Catch a glimpse of what it’s like walking across America with the first video compilation of my adventure!
My name is Edward Mjelde, I am a 24 year old recent college graduate from sunny San Diego, California.
This is my story about how I gave away and sold nearly all my possessions and left home with a backpack to walk coast-to-coast across the country following the 5,100 mile American Discovery Trail in pursuit of beauty, truth, and a life of risk and adventure.
My goal is to share the stories I have gathered from my adventure in hope that it will inspire people to take risks in order to chase their own dreams and aspirations.
I have dubbed my epic adventure as WalkUSA, ”A Walk to Discover America and its People”.
Summary: In this article I introduce myself and share the story on how I came up with this cross-country backpacking adventure, explain how I physically prepared for my journey, and at the bottom share some tips that helped me achieve my fitness goals that might work for you.
Welcome to the adventure!
The Birth of The Idea
I had announced it November 2011 to my friends and family, I had decided I was going to walk across America after college. At first my mom didn’t believe me, my dad thought I was crazy, and some of my friends rolled their eyes, gave me a face palm salute, and said “Good luck!”.
They hadn’t yet seen the fire I had burning in my eyes.
This idea to walk across the continent was born inside me on a rainy day while I was in a state of primordially ooze, stressed and weary eyed, after I had just finished a late night/early morning college paper. I was feeling a bit overworked in life managing over 20 units in college, running my own college marketing organization, and working the graveyard as a server at the local Denny’s Diner.
I was awakened that night when I was sitting at my desk chair starring at my computer screen with a wide drooling mouth totally burnt out, knowing I had more to go. I sat there and must have had my eyes glued on the glowing computer screen for over ten minutes, the screen saver had come on. It started to float through images at the most melancholy pace that I felt my heart dip and slowly carve at my chest.
I was feeling the feels while starring in front of me with a cow’s gaze at the images tumbling in front of my eyes. America’s heartland, mountains, rivers, oceans, cities, and towns were the subject of my attention.
I loved where I was in California, but my heart started to make increasing scoops at my chest, I knew what it meant, my heart has told me this for quite a while… I really wanted to experience more.
It dawned upon me that it was a priority that I take the trip I have always dreamt about.
“Priority”… When I had this epiphany my eyes widened, my heart started beating madly, my head started running, and I knew the idea had hit.
I had already dreamt about traveling by foot, at one point I moved all my belongings into a storage unit and lived out of my car in order to try and save money in hope that I could make a journey happen. I set up a cot on the beach and spent my nights sleeping beneath the stars. I took showers at 24 hour fitness, hung out at the local coffee shops, and at nights listened to the waves crash against the cliffs just missing me in its spray. I fell in love.
School and life got in the way of my previous attempts but with graduation around the corner I knew it was time to get my plans in gear again.
The Need To Start Training
I will never forget leaving my apartment on a warm morning with tight jeans and my old unfitted backpack. I had stuffed it to the rim with a mixed batch of thrown together gear and way too much food than I needed for my two-day-40-mile practice walk from the door step of my apartment in to a nearby mountain.
I had been already telling people that I was going to hike across America after college, when they asked how I was going to do it I would say “I have no idea, but I am going to find out.”.
It was spring break and I was ready to get my feet wet again and rediscover what backpacking was all about. I wanted to find what it took to walk 20 miles a day, so I planned this walk to build that perspective.
The first day was invigorating, winding myself on backcountry roads, discovering places I hadn’t known existed. By the end of the first day my legs were overworked and in pain, but I had achieved my goal of walking 20 miles and landed myself in a baseball park for the night to sleep. I remember optimistically thinking, “What a success!”.
The following morning, I woke up to discover my legs no longer worked. I tried to get up but my muscles were so tight that every movement brought pain down to the core of my bones. I tried stretching, and it helped, but it didn’t help on beating the pain. I had 20 more miles to walk till I could go home, but I could only put in less than 10 painstaking sloppy-foot-pride-filled miles before I called my friend and had to ask her to pick me up, I had been defeated.
It was easy to see that if I was going to do this I would need to get in shape.
I didn’t waste time, I knew I had to get to work on my body. I had been to the gyms before and I realized it wasn’t for me. I needed something I can do easily, on my own time, that didn’t require having to drive somewhere to get it done. I decided to try out P-90X, an intense home workout program which requires about one and a half hours of devotion everyday for 90 days with the promise of getting amazing results.
The results were truly phenomenal; the work outs were long and strenuous, but easy to do. The only work out gear I used included a pull up bar and 4 sets of weights up to 25 pounds. I feel my results are a true testimony that you may not have to get a gym pass to get your body in amazing shape.
After a month of P-90X I started including running and sprint training into my work out. I went from not being able to run a mile, to managing one with over a 10 min mile time, to my quickest single mile in my life clocking in at 5:51 seconds.
I loved incorporating running into my regiment and decided to make the leap to train for a half marathon. In January 2013 I completed the Carlsbad Half Marathon in just over 2 hours before I left for my walk in March 2013.
I became physically prepared to take on America.
Tips on Achieving Fitness Goals
Some people have found my results to be inspiring and have asked if I had any tips on getting in shape. From my experience I offer these words of advice:
Find a workout program that works for you. We all have different fitness goals and there are many ways to achieve them. For me gyms were too much of a hassle to get to during my day, working out at home was a solution which allowed me to avoid excuses.
Keep records on what you are doing. You don’t know what to do if you don’t know what you have already done. Keeping detailed records allows you to create goals.
Example: “ I did 20 push-ups last week, this week I am increasing to 25”.
Reward yourself with something you like. You might find that it’s fun to reward yourself to keep motivation high. Find rewards that keep you energized and only reward yourself when you deserve it. For me I enjoyed a happy helping of beer “typically a training no-no, but lets be honest” ,fresh fruit smoothies, and lox asiago cheese bagels .
Keep at it. No workout program was a success in just one day. Even if you just do small things everyday, the work you put in can amount to grand results.
Create a larger goal. There is an old quote by Daniel Burnham, an amazing architect and city planner:
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans.”
Find something that you can aspire to. It can be a bet with a friend on who can do more push-ups at the end of the month or a future organized run you can participate in. Anything that is big enough and meaningful enough to get you going and keep you motivated.
Start. You can’t get there unless you take the, often painful, steps of beginning. The first days may be challenging but as you stick with it, it becomes routine, it truly does get easier, and you start to see results.
Our bodies are all different, but my experience shows that it may be possible to change your fitness level in a matter of months. I challenge everyone to reach towards their highest goals and to persist in finding joy in getting around life’s many challenges.
Be sure to keep your eyes open for my next article where I will be sharing how I planned my hike. My hope is that it may shed some light on how you can plan your own hikes, large or small. Till next time, “Cheers!”.
Check out the Next Article in this series: WalkUSA’s Adventure Series: Planning