The long and winding road

Washington 'Sole Mates' head to Lawrence, retracing cross-country walk

The license plate on Jerry and Cindy Schultz's PT/Cruiser reads "SoleMate1," and the couple has a right to ride in comfort as they travel across the country from their home in Olympia, Wash., to Atlanta, Ga.

Seven years ago, the couple made the 3,000-mile trip by foot to benefit Habitat for Humanity.

The Schultzes say they are the only couple ever to walk across the country, and they'll arrive in Lawrence on Tuesday (this time by car) for one of many stops on a 35-day trip to 35 cities. This time the trip is not only to raise awareness for Habitat, but also to promote their new book "Sole Mates," which chronicles their cross-country trip by foot.

The pair raised $50,000 in donations last time around and, though they're not taking donations this time, they're still trying to raise awareness for Habitat. In a recent phone interview on the road from Evergreen, Colo., Cindy said the money they raised in '96 was enough to build one Habitat house in the United States or four in other countries. New Habitat affiliates were started due to word-of-mouth surrounding their '96 walk, and $7 of every book they sell this time will go to Habitat.

Linda Klinker, program manager for Lawrence's Habitat affiliate, said the local chapter was unaware the Schultzes were returning to Lawrence, despite the group's involvement with the couple's last trip into town.

"Habitat was very involved in Lawrence last time," Cindy said. "Our goal this time is to have the book for sale in local bookstores, hopefully some local media coverage, live radio coverage, hopefully a book signing with a local Habitat affiliate and then maybe a local bookstore signing."

A local event is not yet scheduled.

13 soles and 15 million steps

The Schultzes' trip in '96 consisted of a 20-mile-per-day walk at an average of 15.5 minutes per mile. Their six pairs of Birkenstock sandals were resoled 13 times, and Jerry calculated that the journey took 15 million steps from start to finish. They stayed with 82 different host families along the way, including Gus and Sally Van Tassel of Lawrence.

"They just stayed overnight and left in the morning," Gus Van Tassel said. "A friend of ours from South Dakota wrote and asked us to host them for the night. We thought they were pleasant people, and we enjoyed having them."

The Schultzes, married for 39 years, planned their walk years in advance, drove the route and walked 1,000 test miles before embarking on their journey. It all culminated when they walked into Atlanta in time to celebrate Habitat's 20-year anniversary.

Wonderful experience -- blisters and all

Not far east of Lawrence during their walking trip came a turning point in the couple's lives.

"I heard a message from God in the Ozark Mountains," Cindy said, "and through weird turns, I figured out that message was to write the book."

Cindy said she tried frequently to quit writing the book, but friends and family made her keep going.

"It was much harder to write the book and get it published than it was to walk across America," Cindy said, laughing. "It took four years to write and two-and-a-half years to get it published." Cindy and Jerry finally opened their own publishing company, Shiny Penny Press, after they got "tired of messing around with big publishers."

They have five books planned in the "Sole Mates" series -- though none of the others will have anything to do with their walk -- including "A Sole Mates Christmas" and "Poems from the Road," a book of Jerry's poetry.

Driving the route has been a markedly different experience from that of walking it, Cindy said, and the couple is constantly remembering people, events and places as they drive it.

"In a way, we wish we were back out there walking," she said, "but last time we only made it 20 miles-per-day, and this time it's hundreds-per-day."

Though the book is partly about the couple's walk and their experience with Habitat, Cindy says it's really about following a dream that, though difficult at times, was ultimately exhilarating.

"It was a wonderful experience," she said. "Blisters and all, it was a wonderful experience."

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