Walk, Eddie, walk

Eddie Gray

Eddie Gray is learning about America’s people the hard way.

Eddie Gray is learning about America’s people the hard way.

Photo By Nick Miller

It’s hard to believe, but here’s the story: Starting on April 3, 2008, in Ashland, Mont., 33-year-old Eddie Gray (a Marine on inactive duty) started walking around the perimeter of America. And now, almost a year later, he’s here in Sacramento where he’s been hanging out for a week. Gray says he will still be walking when he turns 34. The Native American (Cherokee tribe), earned a Nike sponsorship and he even scored some free L.L. Bean swag. Gray said because of his walk, he’s able to learn about America. From Gray’s walk, we learn that there’s a fine line between a man on a journey and a homeless person.

So why are you doing this?

I’m a Marine Corps veteran. I’m doing it for all the veteran organizations. And my baby brother’s getting sent to Iraq later this month; he’s a reservist. I just wanted to see Americans—people that I could have died for. I lost of 11 of my Marine Corps brothers that I personally knew in Iraq, and three in Afghanistan.

You were in Iraq?

No. They were. I got out on medical discharge when I broke my sternum.

So how many miles will you end up walking?

About 10,000, give or take.

Does it get lonely on the road?

It does. But it’s also really cleansing. I’m a distance runner, so I’m used to a lot of solitude where I can sort things out in my head. I’m a poet, so I’ve got a lot of poetry; I keep a journal daily and I’m going to write a book when I finish.

Has any crazy stuff happened to you while you’ve been walking?

Oh yeah! I got rushed by a bear. I got a love tap from a mountain lion. He hit me right in the hip. I was on his territory … in Idaho, and there was lots of snow … and I went down to a stream. It was fresh water, and I was filling up my [canteen] and I heard a growl. I looked up and he was right there. I stood up calmly and said, “It’s OK, I’m just getting water.” And it hit me on the hip. It was about 150 pounds, a younger cat, and he took off. And the bear that rushed me didn’t do anything, it just rushed. And I had some wolves follow me. Nothing really bad.

In Sacramento, I got held up at knifepoint. I carry a Ka-Bar [knife] with me, and the blade is [really] long. It was right by my hip, so I wasn’t really worried about their tiny knife. They told me, “Give me your pack.” I said, “I’m not giving you my pack,” and I walked around him, and they didn’t do anything. They didn’t follow me or anything.

Are you worried about running out of money at all?

Not really, because I get donations from tribes, from the American Legion or VFW posts. I really believe in karma, and I help as many people as I can. I’ve bought a lot of cups of coffee and just talked with people. I don’t carry much in my pack, but I give away a lot of stuff to homeless people.

You’re kind of like a homeless person.

Kind of. I carry my home on my back for the next couple years.

Where do you sleep?

My tent. My sleeping bag, sometimes.

Did you have a job before this?

I worked for the Forest Service for quite some time.

Do you drink at all?

Sometimes, yeah. I like beer, personally. I pass through a lot of microbreweries and stuff, like up in Oregon, Portland, Seattle. It’s always good to have different tastes of different stuff. I’ve been invited to different vineyards.

From this walk, what is your overall impression of Americans?

If I wasn’t from here I’d love to live here—the generosity of people. Being a positive person, I think people pick up that attitude off me. It’s like a cold, it kind of spreads.