2017-06-15 / Around Town

This Week's Conversation with Erin Parete

Erin Parete's 3,100-mile cross-country trek will take her until September to finish. (Photo contributed by Erin Parete) Erin Parete's 3,100-mile cross-country trek will take her until September to finish. (Photo contributed by Erin Parete) Erin Parete, a Newport resident, has taken on an unusual mission: she’s walking across the country. Having been a distance hiker for 20 years and driven across the country seven times, she figured it was time to walk across. She’ll be 40 in November, so she said she wanted to make the journey before she gets too old, knowing that the trip could be exhausting and hard on the body at times.

This is Parete’s second attempt; during her first try, last year, she began the trip in Delaware and made it 300 miles before she broke her foot. At the time, she lived in San Diego but decided to come to Newport to live with a friend while her injury healed. Today, she calls Newport home and says she’ll be coming back after she finishes the journey.

When she came to Newport, she got a job working at the Mad Hatter Bakery on Broadway and has been there ever since. Parete said bakery owner Audra Lalli is very supportive of her journey and has dedicated the entire front wall of the bakery to it, complete with photos and a map to track Parete’s progress. When Newport This Week interviewed Parete on the phone, she was walking through Illinois. At the time the article was printed, she was in Iowa.

What kinds of preparations did you make for this second attempt? Did you plan your entire route ahead of time?

There’s a website called trailjournals.com where hikers all over the world keep track of their travels, so I read a lot of the cross-country journals to find out what gear they used and what sorts of obstacles they had to overcome. I felt pretty confident when I started in late March. I think I was more prepared than last year. I’ve decided to take a more northern route to stay out of the hot, southern states this summer. I don’t have anything in mind that’s a can’t-miss, but if I see something interesting along the way, I certainly will stop. I don’t think I’ll ever walk across America again, so I might as well have all the experiences.

When do you hope to get to the west coast?

Last year I was really focused on mileage, but I was pushing myself too much and was missing out on the experience. This time, I’m trying to enjoy the scenery more and if I want to stop, I stop. I expect to finish in September. It’s a 3,100-mile trip all together, so I kind of figured

it would take me six months. I’m trying to average 28 miles a day because anything more than that starts getting unpleasant.

Where are you staying along the journey?

I’ve been camping, staying with friends, and sometimes cheap hotels when I need to. I’ve also been using a social networking app called couch-surfing, where I find people who are opening their homes to travelers like me for free. At one place I camped in Pennsylvania, there was a bear there and I didn’t sleep too well.

How have you been getting supplies and food when you need it?

Greta Lalli, the sister of Audra, owner of Mad Hatter Bakery, has been shipping supplies to different locations ahead of me and I restock with those.

You’ve been called the Anti- Cheryl Strayed, yet you’re doing a distance trek, something similar to what she did and wrote about in her popular memoir “Wild.” How did you get this nickname?

Well, you could say she’s not my favorite. I read her book after my mother recommended it because I’m a hiker. I took it upon myself to create a blog to review the book. I met the friend I came to stay with in Rhode Island through my blog.

What are the best and worst parts of walking across the country by yourself?

I love all the time alone because it gives me time to reflect, but sometimes it starts to drive me a little crazy. It certainly can get lonely. Some parts of the country I’ve been in are just cornfield after cornfield, so that can get hard. But it’s nice to only have one job. I wake up and all I have to do is head west. The hardest part is not knowing where I’m going to sleep every night. It’s difficult. There’s no comfort in waking up and wondering where you’ll be sleeping that night.

It takes a lot of commitment to walk across the entire country, so what are you hoping to get out of the experience?

I think people are inherently good and I want to see that in action and be proven right in my belief. I’ve stayed with people of all different religions and political leanings and I think there is a common bond between everyone. I think in general people are good and I’ve seen that so far. I’ve never received an unkind word from anyone. So far, it’s been a great journey and I’m loving every minute of it.

You're almost halfway through. What's the most scenic spot you've seen so far?

I'll have to hand it to Pennsylvania. It was a hard, hard state to cross, nothing but mountains and rolling hills, but it was beautiful.

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