Woman sets out to go for long walk

Published 12:07 am Sunday, October 7, 2012

Karla Brown kept a journal of her walk from Alaska to California. Brown walked by the Alaskan pipeline and pristine lakes.

Walking, driving and traveling 3,000 miles from Alaska to California wasn’t even half of Karla Brown’s intended voyage, but it did make for an interesting summer.

When she began her trip on July 4, 2009, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, Brown had planned to walk down the entire west coast, down into Mexico and even further down in South America to reach Argentina.

The walk would take her from the top of Alaska to the bottom of South America.

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But just outside of San Francisco, Brown was almost struck by two vehicles while walking along the road and decided it was a sign to put the adventure on hold.

“At that point, I wasn’t having fun anymore because I was fearing for my life,” Brown said. “I was having a great summer until then, but after that I just had to throw in the towel.

“It wasn’t anything like the trip I took before.”

On her first trip in 2001, Brown walked from Seattle to Washington, D.C., detouring through 35 states across 9,000 miles during two and half years.

During her first trip, Brown wound up walking through Natchez on the Trace and made connections with the Natchez Children’s Home that would eventually bring her back years later.

Both trips were an opportunity to travel across the country and learn about different cultures, but also a chance to live out experiences Brown said she might not have been able to do 31 years ago.

Photo by Karla Brown

“When I was 18 I had an experimental surgery to try to stop the almost three seizures I was having every day,” Brown said. “It worked, and I haven’t had a seizure in 31 years, so that first walk was to help raise awareness for epilepsy and seizures.

“This trip was something I wanted to do because I had walked from west to east before, but now I wanted to go north to south.”

Off to Alaska

After completing her first trip, Brown ended up coming back to Natchez just before Hurricane Katrina.

Landing a temporary position with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brown stayed in Natchez until most of the disaster recovery was complete.

“After all that work was done, I got on the computer one day and punched in ‘Anchorage, Alaska, help wanted,’” Brown said. “I had never been to Alaska before and everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to go, but I found a job and decided to leave.”

From 2006 to 2009, Brown lived in Whittier, Alaska, and worked on the Klondike Express, which offers day cruises to visit Alaska’s glaciers.

“What better way to get introduced to Alaska than to work on a cruise boat,” Brown said. “Then one day, I just started planning my next trip.”

Part of her planning, Brown said, is creating a basic outline of her route complete with miles to travel and expected arrival and departure dates for each town she’s visiting.

“I like to have a plan, but I don’t want it to be so rigid to where I can’t change it up,” Brown said. “The best part of the trip is exploring and making sure that if I want to stay in a bar for two nights, I can.”

Photo by Karla Brown

All of that information is compiled into a travel size scrapbook that she carries along with her on the trip. She adds photos, thoughts and more as she goes along.

On the road again

To ensure she was starting at one of the northern most parts of the state, Brown rode a train and hitched a ride with an 18-wheeler to travel the extra 935 miles up to Prudhoe Bay.

“There’s only one truck stop between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay and in between both of those is just 250 miles of gravel road,” Brown said. “I knew I was going to need some extra help on that part.”

Several weeks before she started her trip, Brown wrote to that same truck stop with what she said was such a bizarre request they had no choice but to accept.

“I wrote them a letter and asked if they would pack a sandwich and three water bottles each day and give it to whichever truck driver was heading north,” Brown said. “I put a $500 check with the letter and just asked that the truck drivers chuck the package out the window at me.

“And they did!”

Once every day on her voyage from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, Brown said a truck driver would drop off the food package.

“They would stop and make sure I was alright and just talk to me for a bit,” Brown said.

After making further progress on her voyage, Brown was halted by the cold Alaska winter weather and decided to stay in Delta Junction, Alaska, for what she thought would only be a few months.

But Brown got a job as an emergency dispatcher for fire, police and ambulance calls and ended up staying for two years.

And it wasn’t until she met a South African woman traveling through Alaska in May 2011 that her plans got a little jump start.

“She was on a three-week Alaska vacation and when she found out about my trip asked if I wanted to join her,” Brown said. “We hopped in her rental car and took off.”

Brown and her new travel companion, Kris Hyman, spent the next several weeks traveling throughout Alaska visiting Anchorage, Haynes and other locations.

After Hyman departed back to South Africa, Brown took a ferry from Victoria, British Columbia, to Oregon.

“For the second time in my life, I started walking down the Oregon Coast,” Brown said. “During the last trip, I veered off east, but this time I kept going south toward California.”

Karla Brown with the cart filled with clothing an gear that she took on her walk.

While in Oregon, Brown attended a family reunion and was able to drop off more than 55 pounds of survival gear.

“A lot of that was survival stuff that you don’t really need walking along the Oregon and California coast,” Brown said. “So I was able to get rid of all that stuff at my mom’s house and keep going.”

But it wasn’t too much longer after she began to walk again that Brown started noticing big differences in the California coast than every where else she had ventured.

“Those roads barely have an inch of shoulder to walk on,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of bike traffic on those roads, but I kept wondering why there weren’t any walkers.

“Then I started realizing why.”

Putting up with the dangerous conditions for a little while longer, Brown said she had planned on walking until reaching San Francisco and then taking a brief hiatus to work and accrue travel funds.

But in August, as she was walking outside of Santa Rosa, Calif., just 60 miles from her immediate destination, Brown said two passing cars nearly struck her in the same day — leaving her startled and worried for her safety.

“I still wanted to continue to South America, but I just didn’t feel safe walking on those roads,” Brown said. “I also felt more isolated on this trip because there weren’t as many people stopping to talk along the way.

“It might be because they’re more used to seeing travelers, but only two people stopped and talked to me on this trip compared to 10 or more on the last one.”

Brown continued walking a little further into Santa Rosa, bought a train ticket to New Orleans and officially put her voyage on hold.

“I gave my cart, tent, chair all that stuff to a homeless lady and just took my clothes on the train,” Brown said. “I got back to Natchez and have been looking for work since then.”

But continuing the trip is something Brown said she won’t soon forget, even though she doesn’t feel too confident about the outcome of the distance she has already traveled.

“I had a fun summer walking the coast and camping, but it was a miserable failure,” Brown said. “I still want to go to South America and continue my trip, but not walking.

“Maybe in a year’s time I’ll start planning again, but this time it will be taking busses and stopping in different towns along the way.”