Sam Tidwell walked through Rock Hill on Monday and Tuesday. The day before, it was Chester.
It wasn’t even 98 degrees, as it had been in some places he walked through before he walked through here.
His feet didn’t hurt; his smile did not cease.
A flummoxed, though inspired, stranger at a Rock Hill coffee shop where Tidwell stopped for a couple of hours to rest his bony feet gave him $30 and told him to keep on truckin’.
Tidwell walked on.
Because that is what he does. He walks up to 10 hours a day, every day. Tidwell, 22, has walked more than 2,600 miles in the past nine months, wearing out two pairs of shoes along the way.
“I was curious about America, and I wanted to see the country, so I decided to really see it,” Tidwell said. “On foot.”
Tidwell sleeps under the stars almost every night, in a tent he carries in his backpack.
Since leaving Greenfield, Calif. – a small town about 20 miles inland, a little closer to San Francisco than to Los Angeles – the day after Halloween 2013, Tidwell has walked through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
Strangers have allowed him to set up camp. He has slept in clearings, sugar cane fields, deserts. Families of Mexican-Americans and white Americans and black Americans have fed him, let him take a shower, offered money and a warm place to sleep to break the routine.
Tidwell speaks fluent Spanish, so he has been able to talk with people in the Southwest deserts and in towns and cities and hamlets.
Only a couple of times have people called the cops after finding Tidwell camped out. He has explained to all he meets – including a couple of cops who had Tasers at the ready, because Tidwell uses modified ski poles as walking sticks – that he is just out for a walk.
A walk across the whole continental U.S.A.
“The people of this country are so generous,” he said. “I never knew how wonderful until I got out here and met them.”
Tidwell is not out to raise money or awareness for some cause. His cause is simple – to see America, then write a book about it. He chronicles his journey on a blog called “Looking for America” – anthemthenational.blogspot.com. He writes longhand, then takes a picture and posts it on the blog – an old-fashioned guy in the age of technology.
He does send a message to his mother each day with his latest GPS coordinates, because mommas do worry.
It is no shocker that Tidwell started walking after graduating from college. Young people sometimes take a trip after the grind. He attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. – named for the very same Lewis and Clark who paddled and walked all the way from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean more than 200 years ago. The expedition changed America forever.
“They had it harder than me – no roads,” Tidwell chuckled. “I try to stay on easements, sidewalks, the side of the road, anywhere I can walk safely.”
So far, Tidwell has walked more than 2,600 miles, with hundreds more to go. He’s fought mosquitoes and heat. Rain and thunder – and bad drivers.
He plans to hop onto the Appalachian Trail for a while. With any luck, he will not run into a certain former governor who brought a whole new meaning to the phrase, “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” He will stop in Washington, D.C., for a few days.
“I want to see the nation’s capital after seeing the real country,” Tidwell said.
Then he will head to New York, where he hopes to arrive a year after he left California.
On Tuesday, Tidwell crossed into North Carolina near Charlotte. Most eyes there were on President Barack Obama as he visited Charlotte to deliver in a speech nobody will probably ever remember.
Tidwell will walk through the city on foot, silently. He will need no limousine, no police escort.
The third pair of shoes of the trip is worn in and on the way toward scrap as he heads north. Smiling, waving, stopping to chat.
Just to see what America really is.
Sam Tidwell sees it all, through his feet, his eyes – and his heart.