Cross country walker nears halfway point
WORTHINGTON -- On May 8, standing on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Ocean Shores, Wash., Stacie Eichinger started walking.
Almost four months and 1,900 miles later, she expects to soon hit the halfway point of her journey somewhere between Jackson and Albert Lea.
As Eichinger walks towards her destination of Savannah, Ga., more than 3,800 miles from where she started, she continues to raise awareness for Beads for Courage, an organization that provides arts programs for children coping with serious illness. Children who participate in Beads for Courage receive colored beads that represent milestones, procedures and acts of bravery as they go through treatment. Based in Eichinger's hometown of Tucson, Ariz., Beads for Courage has programs in more than 60 children's hospitals in the United States, New Zealand and Japan.
An avid traveler, Eichinger said she wanted to walk across the U.S. since reading Walk Across America, a book chronicling a similar journey written by Peter Jenkins.
"That was about 12 years ago," she said. "I just knew that I always wanted to do it."
Eichinger started seriously planning her trip about three years ago when she found herself in the position to make her dream into a reality.
As Eichinger prepared for her trip, choosing to raise awareness for Beads for Courage was an easy decision after she had volunteered with the organization for nearly three years. She said that while the mission of the organization always appealed to her, it was when she started working with it that the children of Beads for Courage captured her heart.
"Once I got to meet the kids, they would pull out their strands of beads and they can tell you what every bead on there means," she said. "Just to see how much courage and strength it brings out in them is really powerful. It makes me aware of what I do every day."
Eichinger started planning her trip by researching the locations of hospitals that participate in Beads for Courage and selecting a route that allows her to visit many of the hospitals in the northern part of the U.S.
"I chose to stay pretty far north, and I knew I would hit more hospitals," she said. "Plus, I'd be able to see Mount Rushmore, which I had never seen before."
She also researched gear options and selected a three-wheel cart with an awning to carry needed supplies. The cart weighs nearly 100 pounds when fully packed, and it has been with Eichinger every step of the way.
She said she relied on the experience of other walkers to help her choose what to take with her on the trip.
"I contacted at least a dozen other walkers and read their blogs and just asked a lot of questions," she said.
Choosing the right shoes was just as important as choosing the best way to carry her gear. On a trip that spans thousands of miles, treating her feet right is a priority. She always carries a spare pair of shoes with her and is on her fourth and fifth pair -- they're expected to last a month each.
"I wear them until the tread is gone," she said. "Once the tread is gone, you know the mid-sole is shot."
While Eichinger carries camping gear with her, she often offered accommodations by people who have heard about her trip. She estimates she has stayed with at least 80 families.
"People have been so generous and so outgoing," she said. "I haven't run into any serious problems -- with people or animals for that matter."
Eichinger walks about three miles an hour and averages between 20 to 25 miles a day, although she has walked more than 30 miles in a single day.
Colder weather may be looming, but Eichinger isn't concerned. She said she will keep going as long as the roads are walkable.
"I walked through snow in the Cascades and got pretty cold then," she said. "I'll just keep walking as long as I can."