Finding hope one step at a time
Amanda Autrey had just found out she was pregnant.
This was not part of the plan.
A few months earlier, she and her boyfriend, Kolton Rackham, had started a 2,918-mile walk to raise awareness for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"Two days after we found out, we walked into Nebraska, and the first thing when you walk into Nebraska on the south side is a Lewis and Clark museum," Autrey shares. They were watching a documentary about the early explorers. "He looks over at me, and I'm crying because they're talking about Sacagawea, how she had her baby on the way and was pregnant along the way and just kept going with her little one."
Rackham nudged her and said, "See, you could do it."
"It felt like one of those divine timings," Autrey says.
From that moment, she knew she should would be able to do it. With her "sweetheart" by her side, she would be able to walk from Tybee Island, Georgia, to Newport, Oregon, even if they ended up with an unexpected "hitchhiker" toward the end of their journey.
Last week found the little family in Crook County, where they stayed a couple nights with Jenny Seefeld in Juniper Canyon before walking into Powell Butte and meeting up with Marty and Jan Howard, who hosted them Wednesday and Thursday nights.
"It sure was a delight to get to know them," says Jan Howard.
A summer walkabout
Walking across the United States was Autrey's idea.
"I wanted to do some kind of walkabout to confront the self and grow as an individual," recalls Autrey, who is now 27 years old.
In January 2017, they were sitting in a 3 Key Elements class in Utah, and the presenter, Kirk Duncan, said, "The year 2017 is the year to be bold."
Autrey looked at her new boyfriend and said, "Hey Kolton, we're going to walk across the country this summer. And he goes, 'OK.' And I just kinda went, 'Really?'"
They made a few plans, got rid of their cars and belongings, and a few months later, left their homes in Utah, heading east toward Tybee Island, Georgia. A gal they met on Craigslist took them to Iowa, where they met a family who helped them get bus tickets to Georgia.
On Sunday night, April 30, 2017, they went to bed on the beach at Tybee Island.
Monday morning, May 1, they rolled up their sandy sleeping bags and their gear, and a year, one month and 21 days later, they found themselves at the Powell Butte Country Store.
"We'd factored 10 hours a day, 3 miles an hour, thinking that wasn't bad," Autrey says, adding that they thought they'd be able to complete their journey by the end of the summer.
But, much has happened in that year.
Their "summer" walkabout lasted much longer than just one summer.
"The biggest, biggest purpose of our walk is hope, helping people find that in their own lives for themselves," Autrey said.
They wanted to bring awareness to specific causes as they walked, so they got connected to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"I struggled with suicide, so I wanted to walk for something that I connected with in my heart, that I could share with people my experience with suicide and use the walk as my platform to help get it talked about more," Autrey shares. "The most important thing with suicide is hope. Finding hope for continuing to fight for your life."
Hope is also the purpose of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills wishes for children with critical illnesses.
"They wanted to instill hope in the little ones so they will continue fighting, too," Autrey says.
On their website, 2918miles.com, there are links for supporters to make donations directly to the foundations as well as to their own walk.
As they've journeyed, they have stayed with families who have been touched by suicide and families whose children have received wishes from Make-A-Wish.
"We love that their whole idea was hope. Hope for healing and to keep fighting to help the kids heal," Rackham says of Make-A-Wish. "That stood out to us because that's really similar to what we do for our careers."
Rackham, who is 24, is a mindset trainer.
"I mentor people to reach their goals, emotional management," he says. "Basically, the psychology of goal reaching."
Autrey is an energy healer, a type of Eastern medicine.
They both do their work over the phone and have had a few appointments over the last year with clients while on the road. They also have helped some people along the way.
"It's one of our ways of giving back," Autrey pointed out.
While they are walking, they assume the roles of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Rackham wears a wolf hat, and Autrey wears a red cloak as a "gimmick."
"It separates us from backpackers and helps people realize that there's something that we're intentionally doing," Autrey says. "It also is a great conversation starter."
Rackham says their costumes help break the ice.
"There's been people that we've ended up staying with just simply because they see Little Red and the Wolf, and they pull over and talk to us and they know somebody," he says.
While their original plan was to camp along the route, they ended up ditching their tent after realizing they hadn't used it for several weeks.
Typically, they stay with host families who they meet along the way.
Those families often welcome them into their homes for a few nights and drive them to their route each morning. After walking 10 or 12 miles, the host family picks them up, has them stay the night, and then drops them off where they left off walking the day before.
For most of their journey, they didn't have much gear — backpacks, toiletries, clothing, flashlights, charge cords, essential oils, hats and shoes — they're both on their 10th pair of shoes.
Their host families have often provided them with other necessities – such as a cozy bed, a warm shower, water and a fresh meal.
They were in Parma, Idaho, when they picked up their "hitchhiker."
Having only had a few obstetrics appointments along the way, Autrey wasn't exactly sure of her due date, but it was somewhere around late April or early May.
"His timing was amazing. We had walked 11 months and 18 days, and he showed up on the 19th day," Autrey says. "This was the first time we'd ever stayed with a midwife on this trip. So his timing was exquisite."
Rackham handled the first huge chunk of her labor.
"The last little bit of it, we were assisted by a retired midwife," Autrey says.
Onyx Wolfric was born April 19, 2018, at 5:27 a.m.
"He's doing really good. He's doubled in size already," his mamma says.
"Onyx is a healing stone, for helping people overcome fear," the proud dad says.
"That was kind of how we incorporated the walk," Autrey adds of her son's name.
Wolfric means wolf leader, which is a nod to Rackham's character.
"We wanted to incorporate that into his name in kind of a classy way," Autrey says.
The little family rested for five days after Onyx joined them, then they got back on the road – this time, with a stroller, diapers, wipes and a car seat.
Their walk from Parma, Idaho, to Powell Butte has taken a lot longer than it would have without a newborn, but they've kept the Pacific Ocean on their vision board.
Once they reach their destination — which could take another couple of months — they want to remain in Oregon.
"We've kind of been window-shopping through Oregon, looking for where we want to stay, trying to find a town that we want," Autrey says. "With the careers that we both have, we feel like Oregon is a great place for them."
They had decided before they left Utah that they were going to eventually settle in Oregon.
"It's been our walk home," Autrey says.
Late last week, they headed on to Redmond, having secured a host family in Bend who would not only introduce them to the Bend culture but also provide some support on their walk to Sisters.
They hope to get some help lined up before they head over the McKenzie Pass, across to Vida, and through some backcountry to Brownsville. They'll visit Autrey's best friend in Corvallis, where they may eventually put down some roots.
Grateful for the kindness
They have met so many folks along their walk.
"We have stayed with people all across the country, and it's incredible to see people's kindness and their generosity and their willingness to say, 'I have no idea who you are, but come stay in my space,'" Autrey says.
Rackham says he's grateful for all the people who have helped them keep moving forward.
"It would have been detrimental if we got this far and couldn't find support. So now, we can finish as a family," he said.
Autrey loves being a mom and is excited to complete their journey so she can focus more on Onyx.
"Years down the road, when he's old enough to understand this story, we want him to be the reason we finished, not the reason we stopped," Autrey says.
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