George Throop has exhausted his entire savings account and gone $11,000 in debt. But he said that will not stop his trek across the country to promote healthy living.
"The walk has cost me close to $20,000 over the past four years," 38-year-old Throop said while resting for the night at the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company's station in Edgewood Monday evening. "When it's all over, my house may not be as big or car as luxurious, but the great part is the richness of the walk."
Making a "smile" shaped trip from Vancouver, Wash. to Long Island, N.Y. via the southern most portions of the country, Throop said he is walking to encourage people to exercise to avoid preventable diseases, which can impact their quality of life.
"Most cancers can be prevented by lifestyle factors: watching intake of junk food, exercise and stress reduction," Throop said while he devoured a salad.
Throop's mother lost her battle with bone cancer in 1985 when he was nine years old. He said his father had a difficult time raising him and his two siblings, one younger and one older brother.
"My mother was the master communicator," Throop said. "That wasn't really a strength of my dad. We had a lot of difficult challenges growing up."
Throop started a journey in hopes of saving people across the country from suffering a similar fate.
"I went through some pretty dark times after my mom died," Throop said. "As I walk across America I am encouraging people to get up and take a walk today."
Throop said he did not always believe in healthy eating, but in 2000 took a step toward a more vegetarian lifestyle. He said he has not looked back.
"I don't think there was a day I didn't have a soda growing up," Throop said. "Now, I am almost exclusively vegetarian and try to avoid processed foods with artificial ingredients."
Before embarking on his multi-state journey to spread health and knowledge, Throop said he worked managing security for high rise buildings. Throop said he did not dislike his job, but he felt like he had not reached his calling.
"I looked at my life and realized I didn't have any of the three m's: marriage, mortgage or Munchkins," Throop said, so he set out to find his purpose in life.
He quit his job in 2008 and spent the next nine months volunteering and helping those less fortunate in Latin America. After returning back to Washington state, Throop said something clicked in him to help promote healthy living across the country as his way of giving back.
While initially Throop said he set out to cover 20 miles a day and walk from Washington state to Washington, D.C. in nine months. He realized to truly have an impact, he needed to take time and spend the locals as he traveled.
"I decided to no longer stress over dates or deadlines," Throop said.
Throop also stopped his walk and returned to his hometown twice, when his grandfathers passed at two different points. Atlanta, Ga. was also a stop he stayed in longer than he expected.
"I was using the site coachsurfers.com to find places to stay while I traveled," Throop said. "I stayed with a woman while going through Atlanta, and now she's my girlfriend."
During his ventures Throop said he has stayed in over a dozen fire stations, homeless shelters and the couches and floors of hundreds of people across the country. He said during his journey he has never been robbed, mugged or assaulted.
"I was prepared to spend 95 percent of my trip in my tent," Throop said. "But I was invited in to stay with strangers 95 percent of the time. Even tonight, I got a place to sleep, food to eat and shelter."
Throop said his walk through Harford County will probably last through mid-week. He said he was initially concerned on how he would make it out of Havre de Grace. The Thomas Hatem Bridge can only be crossed by vehicles.
But the kindness of strangers has come to Throop's aid once again. A woman has volunteered to help him cross the Susquehanna River via her boat, he said.