WHEN I FIRST STARTED OUT my tunic read PEACE PILGRIM on the front and Walking Coast to Coast for Peace on the back. Through the years the message on the back changed from Walking 10,000 Miles for World Disarmament to Walking 25,000 Miles for Peace and ending with the present message of 25,000 Miles On Foot for Peace. This walking has taken me several times into the forty-eight states and into Mexico and into all ten Canadian provinces.
I finished counting miles of walking in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1964. I said to myself, "25,000 miles is enough to count." It kept me tied to the main highways where mileage are recorded on road maps. They're not good places to meet people. They're just good places to count miles. Now I'm free to walk where people are. Also, mileage are not given for my favorite places to walk: beaches, forest paths and mountain trails.
Some things don't seem so difficult, like going without food. I seldom miss more than three to four meals in a row and I never even think about food until it is offered. The most I have gone without food is three days, and then mother nature provided my food--apples that had fallen from a tree. I once fasted as a prayer discipline for 45 days, so I know how long one can go without food! My problem is not how to get enough to eat, it's how to graciously avoid getting too much. Everyone wants to overfeed me!
Going without sleep would be harder, although I can miss one night's sleep and I don't mind. Every once in awhile I miss a night's sleep, but not for sometime now. The last time was September of 1977 when I was in a truck stop. I had intended to sleep a little but it was such a busy truck stop that I spent all night talking to truck drivers. The first thing after I went in, a truck driver who'd seen me on television wanted to buy me some food. I sat in a corner booth. Then truck drivers started to arrive, and it was just one wave of truck drivers after another that were standing there and asking me questions, and so forth. I actually talked to them all night and I never did get to do any sleeping. After awhile somebody offered me breakfast and I ate that and left.
Another time, a truck driver pulled his truck to the side of the road and said, "I heard you say over television something about that endless energy and I just wanted to tell you I had it one time. I was marooned in a town by a flood. I got so bored that I finally offered to help and I got interested in getting people out. I worked without eating, I worked without sleeping, and I wasn't tired...But I don't have it anymore." I said, "Well, what are you working for now?" "Money," he said. I said, "That should be quite incidental. You have the endless energy only when you are working for the good of the whole--you have to stop working for your little selfish interests."
That's the secret of it. In this world you are given as you give!
I usually average twenty-five miles a day walking, depending upon how many people stop to talk to me along the way. I have gone up to fifty miles in one day to keep an appointment or because there was no shelter available.
On very cold nights I walk through the night to keep warm. When the days are very warm I do a lot of walking at night to avoid the heat. I have walked when the nights were filled with the scent of honeysuckle, the sight of fireflies and the sound of whippoorwills.
Once a six foot fellow, confident he could out walk me, walked with me for 33 miles. When he gave up, his feet were blistered and his muscles ached. He was walking on his own strength; I wasn't! I was walking on that endless energy that comes from inner peace.
Another time a woman asked me if she could accompany me on the pilgrimage. She told me she wanted to get away from "that husband" of hers. Maybe she did have a calling, but her motive was not the highest. Another lady who wished to accompany me for a day could barely walk by afternoon. I sent her home by bus!
I have never experienced any danger on my walks. One time a couple of drunks did follow me in a car, but when I moved off the road they left. Only once has anyone ever thrown something at me: a man in a speeding truck threw a fistful of crumpled dollar bills. I simply gave them to the next church where I spoke.
A college student once asked me if I had ever been mugged. "Mugged?" I answered, "You would have to be a crazy person to mug me--I haven't a penny to my name!"
There was a time when I was walking out of town at sunset and a well-to-do couple in a big house called me over. They had read about my pilgrimage and felt it was their Christian duty to warn me that ahead on the way lay a very wicked place called 'South of the Border.' They just wanted to warn me not to go near that place. They did not offer food or shelter, however, so I walked on for several hours.
It was a very dark night with a heavy cloud cover and all of a sudden it started to rain. Big drops were coming down, and I was carrying a lot of unanswered mail. I looked for a place where there might be a shelter and nearby I saw a combination gas station, restaurant and motel. I ducked under the roof over the gas pumps and started to put the unanswered mail into the front of my tunic so it wouldn't get wet. The man from the gas station came running out and said, "Don't stand out there in the rain, come into the restaurant." The man in the restaurant said, "Oh, we read all about you, and we would like to offer you a dinner or anything you want." By that time I realized where I was. I was in 'South of the Border.'
The man from the motel was sitting across the table from me and he gave me a room for the night. They also gave me breakfast the next morning.
There may have been gambling in the back room; something was going on there. But they treated me in a much more Christian fashion than those who warned me against them. It just demonstrates my point that there is good in everybody.
I have received hospitality in the most unusual places. These have included a conference table in the Florence, Arizona, city hall and the seat of a fire engine in Tombstone, Arizona. Once I was inadvertently locked for thirteen hours in an icy gas station restroom. My accommodations were quiet and private, although somewhat chilly!
I sleep equally well in a soft bed or on the grass beside the road. If I am given food and shelter, fine. If not, I'm just as happy. Many times I am given shelter by total strangers. When hospitality is not available there are always bus depots, railroad stations and all night truck stops.
I remember being offered a queen size bed at a fashionable motel one evening and the next evening space on the concrete floor of a twenty-four hour gasoline station. I slept equally well on both. Several times a friendly sheriff would unlock the door of an unoccupied jail cell.
When no shelter is available to me, I sleep in the fields or by the side of the road with God to guard me.
Bridges always offered protection from the elements, as well as dilapidated barns and empty basements of abandoned homes. Culverts and large pipes often served as lodging. But one of my favorite places to sleep is a large haystack piled in an accessible field on a clear night. The stars are my blanket.
Cemeteries are also wonderful places to sleep for the night. They are quiet, the grass is always neatly trimmed, and nobody ever bothers you there. No, there is no intrusion upon the departed spirits. I wish them peace; they understand. But a picnic table at a nearby road stop, a gathering of pine needles in a nearby brush, or the cushion of a blossoming wheat field would serve as well.
One morning, when I was sleeping in a Kansas wheatfield, I was awakened to a very loud noise. I looked up only to see this huge reaper bearing down on me. I immediately rolled over several times to get out of the way of its swirling blades.
I feel a complete protection on my pilgrimage. God is my shield. There are no accidents in the Divine Plan nor does God leave us unattended. No one walks so safely as those who walk humbly and harmlessly with great love and great faith.
I remember a time of the year when it got very cold at night. It went below freezing, but then it warmed up a little in the daytime, so the days were fairly pleasant. It was in the fall, and there were dry leaves on the ground. I was in the middle of the woods and there wasn't a town for miles around. It was sunset and it was a Sunday. Someone had read a thick Sunday newspaper and tossed it beside the road--like they shouldn't, but they do. I picked it up and walked off the road and found a thick evergreen tree. Underneath it was a little depression where some leaves had blown. I pushed a lot of leaves into that depression. Then I put some paper down and placed the rest of the paper over me. When I woke in the morning there was a thick white frost over everything, but the evergreen tree had kept it off of me, and I was snug and warm in my nest of leaves and paper. That's just a tip in case you get caught out some night.
Most people interested in vacations are those who are doing things they are not called to do, which they want to get away from for awhile. I couldn't imagine feeling the need of a vacation from my pilgrimage. How good it is to travel south in the fall of the year, experiencing the tranquil beauty of the harvest time--but staying ahead of the frost; experiencing the brilliant beauty of the autumn leaves--but traveling on before they are swept from the trees. How good it is to travel north with the spring, and to enjoy the spring flowers for several months instead of several weeks. I have had both these wonderful experiences in the middle of the country.
During a 1,000 mile walk through New England (which began in Greenwich, Connecticut and ended in Burlington, Vermont), I zig-zagged a lot to walk through not only the large towns but also the smaller towns to which I had been invited. I started among the apple blossoms--I walked among them when they were pink buds, and when their falling petals were as white as falling snow. I ended among the ripened apples, which supplied me with some tasty meals. In between I feasted on luscious wild strawberries and blackberries and blueberries.
Throughout the country I saw much superhighway construction, and I noticed that these super-roads tended to run in the valleys, tunneling through the mountains and sometimes under the rivers. I'm glad that on my pilgrimage I usually followed the old roads that climbed the mountains. What wonderful vistas there were to reward those who attained the summit: sometimes views of towns or roads where I had walked or would walk, sometimes views of valleys covered with fields and orchards. I know that this is an age of efficiency and that superhighways are much more efficient, but I hope there will always be some scenic roads, too. Some roads that climb the mountains.
People sometimes ask me how I spend holidays--especially Christmas. I have spent many of them walking. Many people go for a drive on a holiday, so it is a good time to contact people. I remember one Christmas Eve when I slept out under the stars. One planet was so bright that just a little imagination could transform it into the star of Bethlehem. The next day, at a temperature of 80 degrees, I walked into New Orleans to find poinsettias blooming abundantly for Christmas--and to find some fine, new friends.
I spent one Christmas in Fort Worth, Texas, where the towers and the tall buildings were outlined with colored lights, presenting an unforgettable picture as I walked into the city. That day I was given the welcome present of enough time to catch up with my mail.
People sometimes ask me if I do not feel lonely on holidays. How can I feel lonely when I live in the constant awareness of God's presence? I love and I enjoy being with people, but when I am alone I enjoy being alone with God.
Most of the time in the early years I was offered food and hospitality by people I did not even know. I accept everything as an offering sent from the hand of God. I am equally thankful for the stale bread I received at a migrant worker's home as the sumptuous meal presented to me by a lady friend in the main dining room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
You know, after you have fully surrendered your life to God's will--if it is your calling to go out on faith--you will discover that even the food and shelter you need come to you very easily. Everything, even material things are given. And some amazing things are given that still surprise even me.
I first got to Alaska and Hawaii through a wonderful gift from a wonderful friend. Then some of my friends asked me to consider leading tours there, so I led one to Alaska the summer of 1979 and one to Hawaii the summer of 1980. I arranged the tours to be an educational and inspirational experience for all who participate. We lived simply and traveled light.
I was not idle while in our two newest states. Besides showing my friends around, I did a lot of speaking to groups and over the air. Some of those friends wanted to get an idea of what my pilgrimage life is like, and I think they did. It was a joy to share these inspiring places with them.
I'll tell you another thing that happened: I was figuring out my schedule for North and South Dakota and I knew that in North Dakota I would have to interrupt my schedule to lead the tour in Hawaii. I knew it would be at Bismarck and I knew also that it would take me about a week to hitchhike back from Los Angeles, and I thought, "Oh, a week out of the North Dakota schedule and a week out of the South Dakota schedule. I could really use those two weeks in North and South Dakota." About the time I was thinking these thoughts, someone wrote and offered me air fare to and from Bismarck. It seemed almost like a miracle that it came. And of course this was something that I needed. I do not take anything I do not need, but I did need the time in North and South Dakota. This was a wonderful gift, which I accepted, and for which I shall be eternally grateful.
So even the material things are provided.
I explained to a reporter one time that I just talk to people and after a time they ask me if I want to eat. He pointed out that he had talked to people for months, even years, and they hadn't offered him so much as a sandwich. I told him, "But you're not a peace pilgrim!"
Once a sixteen year old Mexican boy, who had heard me on the radio, raced out as I passed his home and excitedly extended an invitation to stay for the evening. His family lived in a poor itinerant sharecropper's cabin, but I can remember being treated as their honored guest. After a dinner of tortillas and beans, the family rolled up their only rug and placed it as a blanket upon their only bed. In the morning, before departing, they fed me another loving meal of tortillas and beans.
While passing through Memphis, I scampered upon a wooden porch of a one-room house to escape a violent thunderstorm. A black family graciously offered hospitality for the evening. Their warmth was matched by the wood-burning stove that heated their humble home. They shared their meager food of cornbread and water for dinner and breakfast. We all slept on a bare, well-scrubbed floor. I will never forget the genuineness of their hospitality.
One bitter cold morning a college student in Oklahoma gave me the gloves from his hands and threw his scarf around my neck. That night when the temperature had dropped below zero, an Indian couple offered me shelter.
I was once warned not to go to Georgia--and especially not into Albany, Georgia, where fourteen peace walkers were in jail. But I cannot say I found anyone to be really unfriendly. In fact, hospitality was better than average.
The people of minority groups I met took it for granted that I wouldn't discriminate. When they read Peace Pilgrim on my tunic, they seemed to trust me. They didn't hesitate to stop and talk. I spoke in a number of minority churches and several of the ministers read my message to their congregations.
Of course, I love everyone I meet. How could I fail to? Within everyone is the spark of God. I am not concerned with racial or ethnic background or the color of one's skin; all people look to me like shining lights! I see in all creatures the reflection of God. All people are my kinfolk--people to me are beautiful!
We people of the world need to find ways to get to know one another--for then we will recognize that our likenesses are so much greater than our differences, however great our differences may seem. Every cell, every human being, is of equal importance and has work to do in this world.