There is, unbeknownst to most, a rich history in the United States of folks choosing to tread across the country, coast-to-coast, by foot. (And even more by bike, including Long Beach locals.) Many choose to attach awareness for some social cause to their trek, from walking for gay rights—Richard Noble carried a rainbow flag from San Francisco to Florida across the course of his 16-month walk in 2011 and 2012—to campaign finance reform—the famed Granny D, born Doris Haddock, became the oldest person in history to cross the country at the age of 90.
Maryland natives Pete Miljevic, 27, and Tyler “Biddy” Bidwell, 24, want to reach the same achievement, having left Cecil, Maryland, one month, two weeks, and six days ago as they trek toward their final destination of Long Beach. When they reach our shore, they will become the nation’s 40th documented set of folks to do so in an attempt to raise awareness for life-altering spinal cord injuries that leave folks unable to do precisely what they want to achieve.
For Miljevic, his stepmother is an inspiration like no other: An Air Force veteran who was tragically paralyzed following a car accident, Lisa Miljevic has a spunk that is not only contagious but is backed by a fearless lack of relinquishing life. She bowls. She trains in karate.
“She never gives up and she has never let something that a lotta people would view as a setback get in her way,” Miljevic said. “She’s just one of the most incredible people I know and this is for her.”
Despite Pete’s unquestionable love for his stepmom, Lisa was initially unsure of Pete’s proposal. In fact, per her very own words, Pete tends to “bobble between bullshit and crazy,” lending her to shirk at the idea that Pete would actually follow through with a 3,000-plus-mile expedition by foot. However, just a week after saying he would trek across the U.S., he was on his way with Biddy—”proving that the crazy outweighed the B.S. this round.” (It also garnered Pete a new smartphone, courtesy of his stepmom, after having to go through constant burner phones.)
Seven-hundred miles in and having reached their first time zone change, the initial portion of their journey has proved anything but easy.
The tarp they bought? Turns out it wasn’t waterproof and was useless in a torrential Tennessee downpour, forcing the pair to sleep under a bridge.
Their main source of food? McDonald’s: High-calorie and cheap. (And, thanks to the graciousness of many managers, discounted.)
Their luggage? Way too much of it, having had to ditch, article by article, things they don’t use along the way as well as leading to the “borrowing” of shopping carts like the one they found in Baltimore. (It was described as a godsend by Pete and Biddy, even after they had shed weight from their bags. In fact, each of them had to go through the somewhat embarrassing experience of watching a hiking veteran whom they met near Mill Mountain in Roanoke sort through their stuff, tossing “a ton of crap we brought for some reason” into the Free Articles bin.)
And yes, they were even detained by the Secret Service momentarily.
“We had great jobs as mason tenders for government work before we took off on this trip,” Miljevic said. “And we had helped build a building that the Secret Service trains their K-9 units at [in a center just outside the National Capital Region]… We straight-up got obtained by the Secret Service for trying to see it and, as it was happening, all I could think of was, ‘Well, if this is the end of the trip and this is how it all ends, I’m cool with going out this way.'”
Pete and Biddy’s spirits, like Lisa’s, are contagiously affable. Motivated by little more than the spirit of youth and a need to offer the world more—Pete is not shy in expressing the fact that their journey “is for everybody, every single person inspired by something or wanting more or just wanting to be connected”—the pair have kept almost every promise to stop where they are asked to stop.
“We’ve had people reach out to us, y’know, ‘Hey man! We would love to meet you guys!’ type thing,” Pete said. “Veterans. Community leaders. Bluegrass players. Random strangers with big hearts. It’s been one of the greatest parts of the trip—meeting people.”
They weren’t kidding about the Bluegrass players, having Rheatown Country Store & Deli in Chuckey, Tennessee for some grub and their popular right-next-the-fridge-section live music.
They met Horace Burgess, master builder of the famed Minister’s Tree House in Tennessee, largely considered the world’s largest treehouse; they stayed there for free.
They’ve met folks who have let them tour caverns and the Devil’s Bathtub in Virginia.
They met an owner of an interior design store who, after hearing their story and offering them water, had to share a video of them explaining what they’re doing.
Restaurateurs have heard their stories and invited them to their restaurants, like Kaizen in Knoxville, and news teams have asked them to tell their story, like an old high school friend who moved to Des Moines as a broadcast journalist. (That made them add Des Moines onto their Places to Stop list.)
“There’s been one thing about it all—the most rewarding part and that’s stumbling upon like-minded people,” Pete said. “It makes it feel like your mission is bigger than you when you realize that there’s so many people trying to be better humans.”
As they head to St. Louis, they’ll venture to Des Moines and then through Nebraska, where the flatness will “allow us to just trek through it and get to the Rockies as quick as possible.” Reaching the Rockies early is key given the weather shift come fall and they plan to do so before October.
By December, they hope to be at Long Beach’s border, where they will walk across with Stepmom Lisa and other veterans.
As for post-walking plans? Well, they’ll have to get back home somehow—so they’re going to walk. Again. The trek back will be benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, dedicated to both retired and active duty members wounded in the line of duty.
And fear not, Pete and Biddy, we’ll be standing there to welcome you and wave goodbye.
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