Making an epic trek across America is the fodder of many armchair travelers, but a registered nurse and her father, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, have put legs to their dream.
Sarah “Sunnie” Boggs, 37, and her father Gary Buchanan, 66, of Calhoun Country, West Virginia, began their “Journey Across America” April 1 at Slaughter Beach, Delaware, and plan to complete their six-month trek by Oct. 1 at Point Reyes, California. They are traveling along U.S. Highway 50 on the approximately 2,916.5-mile walk, trekking about 20 to 25 miles per day. On Tuesday, they passed through Sedalia on Broadway Boulevard and took time to stop and speak with the Democrat.
Boggs said for her, the trip is one of self-discovery while getting to know her father better. Buchanan said because of health issues he saw the trek as a personal challenge. Both are raising funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and for the Humane Society of Parkersburg, West Virginia. By Tuesday they had raised $1,300 and hope to raise a total of $6,000 by the end of the walk.
“Our two favorite things are kids and animals,” Buchanan said. “I’ve always been a supporter of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The thing that fascinated me is that no one pays anything. If your child goes there the treatment is all covered by fundraising and donations.”
The pair is also hoping to raise enough funds so their local animal shelter can convert to a no-kill facility.
“They do a fantastic job with their fostering,” Boggs said. “They have animals who have been there over a year through foster programs. They work as hard as they can.”
For the walk across the country the pair has brought along a 1984 Volkswagen camper/van support vehicle. Unfortunately their driver backed out right before the trip began.
“What we’ve been doing is we drive ‘her’ to a destination point, (Tuesday it was) La Monte,” Boggs said. “Then we hitchhike back to our starting point.”
“Which was Syracuse,” Buchanan added.
“Then we walk back to the van, that’s how we get around the fact that we don’t have a driver,” Boggs said.
She added they have been fortunate and are usually able to get a ride. The father said everyone who has picked them up, so far, has been kind. The Missouri State Highway Patrol has also given them a ride.
“It does put a big unknown into everyday, maybe it will take two hours to find a ride,” Boggs noted. “Everyone has just been fantastic … we’ve been blessed.”
By Tuesday they had walked a total of 53 days due to recurring van trouble. The van, which plays an important part in their trip, has been in the shop several times for mechanical problems. The van acts as an overnight camper and carries all of their first-aid supplies. At night they often park the van at volunteer fire departments, churches and on Walmart parking lots.
“It’s basically our mobile tent,” Boggs said.
One of the perks of the trip is experiencing small town America in many different states.
“My favorite part of this is walking through the little towns,” Boggs noted. “Unfortunately you have to stay on old 50 (highway) a lot, because new 50 bypasses them. When we go through a little town I’m just happy to see another place. A lot of times it’s very sad, like Syracuse. You could see where downtown used to be.”
Boggs, who has never been further west than Cincinnati, said the idea for the trip came to her after watching the movies “The Way” and “Wild.” Both movies are based on true stories of trekking and self-discovery.
“I was intrigued by the idea of long distance walks that people did to find something in themselves,” she said. “I, myself was in a place in my life that was transitioning between jobs, between residences … I just jokingly said to dad ‘you know we ought to walk across the country sometime.’”
Boggs added that she’s a daydreamer who usually doesn’t act on her dreams, but once she spoke to her father about the idea, he began to research the walk.
Buchanan, who is retired as the Calhoun County Emergency Management director, started researching the trip online and began a walking regimen to get fit for the trip. He has been walking 5Ks since the 1990s for exercise.
“So I’ve walked a lot in 3.1-mile segments, nothing like walking across the country,” he added.
Along the walk they’ve had positive and negative experiences. So far, they noted the rudest state they have traveled through has been Maryland and the cleanest and friendliest states are Illinois and Missouri.
Trekking long distance can create a variety of foot problems. Boggs and Buchanan have had their share of peeling skin and blisters.
“The feet are in bad shape,” Boggs said. “We were both thinking that our feet would toughen up.”
Buchanan said he was used to walking but had never walked carrying a backpack.
“It’s surprising because you’d think eventually you’d stop getting blisters,” Boggs added. “There’s a couple spots on my feet where as soon as a blister pops, another forms underneath it.”
“The worst part is when your feet get wet,” Buchanan noted.
“It’s not the day they get wet, but it’s two days later when they (the skin) just fall apart,” Boggs said.
The pair has researched waterproof hiking shoes and plan to purchase them soon.
When they left Delaware they both dipped their feet in the Atlantic Ocean, but when they arrive at the Pacific Ocean they have another plan.
“When we get to California she said she’s not putting her feet in, she’s going to jump in,” Buchanan said smiling.
Once in California they plan to sell the Volkswagen and take the Amtrak back to West Virginia.
Boggs said she’s happy she’s been able to get reacquainted with her father, adding that communication is important in any relationship.
“He’s my strength,” she added. “He hardly ever complains.”
Boggs keeps a journal of the pair’s travels Facebook.com/pawsandhope. Those interested in donating to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital or to the Humane Society of Parkersburg, West Virginia, may go to the pair’s GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/pawsandhope.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 660-530-0289 or @flbemiss.