Spotlight, Travel

Interview with Nate Damm

Nate Damm walked across the United States.

met Nate mid-walk at the World Domination Summit. I felt an instant kindred. Since then I’ve followed his walk closely and chatted with him on Radio Enso. I’ve noticed that people ask him the same questions over and over: what shoes did you wear? Were you scared?

If you’d like to see those answers they’re covered in his Guide to Walking Across America. But I wanted to ask him something a little deeper—questions that most interviewers don’t usually get around to.

And Nate, being Nate, agreed.

So Rogue Priest readers, I present to you my interview with Nate Damm.

Nate Damm walked across America.

You talk about the value of being alone on your journey. What is the solitude like? What would you think about?

The solitude was incredible. It definitely took some getting used to but after a while I really grew to love it. Some of my favorite memories from the walk were moments where I was completely alone. Sometimes I’d go a few days without really seeing another human being (outside of their vehicle, of course). I would think about all kinds of things, but most often I would just pay attention to what was around me. There’s a lot to see when you’re walking because you’re going so slow. Animals, trees, mountains, clouds, interesting stuff on the side of the road. I just did my best to soak it all in.

What did you learn about yourself on this journey?

I learned that I am capable of handling pretty much any situation. I gained a lot of confidence in this area. I learned that things generally seem to work out if you keep a positive outlook and try to find some sort of humor in bad situations. For example, I’d walk into a city after dark and have absolutely nowhere to sleep. This stressed me out tremendously at the beginning of the walk, but by the end it was just a normal thing. I’d take a few breaths and try to see it as a new adventure. This may have resulted in uncomfortable nights underneath bridges or hiding out in a small patch of bushes, but it was all part of the fun.

You must have met a lot of people. Who are some of the ones who stand out in your mind?

One guy I spent a few days with was a Vietnam veteran who was a POW and escaped from a prison camp. He told me how he did it by burying himself underground in the jungle during the day and moving at night. His combat stories were absolutely incredible. After the war he returned to the U.S. and lived in his pickup truck for 9 years, putting 650,000 miles on his old Ford and traveling anywhere he pleased. He had beaten cancer twice, along with being in a coma for 2 months then waking up. He was an amazing guy who just really enjoyed being alive.

I spent some time with a middle aged couple in Ohio. They were homeless and living at a campground for free in exchange for a bit of work around the grounds (mowing lawns, trash removal, etc.) They lived in an old camper but had no way to haul it around. They cooked me an amazing meal and made me feel at home. They went well beyond their means to help me out. This was a recurring theme. Even people who had almost nothing would show me kindness in any way they could. They were genuine and kind people who were trying as hard as they could to stay afloat. I’ve since heard from them and they both managed to find steady work and bought a little house. They’re doing great.

I could tell a million stories here!

Do you stay in touch with any of them? Did anyone you met along the way start to follow your blog, that you know of?

I stay in touch with a lot of people I met along the way. I still find it amazing how close of a bond you can create with people in the span of one or two days. Many of them would follow my trip online after the point where I met them and keep in touch. I feel like I have an extended family all the way across the country now.

Did walking across America give you any insight into what you want to do with the next part of your life?

Not too much, actually. It did give me insight into how I want to approach each moment though. Walking is actually quite boring and repetitive, so you have to get good at finding something to enjoy at all times. This has definitely carried over into my life post-walk. I wouldn’t say that I know what I want to do, but I do know how I want to approach each day. I hope that makes sense.

After having seen so many different places and their people, do you have any great observations about humanity?

Definitely. I think that most people are good.

One observation I made that I found interesting was that in face-to-face interactions I only had maybe 2 or 3 negative experiences with people on the entire trip. On the other hand, I had that many each day (at least) with people while they were driving.

Out of all the lessons and changes you had on your walk, do you feel that you could have learned the same things any other way? Can people who don’t travel, or don’t walk, have the same kinds of experiences?

For me personally, I’d say no. Walking really saved me. I was in a pretty bad place before the trip. My life was, for lack of a better term, in shambles. The simplicity and solitude forced me to work through many of my issues, as there was no other alternative. I couldn’t ignore them any longer.

I suppose people could learn more about themselves and gain major life insights at home, but travel and being in uncomfortable situations can really speed up the process.

In your guide you mention “stealth camping.” Can you tell us how this works and what the right way is to do it?

The basic idea behind stealth camping is to camp somewhere you technically are not supposed to without getting caught. There really isn’t a best way to do it, I don’t think, because every situation varies. The only way to get better at stealth camping is to do it all the time.

I will say that things become very different after dark. Use darkness to your advantage. Places that seem impossible to camp without detection during daylight hours are often completely fine once it gets dark outside. This makes your ‘getting your camp set up at night’ skills very valuable. I actually practiced this a lot. As long as you can get up and be gone before daylight you’re usually all set. It is a rush camping in a location that if you were caught you would likely be arrested. I enjoyed it a lot. Maybe a little too much :)

If you could have had a travel partner walking with you, would you have wanted that?

For an extended period of time, no. I had one friend join me for a weekend, which was great, and another join me for a week. Those were both wonderful experiences. They were great people with open minds and good attitudes.

With that being said, I really valued my alone time on the trip as I knew I may never experience so much of it again once it was over. I enjoyed moving at my own pace.

Nate has a home base that’s worth snooping around and kept a chronicle of his walk that makes for great reading. Do you have questions for Nate? Hit the comments and fire away!

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4 thoughts on “Interview with Nate Damm

  1. There are many questions, but two off the top of my mind, especially when it comes to safety issues.

    One being in regards to walking; did you (Matt) trek always near roads and along highways, or did you navigate in other ways, like going by back roads or city streets? The biggest worry I would have would be about drivers not paying attention to pedestrians, and vice versa. Did you wear reflective gear when you walked at night, or did you not walk at night?

    Other question: How did you manage to keep food fresh on the journey? Got any special recipes from your journey you could share?

    Um, that was several questions, please excuse that. You most likely might already address them on your blog, yet I would like to hear a few new perspectives not covered before. Thank you!

    • Arden says:

      I _love_ what you say about finding a way to approach each day. It totally makes sense, and I think it’s quite profound.

      The reflective gear question is a great one — I’ve noticed that drivers get quite scary at night, especially on the highways. It sounds like you walked during the daytime, though.

      Did you have any quick ways of making yourself presentable? I guess I’m wondering about hygiene here; being dirty doesn’t bother me personally, but I can imagine that it would be an issue in certain social situations (going into a store, etc.).

  2. @ Valentina – For the most part I was on U.S. or state highways. These were mostly in rural areas as I avoided cities for the most part. I just kind of planned my route as I went. It was always changing. I used a U.S. road atlas to do that. There certainly were a lot of close calls with vehicles. I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t get hit. Came within a few inches numerous times. I just tried to pay attention as well as I could in each situation. I did wear a reflective vest when I walked at night, which wasn’t too often. A construction worker gave it to me in Kansas.

    As for food, I ate a lot of canned pasta and fruit. Lots of peanut butter and jelly. Cheese keeps for like a week if you get it in individual packs, which was great. Pop Tarts were a staple. I just re-stocked whenever I got the chance, usually at small town gas stations or grocery stores. I ate an extremely unhealthy diet, but figured that would be the time to do it if there was one :)

    Thanks for reading and the great questions!

    @ Arden – Glad you liked that! It changed everything for me. As I said above, I did use a reflective vest sometimes at night. Night walking was a trip, fun in the right situation. Hygiene was certainly a problem at first for me, but eventually I just got so used to being dirty that I stopped caring. I’d do my best to have a spray of body spray or something before going into a store, but usually was just so tired or hungry that I didn’t care haha. It didn’t end up causing too many issues socially as once people learned what I was doing they were a bit more accepting of my hiker smell.

  3. Pingback: Meet Nate Damm | Dog Walk Across America

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