It is easy to say “Hey Honey, let’s walk across the country!” But it is another thing entirely to comprehend the scope of such and undertaking. When Kait and I first began mapping out the walk, all we had were questions: “When do we leave? From where? How long will it take? How fast can we really travel?” Without the experience of hiking anything comparable to a cross-country trek, we were left to study the history of those who have walked before us.
Pouring over the stories of walkers of all ages, perspectives, and motivations, Kait noted details like the number of miles different trekkers were able to cover. While she found that range to be as wide as 10 to 50 miles per day, the average for healthy people in our age group was right around 20 – 25 miles a day. As we started estimating the timing and mileage for our own journey, we ended up using 20 miles per day as our average. Walking 20 miles per day, 5 days a week, we would cover an average of 100 miles per week. We felt this was a realistic goal, with two days a week set aside for bad weather, much-needed rest days for the dogs and ourselves, therapy visits, adventurous detours, and generally taking our time to enjoy ourselves along the way. But as with the whole walk, it is one thing to say we could cover 20 miles a day and another thing entirely to be confident in such an assertion.
With this in mind, we began our training. Although we already walk many miles per day with our dogs, we have been attempting longer training walks as often as our hectic schedules will allow. We started with 10 miles, and worked our way up to 15. Despite weeks between each long distance walk, they proved enjoyable and challenging, and every successful mile encouraged us to get through the next. A few weekends ago, we packed our day packs and walked out our front door for our first 20-mile walk. Joined by my long-time friend, Geoff, we started walking toward Brad and Leslie’s farm in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. Our only goal was to cover 20 miles before nightfall, ending at the Feeder’s Supply in Shepherdsville.
Max carried backpacks with dinner for himself and Grace, and we carried trail mix and PB&J’s for the people. The dogs have started to catch on to this pattern of getting up early, packing the backpacks, and cooking breakfast. Every time this happens, we end up walking – All. Day. They love it, but they never know where we are going or how far. Grace thought she was going to have a blast, and was full-on frolicking with Max all morning. When we passed through a park I had never seen, we let them loose to run off a little steam.
Walking out of our densely populated neighborhood, we headed down Baxter Avenue, weaving our way toward Poplar Level Road and Preston Highway – which would lead us directly to Shepherdsville. I brought my camera and my backpacker’s guitar (that thing needs a name) to play as we walked. More than once, I caught Geoff and Kait laughing at my overly-dramatic soundtrack. Only 9 miles into the walk, Geoff was having serious complications with his shoes. We stopped for an early lunch, hoping some rest would do him some good.
Unfortunately, Geoff’s feet hurt badly and shortly after lunch, he decided to drop out instead of slowing us down. We left him waiting for a ride at Jefferson Mall, and kept walking. As we moved away from the heart of Louisville, we got to experience the city as the layers of an onion, with each layer giving way to the next. We moved from residential to commercial areas, out along the endless strip malls full of empty storefronts and decaying businesses that sprawl away in all directions.
Finally, we got out past that hostile no-man’s land of commerce and wandered out into the country. I hadn’t noticed how dirty and noisy the city is until we got out to the rolling hills and fields of southern Jefferson County. The silence and solitude – even on a well-traveled road – was peacefully deafening. Preston Highway narrowed to two lanes, and for the first time we felt the fear of our biggest danger on the road – drivers. Without a real shoulder on the road, we had to walk in gravel or in the edge of the lane. We walk against traffic as dictated by law, so that we can see the cars coming toward us well before they are a danger. The dogs walk to our left, away from the traffic. Most drivers were very cordial, moving over or slowing down before they got to us. Only once did we feel threatened by a driver that seemed oblivious to us, and we jumped back from the edge of the road to avoid getting hit.
As we neared Shepherdsville, our bodies started to fatigue. We didn’t stop for the last 5 miles, fearing that if we stopped and sat down, we wouldn’t be able to get back up. As night fell, we trudged into the rural downtown and found Brad, Leslie’s husband, waiting at the Feeder’s Supply. We climbed into his truck, grateful for the day’s end, and relaxed on the 5-minute drive back to their farm. When we got out of the car, we could barely walk – I hobbled from the truck to the house, gripping my back like an old man. Lesley, Donna, and Brad welcomed us to the dinner table, where good food and conversation melted away the aches of the day.
After dinner, Brad and Leigh drove us home, retracing our 8 hours of walking in less than 20 minutes. All in all, the day was a great reality check for us. We learned what 20 miles really feels like, and had to navigate many types of road and environment along the way. Walking to a friendly haven was like finding an oasis in a desert of never-ending miles, and our struggle to get there made their hospitality invaluable. The frustration I felt after working that hard to walk out, only to get dropped off back at my house at the end of the day, was overwhelming – I very nearly couldn’t make myself go back to my job the next day. Now, more than ever, March can’t come soon enough.