A retired California man considers his adventure as a rite of passage.
His adventure brought him through Shelby County last week as he spends nearly five months a year making his way across the United States.
Dr. Bill Fairbanks, 74, of Los Osos, CA, a retired community college anthropology teacher, has spent the past three summers walking. His journey has taken him from coastal California, through Nevada, across the Rocky Mountains, through the fields of the Midwest as he makes his way to his final destination in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.
“I needed a challenge,” Fairbanks said. “I’m trying to study the country.”
Fairbanks taught American history in Yuba City High School and community college for four years. He then taught anthropology at Cuesta College near San Luis Obispo in California.
He started his trek June 2, 2009, walking one day, then taking two days off. He averages about 15 miles a day in good weather.
Fairbanks’ wife Carole travels ahead of Bill by car and finds a place to stay for a few days.
“I take him out in the morning where he left off the day before and pick him up at night,” Carole said.
At the motel, Carole sets up her quilting and works while waiting for a call from Bill.
“You could say I’ve been quilting across America,” she said.
“We usually stay in a motel four days,” Carole said. “on the days we take off, we email and update to everybody and go sightseeing.”
Fairbanks walks along the back roads, two and four lane highways. He wears a backpack with food, water, and Gatorade. He wears a hat and regular walking shoes.
“I have to keep things light,” he said.
“I was always taught to walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic. Even when I’m walking through town and there are sidewalks, I walk on the left side. That way, at intersections, I make sure vehicles turning right see me,” Fairbanks said.
While walking Fairbanks spends his time thinking.
“I don’t listen to music or anything. I have to pay attention to traffic and what may be coming around a bend,” he said.
Fairbanks travels do not take a specific route. He visits with friends and family along the way as well as places of interest that people have recommended to him.
During his first summer of walking, he walked from his home, across the San Francisco bridge, up Mt. Tamalpais, through the Santa Rosa valley up Highway 49 where there is mining history, to Carson City, Nevada.
The following year he began at Carson City and walked through Utah, crossing the Rocky Mountain at Rocky Mountain National Park, through Colorado to Norton, Kansas.
This year he started at Norton, through Kansas City into Missouri, into Iowa, back into Missouri, crossed the Mississippi at Hannibal, and into Illinois. They stopped in Springfield to visit Lincoln sites then Bill made his way down Route 29 to Pana and on Route 16 to Shelbyville.
From Shelbyville, they plan to continue to Effingham and make their way into Kentucky by way of Indiana before stopping for the winter.
Each winter they return to their home in California. They have three children living nearby.
“We will also return home for family events, then come back to where we left off and walk some more,” Carole said.
Fairbanks admitted that the humidity of the Midwest was something he struggled with on his journey. It slowed down his pace to about 10 to 12 miles a day.
“I’m not used to it. My clothes were so drenched with sweat that my cell phone quit working,” Fairbanks said. The heat and humidity slowed him down a bit in his walking.
“People stop to give me water and food and offer assistance,” he said.
“Some have offered him rides, but he is adament about walking,” Carole said.
Crossing the Missouri and Mississippi rivers also presented a challenge as most bridges did not allow foot traffic across.
“I found a bridge over the Mississippi that allowed bicycles, so I crossed there,” Fairbanks said.
The highest point on his journey was at 12,200 feet in the Rocky Mountains. Fairbanks said he was able to cross easily in spite of the elevation.
He added that different people have walked along with him for a few miles as he has made his trek.
While stopping in different communities, Fairbanks attends local government meetings which helps him learn more about the area. He visited the Shelbyville City Council meeting while here last week.
“I find local governments - city councils, school boards - care about their communities and the people. It seems state governments care more about their own idealolgies and themselves,” Fairbanks said after the council meeting.
Fairbanks has also been invited to speak to various groups at some of the places he stopped.
Of course the couple have met other Fairbanks along the way - all of whom may be distant relation.
Fairbanks ultimate goal is the family home near Boston.
“They say all Fairbanks can trace their history back to that house,” Carole said.
“It’s a small world. We sort of knew that before. People have been so nice,” Carole said.