SOMEWHERE IN GEORGIA — Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
… Strong and content I travel the open road.
… You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.
… Allons! the road is before us!
Walt Whitman, American poet of the 19th century, could have written his well-known “Song of the Open Road” for 21st-century Travis Luck, of New Knoxville.
Luck, 25, has spent the last four months walking across the United States, literally hiking from sea to shining sea.
He’s not done yet, but he will be soon. His mother, Tracy Luck, of New Knoxville, has demanded that he be home for Christmas.
Travis began his journey in Newport, Oregon, in August.
“I wanted to see the eclipse,” he told the Sidney Daily News from middle Tennessee earlier this week. He tackled the challenge of a cross-country walk without training or much thought. The idea had been germinating for awhile but he bought an airline ticket to Oregon just two weeks before he set off on the adventure.
A 2010 graduate of New Knoxville High School, Luck spent six years as a Navy diver and was impressed by a buddy who had biked across the country. When Luck left the service, he moved home for awhile, then traveled in Europe for a couple of months and lived with a friend in Medellin, Colombia, for four months.
Back in New Knoxville this summer, he revisited the idea of a trans-America trek.
“I thought it would be a phase,” said Tracy. “Then one day he said, ‘I’ve got my ticket. I’m going to Oregon.’”
The few plans he had made included mapping a route from the coast of Oregon to New York City.
“I started out with (just) a red, 10-liter backpack,” he said. “A week in, I realized how naive I was that I thought I could run across country with such minimal gear without even having trained.” He bought a sleeping bag and a baby stroller to hold it.
By the time he talked with the Daily News, he had hiked almost 2,600 miles, through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. An email received by the newspaper, Thursday, announced that he had entered Georgia, his last state.
His route changed when he got to Nebraska.
“It was getting cold, so I decided to go south,” he said. His destination now is Tybee Island, Georgia.
In the beginning, Luck trekked about 25 miles each day. As days turned into weeks, he relaxed a little and dropped to 20 miles per day.
“I decided to take it easy a little more, enjoy the small towns and people I’d meet. But for the past three weeks, I’ve been doing 30, so I get home for Christmas. A lot depends on when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed,” he noted. On the 117th day of his “stroll,” near Monteagle, Tennessee, he logged 56 miles in one day.
For the most part, Luck sticks to state roads. He hiked along interstates in Idaho and Wyoming because back roads were too indirect and would have added too many miles.
The journey has cost five pairs of shoes and has taught Luck how resilient the human body can be.
He admitted to being surprised by “the ability of my body to adapt to doing so many miles. Every day, I’m still sore, but it keeps going,” he said.
The hardest part of the journey was getting through the mountains in Oregon.
“Climbing the Ochocos. They went straight up and straight down,” he said. “But the worst state was Wyoming — the elevation, cold, wind; it snowed on me a couple times in September.”
Luck has taken photos as often as he can and has been pretty faithful at documenting his adventure on Facebook. When he doesn’t post for a few days, friends in New Knoxville notice.
“They’ll see me in the grocery and ask how Travis is doing,” Tracy said. He texts her every other day or so and calls “once in awhile.” When he went through Kentucky, his family met up with him there for a few days.
Although he wasn’t overly adventurous as a boy, Travis was always determined, Tracy said.
“When he was little, if he set his mind to something, he did it,” she added. She’s glad that he has made friends along the way.
That was another surprise, Luck said: “the good will of the people.” Complete strangers have invited him in for a bed, a bath and a meal. In Nebraska, one family contacted friends and other family members across the state, so he had four or five families who hosted him as he moved onward.
“There was one place in Idaho that I walked up to a house. It was surrounded by pasture land — not a lot of places to sleep. A guy was filling his beer fridge in his garage. I asked, ‘Could I sleep on your lawn?’ He invited me to use his spare bedroom. It made me think, ‘Do I really go out of my way to help people like that?’” Luck said.
If he didn’t before, he has started to now. Luck had opened a gofundme account to raise money for the challenge. What he discovered in big cities and small, as he traveled alone, pushing his cart full of belongings, not knowing where he might sleep that night, was that he didn’t seem to be all that different from homeless people. Except that he was on the road by choice and has a warm, welcoming place to go home to.
So Luck has changed the focus of the gofundme account.
“I’ve been living the homeless life for four months. After all these people helped me out, doing things they didn’t have to do, I felt it was my duty to give back,” he said.
Funds that have been pledged — about $4,000 so far — and that are yet to be given to him — the account is still open at gofundme.com in the name of Travis Luck — will be donated to two organizations that help homeless people. Half will go to the Disabled Americans Charitable Service Trust and half to the Salvation Army.
Aside from making the donations, Luck isn’t sure what he’ll do when the long walk is over. He wants to reach the Georgia coast by Dec. 18, rent a car and drive home. After that, he may enroll in college.
“I still have my GI bill. And my brother and his wife are having twins. I’ll help with that. That will be as much a handful as walking across the country,” he laughed.
Tracy will be happy to have him home. She’s also pleased that through Travis’s posts, “people in New Knoxville are seeing how good people are in this world. That’s what scared me the most because he was going to be out there, all alone.”
Travis wasn’t worried.
“Mom,” he said, ”there are more good people than bad.”
Whitman knew the same, 150 years ago.
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well
… will you come travel with me?
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.