Possibly one of the greatest testimonials for walking is Robert Sweetgall's
11,208 mile foot journey through all 50 states.
walked the entire United States in one year, averaging 31 miles per day.
was flown back to the Univ. Mass. Medical Center
where a team of 20 medical scientists and doctors completely analyzed his
physiological functions to determine the long-term effects of walking on the human body.
Bottom line: this medical research showed no injuries, no abnormal physiological effects, and fortunately for Sweetgall
, improvements in many areas, including cardiorespiratory function, reduction in body fat, and enhanced muscle strengthening.
50-state walk across America; 1984-1985:
, however, stands out from the tramping throng.
walking to promote walking.
You've got to give him credit for being straightforward.
, a 37-year-old blue-eyed blond, used to be a chemical engineer, but he
chucked that to become the Johnny Appleseed of recreational walking.
In 1982 and '83, he
marched 10,600 miles around the perimeter of the U.S.
latest solo odyssey, begun last Sept. 7, will take about a year, cover some 11,600 miles and touch all 50 states. (He managed Alaska and Hawaii by flying in, hiking around a bit and flying out.)
At towns and cities along his
gives speeches to school groups and service clubs and interviews to the local news media.
This week, amid the browns and greens of the vast Nebraska flatlands, he
passed the 7,000-mile mark.
feels great but, then, what else can he
"It wouldn't look good if I dragged around all tired and depressed," he
But really, folks, he
does feel wonderful, and he
owes it all to walking, which he
calls the "perfect" exercise.
"It's cheap, you can't get hurt unless you step in a hole and you can do it anytime," he
is compressing a lifetime of walking into a year.
, of course, isn't taking a stroll in the park.
isn't guinea-pigging in Massachusetts, he
walks 30 to 35 miles a day, seven days a week, with the fervor of a convert, which he
As a boy and youth in Brooklyn, N.Y., about the most strenuous thing he
did was bowl.
He was graduated from Cooper Union and, still sedentary, went to work as an engineer for duPont Co. in Delaware.
father and several relatives died of heart attacks within a brief period.
had better shape up, and took to jogging.
This led him to running, marathoning, and ultra-marathoning and the triathlon.
decided everybody should work out.
He quit his job and started the Foundation for the Development of Cardiovascular Fitness.
It consists of himself and an office in Newark, Del., which is closed when he's
on the road.
Lacking money, knowing everybody shouldn't or couldn't run, and needing to dramatize his
hit upon his
around-the-U.S. hike of 1982 and '83.
started out with a friend driving a support van that doubled as a place to sleep, but the guy quit near the halfway point.
carried on alone for the last 144 days, finagling free lodgings nightly.
discovered that he
met more people and preferred traveling that way.
is alone again for this trip.
sleeps where he
has bunked in two jails, a grain elevator, some churches and stores, and a lot of private residences.
"I'm constantly amazed at how many people let strangers into their homes," he
eight months out, he
has braved below-zero temperatures in Washington, 60-mile-per-hour head winds in North Dakota and several feet of snow in Colorado (photo, left).
A Nebraska tornado just missed him last week.
Police have shooed him off interstate highways coast to coast.
had a dozen foot blisters and a couple of sore throats.
Worse than all that was getting his
travels with only a waist pack holding five pounds of clothes and gear (he's re-supplied periodically by mail), and when he
can't rinse a few things in his
must strip in a Laundromat while he
Several times he's
posted sentries to make sure nothing untoward occurred.
Abjuring ear-plug radios on grounds of safety and principle, he
must occupy his
mind through the hours of lonely trudging.
does this with varying degrees of success by searching for roadside junk and coins (he's found $82 so far) and playing "mind games" like recalling in detail each of his
days on the road.
believes it's all worth it because of the response to his
"Kids make the best audiences," he
"A trip like mine tickles them, and they love the idea of walking-just walking- as an achievement.
Some older people get the message, too.
"I met a man of 84 in Toledo," says Sweetgall