Dan Ross of Illinois left Chicago on April 15 to walk two-thirds of the way across America to the Oregon Coast.
This week he made his way into Cherokee County and stayed Tuesday night in the home of Don and Gail Steffen of Marcus. His visit with them was arranged by the Steffens' son, Jerry. His route has brought him from Storm Lake and Alta to Cherokee and Marcus. Next he heads to Akron, and then Vermillion and Yankton, S.D.
Dan is an accomplished musician, known as the "Goofy Guitarist" on YouTube, who found himself at a crossroads last year. He had completed some college, worked at a music store, and gave guitar lessons. He felt that he needed clarity to help him define what his life's direction would be when he watched the movie "Forrest Gump" and Forrest's run across America gave Dan the idea to walk two-thirds of the way across our country.
While mapping his journey, he saw that he would cross the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Researching the plight of the Lakota Sioux people who live there, he found that unemployment hovers around 87%, life expectancies are 50 years, and 90% of the people live below the federal poverty level.
He also found that the teen suicide rate there is three and one half times the national average. These facts prompted him to visit the reservation in March of this year. He connected with a group called One Spirit which works to improve the lives of the Lakota people. Dan's mission is to make the people he meets more aware of the conditions on the reservation and to help raise funds to build a Safe House and Youth Center on the reservation.
He chose Iowa Highway 3 as the most direct route for his trip. Traveling with a "manpowered" golf cart, he is equipped with a tarp, sleeping bag, and clothes. He either camps out or stays with people he meets along the way. A good-hearted motel operator gave him a room In Pocahontas recently during the extreme heat. For food he cooks rice on his mini-stove and stops at grocery stores for dried fruit, granola, and V-8 juice.
Along the way he has had positive encounters with people who may stop and give him a bottle of water or other offers of help or just to talk. He admits that the walk is challenging and that he enjoys challenging himself and learning what can't be learned in textbooks.
When he gets to the end of his journey he hopes for clarity about what he wants to do next. In the meantime, he offers this advice, "Travel. Go places. Meet people. See and do things you've never seen or done before. Broaden your horizons, see the world. and be aware of what's going on both near and far and you will be better for it.
Dan's journey can be followed at www.nativeprogress.org. This site includes information about how you can contribute to the building of the Safe House and Youth Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.