Trekking across the country
He’s hiked, biked and paddled thousands of miles since he left home last year, and he still has thousands of miles left to go. He’s traversed mountain ranges, rivers and beaches, camping along the way. He wakes up and puts one foot in front of the other in an excursion that has taken him from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River to the sands of Florida and now to Texas.
Dave Roberts, 71, stopped in Pilot Point and Aubrey this week on the sixth leg of his 25,000-mile journey across the country.
“I decided that I wanted to live outdoors for a whole season,” Roberts said. “I wanted to experience nature. I wanted to be out there with the weather. I wanted to breathe air. I wanted to use my body. I didn’t just want to stay home and play on the computer.
“So I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail.”
A retired software developer, Roberts began his journey on March 4, 2014, from his home in Adelphi, Maryland. From there, he rode his bicycle to Georgia and hiked the full 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine. He had his bike shipped there so it would be waiting for him for his ride back home.
He had planned for that to be the end of his trip, but when he got to the end, Roberts changed his mind.
“When I got to the end of the trail, I wasn’t ready to go home yet,” Roberts said. “I said, ‘What’s a good thing to do during the winter? I know, I’ll hike the Florida Trail.’”
He then hopped on his bicycle and rode 3,000 miles to Key West, Fla. He shipped his bike to Pensacola and hiked the Florida Trail.
But Roberts wasn’t done: He had his sights set on larger goals.
It was back on the bike to Bemidgi, Minn., where he sold the bike, bought a kayak and paddled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
“That was a hoot. I’d never done much kayaking before,” Roberts said.
Now that he’d Hiked the Appalachian Trail, Roberts realized he could go after what long-distance hikers like him call the Triple Crown, hiking each of the major U.S. long-distance trails – the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide trail from New Mexico to Montana along the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range.
Roberts would be the first person over the age of 70 to achieve the feat.
He left New Orleans on foot almost two months ago to begin a 3,000-mile trek across Texas, visiting dozens of state parks along the way, including Ray Roberts Lake State Park, where he spent two nights Sunday and Monday.
“I didn’t just want to walk straight across the state, you know?” Roberts said. “That didn’t sound very interesting, so I got on the Internet and started looking at state parks. I found that Texas has more than 100 state parks.”
Roberts wrote a letter to Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith and told him what he was planning.
“[Smith] was very enthusiastic. He sent me a free state park pass, and he was very supportive of what I was doing,” Roberts said.
Roberts then made a list of each park with hiking and camping and plotted his course on a large Texas road map. Walking 15 miles a day, he could hit 23 state parks.
Part way through his Texas leg, he realized he was making better time than he thought – 23 miles a day. Roberts modified his route to hit 40 Texas state parks.
Texas was simply on the way to the Continental Divide Trail, but Roberts made the most of it.
“This idea of visiting state parks just really made this an incredible adventure. If I had just walked across the state, it wouldn’t have been like this at all,” Roberts said. “People are interested in what I’m doing, I get welcomed when I go to the state park.”
Roberts said people he meets have mixed reactions to what he’s doing.
“Most people that I talk to out there, they’re confused. ‘Why would you want to walk when you can drive?’ And they don’t get it,” he said. “But there are also a lot of people that are inspired by this.”
Roberts is not a drifter or anti-social and is conscientious of how people perceive him. Noticing how people were reacting to him, he decided to try a change. Unlike the other legs of his trip, Roberts would shave every day on this leg.
“I feel like I get a lot more respect when I shave,” Roberts said. “A lot of people, when they see [a long, wild beard], they associate me with a group of people that are crazy or survivalist. I didn’t want to be put in those pigeonholes. I wanted to be able to relate to people as if I were normal.”
The cell phone he uses to update his blog, davidowenroberts.com, has run out of data and he needs WiFi to keep his followers informed. He’s also writing blogs for the various state parks.
Roberts’ journey hasn’t been without difficulties. He was forced to make a detour after a gear disaster while visiting Cooper Lake in East Texas.
“My stuff was wet because it was raining for three days straight, so I put my stuff in a dryer,” he said. “The dryer overheated, and I melted my tent. I don’t want to camp without a tent, so I hitchhiked into Dallas and back.”
Roberts can’t use just any tent for what he’s attempting. Weight and durability are considerable factors, and a Walmart tent just wouldn’t cut it. He needed a specialty store and found what he needed at an REI in Dallas.
It hasn’t always been easy. In Florida, Roberts made a mistake he said he won’t make again when he went to dip his cup into a pool of water and dowsed himself with it. Everywhere the water touched began itching uncontrollably. It turned out the water was infested with mites.
“That’s the last time I’ll clean myself with stagnant water. I couldn’t get rid of the itching, and that was the first and only time I ever thought of going home,” Roberts said.
Roberts camps along the way wherever he can make his bed at night. He makes attempts to stay inconspicuous, staying off posted private property. He buys food he can carry and eat on the go and stops along the way for water, planning his supplies based on the weather and terrain ahead of him.
He’s only stayed in a motel twice, once to nurse a blister on his foot and another simply because he needed the rest and decided to take what he calls a “zero day.”
“I slept the whole day. I couldn’t believe it, but I woke up the next day, felt great. My body needed it and I listened to it,” Roberts said. “Some guys say, ‘You’ve got to push through the pain!’ I don’t do that.”
Roberts set off from the Aubrey Area Library Tuesday, headed to Denton to buy new shoes at Walmart. He gets more miles per dollar with shoes from Walmart than with more expensive shoes. For someone on pace to burn through more than 50 pairs, it’s a prudent budget decision.
His next move was to head west to his next destination at Lake Richardson State Park in Jacksboro.
After Texas, Roberts is off to New Mexico where he will hike north through the Rocky Mountains to Montana. He’s going to somehow get to Southern California to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.
“After that I’m not sure. I might ride a bicycle home, or I might walk home, I don’t know,” Roberts said.
When his trip is complete, it will have been three years since Roberts left home. He said he feels he has at least five more years of hiking left in him. He’s considered opening a hiker hostel on the Appalachian Trail and living out there. But for now, it’s the daily experiences that he lives for.
“This whole trip has been more than just coincidences. It’s like somebody’s looking out for me. Things just fall right into place. It’s just been amazing,” Roberts said.
“If I need a hardware store, a mile later there’s a hardware store. It’s just there. Or, I think it’s time for lunch and there’s a picnic table. Things just appear when I need them.”