Ten million steps on one of America's longest, most historic highways taught retired News-Times reporter Joe Hurley that nothing ever goes as planned, and sometimes the best way to move forward is to punt.
Yet Mr. Hurley, then nearing 60, accompanied by Travis Lindhorst of Brooklyn, N.Y., a 28-year-old photographer he found through Craigslist, also discovered dogged determination goes a long way as he embarked on the 2004 cross-country walk from sea to shining sea.
Such pluck helped when they were caught in a Nevada snowstorm without a cellphone, and when sweat poured off them in the scorching heat of Iowa.
"It was unlikely that we would finish," said the witty, self-effacing Mr. Hurley, who dryly describes the nine-month journey in the just-published book, "Ten Million Steps on Route 6."
A mishap nearly derailed the trip while he and Mr. Lindhorst traveled through Pennsylvania, and it had nothing to do with the open road. Mr. Hurley stepped out of a hotel bathtub onto the prong of his belt buckle, which pierced his foot to the bone.
With no time or money for an emergency room visit, Mr. Hurley treated and bandaged the wound himself in the lobby of a local drugstore. Pain and a bloody shoe notwithstanding, his Yankee pride forced him to limp on.
"I'm good at just winging it," Mr. Hurley said.
The yearlong training and planning phase of the journey began after Mr. Hurley and David Harple, the late News-Times photographer, took a cross-state trek in 1999 and across the state on Route 6 a year later to chronicle life in Connecticut's lesser-known towns.
Mr. Hurley figured he needed $150,000, corporate donors, a new rental car, and at least a dozen newspapers willing to pay him for stories along the cross-country route. He persuaded 20 newspapers to sign on, but the rest of the items on his wish list did not materialize.
On March 29, an undeterred Mr. Hurley and Mr. Lindhorst, a stranger who became become partner -- one of the book photos is from Bowling Green University in Ohio, where he had earned a fine arts degree -- dipped their toes in a frigid Atlantic Ocean in Cape Cod.
It was a month later than planned, but they figured there was just enough time to make it over the Rockies before snowstorms made the road impassable.
Except for his foot crisis, and brake failure with the vehicle that Mr. Hurley called their "modern-day horse" on a steep switchback some 200 miles before their final destination in Long Beach, Calif., the duo stayed healthy and endured the extreme weather.
Along the way, they chatted and snapped pictures of people in places most folks have never found on a map.
Mr. Hurley said he and Mr. Lindhorst were the recipients of amazing generosity from people who offered their homes for a night's rest, and others who shoved crumpled dollar bills into Mr. Hurley's hands as he walked through their towns.
"We had to be extremely lucky, and we needed money,'' Mr. Hurley said, estimating his final tally of expenses at about $10,000.
As with everything about this odyssey, producing the book of Mr. Hurley's Mark Twain-esque stories, illustrated with more than 200 of Mr. Lindhorst's stunning photographs -- an Iowa cornfield panoramic with a sky of dusty yellow above dark green stalks is so vivid a reader can almost feel the corn silk -- was a lesson in perseverance.
After several years of shopping for a publisher and retooling stories to meet editors' suggestions, Mr. Hurley and Mr. Lindhorst published the book themselves, through Arkett Publishing in the Gaylordsville section of New Milford.
Mr. Lindhorst, whose favorite photograph and story is "The Cornman of Des Moines," called the extreme hiking experience special, pairing a folksy older writer with an artsy young photographer and testing their mettle.
"The combination of perspective is what really makes it work," Mr. Lindhorst said.
"He's a great storyteller,'' News-Times Editor Art Cummings said.
"He took his experience as a journalist and flair as a writer," Mr. Cummings said, "and parlayed that into what I think is a fascinating look at America. Joe has great insights into people and that shows up on every page."