Don Stevenson is driven to walk.
The retired pastor, Marine and truck driver estimates he’s walked about 60,000 miles since 1998, each step to raise money and awareness for a cause. Many of his 21 long-distance walks have been dedicated to a friend.
“Knowing that I’m doing it for someone else gives me a great feeling,” the Auburn man said. “It sounds selfish, but it is really rewarding to know that I’m helping others.”
He’s walked across the United States four times, most recently walking from Auburn to Maryland last year. Stevenson, known as the Pacing Parson, has also walked from Mexico to Alaska, and once crossed the Cascades while wearing a blindfold in honor of a woman who lost her eyesight in a car accident.
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On Jan. 4, Stevenson turned 80 and some friends gathered to celebrate with him at Zion Lutheran Church in Auburn. There were apple fritters, cupcakes, singing and hugs. But this wasn’t so much a birthday party as it was another sendoff.
After the gathering, Stevenson started what he expects to be a 10-week, 1,000-mile walk. He will walk 20-30 miles per day. He plans to stay mostly near home, but says he could also venture as far south as Chehalis and north to Bellingham. He welcomes guests to join him as he walks.
He’s walking to raise money and awareness for the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the blood vessels leading from the heart to the lungs. Many people living with the condition must use a walker and oxygen, Stevenson said, so he’ll take both for the entire walk.
His 2015 cross-country walk was also for the association and was dedicated to a friend, Betty Mayfield, who had pulmonary hypertension and died before the walk started. This walk, he says, is dedicated to everybody with pulmonary hypertension. He will walk in Auburn’s Game Farm Park on Mondays and Thursdays. On most Saturdays at 9 a.m. he will walk with people with PH at Auburn’s The Outlet Collection mall.
Moments before stepping out into the rain to begin his walk, Stevenson took time to field a few questions:
Q: You’re walking twice a week in Auburn Game Farm Park. What do you like about the park?
A: It’s close. I’ve walked more than 18,000 miles in that park and they let me usually have a concession stand where I can give away snacks and information for people who come by. But this time I’m not going to use that concession stand because I won’t be there that long.
Q: How do you avoid injury?
A: I don’t run. That impact on your knees from running can really take a toll. I see so many people who’ve run all their adult lives and when they are 50-60 they are getting knee replacements. You actually get more beneficial exercise from walking.
Q: Do you have a stretching routine?
A: I don’t do what my podiatrist suggested. I’m just kind of lazy when it comes to that. I do stretch my legs when I need it. If I get a pinched nerve in back, I lay on my back and do the knee tuck ... and that will loosen the nerves.
Q: How much do you walk when you’re not doing one of these adventures?
I try to walk 5-10 miles per day. I tell people that if you just walk briskly for half an hour two or three days per week you’ll keep a lot of doctor bills from your mailbox. Even if it hurts, move. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to be able to move. Walking is a great exercise.
Q: Any close calls on these walks?
A: One morning, when I woke up before my guide (on the blind-folded walk from North Bend to the Columbia River) I started to walk off a cliff. He called me back and I decided I better stay with my guide.
Q: Hills, roads, flat, trails. Where do you like to walk most?
A: I like trails because there are no problems with vehicles. I’m so used to hills sometimes I don’t know if I’m walking uphill or not, so I have to look back to see.
Q: I’ve heard that you’ve called several of these walks the last one. Are you saying that this time?
A: It is the last one until the next one. I told my wife, I’ll never say never again.
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