We meet some incredible people on our travels who make Larissa and me seem like a couple of slackers. Such an encounter happened when we were visiting Death Valley National Park on a typical steamy summer day. With the temperature hovering around 114 degrees we saw a young man wearing a luminous lime-green vest, long sleeve shirt, long pants and a broad-brimmed straw floppy hat as he pushed one of those baby jogging strollers full of food and camping gear. Since we were roasting in our shorts and t-shirts we just had to ask what the heck he was doing.
Michael Stafford is a 27-year-old native of Erie, Pennsylvania who is walking across America. He set out from Virginia Beach on January 4th and hopes to reach the San Francisco area by mid-July. It’s truly an awe-inspiring accomplishment and reveals the life of someone who doesn’t worry about what lays beyond the next bend in the road. The 2007 Penn State graduate is remarkably composed about his accomplishment so far.
The walk is not part of some grand plan. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for the past eight years. It’s always been sitting there in the back of my mind,” Michael said. He takes back roads and avoids interstates, the better to experience the sweeping landscape of America and its small towns along the way.
I asked him if he would be like Forrest Gump, see the Pacific Ocean, turn around and repeat the journey in the other direction? That’s when his obvious weariness kicked in, “Oh no,” he replied. “I’ll just want to rest.”
As for his plans after he reaches his goal he is remarkably sanguine. What will he do next? “I don’t know, but it’s okay to have unknowns in life. I’ll find something that will come up,” Michael stated.
After our chat with Michael we climbed back somewhat guiltily into our air-conditioned car. As we pulled away Michael gave us a wave as he took off down the lonely road deeper into Death Valley.
You can follow Michael’s journey on his blog at Mike Hikes. For those of you seeking tips for a similar journey he was wearing Naot sandals.
Another remarkable traveler we’ve met is Vladimir Yarets, a deaf mute motorcyclist form Belarus who is motorcycling around the globe.