By Lisa Capobianco
When people ask Joe Hurley what he needed the most to walk 3,600 miles on Route 6, he replies, “luck.”
Ten years ago, Hurley, a retired newspaper reporter who worked at the News-Times in Danbury, walked 3,600 miles (ten million steps) on Route 6, the longest highway in the U.S, passing through 14 states from Massachusetts to California.
His decision to walk across the nation happened by chance years prior. In 1999, Hurley walked Route 6 in Connecticut, exploring eastern parts of the state he never heard of.
With the assistance of his photographer David Harple, he shared the experience with News-Times readers.
“I looked at a map and saw all these places on the eastern side of the state I didn’t know existed,” said Hurley, who ran several marathons in the past. “We did 120 miles in six days.”
After the walk in Connecticut, Hurley decided to take on the challenge of exploring other parts of the U.S. on Route 6 to inform others about the rest of the country.
“I got curious after the walk about where Route 6 went,” said Hurley, adding that his biggest goal was to make it to Cleveland.
After planning months before the walk, Hurley took off for his nine-month adventure with photographer Travis Lindhorst in late March, making the first stop to Cape Cod.
During the trip, Lindhorst would drop off Hurley wherever they stopped the previous day. Hurley walked 20 miles a day while Lindhorst took pictures. They stayed in people’s homes and in hotels, where they received free or discounted rooms. Throughout the trip, Hurley published hundreds of stories about his experience weekly in over a dozen newspapers, which provided a source of income, and Lindhorst published photographs of places they saw.
“Overall this was one of my most remembered experiences,” said Lindhorst, adding that he loved seeing the landscape in the western part of the U.S. “To be able to explore the U.S. at this kind of pace allowed me to really understand the people, history and landscape that makes up the foundation of this country.”
From Providence, Rhode Island to Glenwood Canyon in Colorado to the “loneliest road” that extends from Hinckley, Utah to Eli, Nevada, to Death Valley, California, Hurley saw a number of places he calls, “remarkable,” meeting a variety of people along the way. One of his favorite places was Bear Mountain Bridge in New York, where he could see the Manhattan sky line from a park nearby.
“You stand on that bridge, and you think you’re in Europe,” said Hurley, adding that the Glenwood Canyon in Colorado was the most beautiful place he saw.
Although he saw beautiful places, Hurley said not all of his experiences were so appealing. One night while staying in a hotel in Pennsylvania, Hurley accidentally stepped on the prong of his belt buckle after getting out of the shower. The accident left Hurley with a bone-deep cut at the bottom of his foot.
“It hit the bone of my foot,” said Hurley, who still carried on his journey the next day despite the rain and his sock filled with blood. “It bled a lot.”
Despite feeling tired and worn out on days like those, Hurley kept going with the determination not to give up. Essie, a woman he met while stopping in Nebraska, inspired Hurley to continue his goal. Calling Essie an incredible person, Hurley said the woman was running from Denver to Chicago at the time to raise money for three Colorado charities.
“When I met her she had sprained an ankle—she was on crutches, and she was still going on,” said Hurley, adding that Essie also slept on roadsides during her walk. “It made my 20 miles a day walking seem small.”
Lloy Hand, also known as “The Corn Man” from Des Moines, Iowa, was another memorable individual Hurley said he met on the walk. An elderly man who sold corn from the back of his weather-beaten pickup truck, Hand had a surgically removed knee cap and two fingers on his left hand, recalled Hurley.
“He was just happy to be out there working,” Hurley said.
Through the people he met, Hurley said he saw the cultural differences between different parts of the U.S. While walking in New England, Hurley said only several people stopped to chat with him. But when he arrived to the Midwest, Hurley said people stopped to reach out several times a day.
“People in the Midwest have a reputation of being more friendly,” said Hurley. “In the Midwest, everybody waves.”
About two years ago, Hurley and Lindhorst published a book about the adventure called “Ten Million Steps on Route 6,” selling all 1,000 copies of the first edition. Since then, Hurley has conducted programs at local libraries throughout the state, providing guests a guided tour of the places he saw on Route 6. On May 21, Hurley will bring his program to the Southington Public Library, where guests will take a virtual trip across the country. During the program, Hurley will lend guests a copy of the book, guiding them chapter by chapter. The second edition of “Ten Million Steps” will also be available for sale.
“I hope they learn something about the country,” said Hurley, adding that he hopes guests have fun at the same time. “It might inspire them to go to some of these places.”