A Conversation with Anthony Nicaj
Pluck Magazine got the chance to catch up with Anthony Nicaj, who recently returned to Long Island, New York after walking across the United States with just a stroller full of basic supplies. Read on to find out what drove him to undertake such a monumental adventure, and be sure to check out some of his amazing photos below.
Pluck Magazine: To start things off with a bit of a more obvious question, why? What inspired you to pack up everything and start walking west?
Anthony Nicaj: Over the last six months, I've been telling the simplified version of my answer to this question and it usually sounded like “Because I was curious,” or “I wanted to test myself,” but it really boiled down to wanting to find truth. I knew by setting out on this endeavor, I might be able to find truth in generous strangers, in beautiful places, and unique experiences. These impulses led me to Matt Green’s site which details his walk across America last year. I liked how he used a stroller to carry his things, but more importantly, I liked the idea of being able to simply walk outside of the bowl and really become subject to experience. There was something about it being the simplest yet most challenging way to travel that appealed to me.
PM: What were you hoping to find on your journey?
AN: I was hoping to find out more about myself, about good people, interesting places, and to gain my own perspective and impressions of this country – also, stories. I enjoy them and now I have a few of my own.
PM: Ultimately, did your actual experiences on the road differ from what you expected before you headed out?
AN: A veteran named Gary in Pennsylvania let me stay in his house one night, bathe, look at his photography, and eat Buffalo wings. He offered me a ride into town the next day and even though I left home thinking I would walk the entire way, it only felt natural accepting his help. Plus, I enjoyed spending time with Gary much more than I enjoyed walking. After that incident, I made a strict rule, which I never broke, to never “hitchhike,” which I defined as actively soliciting a ride by walking in the direction of traffic with my thumb out.
PM: What do you think of the people you met on the road? Have the people you met given you a new perspective on American culture, humanity, or yourself?
AN: Another rule I made for the trip was to never explain what I was doing unless asked, and because of this, the curious people I encountered would often open up to me and offer help or tell me their life story. It was a different and much more immediate kind of trust than I was used to. Asides from this, my travels have led me to believe that American culture may be too fast and too distracted for its own good. Concerning humanity and myself, I can say that the Dalai Lama's “Paradox of our Age” sums it up perfectly – and that good manners and an open mind can take you far down the line.
PM: Of the people you met, who in particular stands out the most and why?
AN: Jack in New Lenox, Illinois is particularly memorable because he was a sloppy, broken old man that cursed, drank, and never asked where I came from or what I was doing—but he gave me shelter for one evening regardless. Other than Jack, there are simply too many people that stand out in my mind for me to feel comfortable answering this question definitively.
PM: Can you describe your average day? How far did you walk and how did you pick where you wanted to head? Did you just wake up and start walking in a direction? Where did you sleep, eat, etc.?
AN: An average walking day consisted of packing up my tent and belongings from whatever spot I had settled in, a quick breakfast, some stretching, and then walking at about 3 miles per hour. Depending on topography, temperature, supplies, and location, I would take breaks, eating from the cooler I had brought if there were no nearby eateries, and continue walking until dinnertime. If I reached a town after walking 15 or more miles, I'd usually head to the bar, have a drink, and ask where I could pitch a tent for the evening. If I made a friend, I would stay with them and see what kind of fun there was to be had until I decided to continue on.
PM: Did you have any close calls where you thought you were definitely going to be in trouble? How’d you get out of it?
AN: You'd be amazed by how many "NO TRESPASSING" signs there are in this country, but early to bed is early to leave unnoticed, so I've never had much trouble sneaking about, even with the cart. That said, I’ve had close calls walking the interstate and brushes with armed fathers, the senile, drunks, rattlesnakes, and supposedly, Sasquatch. I won’t go into too much detail now, as I’m saving those stories for some other time.
PM: You were on the road for quite some time, much of it during some pretty rough weather with the U.S. getting hammered pretty hard by floods, tornados, and hurricanes. Did the weather been giving you any trouble?
AN: I had a lot of rain follow me from the start of the trip, which began on April 14th. While camped out on the Garret Mountain Reservation Park in Jersey, a storm slammed my tent to the ground, but that was the only time it failed, although Discovery Bay, WA was a close second. When I crossed through Pennsylvania, the state had not seen that much rain in eighteen years; there was plenty of hail in Ohio; and then there was the disastrous flooding near the Gavin's Point Dam in South Dakota, just west of Yankton as a result of record snowfalls, torrential rains, and questionable actions taken by the Army Corps of Engineers – but that's another issue.
PM: Finally, of all the adventures you’ve had so far, which do you think will stick with you most vividly and why?
AN: My week on the reservation in Oglala, South Dakota with the Lakota people was the most vivid part of the trip. The people I met were very kind and accepting and their culture and stories were beautiful, but it was quite obvious going through neighboring Whiteclay, Nebraska that something was very wrong. Third world conditions do indeed exist within this country. Aside from the alcoholism, gambling, and suicides, I was most surprised to learn that certain elders charge pow-wow directors to have them come speak to the youth, to have them keep their oral histories and traditions alive. The culture is eating itself from the inside out and the American people know so little about it.
“GWB: Breaking the tether” was taken on the George Washington Bridge before crossing over into Jersey. After a year of preparation and one pleasant night in Harlem, I was finally doing it. - (Photo Credit)
“With Billy and Leko in da Fo” I met Billy and Leko at the only motel I'd use in Fostoria, Ohio (da Fo). We obviously drank that night. - (Photo Credit)
“A view from Bear Butte” An extraordinary couple invited me to take one of the most significant and beautiful hikes of my life outside of Sturgis, SD. - (Photo Credit)
“Walk with Dad” was taken on a mountainside near Livingston, Montana. Sammy's little arm rests in a sling from a motorcycle falling and crushing his hand. - (Photo Credit)
“David Swanson, artist, capturing MT from the berm” I would have taken a picture of his work if I didn't think he looked so picturesque to begin with. - (Photo Credit)
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