Arthur Werner is a walker in the same way that the Mississippi is a river.
Just as the legendary waterway that slices through the United States from north to south stands out among other rivers, so too does Werner take the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other to the extremes of what is possible through human locomotion.
“I started out June 4 in Whistler, British Columbia, and I plan to end up in Key West, Fla., sometime around April 1,” said Werner as he walked south along Dollarway Road near White Hall early Monday afternoon. “Twenty miles per day has been my goal and it has worked out to 21 so far.”
Werner started out Monday morning just south of Redfield and planned to stay overnight somewhere on the south end of Pine Bluff.
“Canadian by birth and American by choice,” Werner, 58, said of his national background. “There are three reasons that I am walking: To raise awareness for people affected by diabetes and cancer and to show support for our troops and veterans.”
Werner speaks with an affable demeanor and a friendly smile and quickly draws a listener in as he talks about his journey and why it had to be made.
“The diabetes awareness is for my son Jonathan who is 31 and has lived with Type 1 diabetes since he was 4 years old,” Werner said. “Ever since then I have wanted to do something outrageous to honor him. I blew out my back several years ago and the doctor told me that running and bicycling were out so I said, ‘how about walking?’ and he said that I could walk all I want.”
Werner said the cancer awareness focus of his trip is in honor of Ross Werner, his brother Victor’s son who was the same age as his own son, and his mother’s husband Cecil Bund. Ross died from a rare cancer only nine months after it was diagnosed and Bund who passed away from cancer at the age of 73.
Veterans have a special place in Werner’s heart as evidenced from several on-the-road vignettes he shared.
“I stopped at a gas station in Missouri and saw a man getting out of his car with a Korean War Veterans license plate,” Werner said. “He was using a cane to get out. I walked up to him and shook his hand and said thank you for your service.”
Sometimes all of his causes come together in one interaction.
“I spoke to an elderly man who is a veteran who told me that he is diabetic,” Werner said. “His wife and son were in the truck with him and they had medical problems as well. You know, even with all of their issues and despite the fact that that man has already served his nation, he reached in his pocket and pulled out a dollar bill and pressed it into my hand.”
Werner was momentarily overcome with emotion as he recounted the incident.
When asked if there is a set format to his daily walks Werner chuckled and said that it was mostly a play-it-by-ear operation with some basic organization.
“There is a support vehicle that follows behind me as I walk,” Werner said. “It’s outfitted with a large orange warning sign that lets oncoming vehicles know that they are coming up on me. At the end of the day they pick me up and we drive back to our motor home, which is stationed at a rough mid-point for several day’s worth of walks. The next morning I go right back to where I finished the day before.
“Sometimes we park at a Walmart and sometimes at a truck stop,” Werner said of the motor home. “We always ask the Walmart managers for permission first before we park for the night. It always pays to be courteous.”
Werner said that he has encountered weather extremes from brutal heat on the plains of Montana to frigid cold in Nebraska.
“One of the days was a little on the chilly side as we prepared to move from South Dakota into Nebraska,” Werner said. “In fact, my water bottles that I carry around my waist had frozen. Now that was cold. Real cold. In August we were moving through Montana and that was a bit on the toasty side. A stretch between Chester, Mont., and Ft. Benton, Mont., was really hot.”
Some days it became obvious that a full round of walking was not in the cards, Werner said.
“We were near Damascus, Ark., and the forecast called for drizzle,” Werner said. “It wasn’t drizzle; it was rain. So, I decided pretty quick that there wouldn’t be any more walking that day.”
Things along the way
Werner said that he was amazed by some of the items that he found along the roadsides he traveled.
“The two oddest things I found were those dental floss picks that are round at the end and random articles of men’s and women’s clothing,” Werner said. “Just how many people do you know who use one of those floss picks while they are driving. As far as the clothing, what makes someone decide that they’re going to remove their boxer shorts as they drive along and fling them out the window?”
Werner said he has a 16-year-old nephew who inspired another type of collecting.
“When I first started out, I came across a dead moose and it was close to where he lived so he came out and we both took a look at it,” Werner said. “So now I’ve started taking pictures of all of the different kinds of roadkill that I see. He’s enjoying seeing things like possums that we don’t have a lot of up north.”
While he does not overtly ask for donations, Werner said that sometimes people give him money, which he donates to a youth camp for children with diabetes.
“Camp Utada in Utah does great things for children,” Werner said. “My son attended when he was young and later served as a counselor. For a week or two in the summer and the winter kids can get together all in the same place and share experiences and check their blood sugar together. They get to see that they are not freaks just because they have diabetes.”
Werner said that he has collected a total of $65 in loose change that he has found along the roadway which he adds to the donations he has received.
Werner hopes that his actions inspire others to contribute positively to the society around them.
“There are seven billion of us here on the planet,” Werner said. “If we all did something positive — it doesn’t have to be something big — just imagine what we could accomplish. We can all do something.
“I don’t think we’re judged about the size of the gift that we make but instead by how the gift is given and if it is done anonymously, so much the better,” Werner said. “You can pay for a veteran’s meal at a diner. You don’t need to take credit for it. You just need to do it.”
Werner said that it is important to realize that people have more in common with each other than the modern media age would have us believe.
“A man in a coffee shop in Missouri told me that there is more that binds us in this country than what divides us,” Werner said. “At the end of the day we all just want to be able to make a few bucks, watch the game on television and hold our children in our laps.”