Bruce Maynard, left, poses for a photo with a woman named Linda during a recent stop in his cross-country trip through Meade and on into Liberal. Maynard has spent the last five years walking across America.
By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
Most people at retirement age tend to think about the time they want to spend with children or grandchildren or the rest and relaxation they’ll be getting now that they’re done working.
Not Bruce Maynard.
Maynard, who will be turning 80 this year, has spent the last five years walking across America and has walked from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back six times and has also walked from the U.S. portal in Vancouver, Canada to Key West, Fla. In total, he has walked more than 23,000 miles.
Maynard says at the moment, he is walking from Vancouver, where he started from at the beginning of the year and four days after he had a triple bypass operation on his heart. He is on his way to visit his younger sister, who is in a nursing home in DeKalb, Ill.
“I kind of push the envelope for an old guy,” he said. “I had set out to make a point, make a statement that old people (and I consider myself to be an old people) can do things way beyond what society expects and what will allow them to do. Most people my age are dead, there’s not many of us left at 80 years old and certainly there’s no one who comes close to doing the crazy things that I have done.”
He began walking five years ago after the death of his wife in 2001 from and the closing of his company. He says the deaths of others in his family at somewhat young ages made him want to honor their memories, adding he felt they had been cheated out of the best years of their lives. After doing some thinking, he came up with his idea to start walking across America.
“Here I am, my wife has passed away, my business has closed down...and I’m by myself - my kids are all grown and I said to myself ‘what do I want to do?’ Most people my age are dead so I wanted to do something which was meaningful in retirement, which I wasn’t ready for,” he explained. “I had no savings, everything was gone, I had no money, I had no assets, no home, no nothing – so what do I do, sit in the park or get in line at the food bank? Those are my only options and I said, ‘screw that, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to go see what is out in the world. I’m going to go out and shake some more bushes.’”
Maynard, who had driven cross country several times, says the idea to walk across America took him almost a year to work out and when he presented it to his children, he encountered support and the usual concerns.
“My son had said ‘well Dad if you’re going to do a crazy thing like walk across America, at least let people know what you’re about, there are a lot of people who are going to be very interested in what you do, especially at 80 years old,’” he said.
His son also suggested that Maynard document his travels across the country on a blog. Maynard did start his blog, called Seniors walking America, which now has just more than 1,300 entries. He updates it every day and includes photos from his travels. He has over 35,000 photos on his blog, all of which are taken at 4 mph, which is the speed he typically walks at. They are of animals, people, landmarks and other things that he sees along his travels.
“So I put it on a blog and all of a sudden I have 1,000 people interested. This time last year I was walking from N.C. pushing a cart all the way across America, and I had 700 almost 800 people registered to read what I was doing every day, which is pretty awesome for a guy. I’m nobody, I’m just a guy, nobody knows who I am, so it was pretty awesome to have people interested in what you’re doing,” he said.
His blog documenting his travels has indeed garnered much attention – it was recently named one of the top five blogs according to Facebook. Maynard also told a story about a young man from Oslo, Norway who had come to see him while he was walking in Ohio who said his whole family in Norway reads the blog and how his wife refuses to drink her first cup of coffee until the blog is in front of her.
“He said what I have to say, what I have to share is very important to them and that I present it in such a way that’s intelligent and enlightening so they like to read it every day,” he shared. “So I now have an ongoing responsibility around the world to continue to discover those things that I can discover like here in Liberal and reduce them to a show and tell on my blog of photos and narratives so they can get a first hand experience if you will of America that most people didn’t even know existed.”
His travels have attracted attention from other media outlets including ABC, Univision and other newspapers across the country. A documentary called Sam and Me was also made about his travels with his cart Sam, a solar powered cart that he used for several years. The film ended up in the top 10 of the festival, but didn’t end up taking one of the top two spots. Luckily, one of the judges was the C.E.O. of the PBS channel and the film now plays on the channel once a week and it also plays once a week on Discovery Channel.
Maynard was able to use Sam on his travels until he had to leave it in North Carolina.
“Last year, Sam and me walked from Wilmington, N.C. by way of the outer banks and most of the way, I disconnected the electrical systems and took off the motor and the panels because I had to go down some really steep hills. They were 8 percent hills – one of them was 8 miles and the other one was 12 miles long in West Virginia.
“Across the Alleghenies,” he explained. “I couldn’t hold Sam back, she weighed too much, I simply couldn’t hold on to her so I had to get rid of this weight so I took those panels off, and I left them in North Carolina, and they’re waiting for me there now.”
Maynard also walks to raise awareness for the body’s lymphatic system, saying he considers it the fountain of youth for the body brought up how people have 100 percent control over its health. He told the story of a man he encountered in Minnesota whose wife had been diagnosed with a serious illness and had been advised to become knowledgeable about the lymphatic system. The man thanked Maynard for walking for the cause.
“It’s obviously important to some people,” he said.
Maynard doesn’t want to stop at just America, however. He also wants to walk the entire world, but says he can’t do it on his Social Security money alone. He will soon be putting together a campaign to raise funds for the mission on Kickstarter, which he will leave up for 45 days.
“It’s quite a lot of money to raise but I’ve had 5 years of proof of who I am. When I say I’m going to do something, you can consider it done. I’m that kind of person,” he said. “It’s an objective that I can do, my body’s capable of doing it, my mind is capable of doing it, and I think a lot of people would be fascinated to have someone, especially an old guy like me, take on such a challenge so that’s my next step.”