Man without a mission strolls through America’s hospitality

Larry and Debi Chrum offered Osage City hospitality and a home away from home to continental walker CJ Richards, right.

OSAGE CITY, Kan. – When CJ Richards started walking from his home in Derry, N.H., on May 7, he thought his trek would introduce him to America’s sights. Instead, as he realized not far from home, he had set out to meet America’s people.

Now, more than halfway through his 3,000-plus-mile trip to the California coast, Richards says his connection with people along the way is what has kept him walking.

“I’ve learned people are out to help you, not out to get you,” Richards said last week, sitting at the kitchen table in Debi and Larry Chrum’s home in Osage City.

His connection to the Chrums was just one example of him meeting people along the way who have offered hospitality to a traveling stranger.

Richards readily admits his decision to walk across the United States was for his own pursuit of happiness. He’s not walking for a cause or representing a charity.

He said he has enjoyed hiking since he was young, when he and a friend started hiking together while in Boy Scouts. And living in New Hampshire, the Appalachian Trail was practically in his back yard.

He had thought about taking a long hike before, such as the entire Appalachian Trail, but had also considered a cross-country trip.

Now 25 years old, he said he began thinking that he wasn’t getting younger, and there might not be another time when he was as unencumbered by life’s responsibilities.

“I started looking at my brothers, how they are involved with their families and jobs,” Richards said, “and thought now was my chance. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get going and do this now.’”

Richards, who was employed as a machine operator, started saving funds and made plans to walk across the U.S. to Point Reyes, Calif., where he plans to meet up with a family friend.

He decided to roughly follow the American Discovery Trail, which is a mapped walking route across the United States; its southern branch crosses Kansas. Although not fully incorporated as part of the southern branch, a portion of the Flint Hills Nature Trail, which crosses Osage County, is offered as an alternate route on the American Discovery Trail.

Richards said when he arranged a leave of absence from work, the goodwill directed toward him seemed to begin – his employers said he would have a job waiting for him when he returned.

With a 35-pound backpack, a one-man tent and sleeping bag, Richards started walking on what he thought was to be a sightseeing trip.

“Every single state I’ve walked through so far, I’ve never been to before, except for New Hampshire,” he said.

Though he’s seen some interesting places so far during his walk, “The whole trip has been about the people I’ve met, not necessarily the sights,” he said.

He said that early on in his trek, he had to learn how to conserve his resources, including water and funds, and also maintain a steady speed in the grueling hike across the country.

Some mornings waking up in his tent, “I wondered if I wanted to get up and walk that day,” he said.

It was during some of those times of questioning that people seemed to greet him and offer encouragement and hospitality. As time went by, he got stronger with more stamina – and more people he met arranged places for him to stay and offered him meals and kindness.

Arriving in New Albany, Ind., with worn out shoes, some benefactors offered to buy him shoes. He walked out of Pacers & Racers shoe store with a new pair of shoes and a sponsor for his future shoes. Walking into Kansas on his fourth pair, Richards has contacted Pacers & Racers along the way and they have sent him new shoes when he needs them.

Noting he was just a guy walking across the country, “People have just helped me out 100 times more than I thought they would,” he said. “I was really surprised considering I didn’t really have a mission.”

He keeps in touch with his family and the rest of the world through his cell phone, conveniently charged with a solar charger atop his backpack. He has a Facebook page, which has helped people along the route connect with him and keep track of his progress.

It was a social media connection that led Richards to spend Sept. 9-12 in Osage City with the Chrums.

Larry Chrum, who drives for Frito-Lay, said he often listens to radio stations in other parts of the country to break the monotony of driving. During a recent trip through Missouri, he happened to listen to an interview on a St. Louis, Mo., radio station. The interviewee was Richards, talking about his hike across the heartland of America.

Richards explained that the interview came about because of another one of his people connections. A person he met arranged a place for him to stay but also knew the radio announcer at the station. The interview was scheduled and all of the sudden Richards was on the air telling a St. Louis listening audience all about his trip. And Chrum was driving along somewhere nearby listening.

“I just thought it was neat that people had been helping him along the way,” Chrum said.

Chrum said when he learned Richards would be walking across Kansas, he decided to try to contact him.

“I wanted to offer him some Kansas hospitality,” Chrum said.

He said he looked up Richards’ Facebook page. “I friended him and sent him a message,” Chrum said.

When Richards responded, Chrum offered him a place to stay over the weekend and traveled to Kansas City to pick him up.

Although he didn’t see many sights in Osage County, Richards said the weekend allowed him a chance to relax before starting his trek across Kansas toward Colorado Springs, Colo., his next destination with a deadline.

“We had a pretty good weekend,” Richards said of his stay in Osage City. “I got to meet some of the neighbors and spend time with good company.”

Mostly he rested, he said, but on Saturday the Chrums took him to Topeka to pick up a package sent by his uncle – an important survival item for the road, a new compact backpacking stove.

His visit to Osage County also rewarded him with other important connections. Chrum had a friend who lived in Colorado Springs, so Richards had a place to stay once he reached Colorado. Then talking to the Chrums’ neighbors he learned one of them had a relative in Nevada – and another offer of a place to stay.

From Osage City, Richards set out on the afternoon of Sept. 12, headed toward Council Grove. If he walks faster than his average goal of at least 14 miles per day, he will be able to rest a few days and get to Colorado Springs before his deadline of Oct. 17, when his trip will take an intermission for a couple of weeks. A plane ticket is waiting to take him home for a family celebration, after which he will fly back to Colorado and resume his trip across the last four states, and possibly the most grueling, on his 13-state route.

“Nine down, four to go,” he said.

In addition to opening his eyes to the friendliness of his fellow man, Richards said the trip also allowed him time for soul searching and thinking of possibilities for his future. Regardless of what the future might hold, he said he is determined to reach his goal of walking across the United States, and now more than 1,900 miles into the trip he knows he is physically able to do it.

And when he finally reaches the end of his trek and sees the Pacific Ocean?

“I’m going to run and jump into that thing,” he said.


The American Discovery Trail through Kansas is 570 miles long and begins in Johnson County on its eastern border and ends up at Coolidge on the Colorado border. Much of the trail in Kansas follows the same general path as the Santa Fe Trail and U.S. Highway 56. The completed sections of the Flint Hills Nature Trail, from Franklin County through Osage County and toward Herington, has been proposed to be incorporated into the American Discovery Trail.


2 Responses to Man without a mission strolls through America’s hospitality

  1. Awbw says:

    I thought this was a pretty "neat" article too! Safe travels, CJ!

  2. CJ Richards says:

    Awesome article, Wayne! Thanks again for the interview! Very nice meeting you while I was in Osage City!

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