Brothers Rick and Jeff Harrison took time off from their walk across the United States to be in Panora on Saturday to help celebrate the 80th birthday of their mother, Virginia Harrison.
The Panora natives and Panora-Linden graduates began their journey January 3 at South Maples, Florida and were nearly through Alabama when they took a break on March 5 after walking 774 miles.
“We needed a break,’ said Jeff last Saturday, “my feet are still throbbing.”
They are walking for a cause they’ve labeled DAD and to honor their late father, Bill Harrison, who died in April of 2018. DAD stands for Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Depression. Funds raised will be given to veterans for expenses not funded by the Veterans Administration. “They need all the help they can get,” said Rick, who like brother Jeff is a U.S. Army veteran.
No donations go for the brothers’ expenses. Locally they can be sent to the Farmers State Bank, 201 N. Main Street, Yale, IA 50277 or call 641-439-2221. Their journey can be followed on Facebook at Veterans Walk for DAD.
Rick remembers a conversation with his dad in which he told him, “I could walk from southern Florida to Seattle, WA -- the longest route across the U.S, -- in about six and one-half months.” This is now being fulfilled.
He estimates they will walk about 3,200 miles and arrive around July
20. The closest they will come to Panora is Kansas City, MO.
Since both are in their 50s, they are not racing across the U.S. They occasionally take a few days off from walking 16-20 miles per day, like the nine days they’re spending in Panora. They camp along the way, but every five or six days they get a hotel room and do laundry. “By that time we’re wearing dirty clothes,” said Jeff.
Clothes and camping gear are carried in a cart, which Rick describes as “one pushes and one pulls.” A large flag is flown from
the cart. They kept blowing out air-filled cart tires (six flats), so solid rubber tires are used for the cart, which made it “like moving a giant rock,” said Rick.
The brothers also carry the ashes of their father and brother, Doug, who died in a truck accident last year.
We’ve met a lot of good people, and a few bad ones,” said Rick of the walk to date. Besides donations, people have given them money, food and drink. They see respect for the flag. People stop and talk. They’ve been interviewed by two television stations along the way and Fox News has contacted the brothers. A state trooper in Alabama directed them toward a camping area.
On the other hand, people curse them for being on the road and the flag. Drivers will swerve at them and veer off at the last second. “We’ve been stopped several times (by law enforcement) because people call in about two crazy guys on the highway,” said Jeff.
There’s danger when they travel on two lane roads which have narrow shoulders, since they move to the shoulder when meeting a car. The scariest moment is crossing a bridge with no shoulder and the traffic heavy, said Jeff.
“We have to time it just right and take off running as fast as we can while pulling the cart and just barely making it.”
His faith motivates Rick when the going is tough. “I think of Jesus carrying the cross,” he related. “I say a prayer each day.”
While they’ve seen a lot more of the nation then they’ve ever experienced, one thing stands out, said Rick. “It’s not America the Beautiful anymore, people throw a lot of trash on the roadways,”
Rick lives south of St. Marys and is retired from the Postal Service and Army National Guard. Jeff lives in Des Moines and is retired from the U.S. Army after being seriously injured in an auto accident, now receiving disability payments. Both have families.
As for footwear, both mainly rotate tennis shoes. It got down to 30 degrees once. “I didn’t think I was going to make it through the night,” said Jeff, “I was just frozen.”
What will they take from their trek that winds southeast to northwest across the nation? “Hopefully we will have an awareness for veterans and can help some of them out,” said Rick.