After walking almost 2,000 miles in the last eight months, a retired Sebastopol couple is back home and taking a winter break from their coast-to-coast hike.
Jerry Bowerman, 62, and his wife Karen Clark, 61, started out in late February on the eastern shores of Delaware and so far have walked through eight states, reaching Kansas City, Mo.
They flew home last week to rest and regroup for a few months before they go back to Missouri, to pick up where they left off.
"It's been awesome, beyond my wildest expectations," Bowerman said. "The people we've met, the history we've seen and the number of trails we've walked on, has been absolutely mind-boggling."
Married for more than three decades, the couple always loved backpacking. When Bowerman retired from his gardening business earlier this year, he and Clark, a recently retired county public health nurse, decided to follow their dream to hike the 5,057-mile American Discovery Trail.
Most of it runs through public land, such as forests and historic canal routes, but it also comes close to major metropolitan areas, including St. Louis, Chicago and Cincinnati. It wends its way over the Rockies, through the desert and Sierra Nevada, before ending at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Described as the country's first coast-to-coast, non-motorized trail, only about 20 people have completed the entire route over the past two decades, according to the American Discovery Trail Society.
"One guy ran ran it. Someone else did it with a horse," Clark said.
Along the way, Bowerman and Clark have experienced their share of unpleasantness, from clouds of mosquitoes, to ticks, chiggers, biting flies, poison ivy and blisters.
It's well chronicled in a blog Karen writes almost daily at www.trailjournals.com/karenandjerry.
"It doesn't all happen at once," Bowerman said of the litany of discomforts and hazards, including rattlesnakes, oppressive heat, driving rain and scary-close thunder and lightning.
"In between times, there's a lot of beautiful things to see," he said.
The couple speaks of dazzling wildflower displays, melodious bird songs and the excitement of following the Indian trails and pioneer paths of westward migration.
In an entry in their journal last month from Chester, Ill., Karen wrote about the 18th Century fort they saw along the Mississippi River.
"For months, we have been hiking west and following the advance of American history. Now, we've reached the Mississippi, and we are back in the 1700s, learning about French explorers who came south from what is now Canada. Our heads are spinning."
What has most impressed them and made their long journey worthwhile is hospitality extended by the people they've encountered.
"All of those hardships disappear," Clark said. "People's kindness to us is phenomenal. They stop and talk to us, invite us to spend the night."
Seeing a backpacker is a novelty to the locals in small towns, many of which are distinguished only by a small store, post office and a church.
"We're accessible to people working in yards. They come over and say &‘hi.' We always stop and chat," Bowerman said.
Residents offer the backpackers water and ice tea, sometimes feed them, even discretely pay for their meals.
While few people want to walk from sea to shining sea, they are envious of the couple's freedom.