Ed Walks: A 3,000 Mile Conversational Journey by Foot

“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process; a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.” – John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Today I launched edwalks.com, as well as an Indiegogo campaign for an unprecedented oral history project that will unfold in real time.

On May 15, 2013, I aim to walk 3,000 miles across America over the course of approximately six months, starting in Brooklyn and ending in San Francisco. I plan to talk with many people along the way, asking them about their lives and writing dispatches as I make my way from town to town.

When Sir George Mallory was asked why he wished to climb Everest, he replied, “Because it’s there.” When pressed on why he was walking across America four decades ago, the pioneering travel writer Peter Jenkins answered, “To get to know the country.”

The horizontal journey, with its vast stretch and uncountable hours, doesn’t always share the heroic gravitas of its vertical cousin. But while the trip upward is fueled by the thrill of being first to plant a pole in a peak, the long hike across a wide expanse demands a deeper purpose. It beckons us to learn from the land.

A 3,000 Mile Conversational Journey by Foot

I’ll be walking fifteen to twenty miles a day and pitching my tent where I can, going out of my way to visit many overlooked towns. And after I finish this cross-country journey, I will edit these conversations into a far-reaching multipart radio narrative spanning twelve states.

As I make my way west, these adventures will also be chronicled in real time at edwalks.com. Imagine a Studs Terkel for the digital age or Charles Kuralt traveling around America on foot. I don’t claim to be their equal, but these are some of the inspirations who will guide me into finding distinct insights into the everyday experiences we take for granted.

How Will Your Donation Help?

As a regular walker who has completed two Great Saunters, I believe that I can make it to the end. But a six month project like this requires financial resources, which will be devoted to food, lodging, technological services, and equipment that will keep me transmitting communications from the road. Because paying journalism outlets no longer support original and ambitious projects of this nature, I am turning to Indiegogo to see if we can make history and come to know our country better. You can help out here.

Your gracious donations will create an oral history project unfolding in real time. Your invaluable generosity, no matter what the contribution amount, will forge an unprecedented chronicle of American life in 2013. Think of this as a microbudget Federal Writers Project for the 21st century.

The perks have been designed so that many of the rewards are allocated before the walk.

If you can’t donate, then please spread the word so that others can.

What’s the Route?

The route will take me through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Some of the cities I plan to walk through include Pittsburgh, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Gary, Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, Rock Springs, Carson City, and Sacramento.

However, there are a few Indiegogo perks which could change the route.

So Once the Project is Funded, You Start Walking?

Yes. The walk is scheduled to begin on May 15, 2013. Once the project is fully funded, you will be able to read the dispatches at edwalks.com for free. And when the radio narrative of these conversations is finished, you will also be able to listen to these shows for free.

Thank you for any help you can provide.

Along Central Park’s Perimeter

Saturday morning’s walk extended, to my surprise, across six miles in Manhattan. Mammoth bleachers for the Thanksgiving Day Parade were settled and half-unpacked by imposing tractors, stretched in sequential array upon the western edge of Central Park from West 81st to somewhere in the seventies, more no doubt to follow in the forthcoming days. There were numerous dogs — one unduly burdened by a carriage attached to his hind legs, as if he were a miniature Ben-Hur steed in service to his owner. I had thought that this poor dog had suffered an injured leg, and that the owner had attached the carriage to provide locative succor. But the contraption appeared more in the service of the owner, who didn’t seem to be aware that dogs could perambulate as fast, if not faster, than mere humans. A boy no more than seven years of age observed this rigged dog and thought him special by way of the wheels, but I felt sad for the dog, who was pressed to move faster by his master.

The bleachers were something of a burden, for they impeded steady foot traffic and we were forced to cross the street, contending with oppressive red lights, which we defied by jaywalking, and pedestrians who didn’t shuffle down sidewalks with our celerity. Certainly, they had the right to saunter. But when you get into the groove of walking, it’s hard not to go hard-core and we weaved like cars desperately careening across lanes to make an appointment. But we had no particular destination in mind.

The poor pedicab drivers, mostly African-American, shiver in the cold along 59th Street, waiting for desperate fares. They are the modern rickshaws, but the tourists prefer the horses. The statue of poor General William Tecumseh Sherman — at 59th Street and Park, in considerable disrepair, with a fading gold sheen — is largely ignored by the tourists, who settle for the horse drawn carriages at $37 per half hour, when they can have this needlessly abandoned historical figure for free. Perhaps they disapprove of the general’s march or Trump’s gilded endowment from not long ago. I find myself commiserating with the forgotten historical figures interspersed throughout the five boroughs, sometimes addressing them directly. “Who are you?” I ask a statue with an unfamiliar name. I then begin to apologize to them personally for not knowing the history and start asking these bronzed and iron representations questions, for the plagues which depict their histories are often unsuitable. I never seem to receive answers, nor do I receive strange looks from other New Yorkers. Perhaps inquiries along these lines are a common practice, or perhaps nobody is as interested in the past as I am. I am forced to Google the info later.

Concerning Trump, easily the most wretched buildings along the southern edge of Central Park are the Trump condos, which are as inventive as an accountant taking on architecture as a hobby with their flat rectilinear exteriors and banal facades.

Near the end of this peregrination, I stepped into a Men’s Wearhouse just to time how long it would take for a salesman to approach me. Total interval: nine seconds. And I was besieged with endless questions about my suit size, the smart sartorial items I was presumably pining for, and the suggestion of smart pants. But I left the store, not particularly surprised at the aggressive sales tactic. At least the Men’s Wearhouse staff have the decency to stand away from the door, which is not the case with the Madison Avenue men’s clothing stores, who hound you within two to three seconds with pathological fervor. They stand right by the doors and one considers applying for a restraining order.

Generally speaking, no clothing was purchased, I’m afraid to report. But if you have nothing to purchase or nothing to see as a tourist, it’s often a defiance of other’s expectations when you randomly walk through the streets of New York.