- 8.23.10 - 3:00PM
- - by
- Cole Stryker
Mark Baumer Walks Across USA, Blogs it, Gives Urlesque Epic Interview
I have followed Mark Baumer's cross-continental journey for months. He spent months walking across the country, and not like that Levi's-sponsored video. He actually did it. And he told the tale on his blog as he walked via his phone. Here is his story.
Before he began answering my questions, he wrote:
Read on for a fascinating interview with Mark about running around naked and bloody down the highway, among other things.My feet are still numb. I have not walked in two and a half weeks and my toes still do not have feeling. I cannot put on sandals with my eyes closed. The tips of my toes are tingling. My immune system is suffering too. I have been sick a week. I took two Benadryl so I will be tired soon.
Urlesque: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Baumer: In the winter of my twenty-fifth year I asked my girlfriend for $70 so I could apply to the MFA writing program at Brown. Someone began giving me money to create content for a pet website. I began going to movies every Friday. Los Angeles began to fill the hole burrowed into my belief in an idea I was now somewhat capable of forming. A few months passed. I made pictures of cats with thought bubbles and dogs wearing sunglasses. A man named Gail who worked at Brown called me and asked if I wanted to move to Providence and attend the university. I said, "Sure," and asked if they would give me money. Gail said, "I personally won't give you money, but someone will give you money." I moved to Providence. Someone gave me money. I used some of the money to walk across America.
What inspired you to embark on this journey?
My dad said he would give me a million dollars if I walked across America. Somewhere in Louisiana I remembered my father didn't have a million dollars. I became very sad. I almost gave up on the trip, but a man in a pickup stopped and said, "I will give you a million dollars if you let me be your father." I thought of this man in the pickup hugging me and kissing my forehead. I got scared. I started walking again. The pickup left. I began to cry. I continued walking. I did not stop. I forgave my father for not being a millionaire.
Got any advice for would-be cross-country trekkers?
Before I began the trip I visited many bookstores and looked at thousands of shelves full of guidebooks on how to walk. I Googled the idea of walking on the internet and came up with 64 million in less than 0.241833 seconds. I did not read a single sentence about how to walk across the United States before I left. Everything and everyone in the world will try to give you advice on any journey you decide to take. I suggest you ignore them all. Let the road take you where it wants you to go. Throw yourself into a trip. Use your common sense. If you try to gather every piece of advice before you leave you will never leave. A journey isn't a journey if you have every footstep planned out.
What was your strategy for staying fed, hydrated, etc.?
Strategy #1 lasted about two days and consisted of five cans of tuna, ten carrot cake Clif bars, a jar of peanut butter, two 1L Nalgene bottles I repeatedly refilled with water, an empty 3L camelback water sack that remained unfilled, and a bag of almonds. For two days I stopped at every gas station I passed to fill up my water bottles and wash my hands. I ate four Clif bars. At gas stations and convenience stores I either bought an apple or banana or a bag of overpriced trail mix. I did not eat any almonds. I ate Subway twice. I did not feel very hungry the first two days. I ate because I figured it was important to eat.
Strategy #2 lasted about three hours and consisted of a Starbucks iced tea and leftover pork chops. On the third day of my trip I stopped in Statesboro, Georgia and drank an iced tea and then went to Wal-Mart. Outside of Wal-Mart a woman asked if I wanted to spend the night in her family's guest bedroom. I said I would. She brought me home and fed me porkchops.
Strategy #3 spanned maybe five or six days. In Statesboro, Georgia I bought a baby carriage. I filled it with canned tuna, trail mix, peanut butter, and apple sauce. There was no order to what I bought. I stopped for sandwiches when there was a place to stop for sandwiches. One time I was looking for a place to buy a sandwich but they were all closed so I got a haircut and when I finished with the haircut a lady said, "Let's go eat some fried chicken and cane syrup." So I went with the lady and ate the fried chicken and drank sweet tea.
Strategy #4 lasted about three hours in Macon, Georgia and consisted of sitting around while a friend of a friend grilled some meat and vegetables. It was one of the most relaxing moments of the entire trip. I sat on the floor cross-legged and ate the grilled meat and vegetables. In the morning I ate a bowl of cereal.
Strategy #5 was a return of sorts to strategy #3. The only difference is I now carried an emergency gallon jug of water in the carriage. I continued buying bread and peanut butter at grocery stores and filling up my water bottles at gas stations. I also filled up my 3L camelback water pack whenever I had a chance. This strategy of buying random groceries and throwing them into my carriage lasted through Georgia and Alabama. At one point I stopped at a Subway in Tuskegee, Alabama and a woman was talking on the phone and her child asked her a question and the woman slapped him. I ate a cold cut trio.
(Ed. Note: Mark gave me five more strategies. They were interesting, but this is a blog.)
What were your sleeping arrangements?
The first two weeks I slept in a tent, but then the tent broke. I did not like the tent. I bought a chair at Wal-Mart for $9. I slept in the chair the majority of the nights. I would sit in the chair and then prop my legs on the food bin. The only time I didn't sleep in a chair was when I got a motel room. I usually slept in a bed when I got a motel room. The safest place to sleep was under the awning of a church. For much of Mississippi, Louisiana, and east Texas I slept under awnings at churches. In west Texas and New Mexico I mostly slept ten to twenty feet from the interstate. I was never bothered by people or animals when I was sleeping. Occasionally ants would attack my food bin while I slept. They were a small nuisance and I got into the habit of taping my lid shut at night. Another nuisance was the spotlight of law enforcement. On a few occasions I woke up to a law enforcement spotlight asking me questions. I answered the spotlight's questions and then it shut off and drove away and I went back into sleep.
Did you get hassled along the way?
Aside from one incident in Alabama the police officers and highway patrolmen I met from Georgia through New Mexico were mostly curious and only stopped me to make sure I was alright. Arizona posed my first real problem. A little outside of Tucson a highway patrolman and patrolwoman stopped me. They told me I couldn't be on the interstate. They said, "Either walk back to the nearest exit [exit 279 which was a mile behind me] or follow the dirt trail bordering the highway." The highway patrol officers would not let me continue walking west for another couple miles and vacate the interstate at exit 275. Because I refused to retrace my steps I decided to follow the dirt path. Unfortunately, a barbwire fence separated me from the dirt path. I had to empty my cart and lift it and all my supplies over the barbwire fence individually. The whole time the two officers watched me and did not offer to help me over the barbwire fence. It seems funny now that they said they were worried about my safety and used 'safety' as a reason why I couldn't be on the interstate but let me climb over a barbwire fence. At this point in the trip my legs were mostly useless in any activity besides walking in a straight line and I was basically being forced to climb over a barbwire fence. Luckily, I'm tall and was able to use my food bin to prop myself up and over the fence but there was a brief second when I was straddling the barbwire that I wished I would suffered major wounds from the fence and then could run to the highway patrol bleeding and cursing and hug them and bleed on their uniforms and not stop screaming until they were forced to draw their weapons and then I would get naked and run bare and bleeding across the highway and they would have to shoot at me, but instead they would shoot a man driving a Range Rover because I am very fast when I am naked and the man driving the Range Rover would get pissed and sue the highway patrol and the patrol officers would lose their jobs and at some point I would stop bleeding and get dressed.
What surprised you about your trip?
People are good and god might be real.
Did you meet any interesting people or animals?
I saw a coyote kill a rabbit.
Any problems with weather?
In Texas it rained for three days
How did you dress?
At the start of the trip I planned to wear a Hartford Whalers hockey jersey the entire trip along with two pairs of swim trunks I would rotate every five or six days. After the first day I did not wear the hockey jersey again. The sleeves were too short and my forearms got burned. Instead, I wore a long-sleeve, collared, white, synthetic shirt from LL Beans. I continued to wear the shorts even though the back of my legs were getting burned. Sunscreen lotion was an option, but I didn't enjoy the oily feel it left on my body. Around the beginning of week three I bought two long sleeve white synthetic shirts and a pair of white Dickies painters pants from Wal-Mart. For the rest of the trip I was dressed in white from head to toe. I wore this hat the entire trip and it was my best purchase.
What did you take away from the experience?
I am not sure yet. Since it has finished the trip does not feel real. I am not sure if I did what I did. It is now in the past and I have had trouble looking back on it.
Any further plans for long walks?
Nothing on the horizon, but I do want to do other trips. I have an idea for a bike trip in which the goal would be to produce a net waste of zero. By all means I am not an environmental extremist, but after spending two days walking through Georgia smelling the waste being hauled to a landfill and passing huge landfill craters in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona I've begun to give the environment more thought. In my travels I definitely added to the problem as I usually produced a shopping bag full of trash each day. Some companies (Bear Naked granola) have started programs where you can mail them the packaging and they will recycle it. The bike trip I have in mind would take advantage of such programs and request similar type programs from other companies whose products I would consume. My pipe dream would be to have Chipotle sponsor the trip and somehow come up with a plan to recycle the tinfoil of all the burritos I eat or maybe even make a giant tinfoil ball and deliver it to the company headquarters.
Was there any point at which you thought, "What am I doing?" or were tempted to quit?
For the first three or four weeks I ended each day with thoughts of sadness, but quitting was usually difficult because when I had moments of sadness I was usually in the middle of nowhere and it was easier to keep walking than to quit. I'm not even sure how I would have quit. I guess it would have been some combination of stopping, hitching a ride, and then going to an airport. This all seems like quite an effort. Walking was much easier.
How did you maintain an internet connection/battery power to update your blog?
I have a Motorola Cliq. I'm not sure if it's a good phone but it connects me to the internet and Google Maps. I probably did 99% of my blog updates on my phone. From Georgia to Sweetwater Texas I charged my phone off random power outlets at Subway, middle schools, churches, and gas stations. On the rare occasion when my phone was dead and I wasn't near an outlet I charged my phone off a netbook computer I had brought with me on the trip but used very little. In Sweetwater I got a solar charger at RadioShack which helped my phone stay charged through west Texas and Arizona.
What was it like being removed from society/pop culture for so long?
I have no idea what music is popular anymore. I asked a friend what the summer jam of 2010 was and he gave me a few songs, but I haven't listened to them. He also said I was on the cover of the new Eminem album. I've seen the cover. It's Eminem walking down a road. I guess that could be me. People seemed to be going crazy over Justin Bieber before I left and I imagine they still are. As for the rest of society and pop culture I tried to ignore it. Early in the trip my goal was to not to read the internet and I succeeded for the most part. My dad would give me basketball updates in the daily emails he sent. I was hoping Steve Nash and the Suns would win it all even though I'm a Boston fan. I have this weird fascination with all the great players getting their championships. I'm always disappointed in repeat champions. The only exception was Lebron. For the past two years I accepted the idea that once he started winning championships he wouldn't stop for five or six years. This idea seemed okay with him wearing a Cavs uniform. Now it doesn't which is okay. I think Lebron taking his talents to South Beach was a good thing. It sprouted a lot of hatred. Sports are better when there is hatred.
I finished the trip. I flew home. I saw a friend who likes soccer. I said, "Too bad about the US soccer team." He said, "They won their group, but I guess they should have beaten Ghana." I was confused. For over a month I thought the US soccer team had tied twice, lost their final game, and gone home. My friend then went on to tell me about the greatest victory in US soccer history. He explained Donovan's goal in extra time against Algeria. He told me about barrooms erupting in screams and flying beverages across the United States and how this all seemed to lead to chants of 'USA'. He said, "It was one of the greatest moments of my life." I've since seen highlights of the goal and the US team piling on Donovan. I've watched more than twenty videos of barrooms from around the United States turn into a frenzy after the goal and then begin chanting USA as if scripted. Each video I watch gives me chills. These recordings from across the United States have re-inspired my belief in America and sports more than any moment from my walk across the United States.
- link:// Mark Baumer's blog
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