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Walking Across America

A journey of 5000 miles starts with the first step.

Mike Gallagher is walking from Philadelphia to San Francisco. He’s not the first and he’s not the last. He’s not raising money for charity. He doesn’t have a clever gimmick. No uni-cycling, cartwheeling, or crabwalking…just plain, old walking. Not to mention I’m pretty sure Tom Hanks did it twice.

Gallagher is 27, wiry with thick rimmed glasses, and by the time of this article, looking quite beardly. He has a steady girlfriend and a 9 to 5 working for the IT department of his Alma mater. Like many college graduates he is on his way to realizing the routine of the American Dream. Only Gallagher’s may not be so routine.

After moving up and down the East coast for most of his childhood, Gallagher had exhausted his travel bug. However the time came, as it usually does, during a monotonous day in his cubicle.

“I had to quit my job,” he tells me via email from Centrailia, Washington. “This seemed like the best option.”

Eight months earlier, it was a breezy summer evening at the beach, and Gallagher and his friends were doing a little bit of dining and a lot a bit of wining.

“I mentioned this idea and the comments came flying. All jokes about how I would never make it and how I would never even try it.”

Despite the overwhelming flood of confidence from friends, Gallagher was serious about the idea. He would quit his job and film a documentary about a walk from Philadelphia to San Francisco.

Inspired by Appalachian Trail enthusiast Peter Jenkins, Gallagher began researching equipment, planning his route, and hiking with his pack 10-20 miles a day. Although his carry-on was like lugging around an adult koala, it contained only the bare essentials: sleeping bag, tent, camera, solar charger, food and clothing. Everything else he owned, he gave away.

Although very Thoreau of him, he chuckles and insists he does not belong with the great transcendentalists of 19th century America. “I definitely don’t want to seem like I’ve come upon great truths about myself or humanity but…my initial thought was that [this] was the best way to get an up close and personal view of the country.”

Gallagher is not oblivious to the fact that filming a documentary about himself may come off a bit egotistical.

“The whole self-righteous thing I’m careful of,” he says. Actually Gallagher is quick to shrug off the cynics and keep his focus on the walk itself. “I try not to include a load of photos of me or anything like that, just shots of what’s around and the people that are there.”

To highlight these roadside relationships and no doubt help his parents sleep at night, Gallagher has been recording these events since the start of his walk. His blog, www thewalk2010 com [no longer online] is a colorful collection of local encounters, snapshots, and peppered with Gallagher’s insightful commentary.

Like the douche that flipped his car in the middle of South Dakota, with Gallagher in the back seat.

“[That] was a game changer,” he laments. Yet for the most part his experiences have remained positive. “For a while I was very suspicious…I kept wondering what their angle was or what they were trying to sell to me. But after a while…I realized that people can be open and caring for no other reason than they actually care about their fellow man.”

It was his fellow Americans that allowed Gallagher to set up camp on their land, gave him food and friendship, or even a family to call his own during the holidays. People like Ed from Ohio, Bill from East Chicago, or Casey from South Dakota. People who in a sense fulfilled Gallagher’s American Dream.

It is April 5th, 2010, and Mike Gallagher is at home in Philadelphia saying his farewells. He is about to walk nearly 3,000 miles across the United States. He is not the first, nor the last, to take this detour of the American Dream. It is a detour many of us see along the way, but rarely take. For those of us that do, Gallagher is appreciative.

“In terms of the rest, I just have to say that a lot of people take this path in their lives but everyone’s journey is unique and different.”

Adam Thomas