Raising awareness, one step at a time
By J. Chambless
Steve Wescott and Miles on Old Baltimore Pike on the morning of Aug. 30.
By John Chambless
On Tuesday, Steve Wescott and his goat,
Miles, were nearing the last part of their trip across America –
step by step. They ambled slowly along Old Baltimore Pike, past the
Red Rose Inn, and into West Grove.
At that point, Wescott found himself waylaid by Jacquie Delaney of the Jennersville YMCA, who picked him up with his goat for a detour to Avon Grove Charter School, which houses the YMCA After School Program. That was OK with Wescott, whose journey from the Space Needle in Washington state to Times Square in New York City has taken a leisurely route since he started the first leg in May of 2012. If people want to host him overnight, that's fine. If they want him to come and speak to a group, that's fine, too. Tuesday was one of those days, and as Wescott and Miles walked up to a picnic table behind the charter school, his audience of 11 children was impressed.
As Miles chomped on some nearby bushes, Wescott answered a few questions from the children, and laughed as he figured out that he has been walking for about half of their lives.
Wescott, 37, has become something of an internet celebrity through his blog, news coverage along the way, and two websites that track his journey. But there's a serious intent behind all of the walking, which has so far worn through 16 pairs of sneakers.
Wescott was a musician in a rock band that toured extensively, so he had seen a lot of America through a bus window. But in 2010, after leaving the band, he felt God call him to walk – 3,800 miles from Seattle to Times Square.
Meanwhile, Steve's best friend, Stephen Turner, was serving as a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya. Turner was overseeing a non-profit organization called Uzima Outreach that operated in one of the worst slums in Nairobi. Starting out as a substance abuse program, Uzima quickly realized the importance of a opening a children's home to rescue the orphaned children of addicts. Turner came back to America and shared his experiences with Wescott. It was clear to them both: The walk across America would raise funds and awareness to help build the orphanage.
Wescott first thought he'd take a dog for company, but the dog was injured at the last minute and couldn't make the trip. Wescott saw an ad for the New Moon Goat Rescue in Arlington, Wash. Not being an outdoorsy kind of guy, and having no experience with goats, Wescott chose a goat (renamed LeeRoy Brown) and started the trip. LeeRoy passed away from an illness in Ohio, so Wescott got Miles – named because he had miles to go – from Craigslist.
Keeping an eye on the goat's interactions, Wescott said his trip “has taught me not only how big America is, but more than that, I've experienced true Americana. That's the redneck, high society, all of that. People want to say that the real America is a small town, or the Midwest, but from my experience, it's all of it. You can't appreciate one part without the others.” The large French Alpine goat “is a bit of a diva,” Wescott said on Tuesday. He taught the children the Swahili word uzima, which means “life,” and took photos with those who wanted to get close to Miles. Then it was the goat's turn for a big day, when he got to meet and mingle with the goats and sheep that are raised in the large fields behind Avon Grove Charter School.
Wescott sticks to side roads for the most part to avoid traffic, as well as laws prohibiting walking on the highway in some states. But his policy of “charm and disarm” when confronted by police usually pays off with a wave and an encouraging word.
“When I was at the Lincoln Memorial, I told the guys with AK-47s that Miles was my service animal,” Wescott said, laughing. “I got to go up and take a picture inside the monument. Nobody knows what the ADA service animal rules are anyway, so they let me do it.”
On the road, Miles carries a small satchel with a tent and other supplies. A bare rope connects Miles and Wescott, and there's no other equipment. The sight of a man and his goat makes drivers pull over for photos, and Wescott gives them the 20-second pitch about what he's doing. People press money into his hand, or donate online as they follow his trek. Or they just wish him well and go on their way.
“I was walking through the mountains in Utah and there's an Indian reservation there. It's a 60-mile-an-hour highway. This old woman in a beat-up minivan pulls up next to me and says, 'You're the guy walking with the goat, right?' and she hands me $300 and drives off,” Wescott said, shaking his head.
So far, his meandering publicity walk has garnered some $105,000, he said. The money will be used to purchase two acres of land in Nairobi, dig a proper well and begin to construct a building that will provide a sanctuary for orphaned children.
Wescott is not living the high life on the road, and he uses as little of the donation money as possible for food and water. Showers are a rarity. His accommodations range from spur-of-the-moment invitations to spend a free night in someone's home to pitching his tent alongside the road. For the Oct. 1 finale event in Times Square – and that date is definite, he said – there will be as much of a media blowout as possible. “A charter bus from Pittsburgh is bringing about 55 people so far,” he said. “We'll have a choir coming, people are carpooling from Washington and Baltimore, we're talking to the 'Today' show to see if we can get on there. There's a documentary team coming out. It's going to get crazy.”
While admitting that he hasn't been an ideal Christian all his life, Wescott said his cross-country walk “has deepened my relationship with God, for sure. I don't know if I've ever been a great man of faith in general. I've more been obedient. For this whole project, until recently, I never thought it was going to work,” he added, laughing.
He and the Uzima organization “don't rely on money, we rely on God,” he said. “We try to out-care other organizations. When you see the kids starving in Nairobi, and you see somebody here with their third latte in their hand, you feel like it's your responsibility to care for the kids. You have to do something. This is definitely our life's work. It doesn't end when I stop walking.
“I never wanted to be a salesman,” he said. “God didn't call me to provide for these kids. He called me to walk, and to tell the story, and He was going to do the miracle of the $100,000. That let me not be a hustler, and not be emotionally manipulating people into giving. It let me be genuine and relaxed about the money. And it's come.”
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org