When it comes to walking, California resident Melissa McCarthy says she occupies her time with her Buddhist chants rather than an iPod.
“It’s kind of helpful,” she said. “It’s rhythmic. It feels as if it’s kind of a dedication.”
McCarthy, who stayed in Hastings on Wednesday, is making her way across the country by walking along the U.S. Highway 6 route from Bishop, California, to Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Born in New York City, McCarthy spent her childhood in New England before moving to California in the late 1960s. It was there where she lived in a Buddhist community from 1992 to 2003 and became ordained as a priest in 1998.
The motivation for McCarthy’s plan to walk across the country began out of her frustration toward politics and humanity’s treatment of the environment.
“We sit here and it’s all green and beautiful,” McCarthy said. “This is always sweeping green lawns and trees, and you can’t really wrap your mind around the fact that humanity is really racing to its own extinction at a faster and faster rate.”
While she still holds her anger against environmental issues, McCarthy now sees her motivations in a more positive light.
“It feels more just as if I want to meet Americans and pay respect to the countryside and the land, and at the same time, express real concern about environment,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy began her trek across the country in March 2015 after receiving financial support from friends. Along the way, she made updates to her blog, which contained photos of her journey.
Her trek was brought to an unexpected end in Fort Morgan, Colorado, when an illness related to dehydration forced her to return to California four months after she began.
But this April, McCarthy returned to Colorado to continue with her journey, and still continues to post updates on her blog.
“It feels like a mission and it felt like I just wanted to continue with it,” McCarthy said.
On her expedition, McCarthy pulls along a 75-pound cart full of camping gear, food, water, toiletries, a change of clothes and a multi-colored flag, which represents her concern for the environment. She finds pulling a cart to be much easier than wearing a backpack, which put strain on her back during a six-week pilgrimage in Spain.
“Unless you’re going up a steep hill, the weight just feels negligent,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like that much weight at all. It’s quite manageable.”
Her second month of walking brought McCarthy straight to Hastings. She stayed with Hastings College professor Antje Anderson while she waited for a shipment of new boots to arrive.
Anderson’s ex-husband sent a Facebook message to Anderson to see if McCarthy could stay at her house, as he taught with a psychology professor who knew McCarthy’s neighbor.
“I’ve been taken in before, so it’s always kind of fun to sort of give back and continue the great American tradition of being welcoming to people who you have absolutely no direct connection with and sort of find out what the connection is,” Anderson said.
Anderson eventually did find that connection. Both her sister and McCarthy were ordained Zen Buddhists, which Anderson says led to more talking points between the two.
On the second attempt at her journey, McCarthy has stayed with more people than her first attempt. A third of her nights have been spent camping outside. If the weather looks bad, McCarthy usually stops at a motel for the night.
“If you get both wet and cold and there’s no place to get dry or warm, then you could be in trouble,” she said.
One stop on her destination that stood out to McCarthy occurred during her walk along a coastal range of mountains in California. On one side, she saw a pristine valley full of solar panels. The other side was full of oil wells, a depressing view for McCarthy.
“This was probably largely my own projection, but I thought it was a really interesting, bizarre kind of contrast,” McCarthy said.
She hopes to reach the East Coast by fall or early winter, increasing her distance per day as she continues.
“I’m excited for her and I hope to keep track of her blog and see where she’s at and how far she gets this year,” Anderson said. “I hope everything goes well for her.”
McCarthy says that although her walk helps bring herself closer to Earth, she still wants her journey to promote the awareness of environmental degradation.
“No matter what we do about it, we just need to notice and be aware of what we’re losing,” McCarthy said.
More information on McCarthy’s journey and periodical updates can be found at her blog, oneearthwalkproject.blogspot.com