If you’ve walked or driven along U.S. 1 in the last few days, you’ve probably seen the sisyphean sight: a brown-hatted man with a brown dog, rolling a world: a huge globe more than 6 feet in circumference, its continents silhouetted in bright green against dark blue seas and two white polar caps.
Erik Bendl calls himself the World Guy. He is on the latest of his many walks across the country. He does it for thousands of miles at a time, several months at a time, in memory of his mother, Gerta Bendl, a humanitarian activist and state lawmaker who served in the Kentucky Legislature from 1976 to 1987, when she was felled by a heart attack. She had been suffering from diabetes. She was 54. Erik Bendl, 48, walks for her sake–for diabetes, for the woman he calls his hero, and of course for health. He works with the American Diabetes Association and blogs his treks–and takes donations, all for the association–at his blog, his style as affable and gently wry in print as Bendl is in person.
“It is times like these when I would rather be a clod of excuses and relax for the day,” he wrote today, seizing up the morning mist that was clouding his horizons.
Thursday, he was making his way from Korona through Bunnell and up into Palm Coast, on his way to Savannah, Ga. Watch Charlotte Marten’s report:
Bendl started this latest trek on Jan. 10 in Fort Lauderdale. He has two months: “wherever I am on March 10, I should get past Savannah Ga. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” Last year he walked from Washington D.C., where he left on April 22 (Earth Day) and ended up in Arcadia National Park, in Maine, on Aug. 17. The year before that, he walked from Kentucky to Kansas. He’s been to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado, a 14,100-foot climb, with his World. “What was I thinking? How I got to the top?” he asks, without being prompted. “Only with the help of good people along the way, much as the rest of my journey. I call it the GPS. The Good People System.”
Bendl is clearly not only well heeled in walking, but in interviewing and delivering the catchy phrase, too: he anticipates every question with the sort of quotes he could be delivering in his sleep by now, having been asked the same questions about as many times as he’s crossed from one county to another. He’s also walked from Louisville to Pittsburgh for a total of 22 states and 2,200 miles with his dog Nice and his 70 to 80-pound planet. His goal is to step in all Lower Forty-eights. The thing is made of canvass with a waterbed inner tube, which he steers with a string attacked to a cane. It’s about 35 years old. He’s had it since 1987, the same year his mother died.
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He’s had his many news cycles and will have many more, but day after day it’s about the walking, the trudging, the 30 to 35 pounds in his backpack (which includes rain gear, extra water, a sweater for the dog when it gets cold, an emergency hand-pump for the globe, and an electric one, a tent). It’s about the mechanics and challenges of figuring out where he will spend his next night. He has what he calls a “support van”–his own, which he parks, sleeps in many nights, puts in his walks during the day, then somehow always manages to find someone to drive him back to it so he can drive it up to his the latest point he’s reached on foot.
A carpenter by trade (“the person who is called for the jobs no one else will take”) nothing seems impossible to him. He averages 10 miles a day, less when the wind is against him. He meets many people, has many conversations, often about diabetes, though you’d be surprised by the nature of his encounters: walking through New York City, many people took his picture, but few stopped to talk. Walking through a place like Bunnell, it can be like a rush hour of chatter. The smaller the town, the likelier the chatter. Possibly the friendlier, too. He’s been invited to sleep in people’s yards, in fire houses, in parking lots. He’s never been messed with. He laughingly credits his dog, “protector of the world,” though even in the roughest neighborhoods, it’s more about his mission. “Everyone is affected by diabetes,” he says, “even people who would seem to be–” he hesitates at the word he wants to use: harsh? mean? But it’s not like Bendl to be harsh. He settles on “hard.”
“Walked through bad cities in New York and New Jersey and Cincinnati and Kentucky,” Bendl says. “Once they hear what I’m doing, with faith, I’ve been protected along the way. Not that I’m highly religious. I don’t preach, but you’ve got to have faith when you’re doing something. When I need help, even when I don’t know that I need it, I get help.”
Every once in a while his Blackberry dings: another email, another Facebook request to be friends, maybe another donation. Meanwhile as he walks, he listens to his donated mp3–country, western and classic rock–or to the tendency of big rigs or smaller vehicles to honk as they drive by, for whatever reason: the sight of a guy with a world on America’s shoulder–US1 being one of those American limbs–provokes reactions much as shooting stars do, but in slower motion.
It’s in his blog though that Bendl’s story and purpose come through, as in this brief post last week:
“Just past the Titusville marker I rolled into the parking lot of a diner where I met a woman and her boyfriend. She asked my purpose and when I told her I was walking for diabetes awareness. She gave me a hug and lifted her shirt enough to show me the tube in her abdomen for the insulin pump. After she went back in the diner her boyfriend stayed and talked with me of how he tries to help her with her condition. He said even though she wears the pump she still “crashes” often and sometimes despite his efforts to help he has to call for the EMT because she becomes disoriented, fights his attempts to get her stable and goes into diabetic shock. This man really loves his girlfriend and the anguish and fear of loosing her was written all over him It is keeping me awake this early morning. What can I do except to raise awareness and donations toward cures. With help we can “change the world” for diabetics. But as I lay here unable to sleep I feel pretty useless.”
This from a man pushing a world of conviction across the country.
To support Erik Bendl, visit his blog, or call him at 502/408-5772. FlaglerLive thanks John Cecil of Palm Coast for alerting us to Erik Bendl’s whereabouts.