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5 Questions: Carlisle veteran completes cross country trek for charities
The Sentinel - 12/2/2022
Dec. 2—For retired Army Col. Kenny Mintz, the journey of 3,294 miles did indeed begin with a single step.
On April 1, Mintz began his walk across the United States at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. More than six months later on Oct. 22, he finished the journey at Swami's Beach in Encinitas, California.
Each day, Mintz awoke at 5 a.m., and published a write-up from the previous day on his Facebook page, Kenny Walks Across America. The log covers each of his 174 days of walking. After a light breakfast, Mintz usually hit the road around 7 a.m., walking for about eight hours and averaging 19 miles per day. Lunch typically consisted of a sandwich and dinner came from "whatever diner or restaurant was close to where I was staying," Mintz said.
The inspiration for the cross country hike mirrored a journey Mintz's mother took when he was 4 years old, moving from Washington, D.C., to California with what Mintz described as "a dream for a better future." In March 2020, Mintz's mother died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Before her death he promised to help raise funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, something his journey helped him accomplish.
Mintz raised just over $100,000, a number he said continues to climb and one that exceeded his goals by about $35,000. In addition to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, donations are also going to Operation Resiliency, which works to combat veteran suicide and meet the needs of veterans, and the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund, which provides scholarships to veterans and military family members.
Mintz estimated that 300 people joined him for portions of the journey. This included his daughter, Margaret, who served as his support driver from Indiana to California. Mintz described her participation as "the single most significant aspect of the entire experience."
The Sentinel caught up with Mintz in the weeks after his journey to hear about what he learned on the way, what kept him going and what ran through his mind as he stepped into the Pacific Ocean.
Q: What is the biggest thing you've learned through this experience?
A: I discovered joy and beauty and connection through this experience — connection with the people I walked with, but also with the environment. I slowed things down and actually was a part of the world instead of just moving through it. Walking slows things down, and puts you into the moment. I discovered that walking and talking with people is in our DNA, that in a world that isolates us in unnatural ways, the simple act of walking with other people brought the opposite, a natural fellowship. We need more of this in our lives.
Q: Was there ever a moment you wanted to quit and what kept you going?
A: I never came close to wanting to quit. On the walk I took each day at a time, and focused on the task at hand. Each day was a new challenge, and each day brought something new and interesting to the journey. I truly loved being in the "arena" each day. I might start the day feeling down, but within a couple of hours my spirits would always rise. I looked forward to certain milestones — each state border I crossed, each 500 miles that I walked etc. Each day felt like an accomplishment, and I felt definite satisfaction in the completion of each day's walk, and each day's written summary. There were specific areas that were difficult to navigate, and it was satisfying to get through tough stretches of road or weather conditions. I was honestly unfazed by the walk itself — I trained adequately, and was well supported and equipped. If not for the difficulty of sharing much of the trip with cars and trucks on our nation's highways and byways, it would have been a much easier journey. The constant threat and danger of drivers was by far the greatest trial. As I have said many times, this is not a country designed for people to walk or bike across.
Q: Before your journey, you anticipated walking on roads to be the biggest challenge. After, do you believe that was the case? If so, why? If not, what was the biggest challenge and why?
A: I had many close calls with dodging traffic, and the psychological pressure of maintaining constant vigilance in these conditions was mentally exhausting, as was the constant din of droning engines as vehicles flew by me. I would gladly take the worst physical conditions over the mental anguish of sharing the road with cars, trucks and motorcycles. The appeal of the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Coast Trail is that the focus is on the countryside and the physical labor of moving over mountains and natural obstacles. And these long trails are much more logistically challenging than what I faced in my journey. Both of these trails are north-south, and cut through a large swathe of the North American continent. But, for me, a walk across America was about connection and not the physical and mental challenge of surviving a long movement through the wilderness. I averaged 19 miles every day, and that would seem like quite an accomplishment, but it was routine for me. I did not carry much weight, and I didn't lose much weight, maybe 20 lbs. My body adjusted to the level of exertion, and I was not wanting for food or nourishment. If all I had to do was walk 3,000 miles across the country on an existing trail with access to hostels and sources of water and food, this would have been an easy walk for me.
Q: What went through your mind as you took your final steps of your journey?
A: I have written about many of the questions you have asked, and have been cutting and pasting from my last three installments that I wrote on my Facebook page: The sun was shining bright, and the wind was blowing gently on my face as I crested the final rise. I was now in my own head, and almost oblivious to everything and everyone around me. My heart was in my throat. I was almost in a dream state as I crossed over Vulcan Avenue and under the railroad. I was in disbelief to suddenly find myself walking across the Pacific Coast Highway, and then south on the sidewalk toward Swami's Beach. As I approached the small park on the bluffs above the beach I could see a group of people waiting for me to arrive. ... I could hear them cheering, but I was focused on getting down the stairs to the beach to end the walk. I passed between Bryan Fencl, who is a retired lieutenant colonel, holding an American flag, and John Leathers, who was a lieutenant who served with me as a battalion commander, holding a 10th Mountain Division flag. Bryan came to attention and saluted me with our division motto "Climb to Glory." ... I returned his salute instinctively, and responded with "To the Top." ... everything and everyone was a blur of color. Blue skies. The ocean sparkling below as I descended the stairs, then the sand under my feet. I strode to a point in the sand and took off my vest, and my socks and shoes. Margaret caught up to me, and took off her shoes, and we faced the Pacific Ocean together. We walked hand in hand, father and daughter, into the cold surf, and there in this magical place of my dreams, I embraced my daughter as the ripples of waves moved around our legs, and it was over. It was simply surreal and unbelievable, and remains so.
Q: You've just walked across the United States of America. What comes next for you?
A: I plan to write a book about my journey. This is my focus now. Who knows what is next? I hope that I can continue to find ways to support causes I believe in, and to take action in my life on those things that are important to me.
Maddie Seiler is a news reporter for The Sentinel and cumberlink.com covering Carlisle and Newville. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at: @SeilerMadalyn
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