How Friends Danny and Abby Challenge Themselves By Walking Across America On Foot

Why do we need to be challenged? For trekkers Danny and Abby, they believe that challenges are important for their personal growth so they can unleash their capabilities. For them walking itself is not only physically challenging, but also mentally challenging.

Let’s find out more about them and their adventures. Read on and learn how their trek across America began, their best trekking and adventuring tips, their favorite gear, and more!

Trekkers Danny Finnegan and Abby Bongaarts

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi! Our names are Danny Finnegan and Abby Bongaarts. We became friends when we lived as community mates in Gresham, Oregon, USA as Americorps volunteers through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps NW. We worked at an organization called, JOIN, serving people experiencing homelessness in their drop-in/day center.

Abby is 24 years old from St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She attended Stonehill College in Brockton, Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in History and German. During college she spent a year in Munich on a student exchange. Danny’s 24 years old from Rockville Centre, NY, and is the youngest of four children in a big Irish family. He graduated from Fordham University in 2015 with a degree in English and film studies. Right now, we’re in Green River, Utah.

Trekkers Danny Finnegan and Abby Bongaarts

How and why did you get into adventuring?

Abby has always been passionate about walking and dreamed for many years of walking across the United States. When she mentioned the idea to Danny, he was immediately interested in joining. He’d always been interested in either biking or driving across the country, and was excited by the physical and mental challenges walking would pose.

After we finished Americorp, we both moved home to save money for six months and plan the walk. We prepared by doing a lot of research, reading various blogs and books of people who’ve made this trek before, and would walk long distances with our packs on to prepare our bodies. When we first started the trip we walked lower milage days and gradually worked our way up to walking 20-30 miles a day.

Why is adventuring important for you?

It’s important to meet and interact with people from all walks of life, and to challenge yourself in whatever ways you can. Whether it’s the physical challenge of walking, the mental challenge of the remoteness of the desert, or the personal challenges of opening yourself up to others. Challenging yourself is the only way to grow and develop as a person. Plus, walking is a great way to experience the beauty of the world around you, and to inhabit the landscapes of the areas we pass through.

Trekkers Danny Finnegan and Abby Bongaarts

What have been the best and most difficult parts of your adventures?

We have really enjoyed meeting all types of people on our trip. Many strangers we meet have invited us to stay over in their home and it has been amazing to share a meal with them, share some laughs and learn about their communities.
In terms of scenery, walking over the Rocky Mountains through Buena Vista, and Cottonwood pass, into Crested Butte was incredible.

Planning and funding our trip was slightly stressful, but luckily we gave ourselves plenty of time to save up money, and figure out any of the logistics we needed for this trip. The most difficult part has been a combination of the weather and the roads we walk on. Sometimes, we are forced to walk on a road without a shoulder, and, in a lot of cases, we have to walk on unpaved roads, which can be difficult with our heavy cart. Weather for the most part has been cooperative, but now that we are in the desert we have been experiencing some extreme heat.

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

On the road, we usually camp. In the midwest, we would often yard camp, which means knocking on someone’s door and asking permission to pitch our tents in their yard. Now that we are out west, we are walking through a lot of public land, which means we can pitch our tents legally off the side of the road. We also will stay with friends, strangers we meet, or people we find on Couchsurfing. Occasionally we will stay at a motel or an Airbnb.

To carry all of our stuff, we push a converted “runabout” stroller manufactured in Aloha, Oregon. Our gear includes two single person tents, one REI self-inflating sleeping pad and one z-lite sleeping pad, two The North Face sleeping bags, and a Snow Peak LiteMax stove.

For food, we eat at local restaurants and buy snacks and meals at grocery stores to prepare on the road. We eat a lot of gas station food when we are between bigger towns, and primarily cook our own food with our stove.

How To Walk Across America: And Not Be an A**hole is a great how-to guide we would recommend to anyone planning a trek like ours.

What is your best advice for new adventurers?

Have an open mind and learn to be a good receiver. Having an open mind has been incredibly helpful for our trip, and has led us to have some of our best, most unexpected experiences yet. Learning to be a good receiver was something that was taught to us early on in our trip, by a man we stayed with in New Jersey. He taught us the importance of being able to receive a stranger’s kindness and generosity.

As for concrete advice, be diligent in your planning, and open to when things don’t go as planned. It’s important to do the homework before an adventure or trip, but not everything will go exactly as planned, and sometimes those unexpected changes can lead to the best experiences.

Trekkers Danny Finnegan and Abby Bongaarts

How do you prepare and finance your adventures?

We relied on the blogs of others who have walked across the country to prepare for our journey. We mapped out a general route with cities we wanted to pass through before we left and we use google maps on the walking setting to figure out the details of the route each day.

We both saved up money at our jobs for over a year, and had a rough breakdown of what our finances would be for this trip, so that we would know how much to save. Most of our money was spent beforehand on the necessary gear, and now we simply spend money on food, and campsites/motels when needed. As for fundraising, any money we raise/are given along the way goes towards the day shelter we worked at called JOIN.

How do you balance normal life with adventuring?

We decided now was the perfect time to do the walk because we don’t have a family, a mortgage, a car payment and we aren’t in the middle of a career. It’s not really possible to do an adventure like this without completely leaving normal life for 6-7 months, so we wanted to make sure the timing worked to pack up and leave everything. We both have missed friends and family during the trip, but we have been lucky some of them have come to visit for a couple days as guest walkers. We also miss having more access to privacy and fresh food, especially vegetables.

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100, and what other favorite gear do you have?

Our best purchase under $100 was our Snow Peak MaxLite stove. It is small and light and heats up water really fast. It’s really nice to have a warm and substantial meal while camping after a long day of walking.

Our best purchase is our Runabout cart. Most people who walk across America push a cart as opposed to only using a backpack, because a cart can hold more water and gear and puts less strain on the body. The cart was by far our most expensive purchase at $600, but it comes with a lifetime warranty and is extremely tough. It has help up through snow storms, rain, extreme heat, gravel roads and much more.

Danny has an Osprey backpack that he loves, as well as an Under Armour coat, and Nike shoes. Abby loves her sleeping pad that she has, that also doubles as our mat for when we take our rest breaks.

Trekkers Danny Finnegan and Abby Bongaarts

What will the future bring?

As for now, we’re just dreaming of the finish line at the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. In the future though, we both hope to individually do either the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail.

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One Comment

  1. where did you buy your cart from?

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