My son is walking across America. When I mention this to business colleagues and others I have conversations with, they often ask me, “is he trying to raise money for something?” The answer is “no.” He’s doing it because he decided that is how he’d spend his summer.
Initially, I wasn’t really that thrilled with the idea. However, given that he’s 26-years-old and has been on his own for awhile, I kept an open mind. That’s what I’m supposed to do at this stage of parenting.
The trip wasn’t done on a whim. A summer spent traveling somewhere had been Mark’s intent for several months. Initially he talked about finding a city with a professional baseball team, purchasing season tickets, and chilling for the summer. Toronto was mentioned. I like that idea, as I envisioned a couple of long weekends hanging out with him and watching the Blue Jays. Baseball has always been an important bond between us.
Walking across America was something different. Cool, really, but different than sitting in the bleachers in Toronto, or Detroit, or Seattle. Others have done it. A friend told me about Peace Pilgrim the other day. I went to the website. I was impressed and intrigued. For Mildred Norman Ryder, walking became a way of life, like breathing; it also became a way for her to make a difference. Peter Jenkins is someone else who walked across the country and even wrote a couple of books about he experiences.
Mark is now into his third week walking, a journey that began at Tybee Island, near Savannah, Georgia. Yesterday he crossed into Mississippi, spending the night at a Rodeway Inn, near Meridian.
Each day of Mark’s trip has had an affect on me. I think of him a bit differently now, than I did before the journey. This isn’t the first time he’s taken to the open road. In 2006, he and a high school friend hitchhiked across the country. Both my wife and I had little contact with him between weekly phone calls. That was really hard, mainly because we had about 20 minutes notice that he was doing it. This time, he gave us advanced warning, so we could prepare.
He came home for part of a weekend at the end of April to get some supplies from home, LL Bean, and have his Mom’s famous ribs. We had a great visit, albeit a necessarily short one. He had to get back to Brown to finish up classes.
Mark’s a writer. He also has a blog. This trip he’s using technology to keep his readers (and his parents) updated on his journey. Except for a few times when cell reception’s been a problem, we’ve been able to track the trip.
I send him an email most mornings, called “Notes for the Road”—I number these successively. I give him the sports scores; right now, it’s NBA playoff time, so I provide details and updates him the Celtics and also about the MLB, primarily the highlights of the Sox game along with key details. When he has time, he emails me back.
Do I worry about him? Sometimes, when I let fear invade my thinking, I’ll spend a few minutes imagining the worst. Given that I was raised by parents that infused me with worry, and characteristically communicated a message of fear when I told them about his trip, I guess that’s to be expected. I’m getting better. A lifetime spent learning to face down my fears and making good faith efforts to beat back the irrational helps.
Reading Mark’s regular posts provide signposts each day, here in late spring, awaiting the arrival of summer. I’m sure that the summer of 2010 will forever be known as “the summer Mark walked across the country.” I’m proud of him. It takes guts, and determination to walk 25-30 miles each day. Cars whiz by, law enforcement regularly stops you. Food and water can be a problem. So far, people that he’s met have been friendly and even helpful. The woman that cut his hair in Georgia took him out to lunch and gave him a can of mace. A man at the beginning of the trip gave him a lucky dollar. He gave it to the pizza man last night as a tip.
I’d like to get out on the road at some point this summer with my son. We’ve shared baseball and basketball. We’ve talked about books, politics, and life. I’d like to walk alongside him at some point; maybe later in the summer.
If you see someone walking (or biking) on the side of the road, slow down, be respectful of their right to be there—by law, they actually have that right. On the other hand, I recognize that roads are for cars, trucks, and distracted drivers who sometimes can pose danger to those not ensconced in tons of metal and alloy.
One thing that happened to me when Mark hitchhiked across the country is that I came to view hitchhikers differently. I rarely pass one now without stopping to offer a ride. Mark’s walk now has me on the lookout for wayfarers in my path that might need a helping hand.
Mark’s blog posts have already offered me insights into a part of the country I know little about, other than from books, and the often skewered way that southerners are portrayed on television, and in the movies.
When the trip has been completed, and Mark’s last step on his journey is taken, he’ll have a firsthand knowledge of his country that very us have the chance to acquire.
As Neil Young sang, “Walk On.”