There is a man that walks from Harrisburg to Junction City every day. He wears jeans, lace up boots, and a long sleeved button shirt, buttoned all the way to his neck and wrists. He has a high and tight Marine haircut. He is deeply tanned, and walks with a slight limp. He sometimes carries a jacket, sometimes a water bottle. He walks rain or shine, every single day.
I remember telling my co-teacher in Kindergarten, Karen Short, about him. She simply said,
“he must have a lot of demons to walk out.”
Yes, I suspected he did. And now when I see him I think of Karen, too, since she’s gone off to the ranch in the sky.
The Walking Man has been on my Hwy 99 commute every day for about 2 1/2 years now. I look for him every day. I think he starts right after I leave for the day, because he’s not there at 7:30 in the morning, but always in the evening. He keeps his head down and just walks. He gets to JC and then turns around again and heads back to Harrisburg. I’ve seen him head south on 99 past Junction City, but not very often. Usually he keeps to the 4-mile stretch between the two cities. When we were remodeling a lot last year, or when I take more than one round trip to Halsey in a day, he may wave at me and I wave back. That was the extent of our driver-passenger exchange.
Tom and I have smiled about him more than once, and assumed he’d been through something tough as a deployed vet, and just sent him love as we drove by. Tom got curious and asked someone at Dairy Mart about him once. He learned that The Walking Man has a brain injury from his time in the service and that he has family in California that want him to come, but he doesn’t want to.
Months after this information and sending him out love and prayers, I was still curious. I asked a friend at church that seems to know everyone in JC or Harrisburg. I said, “what do you know about the walking man on Hwy 99?” She said, “Oh, John.”
It turns out that yes, John is a Marine and that yes, he got really hurt in active duty. But the sweetest and most tragic part of the story is that he started walking when his wife passed away about 2.5 years ago. The pain and trauma combined just were too much, and he just started to walk it out. He’s been walking every day since. He’s been walking out his demons, like Karen said.
The just pure tragedy and romance of that-that he lost his wife and it was the last straw. He just had to walk. He’s walking out the pain of his loss one step at a time. It’s deeply tragic and moving. Knowing that’s why made me love him even more.
My church friend told me that there was a group of concerned citizens in JC/Harrisburg that got together and tried to get him to go to California to live with his extended family. I guess there’s even information about John online, but I have not been able to find any information yet. Apparently there are people that are either up in arms about a man walking on Hwy 99 because it’s “dangerous” (he’s totally plenty over the edge and fine) or people that are worried that he’s needy and needs to be taken care of.
My friend said he owns his home, eats, takes showers, does what needs to be done. She said the group wanted to gather money to send him to CA. He said he wasn’t going to share his personal story with anyone, and he refused to leave his home, thankyouverymuch. They used some of the donations for the travel he refused to buy him stuff to walk in, like a reflective vest and rainproof shoes. I have seen him in the vest. But only when it’s super rainy and dark. If he ever asks anyone for anything it’s for $5 for a sandwich, my friend said. I’ve never stopped and given him money, because I didn’t know the story before. So now I’m going to stop and give him some money for his sandwich when I can.
Maybe it will help him walk out those demons, or maybe it will just nourish his body so he can keep walking.