News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 8, 2013

Cross Country Trekkers

Terre Haute couple stops by home on way west

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Two years ago, John-Michael and Tara Elmore of Terre Haute decided to take a long walk.

The husband/wife team started their trek this year on March 16 at Perth Amboy, New Jersey, just outside of New York City on their way to Gold Beach, Oregon — a distance of roughly 3,100 miles.

The two arrived at their Terre Haute home last Sunday and plan to restart their walk Friday, with the first goal of reaching Paris, Ill.

Terre Haute is the quarter mark, about a fourth of the way on their journey.

It was a planned stop on the route, Tara said.

“We are not so adventurous to say, ‘oh we have to succeed, we can’t fail.’ We actually planned this in the route. If this was not meeting our expectations and we didn’t think we could do it, then we will say, hey, we had a really great long walk from the East coast,” Tara said.

“And made it to Terre Haute,” John-Michael added, concluding his wife’s sentence.

“With all of the support that we have received and all of our experiences with the people we have met, I know that I want to keep going. We have discussed that, and it’s onto the Pacific Coast,” Tara said.

The two met in the winter of 1998 at Indiana State University. Both were transfer students — Tara, a native of Seymour, from Ball State University and John-Michael, a native of Terre Haute, from Purdue University.

They both graduated from ISU in 2000. Tara has a degree in communications and John-Michael a degree in economics. They also got married that year. They moved to Indianapolis and returned to Terre Haute in 2002. They are now both 35.

It took two years of saving and planning to start the walk. First, both worked overtime to save up money. Tara worked at St. Mary-of-the-Woods daycare/preschool and at 100.7 MIX-FM. John-Michael worked for ISU Credit Union. He gave a 3 1/2-month notice and helped interview and train his replacement.

He joked that his resume may now have a big hole. “What about that year? Well, I went for a really long walk,” he chuckled.

The couple started training in Terre Haute on Jan. 1, 2012 and walked more than 2,000 miles during that year.

Walking has been a passion and dream of the two since high school. Tara dreamed of backpacking Europe, while John-Michael had a coast-to-coast walking vision.

“We didn’t want to get near the end of our lives and say, hey, I wished we had walked,” John-Michael said. “I am pretty sure we would not get to the end of our lives and say, hey, I wished I had worked even more.”

The couple made their final decision for the walk after seeing a website, imjustwalkin.com, about a man in his 30s who quit his job to walk across the United States. The couple was also searching for a change.

“Cynicism was creeping in our attitudes toward our interactions with other people and it didn’t seem like a healthy approach to living day to day,” John-Michael said.

“We decided to test this and see if people really are still just people. That, in fact, is exactly what we are finding out. When we interact with people, we are strangers to them. Our political preference doesn’t matter, our religion doesn’t matter, what matters is, hey, here are two people trying to do something unusual. They need help and people help us,” he said.

“That really brings it down to the core element of what is human nature, I think, that we really do want to help each other deep down. That is what we are finding out anyway,” John-Michael said.

The walk is also strengthening their own relationship as a couple.

“I think going into it you have to have a strong relationship. We are really more so now a team,” Tara said. “When I am having a really rough day. He is my coach and is cheering me on and visa versa,” Tara said of her husband. “Thankfully, only once, I think, we’ve both had days that we were really tough and grouchy,” Tara said.

Since they are on the road, John-Michael said both realized arguments would not be productive. “It’s not worth the argument. What will that prove out here [on the road]. Yes, this has strengthen it,” he said of the couple’s connection.

The two have a web blog —www.wewalkandroll.com — that first started as a way to show relatives where they were located. It has turned, Tara said, into “a love letter to the country and the people who are in it, and saying thank-you for taking care of two strangers that you don’t know,” she said.

“We still believe this country is great. We were getting skeptical about it and thought, let’s see this country as slow as we possibly can and that is walking,” Tara said. “And along the way, let’s see if we can restore how we really feel about the country and the people in it.”

The two carry a hand-held GPS and will carry paper maps of the states they have yet to go through — Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. They use converted running strollers to carry clothes and supplies, which includes dog mace as well as bear mace, for protection.

Their route followed U.S. 30 and U.S. 40 to Terre Haute. They will cut north following county roads until they begin to parallel Interstate 80 on the way to Oregon.

The trek is not easy. They walk an average of 20 miles per day and have burned 4,000 to 5,000 calories on days they walked 28 miles. They each expect to wear through six pairs of shoes. “We eat non-stop and drink a lot of chocolate milk, but I have lost 14 pounds in seven weeks and she has lost five pounds, and we are not trying to,” John-Michael said.

Chocolate milk is “an athlete’s trick” for a quick recovery, John-Michael said, due to its protein and sugar content.

They carry a tent, and either sleep in a park or, with permission, on private property.

When they approach the West Coast, John-Michael’s sister will join the couple for the final six days of the journey.

“Will it be a let down or a relief when we are done? I am not sure,” John-Michael said.

“We have talked to others who have done similar walks. They said the first couple of weeks after the walk is over, they had trouble adjusting. You are used to surviving day to day in a different way, burning through calories and producing all this adrenaline and all of a sudden that just stops.

“Knowing that going into it helps, knowing we may face that, but I don’t know if we will have a sense of relief, of accomplishment, maybe a little of both or neither,” John-Michael said.

Tara added, “Who knows, we may just have to go on a vacation.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.