In his neon-green sweatshirt, walker Dave Brown was hard to miss on U.S. 40 Monday.
Even more catching is the story behind his decision to walk from Atlantic City, N.J., to San Francisco in about 7 1/2 months.
Brown, of Collegeville, Pa., is walking in memory of his wife, Joan, who died of ovarian cancer on Aug. 1, 2011, at the age of 58. He hopes to raise $110,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and to spread information on the symptoms of the disease.
Brown's trek from Montrose through Effingham Monday marked the 61st day of his 2,995-mile journey. He finished the day near Funkhouser Cemetery and will walk through St. Elmo today.
“Before (Joan) passed away from the dreaded disease, she told me if there was anything that I could do to use her experience to help other women with ovarian cancer she was for it. This is the reason for the walk,” he stated on his blog.
Before Brown began the journey, he spent months poring over U.S. 40 and 50 maps. Brown begins each day by parking his car at the designated end point. He then has someone drive him to the stopping point from the day before. From there, he puts one foot in front of the other for about 14 miles, taking in the scenery and passing out information on the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
“The symptoms are common … and subtle,” Brown said, calling the cancer the “whispering disease.”
Brown admits even he has experienced most of the symptoms, which include swelling or bloating of the abdomen, persistent pressure or pain in the abdomen or pelvis, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, urinary concerns, changes in bowel habits and unexplained vaginal bleeding.
Brown said by the time most women decide to see a doctor, they are already in stage 3 or 4.
Brown found the death of the “love of his life” very difficult. Walking and running had been important to them as a couple. A friend recommended he see “My Run,” a movie about a man who completed 75 marathons in 75 days. So when the first scene revealed a man, Terry Hitchcock, struggling with the death of his wife due to breast cancer, Brown was inspired.
“If he can run 75 marathons in a row, I can walk across the country,” he said.
Brown decided it was time in 2011 during the holiday season when his company was planning for the coming year. It was then, Brown realized he didn't want to be at work anymore. He gave his employer six months' notice and started training by walking, biking and working out daily.
Brown chose highways U.S. 40 and U.S. 50 because, as a native Ohioan, he has spent much of his life driving and jogging on the routes. In the 1980s, Joan gave him a book titled “U.S. 40 Today,” which chronicled a couple's 1983 drive from Atlantic City to San Francisco. The two took the same path and photos as a college professor who, in 1953, explored the westbound road.
Brown is excited to follow those same paths 30 and 60 years later, respectively, and has seen first-hand the changes those regions have experienced. Although some photos, he said, are barely different from previous decades.
Brown will miss some photo opportunities when he deviates from U.S. 40 after St. Louis because the road has been “beat up” since 1983. At that point, he plans to take U.S. 50 westward from Missouri.
In the more than two months since he began the journey, the 61-year-old has been overwhelmed by the generosity of fellow Americans.
Because of the generosity, Brown has only spent about $132 on hotel rooms, with strangers and some lodgers, offering him a place to rest his feet.
The kindness has also extended to food. Brown packed his car with eight months' worth of supplies, yet the food isn't dwindling thanks to kindness of strangers.
“I knew people were gracious, but it's just in spades,” he said. “It's insane. It's nuts.”
His blog has hit 20,000 page views, some from other countries, and Facebook users offer support and kind words. Brown posts trivia questions on his blog that have caught the attention of schools and others who eagerly comment while waiting for the answer the following day.
Brown doesn't listen to music or books while walking as a safety precaution. He simply takes in the scenery and talks to whoever comes along — about ovarian cancer, about Joan and about life.
Brown hasn't let weather slow him down and doesn't plan on stopping until he sees the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I'm looking forward to everything,” he said. “Every day is a new walk, it's something you haven't seen.”
You can follow Brown's journey through his blog at www.ocjoan.blogspot.com, on Facebook by searching for the page Ocjoanx, on Twitter by searching for the handle @ocjoan or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached by phone at 610-906-6252.
Nicole Dominique can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at email@example.com.