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Walkers to fill gap year with cross-country trip



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August 07, 2013 - With high school completed, Clarkston graduates Dylan Holtslag and Nick Bernardi are taking a break from school to travel the country. On foot.

"People used to do this a lot – it's a historical thing," said Holtslag, 18. "Woody Guthrie, that's what they did. It's a way to experience seeing the country in a different way, a way no one else sees it."

A lifelong Boy Scout, he got the idea in April, he said.

"That's when you're supposed to be applying to colleges," he said. "But I got the idea to just get up and go."

"Our parents are totally supportive," said Bernardi, 18.

Since then, they've been buying backpacks, tents, shoes, smartphones, GPS tracker, and other gear, and walking up to 20 miles to train.

The plan is to hit the road later this month, heading west to Lake Michigan, then turn south to Chicago, where they'll visit with family.

Then it's on to Kansas City and points west, covering about 15-20 miles a day until they reach the Pacific Ocean. It will take 6-8 months, Holtslag said.

"We can do about 20 miles a day over 18 hours, no rushing it, lots of breaks," he said.

They plan to stay on back roads, using Google Maps and GPS to navigate. Holtslag started a blog, www.dylanholtslagwalk.com, which he'll update on the road.

Internet forums have been useful as they plan, he said.

"We talked to people who have already done it," Holtslag said.

Their advice includes contacting police in each town as soon as possible.

"That's the first thing to do, call the police," he said. "They'll help you out most of the time, find a place to sleep."

Otherwise, they'll knock on doors, asking residents if they can pitch a tent in their yards, he said.

Also, have a goal in mind to help get through difficult parts, he said.

"My goal is to experience America," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it, meeting interesting people every day, people I never thought I'd meet."

"I definitely want to meet a lot of interesting people, and it wouldn't hurt to see the Grand Canyon," Bernardi said.

They also plan to launch a crowd-funded project through Kickstarter to produce an album of music they will create as they walk across the country – Holtslag on mandolin and Bernardi on guitar.

Bernardi has been playing guitar for about seven years. Holtslag started learning the mandolin in April.

"I wanted to pick something that would work on the road and was affordable," he said. "We'll make up songs about the experiences we have."

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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