Sarah “Sunnie” Boggs and her father Gary Buchanan, a Marine vet, passed through the Uintah Basin the past week as they walk across the United States. The duo began walking west on April 1 at Slaughter Beach, Delaware, and plans to end on October 1 at Point Reyes, California.
The pair walked from Jensen to Vernal on August 2, spent the night in their camper van, and walked from Vernal to Forth Duchesne the following day. “This is a really pretty town,” said Boggs, “I really enjoyed walking through it today.”
Boggs and Buchanan are raising moneyfor the Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Humane Society of Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Boggs, a 37-year-old registered nurse, was not only inspired by movies such as “The Way” and “Wild,” but also found this summer to be the right time for her to attempt the walk. “I had always been intrigued by the idea of doing a long-distance walk, and last year I lost my job and then, of course, I lost my house – well, not my house, I was renting a house. I was in between my sister’s house and my parents’ house; I spent the summer at my parents’ house inWest Virginia,” she said, “So, I was in a transitional phase in my life.”
Eventually Boggs decided a cross-country walk was something she had to pursue. “I don’t remember what brought it to mind, but at some point in the summer I told dad, ‘You know, we should do this sometime, you and me. If you’d like to, we should walk across the United States,'” she said.
Buchanan, a 67-year-old veteran, initially doubted the seriousness of his daughter’s suggestion but began researching anyway.
“He started researching it right away. I was dreaming thinking, Oh we’ll do this sometime,’ but the next thing I knew he was like, Come here; let me show you something,'” said Boggs. Her father had researched the American Discovery Trail, an off-road trail spanning more than 7,000 miles from coast to coast.
The pair wanted to complete their walk over the course of six months and found the American Discovery Trail was too long. They eventually settled on a route comprised mostly of U.S. Route 50, selected for its history and because it passes through their home state of West Virginia. Since Route 50 coincides with Interstate 70 west of Mack, Colorado, they decided to travel north and walk Route 40 through the Uintah Basin to Salina, Utah, where they will return to Route 50.
Although the walk itself is arduous, Boggs and Buchanan had challenges to overcome before they even began their journey. “I think just about everything that could go wrong before we left did [go wrong],” said Boggs.
The pair were originally going to be accompanied by Boggs’ friend who would drive their camper van from stop to stop but the friend backed out a few days before the trip. Boggs said she was also met with skepticism from her family members for deciding to walk across the country.
“One of the hardest things I had to go through was [that] one of my closest family members… was very upset that I left my son with my sister – felt that was wildly inappropriate,” said Boggs, “And this was very hard because it’s one of my closest family members, and it’s one thing for them not to understand but quite another for them to accuse you of things.”
Boggs’ son is four years old and she flies to her sister’s house monthly to visit him. “He has ended up doing fantastically,” she said.
Without a driver, the pair typically walks 20 miles west of their van each day and hitchhikes back. They then drive the van to the end point of the day’s walk and camp in it, waking the next day to walk another 20 miles west.
“Some law-enforcement officers frown on the term hitchhike,'” said Buchanan, “We were actually told in Indiana that if we would just stand by the road and hold a sign that said where we wanted to go, that’s not technically hitchhiking – that’s just looking for a ride.”
On days they’re not confident they’ll find a ride after their walk, they take turns driving the van a few miles west while one of them walks.
As she walks, Boggs carries a stuffed toy lion named Lego. The lion’s name was inspired by aHumans of New York storyof a young boy, Max, who lost his battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a fast-moving pediatric cancer of the brain stem with a zero-percent survival rate.
“The last story with the mom who lost her little boy? This is Max,” said Boggs, pointing to the name “Max” written on Lego’s chest and circled with a heart, “We had read that story and it tore both of us.”
The story deeply affected them. “When the child asked his mother, do they speak English where I’m going?'” said Buchanan. Boggs replied, “Yeah, we both lost it.”
“One day, right around the time I read his story… we found this big, white, fluffy teddy bear by the road – I mean huge – nearly perfect. So I carried him all day and at the end of the day, we ended up finding someone to take him home to his grandchildren,” said Boggs.
Finding the stuffed bear gave her and her father an idea. They went to a toy store and found a stuffed animal with fur short enough that it could be written on. “We named him Lego, after Max’s favorite toys,” said Boggs. The story that inspired Boggs told of Max’s mother buying him as many Legos as he wanted on the day of his diagnosis.
As they met people along their walk, Boggs and Buchanan wrote on Lego the names of children who have suffered from severe illness. Some won their battles, some lost and others are still fighting.
“Jack was the one that most recently passed away – two weeks ago,” said Boggs as she pointed out a name written on Lego, “And that was a hard day for me because he was the second name we wrote on there and just a beautiful, beautiful little boy.”
The pair hoped their fundraising will help the Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital continue its mission of aiding sick children and their families. “They’re a fantastic organization. They’re completely, 100-percent charity. They don’t charge – if your child is sick, you come there and they’ll help you,” said Boggs, “They want you focus on your sick children; they don’t want you to focus on paying a bill.”
Despite the oppressive heat, emotionally draining stories of childhood illness and chronic fatigue of walking 20 miles each day, Boggs and Buchanan were positive about their walk thus far. “This was just a great opportunity for me to do this with my dad,” said Boggs, “He’s been around all my life but I didn’t really know about him, like his childhood, the years he spent in the marines, the young years while he and mom were first married.”
The duo said they met countless people who said they’d considered walking across the country themselves but never did. “I would just encourage people… just do it,” said Boggs, “If you want to do it, just do it.” Buchanan added, “Cemeteries are full of regrets.”
To donate to Boggs and Buchanan’s fundraiser, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/pawsandhope