“I walked for 242 days and stayed with 120 strangers” – Jonathon Stalls
Currently conducting my research on place and urban health, I was so excited and inspired to meet Jonathon Stalls who has turned this to a movement. He and his work embody and make the connection between walking, health and within-city equity common sense. Jonathon walked across the United States in 2010 while also raising money to support projects across the world. After that, he founded Walk2Connect, which creates whole health walking programs 🙂 I am happy to share his story with you.
How would you describe Jonathon Stalls?
Always seeking, learning, and moving. I’m someone who deeply longs for authentic connection with nature and people. Periods of silence, time with loved ones, and long walks of 9-12 mile stock are my favorite forms of medicine.
You and your dog Kanoa walked across the states both as a personal discovery and to raise money to support others. I’d love to know more about this quest:
When and how did you come to this decision?
It was in 2009 when I started dreaming about the possibility. I was tired of spending my young-adult years inside of walls and auto boxes. I deeply longed for an experience that would help me intimately connect with my country, with nature, with people who are different, and with my messy and colorful interior.
How was the first day?
Amazing, life-giving, and “I’m crazy” were the emotions that swirled around one another in each early step. I’ll never forget that first day. Two of my favorite people dropped me off that morning in Lewes, Delaware. A group of locals met us at the beach with the local paper. I was free. I was walking West and in 8 months or so I’ll be at the other side. Really? Is this real? Am I really going to do this? Off we go. I was fortunate to have a host family for my first night. After that, I was on my own.
What did you learn?
I could write for hours on this one. More than anything I learned four fundamental things: trust first, people are good, nature heals, and walk more. I walked for 242 days and stayed with 120 strangers. The hospitality I received changed everything for me. No matter race, income level, religious belief, political affiliation, sexual orientation, age, anything. It didn’t matter. It seemed to all blend together when we sat around the dinner table. It showed me that deep down people are good. We aren’t inherently flawed. Trust and love won over fear day after day.
My time in nature deeply healed and connected me to a deeper way for the rest of my life. I listen now, everyday, for what nature can teach. The rocks, the rivers, the trees, the breeze and the animals; they all speak. Finally, we are made to walk. Its so deeply intrinsic to our design. It brings us back to our heart, to others, and to the land in ways that are so sorely needed in today’s time. It also brings us into the vulnerable experience of being a pedestrian in today’s time. If you don’t have the choice to walk in the USA, you fight a system that is deeply built for the car. The more we move this way, the more we become stewards for such a sacred and humble way.
There must be hundreds of them, but which one or two cool stories stay with you?
Yes. There are hundreds. I would say that one of my favorite stories is that of Camp Grandma. I just can’t tell this story enough. I tell it because its such an important testament to what one person can do in today’s time. Grandma lives in rural Illinois. I was introduced to her through a host family that I had stayed with the night before. She reached out her hand after working all day tearing up the counters in an old trailer. She asked her grandson to take me to “Camp Grandma” and that she would join us in an hour or two.
Levi took me by their mule farm and we continued on towards what looked to be a large forest. As we neared closer, there was a fence around the 8 acres of protected land. Around the gate there was a old wooden sign that half-painted “Camp Grandpa (parents by permission)”. Epic already. Underneath the sign there was a large metal box that read “all electronics required”. Gameboys, small cell phones, and any other gadgets were stacked. I placed my phone in the box. There were bikes that leaned up against the gate. I was so curious.
As we started moving into the forest, I noticed that Grandma had cleared out numerous trails, dug out two ponds with docks, and built a cabin with bunk beds and smores’ stocked fridge. Whoa. Neighborhood kids were running around everywhere. They were UN-supervised. Can you believe it? Hanging on trees, searching for tadpoles, and just getting dirty. Pure fun. Pure freedom. Free-range kids. I was immediately in tears. What she created will forever go in my book as pure inspiration. I often say to myself, if “she can” anyone can. Thank you Grandma.
How did this adventure change you?
When I finished the walk, I had never felt more free, more trusting, and more content. I knew my life would never be the same. I’m building a tiny house, I help run a walking cooperative, and I’m investing quite a bit of time in studying contemplative spiritual teachers/traditions. Haha. It seems pretty extreme, but its true. When I was walking, everything fell away. I almost had the opportunity to start fresh from “new skin”. I am happy, grounded, grateful, and full of love for myself, for others, and a colorful, painful world.
How did it change others?
That’s hard to speak to. All I can really say is that I’ll never forget the hugs, tears, and stories shared with the people I walked with, the people I stayed with, and the people who followed my steps. I can assume they might say the same. We shared a journey and story of hope, of humility, and letting ‘the other in’. It was constant awe. I still keep in touch with many of them.
Tell me more about walk2connect which is continuation of that story of your walk across the USA
The Walk2Connect Cooperative is a growing walking community of whole-health leaders, walkers, hikers, and strollers/rollers who champion hundreds of walks throughout Colorado and beyond throughout the year. We focus on maximizing connections between people and the places they live, with one another, and with themselves through walking. This organization was a direct result of the cross-country walk.
I felt compelled to give much of my life to invite as many people as I could into the endless benefits of going more at a 2-3 mile per hour pace. I also felt that this kind of invitation was sorely needed to help people place car-centric built environment crisis into our bodies. That themes of pedestrian safety and walkable community design shouldn’t just be something we study. It needs to be something that we feel on a daily basis.
What are your hopes for walk2connect in the near future?
As long as we continue to inspire people to be out moving more this way, we are doing our job. We would of course love to grow our partners and sponsors throughout the state and beyond so we can better sustain the work it takes to train and develop leaders. We hope to be a leading voice for how walking can deeply change our country, our communities, and our own personal lives for the better.
Are there any other words you’d like to share with readers on how to be more connected to place or perhaps on living an adventure like yours?
We are always encouraging that people take on their own localized walking adventures, solo or with someone. Consider a 4-6 mile loop around where you live? Or a 5 mile loop to a practical destination? Or a 9-12 mile ramble around the City of Denver or a larger metro area? Or a 4-5 mile hike or walk with a friend or someone you might be in conflict with? We want people to add walking into their toolkit for how they connect, heal, and grow. Please tag #Lifeat3MPH if you do any of these and want to share photos. We would love to find out about it!
Where can we find you?
I’m always out walking Colorado streets, but you can directly connect with me at @jonathonstalls if you’re on Twitter or @jstallzy on Instagram. You can connect to Walk2Connect on all accounts @Walk2Connect. Feel free to visit our website for more information on the cooperative: www.walk2connect.com and visit: www.kivawalk.com for information on the cross-country walk.