Past the Rockies, the desert awaits

RVC man 2/3 of way through walk across America


“New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio,” Rockville Centre’s Daniel Finnegan began, listing the states he and his walking companion have so far traversed on their journey across America. “Oh wait, sorry.”

He started again.

“New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas …” His voice trailed off before starting up again excitedly. “…Colorado is [our] 10th. Utah, Nevada and California [are left], so 13 total.”

Last Sunday night, Finnegan and his friend and trip partner, Abby Bongaarts, both 24, were staying in Grand Junction, Colo., resting for a few days before making their way to the Utah border, about 60 miles west.

“It’s funny,” Finnegan told the Herald. “We say we’re in Colorado, and so often people think that means that we’re essentially finished. But by now, since we’ve passed the Rockies, we’re about two-thirds of the way done.” He and Bongaarts started walking on March 1 in Long Beach, and are expecting to complete the 3,200-mile trip to San Francisco sometime in September.

The two decided to embark on the cross-country trek — a longtime dream of Bongaarts’s — for the once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as to raise money for JOIN, an Oregon-based charity the two volunteered for that focuses on helping the homeless.

A month ago, Finnegan — a 2015 graduate of Fordham University who worked as a purchasing manager for an online auto rim company before the trip — came home for his sister’s wedding, and then headed back to Colby, Kan., where he had put the hike on pause for the celebration.

The two crossed the Kansas-Colorado border on June 19, according to their Walk Across America 2017 Facebook page. About a week later, the Rocky Mountains loomed on the horizon, and they took Route 24 through Colorado Springs and climbed to the Ute, Cottonwood and Kebler passes, reaching an altitude of over 12,000 feet at Cottonwood and enjoying what Finnegan described as one of the most spectacular views of the trip.

“The landscapes of Colorado in general are pretty astounding,” he said. “The further you climb up, the thinner the air gets and the more beautiful it gets.”

The pair had pushed a cart filled with supplies up to that point, but found that they could negotiate the mountain roads more easily without it, Finnegan said, thanks to some supporters. A man from the Bronx, whom Finnegan identified only as Al and whom they met in Colorado Springs, dropped the cart off 20 miles ahead of them, at a campsite where the two would be stopping. Members of Bongaarts’s family also visited them, and stored the cart for several days.

They began descending out of the Rockies on July 5, making their way through mountain towns where they stocked up on canned chicken and tuna, bread, peanut butter and jelly and trail mix, Finnegan said. Having previously pitched their tent in the yards of welcoming locals, the pair have more recently spent their nights on the West’s ample public land.

“And now we’re in Grand Junction, which is almost desert-like and is beautiful in a completely different way,” he said. “So across the state of Colorado, we’ve seen all sorts of landscapes.”

More desert lies ahead, and Finnegan and Bongaarts will have to hike for four or five days between towns at some points. They have altered their schedule to deal with the heat. Last Friday and Saturday, Finnegan said, they woke up earlier than usual in order to begin walking by around 6 a.m. At 1 p.m. they stopped and set up a tarp for shade, and rested for several hours before walking for another hour or two before nightfall.

Along the way, strangers have been happy to help out. “Every day, someone does something else for us,” Finnegan said. “Someone pulls off the side of the road and has a ton of food and cold waters for us, or they’ll call a local news station for us; they’ll give us money to put towards charity. It feels like it’s just constantly happening.”

A bartender in the tiny town of Peyton, Colo., upon discovering that the pair were walking across the country, paid for their meals and set them up with a place to stay that night. “It’s just constantly having interactions like that that have been amazing,” Finnegan said.