After hiking more than 4,300 miles across the country, a Sebastopol couple is home, savoring the completion of their epic journey.
Jerry Bowerman and Karen Clark dipped their feet into the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore on Saturday, completing the 15-state trek they began at the Atlantic shore of Delaware on Feb. 25, 2010.
"We're kind of kicking back, doing almost nothing. It feels pretty good," said Bowerman, 64, who battled shin splints toward the end of his journey.
"It's not the kind of thing you want when you walk day after day. Yeah, it's painful," he said. "It made for some limping along the way."
"I was excited to see people," said Clark, 63, of being greeted by two dozen well-wishers and family members who met them at Limantour Beach, at journey's end.
"I felt kind of peaceful, happy to be home and happy to see friends," she said.
Clark, a retired nurse, and Bowerman, a retired landscaper, have been devoted hikers going back to one of their first dates in 1978, when they took a three-day backpacking trip before they were married.
Their transcontinental journey followed the American Discovery Trail, described as the first coast-to-coast, non-motorized hiking route. It was established in 2000 and runs through public lands, crossing forests, deserts, historic canal routes and some metropolitan areas.
"Knowing you can walk across the country, for the most part avoiding major roads, is a pretty incredible thing in this day and age," Clark said.
The couple wanted to raise awareness about the American Discovery Trail and help make it part of a new category of long-distance trails.
They didn't do the journey all at once. They took breaks, as long as eight months, to rest, go back for reunions with friends and family, or wait out mountain snows and tornado season.
Their longest day was 25.5 miles. And when they weren't camping on the trail, they stayed at motels and bed-and-breakfast inns.
After setting off from the snowy shores of Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, they hiked nearly 1,800 miles in eight months of 2010 before taking a break in Kansas City, Mo.
They chronicled their journey in a blog, www.trailjournals.com/karenandjerry.
There were trials and vexations: Oppressive heat, clouds of mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, chiggers, poison ivy and blisters.
But the occasional rattlesnake, driving rain and threatening thunder and lightning were offset by dazzling wildflower displays, melodious bird songs and thrills of following the Indian trails and pioneer paths of westward migration.
The hardships melted with the kindness they experienced from strangers who stopped to talk to them, offer them a cold drink, feed them or even invite them to spend the night. They got to know their fellow Americans from all walks of life.
They were labeled retired vagabonds, or high-tech nomads, equipped with cellphone, camera, GPS, mapping software, a turn-by-turn guide of the trail and a "netbook" for Internet access.
Their backpacks each weighed about 30 pounds, including sleeping bags, cooking gear, clothes, freeze-dried dinners and water. Their daughter periodically mailed supplies of food along the route.
After a winter hiatus, the couple resumed their odyssey in 2011, logging 1,062 miles from Kansas to the Continental Divide in Colorado.
The Rocky Mountains and an early snowstorm proved overwhelming. At one point, they experienced white-out conditions at 12,000 feet as the trail disappeared in front of them.