January 2012

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What, no Oboe? Jess and Ryan lead the Onny and Oboe All-Star players by the sea.

After walking through the summer, into the fall and weathering the winter, I was getting used to layering and waiting for the white stuff to drop. So it’s been kind of surreal being back in the Sunshine State, wearing shorts in January, as if I just hyperspaced after a six-month slog across the country’s asphalt. Sitting in the window seat on the plane from Philly International, I couldn’t even bear to watch the landscape zoom past (covering in six hours the distance it took me six months to walk). I couldn’t bear to watch, pulling the window shade down and sleeping it off, as if a bad dream.

Tuckered out in Laguna

Man’s fantasy of flight is nowhere inside me. I longed to be among the trees and the bluffs, or at river’s edge. But it didn’t take long for the Pacific seabreeze and California love to take hold. Last Sunday, Brooke and I celebrated the walk with family and friends (and collected donations for the Onny and Oboe Fund) in Laguna Beach, where our hosts, Jessica and Ryan, even entertained the gatherers on violin and guitar. We walk on. We walk together. On such a winter’s day.

Thanks to John Loftus of the Northeast Times in my native NE Philly for his thoughtful piece on the conclusion of the walk across America (CLICK HERE TO READ ARTICLE). A nice feeling to have the hometown paper come out and keep the Onny and Oboe fire burning back in the Great Northeast. And, yes, I’m still scanning the outside of buildings looking for outdoor electrical sockets to charge my phone.

The road to a new life, of possibilities, has no endpoint.

A couple weeks before I reached the beach in New Jersey, I posited the question “How do we stop?” to some friends, friends who’ve similarly walked across America. There was a sense of anxiety about an imminent finish line when walking all day, every day had been the norm for much of the past year. Nate, a walker who had finished in San Francisco a month before me admitted his jealousy that I still had weeks to go. It’s not a reluctance to rest, but a want to carry that mad momentum into static life, where each day ends in a predictable place. “Back to the real world,” people have joked in the walk’s waning days. But the epic walker’s life is more real than any I have known.

Following is some of the advice I received from my fellow transcontinental walkers. Their wisdom is universal. It applies to the life we all walk today. “How do we stop?” We don’t!

“You’ll truly need to find some effective way to channel all of this massive energy and momentum. Channel it in a way that benefits you as well as everyone around you. You’ve finished walking across America — something beyond what so many people even think could ever be possible — yet the impossibility of which simply resides within their minds. Perhaps the next tremendous, superhuman feat will be on the same scale for you (I hope you see that it is). Whatever you choose to do next with your time and resources, make the best of it. For if you were to die tomorrow, ideally you’d have a smile on your face in light of the life you’ve been living. Make sure this remains the case throughout your future.”

— George Throop, currently walking amid a tornado warning in Houston (enjoythewalk.com)

“Keep fueling the ‘fire in the belly’! … and yes, KEEP walking. We are built for it. We need it. Others need it. Our communities need it.
— Jonathan Stalls, On-foot Initiator (walk2connect.com)

“Oh my! ‘Ending the walk!’ What a topic! Use the momentum to direct your purpose! If the walk has helped you to become more in your element, then trust it. There is no one saying that you can’t keep walking, so to speak. Keep following your heart and passion, and you may always keep walking (metaphorically or literally!). Keep being extraordinary.”
— Katie Visco, ran across America 2009, founder paveyourlane.com

“Experience everything as it comes. When you do a run or walk like that, you get a new mindset — aware of the moment right in front of you, and how the choices you make right then affect you at the end of the day, the next day. For me, everything became a hell of a lot simpler, and freer. Hold on to whatever mindset you got into and let that guide you towards choosing your “post-adventure” lifestyle.
— Zoë Romano, running cross-country for the Boys & Girls Clubs

Thanks to Joshua Batt, a medical student who reached out during my walk through the mountains of central Pennsylvania, for his thought-provoking blog post regarding our brief encounter outside Breezewood. “What Do You Stand For?” appeared on Medscape Connect, a forum for medical students to share their insights and experiences, good and bad, in order to create a community of support and understanding.

“I’ve traveled more in the last five months than any time before. With interviews and rotations literally from coast to coast, there were endless picturesque sites, fascinating people and lessons to be learned. The road between interviews has plenty to teach. If not by free flowing thoughts in hours of solitude, then by audible or visual stimuli around every corner. One turn in particular caught my attention as motorists sped through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. On the narrow shoulder to our right, a man walked steadily uphill pushing his belongings in a stroller-converted-porter. A sign affixed to his back had thick black letters that read, “Mikeywalks.com”. He had a purpose, a reason for walking and surely a destined goal ahead. Once I reached the top of the hill, I stopped to refuel and before continuing my journey headed to the website. A one-man adventure across the United States from the West to the East, on foot, one day at a time. He walks in support of a scholarship organization that helps recipients of heart transplants obtain a post-secondary education. Mikey stands for something.
What do I stand for? What do you stand for? What are we doing about it? Proclaiming that we want to “help people” may sound like a reasonable idea, but what are we willing to do to make that difference? The example of a walking stranger was enough to encourage my consideration of what I may or may not be doing. I called him, because offering a ride would defeat his purpose. Applauding his motives and journey through our brief conversation was the least I could do. Looking back, I probably should have bought him dinner. You may not have the opportunity to see him along the roads you travel, but you can follow his efforts on his site, MikeyWalks.com. So thanks Mikey for being an example to us all of what it means to be passionate and stand for something!”

It takes a borough: The end of one road finds me on another, with good company.

Fare thee well, my three-wheeled friend

The faces, the places … familiar. The circumstances, wholly different. In the days following our first Mikey Walks *Fun*raiser, there is a humbled gratitude for the extended “family” that awaited my arrival on the east coast. Family and friends from across the country gathered in the basement room at Paddy Whack’s Pub in Northeast Philadelphia on Dec. 30 to celebrate the Walk, reunite and continue building the Onny and Oboe Scholarship Fund. They brought baskets to raffle off. They brought their holiday cash to donate to the cause. They brought the love and support that called me back here from as far away as Santa Monica, California. There was always unfinished business for me back here, and Friday’s fete went a long way towards completing it.

A broken hand couldn't keep Ed out of the Silly Walk.

“The real joy to be found in the walk soon became apparent,” I told them. “It was in the collaboration. It was building something together.” On this night, I was but one of many Onny and Oboe supporters opening their hearts to give transplant patients and their families a second chance to dream; to not only live, but to live fully. The celebration included a Silly Walk contest (won by niece Kylie for a “Happy Feet” waddle in a photo-finish with nephew Barry, whose spirited silliness included his head hitting the drop ceiling), a rousing auction for my old framed Dr. J poster (buddy Steve has just the wall space) and even a fond farewell for my trusted partner “Coogs” (the baby jogger landing with pal Brian, who joined me three separate times on the Walk Across America). Out with the old and in with the familiar. As the Onny and Oboe drive moves into Phase Two, it’s good to know where One began.

Hat's off to all of those who stand with Onny and Oboe. A second chance to live is a second chance to dream.