A year ago, Amanda Autrey of Utah posted a paragraph from J.R.R. Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings” on Facebook. On a page in her journal, she had transcribed the hobbit Bilbo Baggins' warning to his young nephew, Frodo: “It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.
“You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,” Bilbo tells Frodo, “there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Autrey, then 25, had no inkling then that one year later, on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, to be precise, she would find it fitting to again post those words on Facebook, but this time from a country road near Palmyra, Nebr.
She and her boyfriend, Kolton Rackham, 24, did indeed “step onto the road,” to be “swept off” on a 2,918 mile journey—walking across the United States from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. On Monday, Sept. 25, they posed for a snapshot in front of Stoner Drug in Hamburg.
The next day, they crossed the Missouri River into Nebraska City, stopping for a selfie on the Highway 2 bridge and again at the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center to snap a photo of Autrey with her arm around the wolf statue.
Autrey and Rackham had traveled from their home in Utah last spring to a cousin's home in Georgia by way of a ride share to Des Moines and a bus to Macon, Ga. On May 1, they embarked on their cross-country journey from Savannah on the Atlantic coast.
Crossing Georgia, they walked through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and into Nebraska. Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon lie ahead. Their journey will end in Newport, Ore. They will have passed through ten states (not counting a side trip in a car to visit relatives in South Carolina).
Coincidentally, their planned route across the country follows roughly the path of this summer's total eclipse of the sun, in reverse. They watched the eclipse from Edwardsville, Ill., where it was 99.8 percent total.
Once Autrey and Rackham had decided that they would make the trip, they wanted to find a charity to which they could donate money pledged by supporters of their long odyssey. They chose two organizations, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Make-A-Wish, a charitable organization whose purpose is to grant the wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions, began in 1980 and has grown international in scope. “They have been super-easy to work with,” Autrey said. “Their purpose is to instill hope. They're not a 'dying wish' organization.”
Autrey also sought out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), having herself struggled with suicidal thoughts. Begun in 1987,  AFSP is a volunteer organization working to help those affected by suicide by providing a nationwide support network. The organization funds education and scientific research, and advocates for public policy in suicide prevention.
Autrey explained that the idea for the cross-country trek came from her long-standing desire “to do some kind of 'walkabout'” for her own personal development, using the term given to a wilderness journey made on foot by Australian Aboriginals as a rite of passage and spiritual transition.
“I wanted to walk for something I had my heart in, show people hope,” said Autrey. “The more you force yourself (to do something difficult), the more discomfort you feel, the more growth you experience,” she said. “You are walking with your burdens.”
As they walk, the pair wear symbolic costumes: Rackham sports a gray fur wolf's head hat, and Autrey wears a hooded red cape. A friend had suggested that they “come up with a gimmick” to get noticed and pique the interest of donors.
They decided on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, which took on personal significance for them—the theme of staying focused on the responsibility before you and not allowing distraction to turn you from the path.
Autrey said the trip has gone very well so far and describes their “crazy adventure” upon arriving in Nebraska City. They stopped at a gas station and the woman working there offered to let them stay in a friend's cabin on the Missouri River for the night. They stayed two nights there, welcoming an extra day of rest and a beautiful view of the river and the Loess Hills beyond.
They ditched their sleeping bags and tent six weeks ago. “No more camping…it's getting chilly now,” said Autrey. That liberated them of 11 pounds of gear, to their great relief. Now they sleep under the stars, in lodging provided by the hospitality of strangers, or the occasional motel.
“It's been a roller coaster so far, but completely worth it,” said Autrey. They have discovered roles they didn't expect, as when Rackham took time to help a couple pour cement for a park bench, or when, during a shortcut through a bad neighborhood they’d been told to avoid, Autrey was able to offer comfort to a grieving woman whose sister had died the day before.
Shortly into their Nebraska leg of the trip, Autrey posted a picture of a pool-table flat field of beans on Facebook with the comment, “Everyone needs a break sometimes. Feeling grateful for these flat parts of Nebraska. It's so pretty to see a sea of sky and fields.”
The adventure is only halfway over. On their website, 2918miles.com, they describe their intention to make a four-month trip during the summer of 2017. But most of Nebraska and three more states, full of mountains, high plains, cold weather and eventually snow, loom ahead. The “roller coaster” will become more pronounced, on several levels.
Will they pause for winter and resume when conditions are more amenable? “We will carry on,” said Autrey. “There's always a solution. We will find ours.
“As long as you have a clear intention with anything you want to create…if you are not willing to quit, rather, you use your failures (temporary defeats) as stepping stones to learn, then you will be sure to succeed. Keep going with your dreams,” she says.
“This journey is less about having a plan, and more about learning to problem solve and see the solutions everywhere.”