Odyssey West: Walking the back roads from Emerald Isle to Yaquina Lighthouse
Published 12:40 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2016
No rides. No interstate. Nothing but the country and a racing stroller named Hodor the Carrier ahead.
Chris West of Newport, North Carolina, is 38 days into his journey walking from coast to coast. He began on March 13 at Emerald Isle, North Carolina and is on his way to the Yaquina Lighthouse in Oregon.
For a couple zero-days, days in which he gains no miles, he made a stop to visit his mother’s side of the family in Elizabethton, Tennessee. After hiking a portion of his journey on the Appalachian Trail (AT), he said the stop in Elizabethton gave his legs some much-needed rest.
His family, including his mom Janette West, cousin Nancy Hopson, grandparents Anges and Stuart “Haney” Blackburn, uncle Carroll Glover, and aunt Anna Hodge, said they were thrilled to have him visit.
“When somebody wants to do something I want to see them do it — as long as it’s worth while,”his grandmother said. “Everything will turn out fine.”
The 29-year-old has approximately 172 days and 3,100 miles ahead of him.
After reading stories of hikers completing the AT or the Pacific Crest Trail, the allure of cross-country adventure got in his blood.
“Planning the trip helped me to overcome some anxiety and depression issues I had last year,” West said.
He read everything he could about thru-hikes and cross-country adventure and felt his internal compass pointing West.
“I’ve always liked the outdoors and wanted to do something like the Appalachian Trail, and the more I read about coast-to-coast walkers, I found something in their stories that resonated with me,” West said. “Next thing I knew, I was on Google Earth plotting my route.”
He enjoys trail running but said he had never thru-hiked or hiked long-distance. He said he began to read everything he could and then met a 69-year-old man walking from Dana Point, California to Emerald Isle, North Carolina, near West’s home.
“Meeting him solidified my goals,” West recalled.
His reading led him to stories of men and women making the solo trek, approximately 3,600 miles across the country.
“I read about people who walked it with dogs, and even a guy who walked it with a goat,” West said.
“It’s still a rare thing compared to the number of hikers on the Pacific Crest and AT,” West said. “Everyone has a different story, but a lot of experiences are very similar.”
Though he planned the trip and is almost completely on track with his schedule, there is one thing he didn’t quite expect.
“It’s been more lonely than I thought it would be, but it’s been an incredible journey with countless amounts of interesting, nice people.”
He said he has been surprised by the amount of hospitality and assistance that local law enforcement officers and city staff have provided.
“They can recommend safe places to camp,” West said. “They’ve been extremely helpful. I camped behind a Police Department once and in a town park. I had the Police Chief of Mars Hill take me back to his house for burgers. There’s been lots of trail magic.”
While in North Carolina, he was able to stay with friends and said he had a bed and a shower most nights. On other nights, he camps at campgrounds, parks, or wherever local law enforcement recommends.
Among the myriad of characters with whom he has interacted were the North Carolina Tarheels, the Carolina Cruisers traveling RV retirees, thru-hikers on the AT, a photographer for Our State Magazine, cross-country bikers
“All the AT hikers were incredible people with unique stories of their own,” said West. “It was finally nice to actually walk and talk with people for a change.”
On one night, he had just set up his tent when a member of the Carolina Cruisers approached him and invited him to eat with them. In comparison to dehydrated meals and standard hiker food, he said that was one delicious invite.
“They had barbecue, cole slaw, sweet tea, and banana pudding,” said West. “I met all of them and before the end of the night, they had pulled together $100 for me. I was speechless.”
Though he has been walking alone, other than a short stint on the AT, he said the kindness of people has not ceased to amaze him.
“I kind of got in the right mind-set before going, but was still left speechless by the hospitality and generosity of general strangers and how excited people can get about a guy just walking across America,” said West.
Though he is hoofing it for adventure, he is also hiking for a cause. As someone who himself struggled with anxiety and depression, he felt it appropriate to use the trip that helped him to manage his anxiety as a tool to assist others. Proceeds from a Gofundme account will help cover the cost of his trip and the remainder will go to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
He budgeted his trip according to the advice of others that had completed the trek, at $1 per mile. He anticipates it will cost him nearly $4,000, and the rest of the money he raises will be donated to the ADAA. Thus far, he has raised $1,180 and has a goal of $5,000, but seeing the generosity of people thus far, he could collect well above that.
“Usually when I tell people where my proceeds are going they open right up an either they or their family or friend has dealt with anxiety or depression, and meeting me means more to them after that,” said West.
He said some people have told him he was an inspiration to them and that they wish they could do something like this.
“Everyone has that big dream trip they want to do wether it’s the AT or something like this,” West said. “I would say regardless of what kind of trip it is, if you want to do it, put in the research time and make sure it’s something hat you really want to do, and go do it.”
He said after reading everything he could, he was still in love with the idea.
After 11 months of planning and now 38 days into the journey, he is averaging about 17.5 miles per day. He began the trek with a backpack but is now walking behind a jogging stroller, which he said helps him to cover closer to 20 miles daily.
“A guy outside of a restaurant asked me if I had a baby in the stroller,” West side, humored. “I get that question a lot. He asked if I liked basketball and that led to me meeting the Tarheels inside. They had just made the Final Four.”
He set out on the Tweetsie Trail at Lion’s Field this morning headed to Browns Mill Road in Johnson City and on to the West. He will take a train home and still plans to be wearing his USA hat when his feet are back to treading on home soil.
“It’s seen perspiration, pollination and precipitation,” West said of his rather fitting hat.
He plans to keep hotels and motels to a minimum and to accept no rides for the duration of his venture.
“I’m trying to connect my footsteps as much as possible.”