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Sunday, June 23, 2019

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50-state walk leads adventurer to Louisiana

50-state walk leads adventurer to Louisiana


THIBODAUX, La. (AP) — Gilbert Hernandez's favorite mode of transportation is walking.

The 23-year-old Texan likes it so much that he plans to walk across all 50 states and has already trekked five.

"I chose Louisiana because it's a medium-size state and I wanted to see how well I would do with weeks on end on the road," said Hernandez, who stopped to rest in Thibodaux. "It also helps that Louisiana's relatively flat, so it's not particularly exhausting."

Hernandez began his walk across state Sept. 23 in Shreveport. Since then, his legs have taken him across Natchitoches, Alexandria, Lafayette and finally to a public bench in front of Bayou Lafourche near La. 1 and Green Street.

Hernandez has already crossed Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont and Delaware off his list. He hopes to walk across every state by the time he reaches 50.

"I figured out a few years ago I was really good at walking long distances," the mechanical engineering graduate said. "Then it became an adventure of getting to know my country, its peoples and its cultures."

Louisiana's landscape may be flat, but its culture certainly isn't. Hernandez said the state's cultural gumbo makes for a unique experience.

"I also wanted to experiment with variety because Louisiana is totally different from the northeastern states," he said. "So far I've enjoyed Louisiana very much. The people are very friendly and, oh, my God, the food. I think I've spent most of my money on Cajun-creole cuisine."

Hernandez begins his daily walking regimen with a morning stretch. He starts at dawn and walks about 10-12 hours before camping for the night. When it comes to sleeping, he relies on the hospitality of strangers.

"I literally go up to strangers' houses, knock on their doors and ask permission to put up a tent on their lawn," he said. "The common factors for people who say no are families with children, which I completely understand. However, when a family does let me crash on their lawn, the hospitality is amazing. The hospitality has been hit or miss, but when it hits it really hits."

Thanks to the generosity of others, Herandez said he's spent very little money on his journey.

"Walking this far is not easy, but it's also not expensive," he said. "Someone gave me $7 three days ago and I just spent it today. The dollar goes a long way on the road."

When Hernandez entered a rural post office in northern Louisiana to use the restroom, not only did the employees there allow him to use their facilities but fed him lunch as well.

"We ended up having a great conversation," Hernandez said. "That was pure Southern hospitality."

Hernandez's journey captivated landscaper Lief Stokes, who met the young traveler at a sandwich shop in New Iberia.

"He had a backpack, and lots of people were talking to him, so I figured I would ask him what was going on," Stokes said Saturday during a phone interview.

Stokes, who has historical interest in long-distance walking, said the practice was considered a historic feat in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"If you could walk long distances you were a hero," Stokes said. "As you got through each city, reporters would follow you. The heroism of walking ended with the automobile. It became very dangerous for walkers. At one time, walkers owned the road, but when cars came around, it changed things."

The most difficult part of Hernandez's walk across Cajun country has been the mosquitoes. He said he doesn't mind snakes and has so far only seen an alligator on a menu.

When his ambitious walk is completed, Hernandez said he hopes to write a book chronicling his adventures on the road. He plans to wrap his 50-state journey by tackling his home state of Texas.

"I want to walk through Texas from north to south because my hometown of Brownsville is at the very bottom," he said. "I want to end it at home."

As Hernandez continues his journey, his growing fan base is watching with keen interest.

"Gilbert is doing something that no one has ever done, and that is walking across all 50 states," Stokes said. "He just doesn't walk across the panhandle of a state, he walks completely across it. There is a much shorter way to walk across Louisiana. For him, maybe this is a way to shut out all the clutter of this capitalist country. He is on a mission.”