For as long as I can remember, I've had this crazy dream of just taking off one day and walking across the country. When I lived in London I found myself having similar daydreams about doing the same thing in the U.K. and all the hiking that I did in Wales and England never really got that out of my system. In fact, living in England only made my dream seem even more possible because it was so easy to find magazines dedicated to long distance hiking and books written by people who had already lived the dream. Of course, now that a few more years have passed, and now that the roads are more dangerous than they've ever been, I realize that my dream is going to have to be lived through the experiences and words of others.
That got me to looking on my shelves this morning to see how many "long walk" books have managed to survive in my collection. I was surprised to find only three of them because I can clearly remember having read at least another half dozen or so of those in the last few years. I do have other "solo travel" books but those all involve people who made their trips by automobile or who relied on the kindness of strangers for long rides along the way.
Worldwalk is Steven Newman's story of his four-year, 15,000-mile, walk around the world that took him across five continents and through some twenty countries. Newman made that walk completely on his own, no sponsors to help pay his way and no crew to run interference for him so that his safety was guaranteed. He slept under bridges, and in fields or abandoned buildings, only occasionally being taken into the home of someone he met on his walk. He was arrested in several countries and even had to break his way out of jail in one instance. Newman, who ended up being listed in the 1988 Guinness Book of World Records as the first person to walk around the world alone, started his trek as a naive 28-year old and returned as a much wiser 32-year old world traveler. He does a very fine job telling his remarkable story in Worldwalk.
George Meegan took a different approach when it came time to make his own long walk. In The Longest Walk, Meegan describes his journey that begins on the southernmost tip of South America and doesn't end until he reaches the northernmost shores of Alaska, a vertical walk of over 19,000 miles that took him seven years to complete. Meegan, an Englishman, did not walk continuously for seven years but he always returned to the exact point from which he suspended his walk for various personal reasons. In fact, during that seven year period he married his Japanese wife and fathered two children (whose Japanese names translate into "Don't Stop" and "Keep Walking"). His walk was filled with adventure and frustration because between bouts of disease and hunger he found himself shot at, stoned, and threatened with knives. No one ever said a long walk would be easy and I was particularly touched by how dangerous Meegan felt Houston to be as he passed through the city.
The Walk West is the second "long walk" book that I read by Peter Jenkins, the first being A Walk Across America which chronicled Peter's walk from upper New York state to New Orleans. It was in New Orleans that Peter met Barbara Jo Pennell, a young seminarian who stopped him in his tracks. The Walk West picks up their story after they have married and decide to complete Peter's original plan to walk across the United States. All they have to do is walk from New Orleans to Florence, Oregon. How hard can that be?
Looking at these books again this morning has made me remember how much I enjoyed them the first time around. There's something about travel books written by lone travelers that has always appealed to me. I love the sense of adventure that comes from not knowing what's around the next corner and these books have to be the origin of my own love for rambling along all by myself, at my own pace, with a preference for following anything but in interstate highway.
I can't wait to check out a few bookstores to see what similar books I can find. The size of my travel book collection just doesn't cut it. I'm off.