Journey Across America: The 178-Day Hike
From stable living to the open road, Nicholas “Hobo Nick” Kleckner recounts his epic walk across the country in just 178 days—monsoons, run-ins with the law, McChicken sandwiches and all.
What made you want to head out on the road?
Well I had a good job, a house, a new car, new motorcycle. So I guess by society’s standards I was moving forward in life, but I felt like I wasn’t growing. So that’s what really started wearing on me—I just needed to break out of that rut. Eventually, I kind of pushed it to the point where I boiled over and I just came to this spot where I just decided to walk away from it all.
Wasn’t that scary for you?
Oh yeah, for sure. But I feel like I fought [that frustration and stress] for so long that when I boiled over and I walked away, I wasn’t as scared… I kind of just came to the point where I hit that peak and I knew that was what I had to do. There was no real second guessing about it, but I would say that it was just really scary in the sense of having to live on the streets. That’s just a scary thing in general.
I didn’t research it at all, didn’t prepare at all. I didn’t train at all, I was out of shape and overweight, I had no gear or medical supplies, not even a Band-Aid. I had a backpack, sleeping bag, an iPod with internet, and then I used some of the money I had left over and bought a few things but that was basically the last of the money that I had saved up. I got a toothbrush and some toiletries, and that was it; I just took off walking from the beach and kind of started winging it. Never got a bus, never accepted a ride, even people would say "you could come stay with us and we’ll drop you back off right where we picked you up," but I was like "no, no, I don’t even want to sit in a car, I’m committed to not even getting into a vehicle."
How were you able to maintain a blog?
I wrote it on my iPod, and then I emailed it to my cousin, but then he got busy with work so he taught my mom how to post it. And I would write those things under bridges, where it was loud at night, or behind dumpsters. I was never really in a very comfortable or creative place so a lot of them are just facts because I was so tired the entire time. Walking every day, never really sleeping good—I was literally fatigued for six months straight.
Probably the monsoons in Arizona.
Yeah, the weather must have been hard; I mean you walked through the desert during the hottest time of the year…
I know, the heat was really scary too because I was walking in the middle of nowhere and the heat really beats the energy out of you. Even the water I had packed was burning my throat because it was so hot. But those monsoons were really scary because the winds would damage to my gear, so I had to really be on point because those things come on so fast. I would be getting sunburned and then all of a sudden there’s a 50-mile-an-hour wind, really hard rain and I’m just trying to hold all my stuff together so it won’t get blown away. Then 10 minutes later I’m getting sunburned again.
In your blog it seemed like you got stopped by police officers quite often. How many police officers stopped you on that whole trip?
Probably at least 80 times. And I can say almost every single cop was very nice, very helpful. Except for one, but it wasn’t even that bad. I had one cop who checked on me for three nights in a row, even after I walked out of his area of jurisdiction. I had walked so far [continuing the journey] and then two weeks later he drove, I want to say like three hours, just to come bring me some stuff because he wanted to help me again on his day off.
You started getting so much food and gift certificates that you ended up giving them out to other people you met along the journey; was that premeditated?
No, I never thought of doing that, when I started, I was like, "okay, I’m going to have to conserve everything. I’ve got a long way to go. If I get money I’m going to have to save it all and barely spend it." But through Mississippi I had a run of maybe three days where I was so overwhelmed with support from strangers, it was ridiculous, I just had so much, and then I was walking past these homeless people and I was like, "man, this isn’t right, I have all this stuff," so I was just like, "I’m going to start sharing what I have." I started giving stuff away, [and] then the next day I got back more than I had just gave out. So then I kept giving and I never really stopped receiving after that.
Oh yeah, I’m pretty much done, probably for life, with McChickens from McDonalds. They were good because they were a dollar menu item so I was eating those for awhile, but then some dude bought me like 8 McChickens one day and so I was like "okay I’m going to have to conserve these and I’ll eat some tomorrow." So I took the lettuce and mayonnaise off of them and I re-wrapped it with just the bread and chicken. And then next I grabbed one and I ate like two bites and ever since then I don’t ever even want a McChicken again. It was so nasty the next day, it tasted completely different. McDonalds is definitely not good a day later.
So you hinted online that you are looking forward to the next adventure…Care to spill the beans?
I’m going to do another cross-country trip. I want to continue the pay it forward thing and also raising awareness for the people out there that live that life.
--Jess Krager is an editorial intern at Sierra and freelance editor. She graduated from CSU, Chico in 2009 with a certificate in literary editing and publishing. When she is not editing, she likes to go on random adventures or curl up with a good book.
Photos courtesy of Nick Kleckner