Mental Floss

Samantha Hunt's Notable Walkers

David K. Israel

I'm pleased to present a very special guest column this week by one of my new favorite authors, Samantha Hunt. Yesterday's mini-profile of K. Veerabadran, who holds world records for both continuous walking and continuous backwards walking can be found here. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for her piece on notable mid-19th century walker Jules Bourglay.

And now, without further rat-a-tat, I turn the post over to Samantha.

I once met a man who had tried to walk across the state of Iowa carrying a ladder on his back. I can't remember what the ladder was supposed to symbolize but I do recall that he didn't make it very far. My career as a long distance walker has been even shorter-lived. I dream about taking week-long walks but I've had trouble getting started. The instructions are simple enough: one foot in front of the other, and yet, the one walk I've always wanted to take -- from my house in Brooklyn to the house in Westchester County where I was raised "“ eludes me. There's many a deterrent: traffic, trucks, diesel fumes. The danger and dirt have kept me home. Walking out of New York City is no the ramble through the countryside. At times, in certain directions, it's not even possible. We are, in a way, trapped. Highways, bridges with no pedestrian lanes block our ways. It's so tough to be Johnny Appleseed nowadays that even the senseless words of homicidal madman Theodore Kaczynski begin to make some sense. "A walking man formerly could go where he pleased, go at his own pace without observing any traffic regulations"¦Since the introduction of motorized transport the arrangement of our cities has changed"¦the walker's freedom is now greatly restricted." I originally wrote these stories about notable walkers in 2002 but as the weather warms here in New York I begin, once again, to plan and scheme my pedestrian escape.

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In 1969, Arthur Blessit heard Jesus Christ ask him to walk around the world, visiting every nation of every continent while carrying a twelve-foot-long cross. Blessit has been walking for thirty-three years. Blessit has even walked in Antarctica. He has visited the tiniest nations, the Vatican City and Sovereign Knights of Malta. He has crossed Africa and the United States on foot. He has climbed Mount Fuji (12,388 feet) and the Bronzal Pass, between Pakistan and Afghanistan (18,200 feet). He walked to the Dead Sea. He walked to Red Square. He walked to Orlando, Florida.

Blessit once carried his wooden cross to meet the world's largest tree. The tree is in Mexico. It is 163-feet tall and 163-feet around. This tree is the largest, not the tallest.

At Blessit's count his shoes last him approximately 500 miles, which means he has worn through 69.6 pairs of shoes since he began walking.

Blessit has walked through forty-nine nations at war. These wars cause problems for Blessit, not just because they are wars, but because wars often result in the creation of a new country, or, at least, an old country with a new name. Should Blessit walk Burma again now that it is Myanmar? Zaire now that it is the Democratic Republic of Congo? Did Jesus mean Arthur should double back and walk Kosovo, Croatia, and Serbia even though he once walked Yugoslavia?

The New York Times reported that Blessit almost gave up walking once in Liberia as he had been chased by someone who believed that he, Arthur Blessit, was Jesus Christ. This borrowed glory left Blessit in despair. He stopped momentarily. He'd never meant to steal Jesus' flame. In Liberia, Blessit rested against a tree and considered calling it quits until, as Blessit tells it, Jesus again whispered in his ear, "Don't worry about it. Just keep going down the road."

Arthur Blessit kept walking and, eventually, he walked back home to Hollywood, California, where he was arrested. Blessit has been arrested for walking twenty-four times, all over the world.

Samantha Hunt's most recent book is The Invention of Everything Else, a novel about the life of Nikola Tesla.