Walking across America

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Story and photos by Maureen Wurtz, NewsNetNebraska

Eight states, four pairs of shoes, and 172 days later, Mark Turner, 29, has come to Lincoln, Neb.   Turner sits down in Nu Vibe, a smoothie shop, with comfortable looking jeans and a sweat shirt. He orders a chai tea latte, and with a casual hello, starts talking to me like we are old friends.

Turner started his cross country walk on May 11 in Washington D.C.  The reason: to raise $10,000 for Charity Water, which provides drinking water to people around the world. Charity Water aims to help underdeveloped nations have clean and safe drinking water. So far, he’s $1,800 toward his goal.

John Goff, Turner’s friend, was inspired to work with Charity Water after living in the Philippines for two years. “I saw the effects waterborne illnesses have on the people there,” said Goff. “Since returning to the United States, I have wanted to dedicate my time, energy, and resources to ending the global crisis of clean water.” Goff came up with the idea of a cross country walk after watching a YouTube video about a man who was walking across the country for his health.

After months of planning, Goff and Turner began the American Discovery Trail. Just 13 days later, Goff had to stop because of health problems. Turner continued without him and was left with his thoughts, a 55-lb. backpack, and a phone. “It’s something I got used to (walking by myself), there’s just that bigger risk spending so much time alone,” Turner said. An average day for him includes from 10 to 30 miles on the trail — the difference between three and 10 hours of walking.

The American Discovery trail starts in either Washington D.C., or Delaware, and walks across the nation to end up in San Francisco.

The reason Turner chose to walk was to challenge himself and to raise money for a good cause. “I wanted to conquer a lot of fears,” he said. “The more fears you come across and face the stronger person you are.” Along the way, Turner sends people to Goff’s website, iwalkforh2o.com, so they can link to Charity Water to donate.

Lincoln, Neb. is just one of the countless cities that Turner has come to know. No matter where he walks, Turner says he may not remember the town, but something else stands out. “The most important thing is the people, and that is what I will remember,” he said.

Now, halfway through a cross-country trek, Turner takes it a day at a time.

“From the beginning I’ve carried the philosophy that this is my life now-not an accomplishment, but my life. So how am I going to make the best of it?” he asked.

Though Turner may walk alone, posts to his website show that he is being followed by hundreds of people across the nation.

The Bolle family from W.Va wrote on Turner’s website, “We loved having Mark stay with us for a few nights. He is a very courageous young man to take on such a journey. He told us all about his journey and his life. … Mark you are such a great role model for our boys 11 and 12. They talk about you very often to all their friends. We will keep praying for you and your journey. Bless you and keep your faith in the Lord.”

Turner often relies on families or hotels to comp him a room so he can sleep in a bed. Though Goff isn’t able to walk with him, he sets up hotels, rides, and meals for Turner.

Turner struggles with only sore feet, but troublesome weather as, well. Rain has been easy for him to deal with, but other elements have proved more nettlesome. “There’s was hail once. It didn’t feel great,” Turner said with a smile.

Turner shows off a pair shoes after walking.

There are times on the walk that Turner has to face more than weather. Outside of Omaha, Neb. Turner ran into a pack of coyotes. After calming his frayed nerves, he walked on. “At that distance my headlamp light was not illuminating their figures but the light was reflecting back from their eyes,” he said. “There was no movement. They just stared at me like they were waiting for something.”

Turner made it safely into town, chalking it up as one of many adventures.

After Nebraska, he planned to head into Colorado — right in time for the winter months to hit. Turner figured special boots and a jacket would keep out the cold. Instead of shuddering at the idea of below-freezing temperatures, he seemed charged up by them. “It’s been too long since I’ve been there,” he said.

Since the walk began, Turner, from Malaysia, Va. has not seen his family or friends.  With the winter months comes holiday season, and he is relying on the kindness of strangers. “It’s a luck game,” the come-what-may adventurer said. “Maybe I’ll meet a family that will take me in.”

It wouldn’t be the first time, as blog posts on the website show. A common thread throughout the posts is about families who’ve seem to have gotten more from Turner than they gave him.

“We were grateful to have lunch with Mark yesterday at Monk’s in Harrison OH. We hope to keep in touch with him and hopefully our paths will cross again as he walks and we truck across the country! I am starting my snow shoe research now! We already donated to charity water and I hope to convince some family and friends to do the same,” write Lori and Kevin from Ohio.

The posts on the blog show the story of a young man and the people he meets along his journey. Each person offers updates and stories to share.

Turner’s strength lay in his persistence and knack for getting people to let him their lives.

“I had the thought this morning that today is exactly where I want to be, this is my destination,’ he wrote in one blog post. “San Francisco, California is just the means to an end. It’s the logical reason I tell myself and others as to why I am here. I don’t know where I will sleep tonight, or who I will meet, or even what lies hidden within the next moment. But the one thing I do know is that whatever it is, I can handle it.”

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