Here and gone: Tennessee walker takes no breaks on way across U.S.

Sean C. Morgan

A Tennessee man walked through Sweet Home Monday, Sept. 10, as he neared the end of a four-month trek across the country on Highway 20.

After walking more than 3,000 miles at 26 miles per day, 12 hours a day, Gary Cantrell said the final 80 miles is still a long way to go – as he passed by Hoy’s Hardware.

Cantrell, of Short Creek, Tenn., has been greeted by many people after appearing on a television program, said his wife, Sandra, who was busy trying to let bystanders know her husband couldn’t pause to shake their hands.

“He’s not stopping,” she said. “We have to keep going. We’ve got to be in Tennessee Thursday night.”

Employees of TiSquared stepped out and crossed Main Street at Clark Mill Road to cheer him on.

Sandra said her husband, who is in his mid-60s, is doing it “because he wanted to. It’s something you dream of doing in a lifetime. It’s now or never.”

“It just seemed like something everyone would want to do,” Gary Cantrell said. “It’s a long way. ”

And it’s hard to do, he said. “It’s been really good, the human interactions and seeing the different parts of the country.”

He said he particularly appreciates how “people are really helpful and friendly and nice.”

Cantrell’s haste to end the journey is partly due to the fact that he has to get back home to organize his brainchild, the Barkley Marathons in east Tennessee.

The uniquely brutal 100-mile run is limited to only 40 competitors yearly, none of whom finished the most recent race.

Cantrell set out from Newport, R.I., on May 10. He had planned to walk the length of Highway 20, and when he saw it ended in Newport, he thought he should start in Newport, R.I. He then walked to Boston, Mass., so he could cover the length of Highway 20.

Outside of sleeping, he doesn’t stop walking – except for that hourlong break in Ohio, where, he said, he kept checking his watch “to see when it was to time to start back.”

He credited his wife for doing the organizational work and coordination that has made it possible for him to get this far.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere close to here without Sandra,” he said Monday night from a motel in south Lebanon.

Asked what he enjoyed most about the trip, he said he couldn’t pick anything in particular.

“The overriding theme is I’ve really enjoyed meeting people across the country,” he said. “I just figured I’m an old, broken-down guy that’s walking really slow and I didn’t expect to get that much attention except from people I knew who ran. People can relate to it because I walk slow.”

The trip has been challenging he said, “harder than anything I’ve tried to do myself.

“I think anybody would want to do it. It’s fun to face challenges and this certainly has been a tremendous challenge.”