City Lights: Cross-country walk an inspiration

Steve IrwinJane GoodallAmelia Earhart

Oh, it feels good to write this column. Even a year and a half later than expected.

In February 2010, I wrote a piece about how Kent Treptow, a longtime photographer for the Huntington Beach Independent and its sister papers, had left his job to walk across America.

Kent had set up a blog to record his cross-country trek, and as his day of departure neared, I fired off an easy piece about how he was following his dream, pursuing his bliss and all that.

I call it an easy piece because, let's face it, we columnists can get formulaic sometimes. We look for bright anecdotes and motivational pearls when we're not looking for things to complain about. Once in a while, especially on deadline, a story comes along that almost seems too perfect, and that was definitely the case with Kent.

So, with visions of being Mitch Albom dancing in my head, I gave that column the works. I wove in a pair of seize-the-day quotes my high school English teacher wrote on the board. I waxed philosophical about the slogan of the movie "Braveheart" ("Every man dies; not every man really lives") and pondered whether I had ever followed my dreams as passionately as Kent was about to.

Then, a month later, it all ended in disappointment. Kent ended his trip on the third day when a passing car struck the cart full of belongings he was pulling with him, obliterating the cart and missing Kent by inches. Before long, he wound up back on the photo desk, doing his job brilliantly as always.

But I felt bad for him.

Our culture is so rife with inspirational slogans and self-help tracts that it's easy to forget that sometimes, our dreams do fight a losing battle against reality. Often, what holds us back isn't a lack of courage or imagination, but simply bills, health concerns, family obligations and countless other factors. When Kent returned to his desk, it looked like logic had scored another dispiriting victory.

And then he surprised me. Early this year, Kent announced that he was making another go at walking across America. He had rethought his plan, put the dog in a new home and traded the cart for a backpack. Instead of starting in Orange County and walking to the East Coast, he would start in Maine and make his way back home.

Saturday, he arrived back in Huntington Beach with a crowd of family and friends waiting for him. He celebrated the end of his trek by dramatically kissing a woman — a picture that ended up on his blog — and belly-flopping into the Pacific Ocean.

When I caught up with Kent, needless to say, he had amazing stories to tell. He had walked for 175 days, worn out either 10 or 11 pairs of shoes (he couldn't remember), slept in cornfields, gotten invited to stay in farmhouses. He had a little discomfort from poison oak, but his legs felt fine otherwise.

Had he thought about giving up after the first attempt failed?

Just momentarily, he said.

"I felt like that was it for a day, and then I knew I would do it again," he told me over coffee. "The reasons I wanted to do it were still there."

The bottom line is, pursuing passions can be a risky act, and not one that guarantees success. We remember Amelia Earhart and Steve Irwin as much as Charles Lindbergh and Jane Goodall. Sometimes our plans go smoothly, and sometimes they hit disaster before we know it.

But sometimes, by the margin of a few inches, we get a second chance, and then we can decide whether to retreat or persevere. In Kent's case, he did the latter. As I sit here in the office, writing these words, I thank him for the inspiration.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Steve IrwinJane GoodallAmelia Earhart
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