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35 Years

2022 April 10, home


Five weeks have passed since I finished my first three parks; my next set of adventures begins two weeks from today. It's a bit frightening to think that I likely won't have another break this long for another seven months, until November.


Not that I haven't kept busy. Scheduling my first set of park adventures took a serious effort; since I've been back, I've worked on my next three packages at once (Appalachia in April, AZ/NM in May, and ME/Midwest/Dakotas in June) with Alaska in July looming. Cost containment now looms large, with inflation rising. (If I'd booked round-trip air to Phoenix in March, it would have cost $468; now flights run $790.) Deciding on adventures for a few parks demands creativity. Sometimes I sit and watch the time scurry by, overwhelmed, wondering if I've finally found a project too big to handle.


I did take advantage of one chance to escape from the Challenge, to forget about parks for a few days. Time to let someone else bask in the spotlight...

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On April 1, 1983, Steven Newman set out from Bethel OH, seeking adventure. With a pack on his back and Rocky boots on his feet, he started walking east, determined to see the world (or die trying, as some feared would happen) as only someone walking could see it.


Exactly four years later, from out of the west, Steven walked the final five miles back to his family's Bethel home. Behind him lay 30,000 miles, four pairs of boots, two packs, a few brushes with death, and countless memories.


Thirty-five years have passed since that homecoming. Since then, Steven has written several books and spoken to hundreds of schools, corporations, and organizations. His Worldwalk book has inspired scores of people in ways big and small. (It helped encourage Sue's and my Litterwalk, and we honored him by setting off ten years to the day after he did.) He even had the 33-mile Steven Newman Worldwalker Perimeter Trail in East Fork State Park named after him. (Gee... maybe someday I could get a dumpster named in my honor... or a landfill...)


As the 35th anniversary approached, the Bethel Historical Society chose to honor the Worldwalk by re-enacting that final day's stroll from East Fork State Park to Bethel. With Rocky Boots signing on as a major sponsor, the celebration grew to an open invitation for the public to walk the stretch with Steven, and over two hundred people signed up. Having become close friends with Steven and his wife Darci over the years (he even wrote the foreword for my book), Sue and I made plans to join him on his big day. Unfortunately, Sue found herself scheduled to work that weekend, leaving me to fly solo to Ohio.



Returning to the cabin Steven had built in the early 90s, one hill away from the Ohio River, felt comforting. Memories of 1993, when Sue and I met and stayed with Steven during a troubled time on our Litterwalk, immediately put me at ease - like coming home. Arriving on March 30, I had time to unwind with Steven and Darci before a planned party the following night. We wandered through Maysville KY, shopping at a thrift store that specialized in clothing and decorations purchased from Hollywood studios (with tags that identified the movie set or TV show the items came from). A highlighted display showed Star Wars Storm Trooper helmets sitting on a shelf above a dress Carol Burnett wore.


With lunchtime nigh, Steven suggested Wendy's. We quickly changed our mind as we drove by,

and opted for a local café employing handicapped workers. We had a scare when Steven fell silent and started waving his hands at his throat; I quickly moved around the table to rescue him. Thankfully, the prospect of me attempting an unskilled Heimlich Maneuver gave him the impetus to finally cough up the piece of cheeseburger that had lodged in his throat. Maybe we should have done Wendy's after all...


The next morning, the 'movie boys' arrived from Los Angeles. In 2019, Connor had contacted Steven to arrange movie rights to the Worldwalk. Since then, Connor and his cousin, scriptwriter Matt, had worked on arranging backing to turn the story into a limited series for Netflix or such. (Steven had been down this path once years ago, when Emilio Estevez acquired the movie rights, but that effort soon fizzled. This time, Connor exuded confidence he could see it to completion.) The two of them scouted locations in and around Bethel, doing groundwork for the project, before arriving at Worldwalker Hill to talk business.


People began arriving for the party around 6:00. A truly eclectic bunch gathered: besides the Hollywood contingent (the youngest people in the room), I met Tom, one of Steven's good high school friends; Bob, his college roommate; Brian, the director who'd filmed a documentary on the Worldwalk for PBS decades ago; Josh, a singer/songwriter/videographer whom Darci had taught many years ago; and Julian, a local man once inspired by Steve's book, and who'd climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with him a few years back.


Steven later confided, "The lively conversation around the dining room by such a diverse and creative group made me think of something akin to Hemingway's get-togethers with his friends in Paris in the 1920s." Overheard:


"Let me play this for you. It's a voice mail message Timothy Leary left on my phone years ago. I spent a lot of time with him before he passed away."

"Have you heard of 'Foley artist'? They're the people who come up with sound effects in films. A good Foley artist is a master of nuance. For instance, they may snap a stick of celery to mimic an adult bone breaking. However, if you freeze the celery and then snap it, it's a softer sound, like a child's bone breaking." [Check https://youtu.be/UO3N_PRIgX0 for a video on Foley artists.]

"I love to purchase domain names to mess with the minds of politicians. For instance, I own RandPaulIsAQuack.com and DrOzIsAQuack.com, which redirect to their competitors. And when I found out Harriet Hageman - who is running in the Wyoming primary against Liz Cheney - had not registered her domain name, I bought HarrietHageman.com and now send all the visitors to LizCheney.com."

"People don't know that Steven was riding around the Ohio back country the night before the start of his walk, when suddenly the driver lost control of the car and flipped it. Somehow he still managed to get home, and started his journey on time. We plan on using that scene to begin our Worldwalk series."

"Look at this video clip taken at a Bernie Sanders rally. See, right here he notices me, and pushes his way through the crowd to give me a bear hug."

"Would you believe that as my walk wound down, I took a week or so off in Montana and traveled around the state with a local rock band? I was their groupie."

"Computers can't generate true random numbers. They can only generate things logically. Any 'random' sequence of numbers would eventually repeat itself, and can be predicted. But with lava lamps, the globs randomly move around. So the NSA, to generate REAL random numbers, they have a room with more than a dozen lava lamps, and they have a bank of cameras that take measurements of the movements. THAT gives a true random number."


Every ten or fifteen minutes, Josh picked up his guitar. The conversations would trail off for a moment as he dove into another song, our attention focused on him. Suffice to say, I have never attended quite such a fascinating party...


April 1: time for Steven to shine. He left the house early to greet people in the park, while I waited and rode in with Brian. Just our luck that GPS took us to the far side of East Fork State Park; by the time we corrected that mistake, the mass of walkers had begun hoofing it - a veritable army decked out in commemorative tee shirts. medallions, and new Rocky boots, courtesy of the sponsors.

Once we parked, a maintenance worker loaded us in his cart and took us to the group. Two hundred people had stretched out along the highway, with Steven leading the procession. We soon caught up with Bob and his wife, Julian and his son, and Darci. Josh rode in a cart ahead of us, shooting video.


The weather cooperated, to an extent. A blue sky towered above, with no real wind to hinder us. However, temperatures that had reached the 60s two days earlier had plummeted to the 30s, keeping us cool. As I walked along the edge of Highway 125, I recalled the many highways I'd traipsed down - man, it's been nearly 30 years! I thought. Looking off to the shoulder of the road, it quickly registered that the litter problem in the country had not disappeared. Damn! I chided myself. Why didn't I pack my litter stick!!


The line of walkers soon entered Bethel. Our route veered onto school grounds, winding past the middle and elementary schools en route to Burke Park. The school marching band greeted us, playing tunes as they marched us across campus. Groups of students lined the route, holding signs and waving as Steven walked by. I turned on my GoPro to catch the pageantry, eager for more practice time before my next parks outing.


A color guard welcomed us to the bandshell in Burke Park, where several dignitaries and politicians waited: Bethel's mayor; Bethel Historical Society's president; the Convention Bureau president; Rocky Boots executives; and more. They all said their pieces, handing Steven plaques and a key to the city, dedicating this as Steven Newman Worldwalker Day. When they finally handed him the microphone, he choked up, unable to utter a word for a good minute. When he finally found his voice, he thanked the crowd for their support, echoing the words he had written for the event's program:


"Thirty-five years later, I still remember vividly that day [of my return] being a bright collage of international flags, handwritten banners, and excited faces. I, so skinny and sunburned, had reached the end of ... over 20,000 miles of adventures and discoveries... I was as vulnerable as one can be [by walking], and I was totally dependent upon the inhabitants of this planet... They treated me with such kindness and hospitality I couldn't help feeling as if I was part of one huge family."


Afterwards, people headed over to the Bethel Museum for a pizza-and-cake reception. Over the years, I had heard many anecdotes of the Worldwalk, but seeing artifacts of the journey surprised me. The museum held the backpacks - certainly well-worn - that he had used on the walk, as well as the cart with which he carried his water across the dry Australian Outback.

They also displayed the articles he had written on the journey. "Steven! Looks like we have something else in common," I told him. "We both appeared in the National Enquirer!"


"Yeah, they asked me to write them an article - and then they never paid me for it!"


With the hubbub winding down, six of us (including Brian and the movie boys) reconvened at Worldwalker Hill for a quiet evening, watching the March Madness semifinal games. The next morning, we returned to Maysville and the Hollywood thrift store for some serious shopping. Matt picked up pairs of pants; Steven found a bargain on work boots; I took a chance and picked out a couple of tops for Sue (OMG - she actually liked what I chose! And they fit!!). Brian left from there for the airport to catch his flight - one that eventually got cancelled due to storms in Florida.


For the afternoon, Steven, Connor, and Matt discussed the film project as I looked over the old Worldwalk articles from Capitol magazine. Though I'd read both his books, I found new quotes and information I'd not heard before. He'd had a rough time when first returning to the states - after such heartwarming greetings from foreigners he'd met for 3½ years, he now faced a less-than-enthusiastic greeting. The first person he met in Washington state was a man mowing his lawn. When Steven asked him for a glass of water, the man punched him, calling him a damn hippy, and chased him off with a gun. "That's a pretty acid quote you gave, Steven - that if you were a foreigner coming here to such a reception, you'd have taken the first flight back home!"


Connor perked up. "That's powerful. We may have to highlight that in one of our episodes. Present that, and show the redemption by the time you finished. That could be a recurring theme."


Later, someone mentioned the college-days incident from the early 70s - times rife with Vietnam War protests - when a photo of Steven throwing a flaming trash can during a protest was splashed across the front page of the local paper. Connor wondered, "Can we cover that event in the first episode, to give background on your character?"


Steven hesitated. "That might turn people off, lose their sympathy for me."


For a minute we pondered that. "Maybe if you used it as a flashback later on," I suggested. "Like during the time that the Yugoslavian military picked him up and questioned him, then demanded to look at his log book to find out everyone he'd talked to in the country. He grabbed the log book back, and then started yelling at them - at men with guns! - refusing to hand it over, waiting until they backed down. You could use the trash can incident to say, 'This is the type of person who stands up for what's right!'"


Everyone agreed that idea had strong potential.


The conversation eventually turned to follow-on ideas. Pitching one film idea, Connor explained, can be challenging. But if that production ends up successful, any backers would like to know what sort of 'sequel' might follow. "This weekend we've seen and heard about many people inspired by Steven's journey," Connor continued. "We could follow up telling those stories in a second season." Turning to me, he added, "We'd certainly have an episode covering your Litterwalk."


Well, that would be quite an honor - but I won't get my hopes up. I've got too much on my plate with the Parks Challenge to spend time considering it. But it was certainly a nice thought to return home with the next day.



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