A Minnesota man spent the last month walking more than 600 miles down the California coast in his Stormtrooper costume to honor his late wife, who shared his love of all things “Star Wars.”
His final destination: Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Kevin Doyle began the trek June 6 at a “Star Wars” museum in Petaluma, and the walk is scheduled to end Thursday at the San Diego Convention Center.
Doyle, 57, said he lost his creative spark after his wife died from pancreatic cancer in 2012. He hopes his mind-clearing walkabout will inspire him to return to work as an illustrator and photographer and raise money for a children’s cancer charity he launched in her name.
“In the time since she died, I’ve struggled with how to deal with the loss. I’ve been self-destructive and my art suffered,” Doyle told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Being out here, my mindset is an open book. I hope I find enough healing to be creative and work in that way again.”
Doyle has braved heat waves, torrential rainstorms, traffic and narrow ocean cliff trails on his walk. But his overall experience has been one of joy and wonder, he said.
As word of his walk spread, people have stopped to give him food and water, make donations, take photos, walk beside him and share their own cancer experiences.
“Sometimes they just want to stop and give me a hug,” he said. “I haven’t wrapped my head around it at this point. I’m walking to honor my wife, but I had no idea that people would make it their own personal journey.”
On Tuesday, Doyle was making his way through Encinitas with the three-wheeled pet stroller he uses to carry his camping and other supplies. For most of the way, he’s been following coastal highways, but he took a detour Tuesday afternoon when he saw a sign for Vulcan Avenue.
“I couldn’t resist seeing that, since I love ‘Star Trek’ and the Vulcan hand salute,” he said.
Doyle grew up in St. Paul, Minn., worked as a staff photographer at a sports arena in Minneapolis and in recent years designed sketch cards for Topps trading cards. He met his wife through their shared love of “Star Wars” and its worldwide costume guild, the 501st Legion.
She was a comics artist who sold her artwork at conventions in the Midwest, and they loved dressing up in their matching Stormtrooper armor.
In October 2009, he proposed to her dressed as Darth Vader and at their backyard wedding in 2010, an R2D2 robot served as their ring bearer. In 2011, she was diagnosed with cancer and died 13 months later.
Doyle said he felt adrift without her. He left his job, lost his home and struggled to carry on. Always an avid walker, he decided to move forward by hitting the road in Eileen’s memory.
Early this year, he planned a trip to California to visit Rancho Obi-Wan, a “Star Wars” museum started four years ago in Petaluma by his longtime friend Steve Sansweet.
While visiting California, Doyle thought he’d like to attend Comic-Con, and when he Google-mapped the distance between San Francisco and San Diego, the result was 501 miles. Since he and Eileen were members of the 501st Legion, he saw it as a sign.
“When you lose somebody, you look for things like that. To me it was like she was telling me that this was something I needed to do,” he said.
Although the highway route from San Francisco to San Diego is 501 miles, the coastal route is 645. Doyle has walked between 20 and 45 miles every day to campgrounds along the coast.
He always wears his Stormtrooper armor, but only dons the helmet for photographs because it limits his vision and hearing.
“So far, I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he said.
Kragen writes for the California News Group, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.