This year, John Lindgren took a "walk" from Maine to California that included many of the historical sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with lessons and challenges.
“My walk changed my life, and my walk was analogous to life,” said 65-year-old Lindgren of the Wasatch 2nd Ward, Salt Lake Wasatch Stake, in Cottonwood Heights.
His walk started April 14 at Old Orchard Beach, southwest of Portland, Maine. It ended Aug. 5, 114 days and 3,761 miles later at Pacific Beach near San Francisco.
“I learned that the most important things in life are my family and friends and to serve and be kind to each other,” Lindgren said. “Things came to my mind how I could better serve. Too, I learned so much more about the strength and force of prayers and that there are angels of mercy.”
John and Sharron Lindgren, who have been married for 44 years, returned in December 2014 from the Frankfurt Germany Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where they had served young single adults in Nuremberg. With Sharron Lindgren’s encouragement and that of their eight children and 25 grandchildren, John Lindgren prepared to depart for his ambitious trek a few months later.
Throughout his life, he has sought challenge and adventure, having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua, among others. He also is a retired Army Ranger captain.
Lindgren didn’t walk for a cause or to raise money, but to fulfill a challenge, to see “America the beautiful, truly the promised land” and “to give his grandchildren courage to do hard things.”
He pushed a jogging stroller packed with a tent, a sleeping bag, a pad, supplies, food and water. His smartphone (charged with solar power) provided navigation, communication with his wife and family, and connection to lds.org and Instagram, where he posted a daily selfie and brief comment.
When he started walking through the Northeastern states, the distance to his goal seemed overwhelming. He decided to just focus on that day’s task and on what he was accomplishing that day, making the sojourn doable.
“For me, this experience was analogous to life: There are good days and there are bad days," he said. "You just take whatever is dealt and enjoy the moment.”
He visited LDS Church history sites along the way, adding 300 miles to his cross-country walk, but they were a major reason for his trek. He went to Joseph Smith’s birthplace in Sharon, Vermont, and to Palmyra, New York; Kirtland, Ohio; Nauvoo, Illinois; and Winter Quarters, Nebraska. From there, he followed the Mormon Pioneer Trail to Martin's Cove, Wyoming, where he felt “a very strong spirit,” and then on to the Salt Lake Valley. He said he felt a real kinship with the pioneers.
Coming down Emigration Canyon to This Is the Place Monument in the Salt Lake Valley was the climax of his journey, he said. Adding to that joy was the surprise visit of his wife and two of his daughters, Kimberly and Melissa.
He said he found beauty in every area and especially enjoyed the wooded Erie Canal Trail. While walking daily from dawn to dusk, he listened to scriptures, all the LDS general conference talks from 2003 to 2015 and self-improvement books. He also listened to the sounds around him and meditated as well.
“I was grateful every day for little things, such as a cloudy sky, a smooth road, wide shoulders on a road, calm weather, food, water, solitude and silence,” he said.
Eighty percent of his nights, he slept in the woods or bushes in a spot he always prayed about. Occasionally, he slept in someone’s yard or farm or at a motel. A half-dozen people invited him to sleep in their homes, where he relished home-cooked meals. In one instance, a conversation about Lindgren’s walk at a grandson’s soccer game in Utah led to an invitation to stay at a man’s aunt and uncle’s home in Rome, New York.
At first, when people offered him money or food, Lindgren was reluctant to accept. Then he realized that many people back home were praying for his welfare and that these kindnesses were likely answers to those prayers. A 79-year-old widower in Castleton, Vermont, insisted on giving him $100, as did a nurse in Evanston, Wyoming. Others gave smaller amounts, food or drinks, or made encouraging signs. “There are so many good people out there,” Lindgren said. His gifts to people were pass-along cards from the LDS Church.
“You’re doing what?” was the usual response of the 100-plus people he met along the way. He said there were some days he wondered what he was doing, though he never doubted he could reach the Pacific Ocean.
There were difficulties that he faced along his walk, including weather, animals, equipment and health challenges.
“Wind hitting me in the face was the biggest challenge," he said. "I could easily take sun, rain or heat, but wind gusting in my face was difficult. Yet I was never sick one day. I never had a cold, nor ticks or insect bites. I would hear animals at night but was never bothered, though I had trouble with a few dogs.”
Near Casper, Wyoming, an unfenced herd of Black Angus cattle followed him, and he wondered if they might charge him.
Severe blisters developed on his feet early in his walk. In July, he was hit by golf ball-sized hailstones in Nebraska and Nevada. His jogging stroller broke in the middle of Wyoming, necessitating him to haul all his equipment on his back for 15 miles. His daughter Kimberly Runnells arranged to have a new stroller delivered to him. His son Jeremy Lindgren came to his rescue in the Nevada desert with new tire tubes. Sometimes the navigation system misguided him, and at other times, he was in areas that had no service.
The Utah-Nevada desert was the “toughest part,” he said, with its long, empty distances between towns for restocking food and water. His wife, children, grandchildren and a few friends met him at different spots to replenish supplies. (Earlier, he and Sharron had driven through Nevada to cache water every 25 miles.) Plus, seven summits across Nevada taxed a pretty exhausted body, he said. His main safety concern, however, was traffic, particularly in California.
“I do enjoy and treasure the hard things as well as the easy stuff,” he said of these challenges.
Because he missed his family so much, he upped his daily mileage from 30-35 miles to 40-45 miles so that he could finish sooner. His family and a number of friends made up a very warm welcoming committee when he flew home the day after wading into the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Jeremy Lindgren asked to keep the jogging stroller as a memento to show his children and others that when they’re having hard, difficult days, or when they’re out on a mission far away from home and what’s comfortable and familiar, that they, too, can do this because their 65-year-old grandfather went through hard, difficult days and never gave up.
Janet Peterson has been friends with the Lindgrens for more than 30 years.