoke, I have all of my teeth, and I’m wearing a reflective vest and an $80 Tilley hat. After what I saw along the Santa Ana River Trail, however, I’d consider myself in the company of a large and growing segment of the American population.
- Will you write another book when this walk is over?
Maybe. It’s too early to say.
- What first-world problems do you anticipate for yourself?
Staying in 1-star hotels. Scarcity of fresh fruit and vegetables. Sometimes the tap water is pretty bad. Mosquitoes.
- You had serious problems in the Mojave Desert.
Yes, I almost died, but was rescued by angels. You can read about this in my posts of those days. Having to be rescued is a humbling experience. I accepted a ride to Kingman, AZ, skipping about 125 miles of trail. The alternative was dire, so I made the right decision. (I made up those miles in the desert during Phase 2 of my walk.)
- Will you be accepting other rides in the future?
This is a very long journey, and I did not anticipate accepting even one ride. Other walkers have accepted rides for a variety of reasons: personal safety, severe weather conditions, health issues, and walking “trails” that are impossible to negotiate with a cart or stroller. In Superior, CA, I took a ride through a tunnel that was too narrow to walk through. When I was in Flagstaff, I could not find a viable route out of town, so I hopped on a Greyhound bus to Phoenix, 150 miles south, where I continued my journey east. In Oklahoma, the winds were so strong that they almost blew my kart over. I took a short ride to the next town. Another time I accepted a ride to get out of the path of a wildfire. So the answer is “yes,” but only when absolutely necessary.
- Do you think you’ll be arrested by the police for…something?
My first encounter with the police turned into an incredibly positive experience. My second encounter, with the Arizona Highway Patrol officer, impacted my planned route and resulted in a written warning and the relocation of my walk south to Phoenix. I’ve since met other law enforcement officers along the way, and no one gave me a hard time. Some offered me rides, and told me to call if I needed help. There are many miles to go.
- Will you be taking days off from walking? How about sightseeing?
I’ll occasionally take a day off for rest and recovery, but not on a scheduled basis. Although I don’t plan to visit any special sights, remember: I’m seeing new and amazing things every day. Each day that I’m not walking means my arrival on the East Coast will be delayed. I have a life to get back to!
(I applaud every person who has ever attempted this trip, and continue to applaud those few who succeed. I will continue to document the hazards, barriers, impediments, and road-blocks that prevent walkers from completing this journey.)