Nancy Takes A Hike: Red Lion Inn owner travels 3,365 miles on foot from Boston to Newport, Ore.
For Nancy Fitzpatrick, it's been a long and winding road, literally.
But on Monday with a champagne lunch celebration on the shores of the Pacific in Newport, Ore., it was journey's end for "Nancy Takes a Hike," a cross-country, stage-by-stage trek that began six years ago at Boston Harbor.
The 3,365-mile journey mostly followed Route 20, the nation's longest highway, which begins at Kenmore Square.
As she put her hiking boots on while the sun broke through a deck of clouds, Fitzpatrick seemed wistful, relieved and low-key triumphant about her accomplishment as she reminisced about her epic odyssey through the heartland of America, ending at Route 101, the north-south coastal highway, with a mile and half final amble to the Newport beach.
Scion of one of Berkshire County's storied families, led by the late Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, Nancy, who turns 70 in December, decided in 2011 to embark on her "hike" — a mild term to depict a coast-to-coast marathon, marking a transition to the closing chapter of her life.
Her goal, described in a phone interview from Oregon, was to promote slow travel through a big country, to celebrate historic preservation, a life-changing transition and "to honor everyone named Nancy who was born in 1946."
"It's hard to believe it's over," said Fitzpatrick, vice chairman of the Fitzpatrick Cos., owner of the Red Lion Inn and Main Street Hospitality in Stockbridge. "I will really miss the "Westward Ho!" aspect, getting up and having a clear goal in mind."
In a Facebook post early on, she said "choosing Route 20 was easy. It passes within a couple of miles of our house. It's a cross-country route that's full of history."
"From Boston to the Pacific coast of Oregon, it traces the westward embrace of this continent by the people and ideas (good and bad with the benefit of hindsight) that created our country," she wrote. "There was lots of discussion about wrapping this journey around a cause. I decided I wanted to be free from causes, and to be open to whatever crossed my path along the way."
Now, contemplating the challenges and logistics of the long journey, she acknowledged feeling "a real sense of accomplishment. I also think I'm now an authority on certain aspects of the U.S. along a narrow footpath from Boston to Oregon."
Asked for final thoughts as she approached the Pacific, Fitzpatrick cited "the power of one step at a time. Sometimes, I feel like I'm putting one foot ahead of another, walking along the side of the road."
Although her husband, the noted photographer Lincoln Russell, met her at day's end for overnight stays in campgrounds, motels, friends' homes and rented accommodations, Fitzpatrick described her hike as a mostly solitary experience, "to keep going a little bit at a time pretty consistent with how I reflect back on life in general."
She also endured many heartbreaks along the way over the past six years — the deaths of her father in 2011 and her mother in 2013, and of her younger sister, Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, last January — as well as a celebratory occasion, the marriage three weeks ago of her son Casey Meade to Saadia Shaza.
Fitzpatrick, winner of the 2011 Commonwealth Award for Leadership in the Arts, launched her cross-country trek in February of that year with a modest beginning, eight days of walking.
"Once I was reconciled that it would take long time, I didn't worry at all about finishing," she said.
Her friend, then-Gov. Deval Patrick, hiked the last three miles of Massachusetts with her in March 2012, starting at Hancock Shaker Village.
Each year, the hikes were longer, averaging 10 miles a day, and this year the approach to the finish line came in two stages, last spring and this fall.
Fitzpatrick said "this was not meant to be a masochistic endeavor; it was meant to be enjoyable. I don't like to create suffering for myself, so we made it as comfortable as possible."
When she and Russell reached western Idaho, they decided to buy a 37-foot Winnebago they named Moby, "a very comfy home," she noted. "We're not RV people but we developed a tolerance for it."
Observing that travel by RV is enjoyed by "a huge number of great people," Fitzpatrick, ever the entrepreneur, pointed out that the Berkshires lack a top-notch facility for tourists who prefer a mobile home.
Urged to reflect on what she learned from the journey, Fitzpatrick described "a big, big distance between the coasts, and we who live in these little idyllic pockets like the Berkshires really don't have a clue. We live in a fantasy land compared to much of the U.S."
During a 125-mile walk along a biking trail through Nebraska, she recalled bypassing "incredibly dilapidated towns, but they were beautiful in their dilapidation. It may not be all bad; it may just be change, things moving from one place to another as life goes on. It's definitely a different sort of world view in Nebraska. They don't give a hoot about us; they're totally content with who they are and where they are."
Overall, Fitzpatrick described the people she encountered along the way as "incredibly friendly and warm, lacking the kind of elitist edge we sometimes have in the East. I wish we could be more aware of that, we don't realize how utterly apart, a world apart there is away from the Berkshires."
On the phone, her husband, coach, manager and scout Lincoln Russell noted that the RV will be sold.
"We'll chill out at an oceanfront cabin and come home in November. Most people don't even walk from Stockbridge to West Stockbridge. Very few have walked across the nation."
"My takeaway is how afraid people are in general," he said, "and how much people talk about guns."
"She walked alone," he said. "It was a strictly personal journey through 12 states. I would drop her off and pick her up.
"People often asked why she wasn't afraid. Her reply: 'Because my parents didn't bring me up to be fearful.' "
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
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