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A 3,000-mile walk across America, a polar bear, an arrest, a tornado, a broken leg and the stories shared with strangers along the way.

On July 4, 2009, I found myself standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. with a 54-pound backpack and miles of open road ahead of me. I intended to walk 3,000 miles across the United States.

Though a stress fracture prevented me from reaching California that first year, I’ve since walked halfway across the United States. In 2009 I walked 700 miles from Washington, D.C., to Chicago; the following year I walked another 600 miles to St. Louis and eventually Kansas City; and last fall I found myself back on the road walking 300 miles from Kansas City to Topeka to Wichita.

Along the way I've gotten arrested, survived a tornado, had a run-in with a polar bear (slight dramatization) walked for two weeks on a leg I didn’t know was broken and met so many amazing people.

Here’s where you come in

As I’ve told friends and acquaintances about my journey I’ve heard over and over again: “I can’t wait to read your book.” Well, here is your chance to buy my book.

With the funds I raise through Kickstarter I plan to finish the remaining 1,500 miles of my cross-country walk, and write a book about my travels, to be called Talk to Strangers. In mid June I will return to Wichita and walk through Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Gallup, Flagstaff and finally arrive in Los Angeles in August. The money I raise will cover some basic supplies and food and lodging while on the road, as well as editing, design and printing costs for my book to be completed in late November 2012.

Why are you walking?

When I began my journey, I had no idea what I would find. But, deep inside, I knew I was hoping to see what made America tick. I wanted to know what lied within her soul. And I wanted to know what was buried within mine—to know that I was more than a “skinny girl afraid of spiders” as I was called by a newspaper reporter who wrote a story about my travels.

What I found was far different than the stereotypical fat, loud and selfish America we hear so much about. I was humbled by the strength and generosity of the people I met, and inspired by their stories. I will never forget the woman in Kantner, Pa., who took me in for the night and paid for my dinner when she was only earning a meager $5 an hour pay and living in a trailer with no hot water and a leaky roof. Nor will not forget the man in Sturgis, Mich., who told me of his sister’s decline into homelessness and subsequent death on the streets of Kalamazoo as his friend quietly slipped a $50 bill into my hand.

Walking gives me the rare opportunity to talk to people about the struggles they face, about their hopes and dreams, and to share a drink or a laugh. Something changes when a person puts on a backpack. People want to know where you are going and where you have been. They want to know what you have seen; and they want to tell you their stories.

So many days as I walked I have been in awe of the simple pleasures we so often miss as we zoom through life at 65 miles an hour. The quiet sunrises and moments of unexpected beauty, and the smiles and intimate conversations with strangers.

How many miles a day do you walk?

I walk 20 miles a day on average.

Where do you sleep at night?

It depends on the day. Sometimes I stay in hotels or camp. Other days I stay with people I meet on my journey. If you live on My Route or know someone who does and are interested in offering me a place to stay, please contact me at jcooper@justabumpintheroad.org.

Where are you now?

I am currently home in Washington, D.C. In mid June 2012 I will return to Wichita to walk the remaining 1,500 miles of my journey. Once I resume walking you can follow my GPS location.

What cities and towns will you be visiting on your route?

I began in Washington, D.C., and have visited Frederick, Hagerstown, Greensburg, and then Pittsburgh. From there visited Youngstown, Cleveland, Detroit, Elkhart, South Bend and Chicago. In 2010 I visited Bloomington, Springfield, St Louis, Columbia and Kansas City and last year I walked through Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and Wichita. In late June 2012 I will return to Wichita and continue on to Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and Los Angeles among many other cities and towns. A full map is listed the My Route page.

How long do you think it will take you?

I initially had planned to spend four months walking 25 miles a day and arrive in Los Angeles by the end of October 2009. I have since determined that it doesn’t really matter how long it takes as it is more about the journey and the people I meet along the way. I intend to finish the journey and reach Los Angeles in late August 2012.

What shoes do you wear?

I don’t have special shoes. At the moment it is Aasics trail running sneakers. They are the fifth pair of sneakers since I started my trip.

How heavy is your backpack?

At the start of my trip my backpack was 54 pounds. After just a few days on the road, it went on a serious diet and is now approximately 30-35 pounds depending on how much water I am carrying.

What are you carrying with you?

In my backpack I have a tent, a sleeping bag, a laptop, a cell phone, two bottles of water, a couple changes of clothes, a fleece jacket, a rain jacket, lots of socks, miscellaneous toiletries, a notebook, and an ever-changing collection of items I’ve found along the side of the road.

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    A big thank you and e-mailed updates from the road.

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    A digital copy of Talk to Strangers and e-mailed updates from the road as well as a heartfelt thank you.

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    An actual postcard from the road. You'll also get to be listed on the book's Kickstarter supporters page and will receive both digital and printed versions of Talk to Strangers. (Additional $10 for international shipping.)

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    A photo book of images from the road as well as a signed copy of Talk to Strangers. You'll also get Kickstarter exclusive signed book cover art, e-mailed updates, a postcard from the road, a digital copy of the book and get to be listed on the book's Kickstarter supporters page.

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    A photo book of images and selected entries from my personal journal while on the road. You will also get special recognition in the introduction of my book, a signed copy of Talk to Strangers and Kickstarter exclusive signed book cover art as well as e-mailed updates, a postcard from the road and a digital version of Talk to Strangers.

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