Did you know that our very own Route 6 is the longest American highway ever created, spanning the entire United States mainland from Provincetown to Long Beach, California?
Author Joe Hurley could tell you all about it, and he will on August 13 at the Mattapoisett Free Library during “Behind the Scenes of Ten Million Steps.” Hurley spent nearly ten months of his life getting to know the people and places along the way on an intimate voyage across America that spanned about 3,600 miles from coast to coast.
Hurley, a retired newspaper reporter living in New Milford, Connecticut, never knew that Route 6, which runs through Connecticut as well, was the longest highway in the country. He discovered that fact during a “shorter” walk across Connecticut, discovering all the little towns he had never been to and writing a series about his journey. On a map, Hurley noticed Route 6 began in Provincetown and thought, “Wow. That’s a long way from Connecticut.”
“And then I looked to the west,” said Hurley during a July 29 phone interview. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to walk the entire way from east to west?”
Hurley started his voyage in Provincetown, which is where the book begins – along with the realization that this would be no stroll in the park. The first few hundred of his ten million steps were already causing his feet pain. In just the fourth paragraph of the book, Hurley admits, “Sore legs and the fear of failure would be my constant companions on the journey, one telling me to stop and the other urging me forward.”
During Hurley’s author’s talk, he will describe what it was like to move alone through the country, town by town, mile by mile, day by day, and answer all those questions that, once you take a look at the book, you will find yourself asking, like, was he ever afraid for his life along the way, or worried that he might not finish the journey?
“There was a snow storm in Nevada, and it was one of the few times on the trip that I didn’t know if I was going to survive,” said Hurley. “I was a walking snowman. And for a 150-mile stretch, there were no cars, no town.”
Once the snow let up a bit and people started to move about, Hurley said every single car that passed him stopped to make sure he was all right, which is consistent with Hurley’s report that, all across the country, he encountered such friendliness and hospitality that he never thought he would find when he took his first steps.
“It certainly gave me a different sense of the people of America, especially in the Midwest,” said Hurley, describing his most significant discovery along the way. “They’re much more likely to come up to you and talk to you.”
Hurley said people are prone to ask him more about his personal journey walking Route 6 across the country than they are to ask about the places he saw and the people he encountered, which surprises him somewhat.
“It’s a people and places book in my mind,” said Hurley. During the book design process, Hurley said he had a different idea for the front cover of the book, which is a photo of Hurley walking, of course, with a long, stretch of hilly highway behind him.
“I wanted the cover to be something else,” he said. But his publisher said no. The photo Hurley wanted on the front cover became the back cover of the book, the majestic landscape of the White Mountains above Owens Valley in eastern California.
“They said, ‘The book is about you walking across the country,’” said Hurley. “But I think it’s more about the people and places. It’s strange that people don’t ask me more about the places and the people I talked to.”
The people of Mattapoisett left a lasting impression on Hurley, saying on page 17 of the book that it was the people that made his stop at the diner formerly known as “The Nest” most memorable. He describes in the book how one Mattapoisett resident helped find Hurley a hotel room for free because he had no place to stay that night.
“Apparently that’s the way things are in Mattapoisett,” Hurley writes.
If you attend the author’s talk on August 13, don’t expect the standard slideshow and prepared talk that Hurley gives to everyone at each stop along his book tour.
“When I started out it was a slide show… and that was okay, but it’s kind of restrictive,” said Hurley. He now passes out a copy of the book to each person in attendance so they can have the book in their own hands, free to follow along and flip through the book. “So, instead of slides,” said Hurley, “We go for a journey together through the book.”
The August 13 event begins at 6:30 pm and Hurley will have copies of his book available for sale. Preregister for the event with the library so that there will be enough books for the event and to purchase. Contact the Mattapoisett Free Library at 508-758-4171 and, for more information about Hurley’s book, visit www.route6walk.com.
By Jean Perry