Aubrey Benmark makes her way on foot, headed south on a trecherous stretch of US Route 23. With construction taking place in the center lanes, traffic is forced extremely close to the already thin shoulder. Cars wizz past her, coming within inches of slamming into her cart, filled with all her possesions. Still, Benmark has seen worse.
“In New Jersey…the road was under construction. It forced me literally into the lane of oncoming traffic that was moving like 50 miles per hour,” she said. “It was a little nerve-racking, to say the least.”
Benmark is quickly learning that if you want to walk across America, you won’t always have a sidewalk.
The Rapid City, S.D. native passed through Portsmouth on Thursday, marking the one-month anniversary of the day she left her Brooklyn home for Los Angeles. But not only is Benmark making her journey entirely on foot, but she’s also relying completely on the help of strangers.
“I think the world has become far too suspicious and skeptical of other people,” she said. “I just want to be the guinea pig and show people that that’s not always the case.”
Not long ago, Benmark was the average New Yorker. She moved to the big city at the age 17 to pursue a career in TV and film production. But after over a decade of working 60 and 70 hour weeks, Benmark began to feel burnt out. So she quit her job and began writing. When her unemployment ran out, she knew she was at a crossroads.
“It was either go back to the grind, or chuck it all and start and try something new. So, I donated almost everything that I owened and left my apartmet.”
Benmark held an online fund-raiser in order to purchase supplies for her cross-country trip: A bicycle cart, a tent, a sleeping bag, clothes, survival gear and some non-perishable food. Once she had everything together, she just started walking.
So far, Benmark has traveled roughly 600 miles, averaging about 20 miles per day. She’s already battled frigid temperatures, shin splints and exhaustion, but she has yet to face a single unhelpful soul.
“It’s been unbelievable,” she said. “I have not had one single person be mean to me or unkind to me.”
Benmark says she has had people pull over to the side of the road to give her food and money. When she asks strangers if she can camp in their yard, she is rarely told no. In fact, as she was telling her story, a man approached her to give her a bottle of water.
“Yesterday alone…two different women stopped on the side of the road. This little old lady from Portsmouth, she stopped and gave me $100. Another woman stopped and took a little video of me and gave me 20 bucks,” Benmark said. “I’d say collectively over the last month, I’ve had strangers stop and give me close to $500.
A lifelong baseball fan, Benmark’s next milestone is Louisville, Ky. where she plans to meet a friend for a tour of the Louisville Slugger bat factory. She also hopes to make it to Los Angeles by September so she can catch her favorite team, the Dodgers, play at home. But beyond that, she doesn’t have much of a plan for her future. That’s ok with Benmark.
“I’m trying to embrace the uncertainty of things and trying not to be worried about the future. I’m just trying to focus on the current moment and the beauty the surronds me,” she said.
The one thing is certain in Benmark’s future: She plans on writing a book on her experience. Entitled The Highest Road, she hopes to inspire others with her tales of random acts of kindness. So far, her book has written itself.
“If you open up your heart and reach out to people, they’ll do the same to you,” she said. “After all, I think all we really want is love and acceptance.”
You can follow Benmark’s cross-country journey on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/aubrey.benmark/
Alex Hider can be reached at 353-3101, ext 294, or on Twitter at @alexhider.