Ian Cummings will spend today walking.
The 23-year-old from Pennsylvania spent yesterday, the day before that, and the day before that walking. He’ll spend tomorrow walking too.
“It’s beautiful out here,” Cummings said as he walked along Interstate Highway 5 just outside Galt, a small city about 26 miles south of Sacramento, toward the San Francisco Bay Area. “It really is.”
Cummings has spent the better part of the past six months walking across the United States to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide, and to cope with the recent suicide of his younger brother.
He started the trek on March 1 in Virginia Beach and plans on finishing his journey on Aug. 30 by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco– an ending point he chose in part because of its history as a suicide destination.
“At first, this was a way to cope and come to terms with everything that happened,” he said. “Doing this walk is not going to bring him back.”
Cummings’ 20-year-old brother Ryan took his own life in November.
Cummings had flirted with the idea of a cross-country walk for a few years but said his brother’s suicide last year made him want to use the trip to try and help people dealing with mental illness.
He said his brother had sought help and had been treated for mental health issues prior to his death.
“Ryan is not coming back, but he left this world with a story,” Cummings said. “People struggle silently, and suffering in silence is a huge issue.”
Cummings said one of the biggest hurdles in dealing with mental health is the social stigma surrounding the topic.
He said he wants society to be able to openly discuss mental illness.
“Our brain can become ill just like any other part of our body,” he said.
Cummings resigned from his job as a registered nurse in Pittsburgh and informed his parents of his plans.
Having just lost a son, they wanted him to stay in Pennsylvania and asked him to wait a year before heading out. But he said the walk was something he had to do. Cummings, saddled with camping gear and supplies stuffed in a backpack, started walking.
After a few weeks, he decided the backpack was too heavy, so he got a dolly to push it with. Now, he’s walking with a customized jogging stroller, his supplies tucked inside.
He covered 20 to 30 miles a day, but it wasn’t long before life on the road caught up with him physically. His feet were badly blistered for the first few weeks. The blisters mostly healed but on April 1, while walking through Kentucky, a blister on his left foot got infected.
Cummings said he kept walking for a few more rain-filled days, but he soon noticed his entire foot was itching.
He decided to go to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection. He was given antibiotics, which he ended up being allergic to, and he had to spend several days in the hospital. His parents drove to Kentucky and convinced him to head home and heal up.
“I wanted to keep going, but they said the road is not going anywhere, and you can pick up where you left off,” he said.
Two weeks later, he was back on the road. He’s camped outside and stayed in hotels and motels where he could find them.
He uses the map function on his cell phone to help keep him on the right track.
Besides taking a wrong turn every now and then and having to backtrack a mile or so, Cummings said he’s rarely gotten lost.
He did inadvertently climb a mountain in West Virginia when he tried to take a short cut to a road.
He said he started down a small road, which became a dirt road, became a dirt trail and ended at a stream. After crossing the stream, he came to the mountain, climbed the mountain and eventually found the road.
He stayed an extra day near Indiana, where he got the chance to speak at a mental health facility.
He’s had friends accompany him the journey, with one starting the trip with him for about a week.
In central Kansas, two of his brother’s best friends joined the walk.
One stayed with Cummings until the group reached Colorado, and the other, 20-year-old Jake Lusardi, is still on the walk.
Lusardi said he’s really enjoyed his time on the road and saw the trip as a good way to honor his friend.
“We’ve met a lot of awesome people,” he said. “There are so many great people in this country.”
Cummings parents also visited him in Kansas, and he said they are coming to San Francisco on Tuesday to see him finish the walk.
His trip winding down, Cummings said walking across the country has opened his eyes to how many people mental health issues can affect.
“Doing this has shown me people everywhere struggle with mental illness,” he said. “I want to tell them they are not alone.”
photo credit: Ian Walks America on Facebook