There's a long stretch of New Mexico State Highway 9 that runs through what has to be one of the most isolated and desolate places in the lower 48. If you're traveling West, Highway 9 ends at a "T" intersection with Highway 80, intimately close to the Arizona state line, nearly straddling it.
On Thursday, February 4th 2021, I made a round trip from my home in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, to Tombstone, Arizona where I met up with a friend, but let me stay on track, lest I "veer off the highway" and start telling that story (although, truth be told, there's not much to tell, I had lunch, watched a wild west show and that's about it for Tombstone).
On the return leg, with the sun at my back, coming the way I had come in the morning (also with the sun at my back), this had me therefore, traveling Eastbound on Highway 9, having just made the turn off of Highway 80, I spotted, along the side of the road, a moving, animated figure. As I closed the distance, traveling at about 70 MPH in my Jeep, I was able to make out a marker flag of some sort and a person wearing an orange safety vest. All at once, as I drove past, I was able to briefly make out that this person was walking, pushing an oversized three-wheel stroller/buggy.
But what was he doing way out here? 50 miles in any direction from the nearest town. This wasn't just a local out for a late afternoon stroll. I just had to find out what the story was. I applied the brakes and made a U-turn to investigate.
As I pulled along side, I blurted out "Do you mind if I take your picture?" (For lack of a better ice breaker).
"Sure" the stranger in the orange safety vest replied.
I wasn't sure if he was going to stop what he was doing, or talk to me as he continued with his walk. He definitely had a look of determination in his attempt to get to wherever he was going. I parked about 50 meters ahead of him and when he reached my location, he did indeed stop. I felt guilty for the entirety of our interaction, feeling as if I was keeping him from getting to where he was going, which would now take a bit longer thanks to me.
"I'm walking across the country." he exclaimed.
"Well, Jacksonville to San Diego, actually."
(Holy shit!) I thought to myself. I might have even said it out loud, I can't be sure.
"Is there a cause?" I asked, diving further into this roadside curiosity.
"I'm Ben." introducing himself as he unzipped his stroller, reaching for a business card. "I'm promoting walking." (Which makes perfect sense, doesn't it?)
"I'm Felix" I replied in kind.
"I'm also a recovering alcoholic," he continued. "My web site is Walk for 60. I'm trying to get people to get out and walk at least 60 minutes a day for better health. I'm a recovering alcoholic. It's (walking) helped me in my recovery."
On the front of his stroller is a hand written sign...
Progress, not perfection
Take a step today!
"Progress, not perfection" struck me with its genius philosophical simplicity. It's not about how much you do, it's about doing SOMETHING. One step at a time. Which as Ben himself pointed out to me, was key in his continued success overcoming alcoholism. This philosophy can be applied to any endeavor in your life and it's one that I consistently am in need of being reminded of. So it was perhaps my fate, that I should have had this all-too-short, chance encounter, on the loneliest stretch of a remote New Mexico highway.
"Do you mind if I take YOUR picture too?" Ben asked politely.
"Of course!" I answered.
We exchanged a few more pleasantries and I mentioned that I was a photographer and soldier, headed to Korea in a weeks time. He told me about how the simple act of walking has impacted his life "one step at a time" as he and many others have espoused.
Still feeling guilty about the delay I caused in his already lengthy-enough journey, we shook hands and concluded our all-too-brief encounter. I would have liked to have talked more, but both he and I had places to get to, and the sun was dropping rapidly.
And as amazing as it was, to meet someone in this remote place, walking across the entire country, that isn't the best part of this story. The best, most amazing and incredibly inspiring part about Ben, is that THIS IS HIS THIRD TIME WALKING ACROSS AMERICA!
Please take a moment to follow and support Ben in his efforts at the following pages and sites:
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/walkfor60/
Web - https://walkfor60.com/
Make a donation (I donated a modest $15) - https://walkfor60.com/how-can-i-help/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/been_walkin/