Nobody has ever thrown a cold beer to Jim Hickey.
That, he said, he wouldn't mind.
But people have tossed trash his way, spit at him and five times swerved a vehicle in his direction as he walked for cancer awareness.
Trekking across the country, even for a noble cause, can be dangerous. But the 46-year-old New Jersey native does so because he knows there are other people: those who see the sign on his backpack and stop to talk.
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He tells them about losing his father to prostate cancer in 1995, and seeing his brother diagnosed with the same disease six months later. His brother survived.
After his personal tragedy, Hickey read a newspaper article about someone walking from Washington, D.C., to Boston to promote hunger awareness. The idea of doing a similar walk became so powerful, he couldn't ignore it. And in 1998, he quit his job as a restaurant manager, sold his car and started walking with a 50-pound backpack.
During his travels, this former Marine has spoken to 30 school groups and taken up other causes with his own. He's dedicated walks to 16 kids, and has added cystic fibrosis research in honor of a Georgia girl he met during his travels.
In three trips, Hickey has logged more than 5,500 miles and worn out 10 pairs of sneakers.
Hickey launched his fourth walk this week in Charlotte. His ultimate destination is Los Angeles, although he'll make stops far north and south during what he hopes will be a 10,000-mile journey through America.
He eats fast food and will accept the occasional sandwich from a passer-by. Hotels frequently give him free lodging and, 81 times, strangers have invited him home to stay the night.
Armed with a backpack, a week's worth of clothes and a walking stick, he travels, hoping to inspire people to donate to cancer research or just pursue a crazy dream, although he doesn't recommend walking across the country.
Hickey stopped at an Exit 88 entrance ramp on Interstate 77 on Thursday afternoon to talk to The Herald about his walk.
"Only one thing's gonna stop me," he said. "That's becoming road kill, probably in Indiana somewhere."
Comments have been edited for brevity.
Q. Why do you do this?
A. "The main thing for me was what happened with my dad and my brother. My dad was bad enough, and to think that I was going to lose my brother on the same day I lost my father, almost, it was just too much for me. And I figured something had to be done. We lost a lot of other relatives to cancer. It was just something I had to do. And I don't understand it. I really don't understand why. I really want my personal life back. But once I took that first step, that was that."
Q. How do you pick your destinations?
A. "It changes daily. I know ... basically the cities
Want to help?
To reach Jim Hickey or for more information about his "Walk Across America," visit the Web site www.walkingjim.com.
Hickey recommends that anyone wishing to donate to cancer research visit the Web sites cityofhope.org or curesearch.org. For cystic fibrosis research, visit www.esiason.org.
Hickey does not receive any donations or belong to any of these organizations. However, he does ask that if people donate, please mention his "Walk Across America."