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Signage is helpful on cross-country trek

Signage is helpful on cross-country trek
Signage is helpful on cross-country trek
Matt Buchwalder, who's walking across the United States, sends e-mail messages to his friends at the Harrison County Public Library. (Photo by Randy West)

The other day a friend asked how many stories this newspaper has published about people walking, running or riding across the country. My answer was: I have no idea. One thing is for sure, though, they are an interesting sort. You’d have to be extraordinary to take on such a challenge.
Kairi Yada, a young Japanese graduate student, rode through Harrison County on a bike a couple of weeks ago, and then on Saturday, Sept. 25, it was Matt Buchwalder’s turn.
The Cornell University graduate is walking from New York State to San Francisco. He hopes to see the Golden Gate Bridge in July of next year. Buchwalder wasn’t looking for publicity ‘ in fact, he has been avoiding it ‘ but Corydon auto dealer Bill Gerdon was so impressed upon meeting this slightly-built, mild-mannered, 25-year-old high school physics teacher, that he brought him to my house.
Buchwalder lives in Port Jefferson, N.Y., on Long Island and teaches in a small private school. He started his long trek 76 days earlier, on July 9, at Cape Henloper State Park in New Jersey, on the Atlantic Ocean. He figured this was the best time to see the country. ‘If I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it. It’s been the best experience of my life so far,’ he said during an interview at Harrison County Public Library in Corydon, where he had gone to e-mail messages to friends and family. He had two long walking sticks and a backpack weighing 30 pounds.
Buchwalder tries to cover about 20 miles a day. He was hoping to spend that night at the Wyandotte Woods camping area in the Harrison-Crawford State Forest. He had heard correctly that there are excellent camping facilities there, and he wanted to ‘check out the caves,’ too. Each day he tries to find a state park or campground to spend the night and get a shower, but, failing that, he sleeps in his tent in the woods off the road and bathes in a creek or pond.
About 10 o’clock the night before, he had put up his tent east of Corydon and was ready to go to sleep. He had just turned off his head lamp when ‘something crashed through the wall of my tent.’ He didn’t know if it was a deer, branch, bear, ‘wild man’ or what, but he was afraid. ‘My heart was beating like crazy, and I was sweating bullets,’ he said. He spent the next few hours in silence, absolutely still in his tent, armed with pepper spray and a knife, and expecting the worst. Finally, toward morning, he roused the courage to go outside his tent and found … nothing.
The only other scary moment he’s had in the first 2-1/2 months on the road came almost as soon as he started. He was walking through an isolated area in a park in New Jersey when a man approached him in a car and struck up an idle conversation. And even though the words ‘Jesus saves’ are proudly displayed on Buchwalder’s pack, the proposition came shortly thereafter. Buchwalder said he started running as fast as he could, despite the 30-pound weight on his back.
The ‘Jesus saves’ sign didn’t discourage the creep in New Jersey, but it has opened many doors for Buchwalder. ‘I’m not on a mission journey or anything,’ he said, ‘but that’s just part of who I am. It’s just the most important message I can give. It’s led to a lot of good interactions with people.’
As a lightning storm approached in Delaware, he knocked on a door at a house to find shelter and ask for a drink of water. The woman who answered the door wasn’t too keen on helping the stranger until she noticed the sign. ‘Oh, you’re a Christian,’ she said. ‘Come on in.’
One woman who drove by him on the road saw the sign. She pulled over in her car, declared him ‘a good Christian boy,’ and handed him a twenty-dollar bill.
His most memorable experience came near the aptly named town of Friendship, Ind. An Amish family invited him to spend the night at their farm. He knew almost nothing about the Amish way of life before he got to Southern Indiana, but he now knows and admires a lot about them. The family had 12 children. Buchwalder was impressed that four- and six-year-olds drove horses and milked cows.
On the other hand, along the Potomac River in Maryland, he met a burly, bewhiskered retired United States Marines Corps veteran in his 50s doing the same thing he was doing, crossing the country alone. But with his long bushy beard, he looked like a homeless person.
He told Buchwalder that people yelled at him and threw bottles at him.
‘It’s a shame that people judge you so quickly because of appearances,’ Buchwalder said.
As he makes his way west, Buchwalder has been fascinated by the many different lifestyles he’s seen in this country and the strong influences of history. Even though it was fought 150 years ago, he’s learning a lot about the Civil War. Buchwalder’s anxious to learn about westward expansion and the pioneer movement as he gets into the Western states. He wants to avoid the brutal winter weather on the Great Plains, so, once he gets to St. Louis, he’ll head south, perhaps by canoe on the Mississippi River, to Arkansas or Louisiana, then he’ll head for Texas and New Mexico in more moderate climes and go over the Rocky Mountains in the spring.