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Veteran walks across country to see America

Posted: August 9, 2017 - 1:04am
North Augustan and Army veteran Mike Schmidt is about 640 miles into his walk across the U.S.
North Augustan and Army veteran Mike Schmidt is about 640 miles into his walk across the U.S.

As he travels on foot across America, Mike Schmidt has no room for extras. He's already carrying a backpack, tent, several bottles of water and four changes of clothing, but he does have something sentimental with him - a journal with about 148 first names written in it.

"I write down the names of people who help me, people who pull over and give me a bottle of water," said Schmidt, who left North Augusta to start his trek in Delaware on April 3.

Last week, Schmidt was in Bloomington, Ind., about 640 miles into his journey, which will end in San Francisco later this year.

An Army veteran who once worked a corporate job, the 33-year-old had always had a desire to see the United States. Instead of driving, however, he decided to hike it. He started his quest in 2016, but had to put it on hold while he was treated for testicular cancer.

So far, his journey has taken him from the Atlantic Ocean through the Appalachian Mountains. The current leg is taking him through various small towns, where he often stops at a locally owned diner and strikes up conversations with people over a cup of coffee.

"People are really nice," he said. "Especially if you give them a chance to tell their story."

And people he's never met and will likely never see again have gone out of their way to help him. Many people pull over and offer him rides, but he declines because he wants to make the trip by walking. But sometimes it leads to a conversation or an invitation to have dinner in someone's home.

Along the way, he works odd jobs. He recently learned how to milk a cow.

He's camped in the backyards of people he's met. He took an excursion on someone's sailboat even though he's "deathly afraid of water," he said.

Some people are suspicious of him at first. He said he's gotten comments from people who thought he was a deadbeat looking for a handout.

That's not what this trip is about. It's about fulfilling a dream. If he can talk to people long enough, they understand it, especially if the conversation makes it to his eight-year stint in the Army and his cancer diagnosis.

"They know I'm trying to follow my dream. I'm doing something that resonates with people. They may not want to walk across the country, but they have dreams," he said. "You just have to do it. There will never be a right time."

Even so, there have been times when Schmidt wanted to call it quits.

In West Virginia, he went through a stretch of forest that cut him off from the rest of the world. He had no cell phone service, and there were no small-town diners where he could stop in to interact with people. He'd set up his tent, and that night before he went to sleep, an animal crashed into the side of his tent. He wasn't sure what it was, but it was frightening, he said.

"Before I went to sleep, I'd made up my mind I wasn't walking any more," he said.

The next morning, however, he had to walk at least to get to a place where he could make a phone call. By the time he reached a town, his resolve had been strengthened to finish what he'd started.

Schmidt has an overall idea of his route to the West Coast. He estimates arriving in San Francisco between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

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