A journey to fulfill a dream
Anna Willman, a self proclaimed “fat, old, arthritic woman”, began her quest to walk across the country at 70 years old
Seventy-year-old Roseburg resident Anna Willman realizes she is not the oldest person to ever walk across the United States.
She does, however, suspect she is the oldest “fat arthritic woman” to do it.
Willman hopes to set foot in Prineville early next week, marking the latest stop on a journey that will eventually cover 10 states in 10 years.
The inspiration to cross the country on foot originated several decades earlier, when Willman came across a story about a young man who walked from the southernmost tip of South America to the northernmost point of Alaska.
“I thought, ‘How cool is that?’” she said. “But I also thought, ‘That’s too far.’ But it would be fun to go from one ocean to the other.”
As the years passed, and her life kept her plenty busy with work and family commitments, Willman reached a point where she felt the journey might join other unfulfilled plans.
“I got fat and old and arthritic,” she said, “and I was on crutches and I thought, ‘Well, that’s always one of the things I was always going to do that will never get done.’”
Then, within a month of her 70th birthday, Willman found new inspiration.
“Last September, I was driving up to visit my son in Eugene, and I saw a young man walking by the road with a backpack on his back,” she recalls. “He didn’t look particularly happy, but I felt so jealous of him that I couldn’t stand it.”
Willman chastised herself. “You know what? You didn’t even try.”
Because of that moment, she decided to throw caution to the wind and give the journey her best try.
“I upped my arthritis medicine and threw the crutches away and went out on the highway with my grandfather’s cane.”
Willman began the trek on Oct. 8 – her 70th birthday – and hopes to reach Atlantic City, N.J. by the time she turns 80.
While others who cross the United States on foot might walk all day, camp out, then repeat, Willman thought it best to take a different approach.
“One thing I was real clear on is that while I want to walk from one side of the country to the other, I have no desire to carry stuff from one end of the country to the other,” she said. “So I thought about a lot of different options, and I realized the only way I could do it was with help.”
Each day of the journey, Willman relies on a relative or friend to drive her to the starting point, and pick her up when she gets done. The next time out, she is dropped off where she last stopped, and continues on to the next stopping point.
Willman does not walk every day, and during her off days, she lives in a camper trailer she purchased for the journey, and visits the surrounding area by car. When it’s time to walk, she tries to cover about three to five miles, and keeps a slow pace.
“This is not a race. This is an adventure.”
While on the road, Willman gets attention from passing motorists, some of whom stop to check on her or offer her ride — she, of course, turns them down.
She even gained a funny story along the way.
“I’m old, and when you are old, sometimes when you have to pee, you have to pee right now,” Willman explained. “My friend who had driven me, had parked my car up ahead. I made it to the car, but she wasn’t in the car. She had gone off on a walk of her own and the car was locked.”
Worse yet, Willman could not leave the side of the highway to look to find some privacy as her car was parked near a steep embankment.
“So I just decided to squat next to the car,” she said. “Well, my legs are not terribly strong, and I squatted a lot deeper than I even thought I could — certainly deeper than I intended, and I couldn’t get up again.”
Willman fell to her side and tried to return to a standing position from her hands and knees, but that wasn’t working much better.
“My pants are around my ankles and I’m waving my bottom in the air, trying to get up, and finally, this white construction van pulls up behind my car. This big, burly guy with a mustache and tattoos all over him very sweetly comes around, looks at me, and he says, ‘We’re not gonna get shy are we darlin’?’ — and helped me to my feet. So I say, Blanche Dubois is not the only person who had to rely on the kindness of strangers.”
As she traverses the nation, Willman does not have any particular place she is itching to see. She has already visited every state but Hawaii. She has even driven the route she is now covering on foot.
“Really, what my destination is, is to meet people and see the small things that I missed all the times I have gone through the states before.”