Walkers step up for charity

Pair hiking across US to raise cash for homeless

Abby Bongaarts and Danny Finnegan stack their camping equipment onto the cart they towed behind them as they walked the 2,000 miles between Long Island, New York, and Grand Junction. They are on their way to San Francisco.

Grand Junction has been playing host to two industrious walkers for the past few days, a pair of 24-year-olds who are in the middle of a 3,000-mile cross-country walk from Long Island, New York, to San Francisco.

They hope to see the U.S. at a lingering pace and raise money to help the homeless in the process.

Abby Bongaarts and Danny Finnegan left Long Beach, New York, on foot on March 1. After walking and camping their way across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas and many other states, including the most mountainous heights of Colorado, they arrived at a family friend’s home in Grand Junction on Saturday night, two-thirds of the way into their trip.

Aside from fundraising for JOIN, a Portland, Oregon, homeless shelter where the two met in 2015 during a service year with AmeriCorps, the goals of their journey are simple.

“Just to walk and write and think,” said Finnegan.

“And meet people,” added Bongaarts.

And meet people, they have. Concerned citizens will often stop their cars when they see the pair walking along the roadside and ask them if they’re all right.

“We stand out with our cart,” said Bongaarts, referencing the three-wheeled flatbed they pull behind them as they go. It’s stacked with camping equipment, food, weather protection and two large backpacks, everything the pair need to survive. The cart is specially made for long-distance trips by a stroller company.

Bongaarts said that once people stop and find out what she and Finnegan are doing, a barrage of enthusiastic questions usually follows. And no one has been anything but friendly.

The two recall a couple who they met just outside of Columbus, Ohio, in particular.

The two walkers stopped and asked to pitch their tent in the couple’s backyard. The couple said yes, then invited the two in to take showers and do their laundry. Then, the couple invited the travelers to join them for dinner — including homemade margaritas — and then asked if Bongaarts and Finnegan would like to stay the night in the bedrooms of their sons, who were away from home in the military.

Finnegan said he’s learned from these kinds of experiences that cruel people are in the minority, though they often get the most attention. “The majority of people are kind and generous,” said Finnegan.

Many folks the travelers have met along their journey stay in touch through Facebook or text messages, checking in on the pair’s progress and safety.

The most danger the walkers have faced is from car traffic on the roadways, they said, people text messaging or not paying attention. Other than that, they’ve been challenged by the weather — a snowstorm shortly after they started in the spring and now the high desert heat of the Western Slope and Utah — and by their own bodies.

“I thought at some point my feet wouldn’t hurt anymore,” said Bongaarts, who’s on her third pair of running shoes, while Finnegan is on his fourth. “Walking 20-plus miles a day takes a toll,” Bongaarts said.

But the two are so far indomitable. After only two days’ rest and respite from the sun, they’re hitting the road again, leaving early this morning with Green River, Utah, on the horizon.

“I just really like walking,” said Bongaarts. “You get to experience things differently at a walking pace.”

Walking across the country is something she has wanted to do for years. When she met Finnegan in Oregon, she found a willing companion.

“It seemed like a challenge to me,” said Finnegan, one that would test him both physically and mentally.

The two left AmeriCorps in August last year and returned home for a year, to St. Louis Park, Minnesota, and Rockville Centre, New York, respectively, in order to work and save up for their walk.

The two expect to reach San Francisco in mid-September. From there, they plan to unceremoniously return to their home turf and continue to pursue their career goals, Bongaarts as a social services case worker and Finnegan as a social services lawyer.

They invite people to follow them and donate to their cause on their blog, walkacrossamerica2017.com. They also deposit any cash people give them along the way into their fundraising account.


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