With kettles of hawks soaring overhead and flocks of Canada Geese soon to follow, former UMD student Kevin Hard is reminded of when he, too, joined the southern migration last year. On Sept. 17, 2012, Hard grabbed his backpack and started walking solo from the Minnesota-Canadian border on Lake Superior to Matamoros, Mexico, just across the border from the southern tip of Texas. “Ever since I was really little, I had this urge to move forward and go south with the migration,” he said. “I always blamed it on my Native American heritage.”
Hard was referring to some Cree Native American in his ancestry.
In total, the trip was a little over 1,700 miles and took about two and a half months, giving him time to make it home for Thanksgiving. In the beginning, he walked between 30 and 40 miles per day, depending on the terrain, and was pushing 50 miles per day by the end.
Inside his backpack, he carried a camera, laptop computer, two changes of clothes, a sleeping bag, tarp and Bivy Sack, which is a waterproof sack that goes on the outside of a sleeping bag. The minimalist style of packing made it easy for him to travel and sleep wherever he wanted.
In northern Minnesota, he stuck to rambling snowmobile trails and the Lake Superior Hiking Trail. After that, it was highways and the frontage roads beside them, railroad tracks, gravel roads and forest trails.
Most nights he’d find a cozy spot just off the side of whatever trail or road he was walking and lay out his sleeping bag.
“I’d find some nice trees and sneak in there and then get up in the morning and leave,” he said. “I never had a problem camping.”
When Hard told his friends he was going to walk across the country, there was no surprise.
“His whole demeanor—just the way he presents himself—it’s like really sporadic, kind of,” said Lauren Hanson, one of Hard’s former housemates and a UMD junior. “He’s very outgoing and not always serious with people. But I knew he was serious when he (was) like, ‘I’m going to walk across the country.’”
Besides the urge to just travel, Hard did the trip because he wanted to complete something on his own. “That was a really important part to me because I kind of wanted to see if I could do it,” he said.
Along the way, he discovered solo traveling has its ups and downs.
“Sometimes I just wanted someone to hang out or talk to,” Hard said. “But sometimes I was like, ‘I don’t have anyone holding me back and telling me what to do.’”
After Minnesota—his favorite part of the trip—Hard split Iowa down the middle, dredged through rain and puddle-filled roads in Missouri, and met a lot of “crazy” people in Kansas.
Along with those he met in Kansas, there was a hand full of different people that became a part of his experience. People would stop and talk to him on the road:
“There were the moms or old ladies that would stop and be like, ‘Hey, do you need to come to my house and sleep or something?’ Or, like, ‘Here’s 20 bucks for dinner,’” Hard said.
Others, he’d bump into while crossing a city:
“And then I’d meet, you know, the crack-head low-lives or the bums in the city slums and stuff like that,” he said.
Sometimes he’d find people in the most unexpected places.
“There are these huge camps of transient hippies and train hoppers under bridges and stuff,” Hard said. “They’re probably some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, but it was a little weird to be hanging out with them because they don’t have homes.”
After Kansas, he crossed into Oklahoma where he spent nights defending himself against mischievous armadillos and raccoons.
“I was more scared of the animals that would come and mess with me at night than the crazy people that would come up and yell at me,” he said. “Because people can be reasoned with, but wild armadillos are just wild armadillos.”
The armadillos would burrow under his Bivy Sack at night and scratch him in the process.
Once he reached Texas, there was a lot more to worry about than rodents.
By night, he said he’d get “torn up” by fire ants. By day, he’d walk from ghost town to ghost town searching for food and water without luck.
During a four-day stretch, he ran dry on both and was close to calling the police for help.
“My confidence was broken,” Hard said. “I was just kind of sad, I guess. And my body hurt.”
But, he kept going and finally found a Walmart where he could replenish his supplies.
“Those four days were the most mentally strenuous times I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “I won’t say I necessarily wanted to die at that point in my life, but that’s the closest I’ve ever come—just wanting everything to stop.”
Along with the fire ants and dehydration, Hard was discouraged by the amount of garbage he found in Texas underneath bridges where there used to be lakes, and also by the large amounts of misplaced trash throughout his trip.
“There were McDonald’s bags blowing everywhere off the freeway, then all these abandoned unused towns with thousands of pounds of scrap metal, which is a waste,” he said. “I definitely saw the country as much more of a consumer (and) materialistic place than I thought.”
Once he reached Mexico, he crossed back into the United States and a friend drove him back to Minnesota.
“It was weird to see my whole two and a half month trip in 24 hours,” he said about the drive.
Now, after a year of digesting the trip, Hard has a lot more appreciation for time and freedom.
“The most fun part about (the trip) was being free, essentially,” Hard said. “I was so liberated by the fact that all I had to do was what I wanted to do. And, what I wanted to do was walk around all day. It was wild to have that much free time to think.”
During his trip, he thought about what he wanted for his future and how to achieve it. Out of this contemplation spawned his saying: “The farther you go today, the farther you can go tomorrow.”
According to Hanson, these are now words he lives by.
“Kevin is total proof that anything you want to do, you have inside of you to do it,” she said.
Since his trip, he and friends started an organic farming company called Gnarfoodz and together they’ve been laboring at the harvest.
BY ALOYSIA POWER firstname.lastname@example.org