Willmar notebook: Crossing America — One step at a time
The man pushing the carriage down the highway, wisely wearing a reflective vest and smartly walking against the traffic, stirred my curiosity. I circled back.
He was headed west on U.S. Highway 12. An attached American flag indicated he was walking into the wind.
The man was on his way to Benson this day and beyond that Washington state where I-5 reaches the Canada border at British Columbia.
He had begun this footloose journey in North Carolina on April 1 in Columbia, a small town not far from Kitty Hawk.
He parked “Sam.” his three-wheel stroller, and joined me in the van, beyond the reach of the skeeters, invigorated by the morning rain.
“My name is Bruce Maynard,” he said extending his hand.
Bruce told me he turned 79 on June 30 and this is the third time he has walked across the country.
“I carry two pair of shoes,” he said. “I don’t like these Nikes,” he said of the white athletic shoes he wore. “The heels wear out too fast. I like Brooks best, but they’re hard to fine.”
He’s a widower. His wife died in 1999 after an eight year fight with breast cancer.
He started his long walks in March 2010. With a sense of drama, he started at the Peace Arch at the border with Vancouver, B.C. “With one foot in the U.S. and the other in Canada” and he walked the country diagonally via Denver to Key West.
The second time he walked to Southern California along Highway 101, then to Texas, along Lake Pontchartrain to Jacksonville, Fla., and up to Wilmington, N.C.
“Hurricane Irene came along about that time and I stayed eight months volunteering with the cleanup,” he said.
On each journey returning from the east coast, he has stopped in DeKalb, Ill., 90 miles west of Chicago, to visit his sister at a nursing home. He came into Minnesota at LeRoy and made his way, quite by chance, to Austin, where a TV station did a piece on him, and then to Blooming Prairie.
“I had the most wonderful time there,” he said. “Someone found out from my blog that it was my birthday and they held a party. It was so nice. People came out and cheered me along and kids walked with me.”
Gump-like, he has a following.
He posts text and many (excellent) photos daily on his Facebook page “Sam and Me.”
Sunday night he stayed at the Knights Inn in Litchfield, he reported, getting the special “$50 room rate for cross-country walkers.”
Monday he walked on to Willmar, on an 80-degree day, and stayed at the Cozy Inn. He ate the next morning at Frieda’s — “a magnificent breakfast” — before continuing westward.
Bruce is a trim 6-foot-2 with a curly head of hair, only part grey. He said his weight (210 pounds), stays steady. He and his wife owned an import business; he calls Bellingham, Wash., home but no longer owns a house there. He lives on social security checks, handouts and donations.
He’s outgoing and genuine, which helps when your only shelter is a small tent and a day or two worth of food. He speaks with passion about the need for exercise.
“My whole purpose is to get the message out of what I personally have learned,” he said. “I learned from what my wife went through that it’s not pills or doctors but attitude and exercise, pure and simple. More the better.”
During his wife’s long illness he educated himself in the lymphatic system.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d include this,” he said in a friendly tone. “It’s the key to good health and the immune system. The only way the fluids move through this system is when we move and our muscles work. Humans are so sedate. We need to be more active and that’s not just a short bike ride or a quick walk.”
OK, OK. I get it. I made a mental note to do better.
I stared at him; he looked much younger than someone born in 1934.
And off he went down the highway in his bright vest and the American Flag trailing along. He was about to cross the waters of Hawk Creek on its way to New Orleans. I wondered if he’ll take a photo. You can follow Bruce Maynard’s long and remarkable road at http://seniorswalkingacrossamerica.blogspot.com.