Mac McQuown of Stafford, Va., is about 19 months into a nearly eight-year journey designed to raise awareness about the needs of wounded veterans.
“I like to tell people I get to see this country at 3 miles per hour,” McQuown said Friday while camped at Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Marietta.
He was motivated after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to make his cross-country journey.
“After 9/11, I wanted to do this to raise awareness about our veterans,” McQuown said. After a year and a half of planning, McQuown set out on Sept. 11, 2011, from his home in Virginia.
His first stop was to Ground Zero in New York to honor those who died there 10 years earlier.
Then he continued his journey south, passing through seven capitals in nine states.
In almost 20 months, he has walked up the Capitol steps in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
That’s 1,727 miles so far.
A few miles a day
McQuown, 51, makes a point to visit veterans’ hospitals and as many military bases as he can during his trip.
“I met a lot of amazing veterans who have lost everything,” he said. “I often walk away humbled when hearing their stories.”
One particular veteran named Travis, who lost all four limbs from a roadside bomb explosion, serves as a constant source of inspiration for McQuown as he makes his journey.
“There are days when this walk beats up my body badly,” McQuown said. “But then I think back to Travis and think, ‘What do I have to complain about?’”
For the majority of the walk, he pulls a 60-pound cart loaded with food and supplies in the event that he needs to camp out during the night.
So far, he has been able to sleep indoors every day for the first leg of his journey, taking shelter in fire stations and homes of volunteers. Occasionally, he said, someone will see what he is doing and offer to put him up for the night.
“About 85 percent of the time, I’m able to stop in fire stations,” McQuown said. “They have all been so welcoming.”
He said while the overall trip was laid out in advance, he has to adjust some of the details of his route about every 30 days. A woman in Florida helps him with some of the scheduling details.
He is averaging about 10 to 15 miles per day, he said.
So far, he is on his fifth pair of shoes and his third set of tires for his cart.
“I love what I’m doing,” he said.
A short detour
Coming through Marietta is somewhat of a detour for McQuown, as he is heading up to north Georgia to visit his old home.
“I graduated from high school in Dalton, and I’m going to visit some friends I haven’t seen in over 30 years,” McQuown said.
Then it’s back on course as he returns to Atlanta, then heads west toward Alabama. He expects it will take him another year to reach California, as he travels across the Southern states.
As far as how he plans to cross the Pacific to make it to capitol buildings in Hawaii and Alaska, McQuown has it covered.
“I’m going to take a cruise, and try to walk a few miles a day on the deck,” McQuown said.
When he returns to the lower 48 states, he will zig-zag his way east, until he reaches Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
McQuown served as an Armor tank crewman in the U.S. Army Reserve before joining the U.S. Marines from 1981 to 1988 as a sergeant field radio operator in the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines and as an embassy guard in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines.
His trip is being sponsored by a nonprofit group, Silver Star Families, which supports wounded veterans.