Steps from her past: Local woman delivered box of memories of walks across country

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, January 2, 2019


NATCHEZ — A big blue box delivered to the front steps of one Natchez residence this past weekend was more than just a holiday delivery.

The package contained treasures from adventures Karla Brown experienced when she walked across the country two times starting nearly 20 years ago.

Email newsletter signup

Brown, owner of Downtown Karla Brown shuttle service, said she thought she had to leave those memories behind at the time to make the walk lighter.

Then, she found the blue Rubbermaid box with her name and a return address from Whittier, Alaska, sitting on her doorstep Saturday.

Inside, the box held hundreds of pictures and other souvenirs from her walk that Brown said she had left behind with a friend years ago. The friend o recently forwarded the treasures to her.

By Tuesday, Brown had already started to compile the contents into scrapbooks that illustrate both trips from start to finish.

The first time Brown set foot in Natchez, she said, was in the middle of a 9,000-mile walk across the country.

That was nearly two decades ago, Brown said, when she walked for “two-and-a-half years, 9,000-miles, (through) 35 states and 18 pairs of shoes.”

Brown said she started “part one,” of her walk at the age of 38 on March 4, 2001, from Seattle, Washington, to Washington, D.C., on, moving in an “L” shape, along the coast of Oregon to northern California and in an almost straight line across the country.

“When I got there (to Washington, D.C.), I was having so much fun that instead of ending it I pulled a Forest Gump and kept on going,” Brown said.

From the nation’s capital, Brown said she continued to walk to Maine, through Michigan, down to New Orleans, to Orlando and back to Washington, D.C., again.

Brown loved the walk so much, she decided to do it all again, she said.

“I had this crazy idea that I’d already walked east and west, so now I’d walk north and south,” Brown said.

“Part two” of her journey began on July 4, 2009, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, she said.

She’d planned to walk from there to the tail of South America, but the hazards of the road ended her trip in California, she said.

“When I left Alaska, I’d narrowed all of my stuff down to four containers,” Brown said. Apart from those four containers, the rest of Brown’s belongings stayed in storage in Alaska.

Brown said she collected more than 100 souvenir patches from various fire and police stations, where she slept during parts of her journey, along with various hats, business cards and a long-sleeve sweater from Washington, D.C., that she had nearly forgotten about until she pulled them out of the box, she said.

Brown also kept a journal, which detailed her adventure in her own words.

“I had about 35 friends that I would email my journaling to,” she said.

One of the friends Brown met in Kansas, Becky Ratzlaff, printed out every email she had sent her along with numerous newspaper articles pertaining to the walk.

Ratzlaff kept all of the prints in two separate notebooks that are each a couple inches thick, and mailed those to Brown approximately two years ago before Ratzlaff died of cancer, Brown said.

“Out of the clear blue, I got a package in the mail containing these two blue notebooks from her,” Brown said, pointing to a bookshelf. “Those are all my journaling from the first part of my trip and the second part of my trip.”

Brown said her journey was more a celebration than it was for a cause.

Brown had battled epilepsy throughout her childhood and went through a life-altering brain surgery in Seattle at 18 years of age, she said, and has never had a seizure since.

“After I had gone 20 years without having any seizures, I decided to celebrate by walking from Seattle — where I had the surgery — to Washington D.C,” Brown said. “My friends and family thought they’d rather lock me in a mental institute than to see me go on that walk,” she said. “They just knew they were going to find my dead body in a ditch somewhere — but I had the best time of my life.”

Brown said she has gone places and seen things she never could have afforded with a full-time job, but “homeless, unemployed and hungry, I had the best time ever,” she said.

Almost every day on her walk, Brown said at least 15 people would stop and speak to her, asking, “Are you walking because you want to be or you have to be?” and “Where did your car break down?” she said.

Brown said she met and befriended Nancy Hungerford in Natchez as she was walking through and kept in touch.

In 2005, Brown said she began living in Natchez and worked a temporary job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after hurricane Katrina.

She then started work in Whittier, Alaska, from 2006 to 2009 on the Klondike Express, which offers day cruises to visit Alaska’s glaciers.

Approximately six years ago, Brown said she landed back in Natchez and started to shuttle passengers through the sights she’d seen on her visits.

“My story is about people,” Brown said. “That is what got me to Natchez — it was someone I met here.”