December 22, 2013

Inspiration of all kinds leads to cross-country treks

Some go for a specific cause while others are inspired for reasons they can’t quite quantify.

By Allen G. Breed
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Transcontinental walkers, from left, Benjamin Lee, Jonathon Stalls, Lacey Champion, Joe Bell, Nate Damm, and kneeling, Bell’s son Joseph, gather in Boulder, Colo., last August. At any given time, as many as 20 people are attempting to cross the United States on foot, Damm estimates.

The Associated Press/Lacey Champion

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Steven Wescott walks with his goat, LeeRoy Brown, along a street in Lenexa, Kan., last month. The two have been walking since May 2, 2012, from Seattle to New York City to raise money for an orphanage in Kenya.

The Associated Press

Truth is, the 19-year-old Manchester, Conn., men were just out for one last big adventure before heading to Marine boot camp.

“I just wanted to get out of there,” Ross said while waiting out a recent snowstorm in a donated Colorado motel room. “I figured it would be a great way to get in shape, a great way to see our country.”

But over time, Ross and Crawford decided their trek did need some higher purpose. Both men’s families had been touched by cancer. They decided to walk for the Livestrong Foundation, with a goal of raising $20,000 toward finding a cure.

Some cross-country trekkers carry everything on their backs; most push carts. Steve Wescott has a goat with canvas saddlebags.

“He wasn’t supposed to be a gimmick,” the Seattle man said as he struggled to keep LeeRoy Brown from straying onto busy U.S. 40 outside Kansas City, Kan., on a recent blustery afternoon. “He was just going to help carry the load, and now he is the reason why people talk to me.”

With their matching chin whiskers, Wescott and LeeRoy make quite the pair. Wearing a reflective vest over his red fleece jacket, Wescott flashes the “Peace” sign at passing vehicles as LeeRoy trots along beside him, a red bandanna tied around his neck.

The 34-year-old rock guitarist had already been thinking of walking the country when his bandmates voted him out of the group. He and LeeRoy have been walking since May 2, 2012, to raise money for an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Their goal is New York City’s Times Square.

He knows there are easier ways to raise money. But this way, he gets “to see the kindness of America.”

“I want 5,000 people to give $5,” he said. “I want to get to New York and say, ‘Look what WE built.’ ”

TRAGEDY ON TOP OF TRAGEDY

When Joe Bell emerged from the fog of his despair over his son’s suicide, he was seized by a desperate need to help others see what he could not.

He took a leave from his job of 17 years at a Boise Cascade plywood mill and began mapping out his route to New York City – a place Jadin had visited on an eighth-grade field trip, and where he had dreamed of someday living.

On April 20, Bell said goodbye to his wife, Lola Lathrop, and their 13-year-old son, Joseph, and set out, pushing a loaded three-wheeled cart.

With two artificial knees, the 48-year-old’s gait was brisk, but awkward.

Barely a week out, angry red sores erupted on his feet; the skin beneath his toes cracked open and bled.

As he walked, Bell stopped at schools, libraries, community centers, bars – anyplace where he could share his son’s story.

But Bell would not finish his trek.

He was walking along two-lane U.S. 40 about 20 miles northwest of Kit Carson, Colo., around dusk on Oct. 9 when the driver of a tractor-trailer hauling Idaho potatoes to Texas apparently fell asleep at the wheel.

According to the Colorado State Patrol, Bell was walking with the flow of traffic, and was struck from behind and killed.

In a video posted the day before his death, Bell was upbeat, despite an obvious limp.

“I’m not a spring chicken anymore, that’s for sure,” he said with a chuckle. Still, even though he could feel winter coming, he was undaunted.

“This is what I’m out here for,” he said, “is to make change.”

Now, volunteers have pledged to raise $1 million and walk a million miles in Bell’s honor.

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