ALBANY, Ore. — Three months ago, a 51-year-old Connecticut woman left from the YMCA in Albany to walk across the country. More than 3,000 miles away, Donna Stokes is now back home on the East Coast.
“I’m pleased with myself; I’m proud of myself, and I’m happy I got to see all that America has to offer,” Stokes said. “There were days that I questioned my sanity and why I was doing it. No doubt about that.”
She set out from Albany in April to walk across the country – a goal she has had for decades.
“It was early in my journey and just being fearful to sleep alone at night, I thought to myself then about day four or five, what am I doing? But I kept going forward.”
But there were more high points than lows – such as coming across a stray dog in Idaho, now called Miles Walker. He made it back to Connecticut with Stokes, who says he brought along companionship and a sense of safety.
“He was absolutely one of the best parts of the journey,” she said.
But when the pair hit Nebraska, Stokes heard a sound she never wanted to hear: tornado sirens.
“I actually stayed in a hotel for four days because there were so many tornadoes and it was unsafe to walk,” she said. “I would hear the alarms for weeks. But when you’re in the middle of the corn fields and the tornado alarms – you can hear them in the distance – and it gets really dark – you think to yourself – where are you going to hide? There’s no place to hide. It was frightening.”
It was around that time when the wheel on the cart she was pushing started having issues, so she took it to a bike repair shop – leaving with a fixed cart latched onto a bike.
“The bike made all the difference in the sense that I could increase my time so much and get me out of the tornado areas.”
On foot, Stokes was able to average about 20-30 miles a day. But by bike, she was averaging about 80 miles a day.
“I’ve done it, I’ve seen it, it was the biggest challenge of my life – not physically – mentally it was the biggest challenge,” she said. “Physically you get used to walking – but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
If there is anything she took away from her journey, Stokes says it was learning how similar everyone is across the country.
“Even if we live different lifestyles, everyone still has the same things that are important to them,” she said. “Like family, hope, faith, and having your own dreams. And that’s really nice to see. Even if we’re different, we’re not all so different that we are actually different. We’re all human.”
She says the trip is about promoting people to be active, but also to inspire others to set their goals high and live their dreams.
“If you’ve got a dream or desire or goal, don’t let fear stop you,” she said. “I’ve talked to so many people along this journey who have ideas and places and things they want to do or places they want to go, and they always have a reason. ‘I can’t do it because,’ or ‘I’m too afraid,’ or ‘because….’ Just take the first step. That’s it. Just take the first step and you never know what you’ll be able to do.”
Next on her list is to train for an Iron Man triathlon for next year.