I do my best thinking afoot, and I suppose that’s how this all came about. The idea was simple; left foot, right foot, repeat, all the way across the continent. Starting out from south of San Francisco, going north along the Pacific till it seemed time to turn east, against the mountains and what lay behind, and so again down to a different ocean. A walk from sea to sea.
I had thought by this point to have figured it all out. Now in my twenty-seventh year, it seemed I should be well settled to some job, some place, some calling, if you will - to be advancing towards my life's goal. I still haven't got any of that sorted, and expect, as times goes, to be even less sure of it. I've had my turns of feeling deficient, but I've come past it to this new endeavor.
Between San Francisco and the Atlantic lay an undiscovered country, the fabled land of fruited plains and purple mountains. I'd passed thru it, and over it, a number of times since coming to California from New York, but could not say I knew it. Places, if not blank spots on the map, were certainly little filled in my mind. I had no idea about a place with a name like Oregon. And Montana brought little up, but by the sound of it a place as powerful in beauty and silence as the land to which I had come. Minnesota meant the sound of water to me. I knew a few folks from Michigan, and so had vague associations. Idaho meant nothing. Thousands of miles - and years - of history and Lewis and Clark might as well have never left. It's an intimidating blankscape.
I spent hours looking over maps in astonishment at the places one could go, if there were time and inclination. Shasta. Olympic. Tetons. Glacier. Acadia. At first, I had wanted at first to see every state, and all places, but that idea had dimmed after California. I had arrived there at a point where I needed the community I found but didn't know it yet. The people I met accepted my character and behavior with enthusiasm and celebration. In the three years spent among them, they became the friends I could not replace. We lived, slept, ate, laughed, and loved together. I was perfectly happy. Naturally, I had to leave.
I could remain, contentedly, in California, and leave that whole middle section untouched and untroubled - a lost continent - or get out before I got too comfortable, before I gave up on wondering what else there was. That's how this idea came about, and the time come round for it. Signs seemed to be everywhere telling me to get up, go, move, do. The friends I love were moving on to other places, I decided to leave my own job for reasons that remain personal, I did not get accepted to any positions I had applied for, I still slept alone, I had no car. The time I had half-wished upon myself was now there in spades. But still, diminishing.
I fancy I am young yet, and plenty able, but can guess with fair accuracy it won't always be so. Middle age is now less than a decade away and the comforts I would care to enjoy then - a family, land, the satisfaction of youth well spent - I have made little progress towards. This may well be an opportunity not to come a second time.
Too, I was looking to experience that richness of spirit that comes with good living, with breathing good air and sleeping in the grass. I wanted to find again a joy I have touched, and always in nature. I have felt absolute quivering raptures up in a tree, beneath a manzanita bush, and under a lake, among other places. I have never felt rejected by nature. Always, nature has been a place of comfort, the understanding teacher, the loving relative, who takes me in when I can't make rent. I have felt the sweep of an overflowing gut rush that can only be love when in that great presence, amazed by all the ways a world can whisper its adoration.
This, also, hangs on time. I wanted to see it before its gone. I'd read from the great writers, and heard from those of elder generations, that the green space was greater, and there was more of it to be young in, when they were off having their own adventures. It was a continent not quite conquered, and perhaps still isn't, but there were more of those things wild then. The bison, the wolves, the bear, had gone not long after the people who put up their last defense. Then the forests were cleared, the towns came up, and roads, roads for everyone everywhere it seems, as a restless people got a notion to get up and move and go somewhere, anywhere for any reason. Even to see just how green that grass could get.
I was restless myself, but I wanted to go to places besides where the roads would lead me and I didn't want to sit around while the last of the good places were swept away. I didn't want to tell my grandchildren that there had been giants, but I never saw them, and nor would they. I didn't want to miss out. I wanted to see that other side.
For years I have wondered at the amazement of the Spanish explorers and the 19th century naturalists for the plenitude of life and majesty that splits and spreads itself over every acre of this land. What a sight it must have been to see the Appalachians go white with chestnut bloom, and big bluestem brush the bellies of the buffalo, and the Central Valley blossom as a lake of flowers. That's all gone now. Neither I nor anyone can see what they saw, but I can see as they saw.
Years have made me no smarter. I'm ever surprised by marks of time I find in the mirror, yet still feel as bewildered as an adolescent, just getting a hang on things. I am a 26 year old boy with no clue on how to be a man. I'm not sure where the division was supposed to lie, and I have as yet found no trace of it.
This then, would be that mark that splits my time in two. Years afterward would be reckoned as 'that had been before' and 'that had been after.' It would be the meridian beyond which I could claim to have done something worthwhile, that I could boast without shame, yet never need to. To have done it, or to have heard said "that one crossed the continent on foot" is enough. The doing of it is easy. You walk, you get tired, you rest, you get up and walk again. And so on to the sea. It's just a long way.