Her son, Nick Kleckner, was on the opposite coast and had decided to walk across the country. He had felt “stuck” for some time; although in material terms he was moving forward in life, inside he felt that his growth was at a standstill.
His original plan to break free from the monotony was to spend three months in the jungles of Costa Rica as a part of a spiritual journey. However, the night before his departure from Houston, he and friends discovered upon return to their van at a motocross race that all of their bags had been stolen — most importantly to Kleckner, his passport vanished with them.
“I wasn’t even upset that my stuff was stolen, but I didn’t know what to do,” Kleckner said.
He wandered aimlessly, and after a week’s contemplation, “(Walking) just popped into my head and I knew that I needed to do it.”
Three and a half weeks later on April 3, Kleckner found himself on Jacksonville Beach in Florida, ready to walk across the U.S. with little more than the clothes on his back. On Saturday, Sept. 29, he completed that nearly 2,500-mile journey, celebrating with friends and family in Huntington Beach after walking 178 days.
“Now that I have momentum from this I want to keep that going,” he said this week. “When I finished, I met some people who were big fans of what I was doing. They shared a similar passion and they want to team up with me. We are working on carrying this momentum into the next phase of helping others.
A difficult journey
Kleckner bathed in creeks, went dumpster diving to eat and learned the patterns of when gas station and chain restaurant employees would dump food items. But he never asked for food or money; often strangers would give of their own accord.
Though he started out with nothing, he said he had been a personal trainer at one time and knew what the body needs to survive. He never planned to leave a city without supplies.
His survival skills were of comfort to his mother.
“Knowing that about Nick helped me get through this,” she said.
Still, the first few days were difficult.
“I started with close to no thought on preparing for making this possible. I also did not exercise or train for the walking for even a day,” Kleckner wrote on his blog, titled “World in Strides.”
“I was out of shape, starving, and unprepared. I told God I wouldn't quit and would rot away slowly as a homeless poor man out here for as long as it took me to walk to the California coast. I called Him out, and then He answered me in an overwhelming way. I suddenly had support coming from people approaching me along my walks and in the areas I was around.”
Paying it forward
The people that Kleckner met along the way were surprisingly generous. During a three-day period in Louisiana, Kleckner received $300 from supportive passersby.
“I didn’t have a sign or shirt saying what I was doing,” Kleckner said. “I was just a guy walking through town. Every few weeks I’d pass through a big city with lots of homeless, so at that time I was like, ‘I don’t feel right having all this stuff,’ so I started sharing. That’s where the ‘pay it forward’ kind of thing started in Jackson, Mississippi.
“Throughout the trip I rejected more than I accepted; I gave away more than I used or spent; I ate less food than I gave away. The rewards kept coming.”
There were times, too, that he would gave away everything to his last dollar, Theresa recalled.
To lessen his parents’ worries, Kleckner would avoid telling them about his charity works until he had again amassed three days worth of survival goods.
His blog began as a series of emails to his parents to reassure his parents of his well-being.
A friend uploaded the emails to the Web, and in time Nick’s following grew, and the blog
transformed into a public venue for fans. He became interviewed by various media and was affectionately known as “Hobo Nick.”
Despite his growing fame, Kleckner continued to decline donations.
“(I wanted) no help over the Internet, mail, or from people I knew. I had hotel sponsorship offers, offers for PayPal accounts to be created to donate $1,000 to me, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t expect that from people when I started. It opened my eyes and really was amazing.
“I saw it as getting up to walk every day. Other people saw it from a different perspective. There were always new messages through Facebook and Twitter. It helped me grow.”
I want to do more and be a better example for whoever I can.”
A change in perspective
Kleckner believes he found part of himself during his cross-country trek.
“I have found that helping and inspiring people makes me feel real and I love everything about it,” he wrote. “Now I don’t think I have answers for anyone, but just sharing my story can show others that there is hope, for everyone. I don't think living homeless is others' answer, it might be mine but not everyone's. I just needed this to humble myself and seek what was important for me. It was just the path I took that is leading me to life. I love real people and their brutally honest thoughts.”
He says the journey has given him a new perspective on what it means to be homeless.
“I was always judging people a lot more before this. I still do, but I check myself and when I go up to them, it is always way off from what I thought. It’s priceless to me.”
He now dreams of advocating for the homeless in both word and deed.
“I learned more about what drives me. I’m not super-technological, but in the homeless
community I think I can take what technology is available today and expose what people
don’t know about in the homeless community,” he said. “I can share it in such a cool way.
“There are times I want to put a light on their stories. There was a light on me because I was documenting it so much, and everyone saw my lifestyle, but I’m just one of thousands of homeless people in this country. I feel like I need to share that. I need to raise awareness about what is out there.”
Kleckner said he plans to go on another journey that will be better documented and provide people with more exposure to his daily routine.
“I’m going to keep it similar to the last one,” he said. “There’s going to be more electronics and things to be able to keep better documentation and a team working underground to help present it to the world.”
Kleckner has received offers to make appearances on Good Day Sacramento, The Jeff Probst Show, CNN and The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the near future. Articles about Kleckner have also appeared in newspapers across the world, including Argentina, Peru, Italy, the United Kingdom and France.
“I’m no better than anyone else, and I never expected this. It just came together very organically,” he said. “It wasn’t something I masterminded. I just had trust and faith.”
Now, he hopes to inspire and engage others as well.
“Part of what we are going to be doing is to get this to be a national movement,” he said. “We want representatives in each city to help out. We definitely want Patterson to be on board with this idea. I love this town and I grew up in it, so I want to do anything I can to help,” Kleckner stated.
Kleckner encourages folks with ideas on furthering a proactive spirit in the community to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Mary Mason is an English major at California State University, Stanislaus, who grew up in the Patterson area. She is an editorial intern for the Patterson Irrigator and can be reached at email@example.com.