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A step at a time

Harrison Milanian, a senior majoring in business, wanted to take a trip to the Grand Canyon.

When he looked up driving directions last October, he noticed there were walking directions. It blew his mind, he said.

So the next day he took his dog out to see how far they could walk. He came back and told his friends and family that he planned to walk to the Grand Canyon. Some didn’t believe he’d go through with it.

But after months of careful planning, Milanian left in May on a spiritual journey that took him more than 3,000 miles on foot — a journey that would take him to Laguna Beach, Calif., through unpaved roads, severe weather, crazy drivers, intense pangs of hunger and dehydration.

But Milanian said he soon learned his planning hadn’t fully prepared him for the reality of walking through inclement terrain.

“When you’ve walked 30 miles in one day and are just exhausted on the side of the road and can’t go anymore, you’ve got to improvise,” he said.

For starters, he said, he soon realized that not all the equipment a 22-year-old college student would think they should have was necessary. He soon donated his hatchet and lantern to homeless people he met along the way, he said. But with him, he wheeled a few changes of clothes, some tarp and rope to set up a sleep site with and at times more than two days worth of water, weighing 60 pounds. He would rely on handouts and the kindness of strangers.

But though his trip started off with excitement and optimism, Milanian said as night would fall initially, questions and worry would begin to fill his mind.

“Am I going to be safe? Where am I going to sleep? Holy crap, there’s 3,000 miles ahead of me.”

But Milanian said through his journey, he learned much about the value of human interaction.

Often adapting from weeks of silence, where he would keep his mind busy through meditation and at times free-style
rapping to himself about things he saw on the side of the road (i.e., People are throwing out their trash. That looks important, I should add it to my stash. I could use some water, but I don’t have any cash. Don’t go close to that, it could give you rash) to periods of time where he would be interacting with thousands of people, such as at church services or large gatherings, Milanian said he came to find the transitions between periods interesting.

At times, strangers would stop, offering him vouchers for hotels or picking up food for him. He was even allowed into a Native American reservation.

Stereotypes, he said, were proved inaccurate early on in his trip.

“Some of the most intelligent, articulate people I met were out there in the swamps of Louisiana and Mississippi, though our culture seems to think they’re just out there catching alligators,” he said.

At times, he said, he felt he was profiled in swankier locations. Law enforcement officials would be sent to check on him, he said. He felt most at home in areas where poverty was rampant.

“Everyone seemed to accept me as one of them,” he said. “It’s kind of strange how it flip flops. I imagine if I was walking there now, looking like a normal guy, clean-shaven and not pushing a cart, I wouldn’t really fit in.”

Though returning required a bit of transitioning, Milanian said he wants to share his experience with others. He said he is considering starting walks across Tampa, open to anyone, where people can converse with each other meaningfully.

“We as people spend so much time in a small group or inside,” Milanian said. “But I don’t think this is what we were meant to do. I think people were meant to be outside and spend time interacting with each other.”