Man walking across U.S. finds despair, resilience
Bruce Maynard from Bellingham, Wash., says he is used to a “pretty good living.”
“I like five-star restaurants; I like cruises around the world; I like a beautiful home and my gorgeous ocean-going yacht, all those kinds of things, not to mention my gorgeous wife,” he said as he walked across Eckelson Lake on County Road 22. “So in the last 24 months, I have lost everything.”
Maynard, 77, said his company folded and his wife, brother and mother died. He currently has a sister dying in hospice care, and when he went to visit her, she and the nursing staff could not believe what he is up to now.
He is walking across America, again, and he does not like what he sees.
“People in despair, whole towns wiped out, I’ve walked through dozens of them,” he said. “They’re just in misery, and this is dozens and dozens and dozens of small American towns. They’re beyond angry, that left them a long time ago. Now they’re despairing.”
Maynard passed through Barnes County late last week after walking from Vancouver, Canada to Los Angeles, to Key West, Fla., north along the Atlantic Coast, and west to Chicago on a mission to walk the perimeter of the country, after already completing a diagonal walk across the nation.
He said he began his walk as an inspiration to others in his age range after realizing that many lose their purpose for living in retirement.
“I’ve been considering maybe changing my objective and doing some in-depth reporting on some of these small towns – and I don’t have to go back to the ones I’ve been to, they are all over the place. America’s in real trouble,” he said.
Maynard found many people struggling across the country. In the northeast, he spent four months helping people rebuild following a hurricane and found southern communities from Arizona to Louisiana struggling from a drought that has destroyed farms and dried up aquifers.
“And up here you’ve got tons of water, but it’s all in the wrong places,” Maynard said.
His original planned route would have taken him through the oil fields in western North Dakota, but after being warned by several area residents and law enforcement, he decided to adjust his route around that region for crime and safety concerns.
“I have not found one single person that I wouldn’t call a friend, and I’ve met some real strange people - people you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Two minutes after we start talking, they change their demeanor almost instantly,” he said.
Maynard has been “absolutely overwhelmed” by the positive attitudes of people he meets. A self-described outgoing person, he will often insert himself into a group’s conversation simply by saying “Hi, I’m Bruce and I’m walking across America.”
He keeps an online journal of his travels – complete with pictures of which he takes 25 to 50 a day - at seniorswalkingacrossamerica.blogspot.com.
He said many people he meets wish they could come with him.
“Everybody wants to do it, they all say ‘gosh I want to do that with you someday,’ but nobody wants to pay the price,” he said. “It doesn’t cost dollars, what it costs is for you to give up your house, your family, your car, your boat, your TV, the Dallas Cowgirls; all those things have to go away. And you get out here and you live with society as it really is, live with Mother Nature as it really is, and on my part I try to share that with people who read my blog. Some folks think I’m doing a halfway decent job.”