In 2011, a 23 year old journalist named Anthony Nicaj left his home in Mineola, NY on foot pushing a stroller full of his belongings with the intention of walking across America. Along the way, he kept a collection of journals that described the beautiful, random, and mundane that came from the American highway with the hopes of one day sharing his perspectives. He has transcribed these journals and included original photos to create a thorough accounting of this journey.
That’s me. Five years later and it is finally done: Within Walking Distance: Journals from ‘Walking Across America’
It’s funny to me how the end of the walk was almost as anti-climactic as the publication of this work. I ended up in La Push, Washington after having taken the ferry across the Puget Sound and I walked for a few days until I arrived at the coast.
Here’s an excerpt from this part of the journal:
I walk through the quiet and tight path of the forest and first I smell it, and then I feel the cool air on my skin, and then I finally see the coast.
The sun barely shines through the overcast sky as it sets over that great body of water finally real in my eyes. The dark sand is as surprisingly cool as the breeze and the sheer cliffs are resplendently beautiful. I walk my poor cold legs and soak them in the Pacific up to my knees. The ocean is frigid and with the sun setting and the wind blowing harder by the minute, I decide to set camp and work on a fire before diving in. I break down in tears amongst the seagulls and the tide, completely alone and overjoyed at the finish line. I look up and down the coast and marvel at the fact that I’m the only one here and I find myself wishing I had somebody to celebrate this moment with. I reflect on the journey and see flashes of people and places that have led me to this point. I steady my camera phone on a giant piece of driftwood and pose.
I’ve sold 15 copies since I published this work two months ago. I wanted to make $3/copy because you walk 3 miles per hour. I assumed anybody interested in the subject matter would be more than happy to spend that money for an accounting of so much sweating and arbitrary toil.
What’s most interesting to me now is that I’m currently in between jobs and realizing that passive income is hard to come by. In fact, it has been the hardest thing for me to understand in my adult life up until now–now that I finally have some intellectual property that to the right person, might actually be quite valuable. What I’m finding in this socio-political climate, is that people are busier and more closed off than ever. If it’s not their phones doing the distracting, it’s everything else that electronically glows in front of them or commands their attention throughout the day. It’s the fear-mongering and bipartisan media pinning society against itself, where ignorant voices are successfully shouting beyond the woodwork, stirring up more and more hatred and general lunacy.
Five years ago seems so far in not only my own personal development, but in the country’s as well. When I once found comfort in pitching a tent wherever I deemed responsible and legal, I now second-guess and worry inordinately about footfalls in the night. I have lost trust in our society and the larger system in place (our government) that supposedly holds it all together for the benefit of everyone in this country and others. Even though I was lucky enough to meet so many honest and interesting people living in small-town America, and even though I got to see a great deal of the natural beauty afforded by the landscapes, I feel more lost than ever.
I currently live in Austin, Texas and I’ve been cooking here for the last four and a half years. I’ve been cooking because I like to eat well and because the food culture when I first arrived was very fresh and honest and quickly growing. And now, there’s too much competition, too many empty promises and labels, i.e. “local, sustainable, organic, farm to table, etc.” America craves the pastoral society we once lived in, but we’re more entrenched in our ways than ever to look beyond what we take for granted. It is my hope that my little story makes you question why you do what you do on a daily basis. I hope that you can find comfort in discomfort and the unknowing. Despite the bad people that are everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, we can remain hopeful and open-minded towards all the good awaiting us down the road.