By Peggy Mackenzie
For a man who plans to hike across the country, the steep hills of West Virginia would seem to be a formidable reality check.
Paul Ferraro, 59, is walking across America to raise funds for the Navy SEALS Foundation. His goal is to arrive at the Coronado Beach Naval Base in San Diego, CA, in time for Veterans’ Day on Nov. 11. The hills may be daunting, but Ferraro has made a steep commitment to serve others. What he’s doing is a simple thing. “Anybody can walk,” he explains. “It’s an honor to be able to give back to those who have given so much,” he says.
“The Road I Chose” is what Ferraro calls his walk across America. His cause is to help fill in the gaps that the government can’t provide for current, retired, and former Navy SEALS and their families.
“Everyone owes something to someone that is willing to do what we can’t or won’t do for our country. I’m walking across the United States to raise funds and awareness for the Navy SEAL Foundation. This walk across the country is my small part towards that debt,” is how Ferraro describes his commitment on his website, www.theroadichose.com.
Having just hiked up Caldwell Hill from White Sulphur Springs, Ferraro arrived in Lewisburg Tuesday afternoon, ate a sandwich at The Bakery, and spent the night at the Lewisburg Fire Station on Foster Street. The previous night, he was invited to stay at The Greenbrier by owner Jim Justice, who also served him breakfast. Ferraro says he was “treated like royalty,” but likely just fell into bed, having walked 33 miles that day, all while pushing a 90-pound cart.
The cart, about the size of a baby carriage, is his only baggage and carries camp equipment, food and clothing, and is a sponsor-donated product. He refers to it as his “Wilson,” recalling the volleyball in the movie Cast Away as the essential contact Tom Hanks’ character maintained to keep sane while enduring the hardship of living in isolation. Having a companion, even if it’s your cart, is a kind of relief for Ferraro’s long solitary journey.
Starting from Virginia Beach, VA on Apr. 1, New Jersey resident Ferraro has 225 days to complete his journey, walking six days a week along Route 60 nearly the entire way. Resting on Sundays, Ferraro says he tries to attend a nearby church and talk to congregations about his journey and reasons behind his support for the SEALS.
His contact person is his cousin, Kelly Vandermel, who leaped at the opportunity to be a part of Ferraro’s project. Her job is to track him on his route and call ahead each day to secure a place for him to sleep. Sometimes he’s nowhere near a town and must bed down along the road, or, if he’s lucky, in the front yard of a friendly family. Ferraro has received support from sponsors providing him with emergency call equipment, sleep gear, a light weight jacket and the cart, and many other items to help make this trek manageable.
Ferraro took a year to prepare for this journey across the country by walking from Ireland to Rome (crossing the English Channel by boat, of course), and trekking across Spain during the Camino de Santiago 500-mile annual pilgrimage last October.
Although not a military man, Ferraro grew up in a military family. A retired entrepreneur, he traveled around the world, taking on humanitarian service opportunities in his 21 trips to over 100 countries. While in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, he spent time with the Navy SEALS, and was greatly impressed with their dedication and sense of purpose. He made a commitment to join the Navy SEALS Foundation to collect funding to support fallen SEALS’ families.
Ferraro urges those he meets on his journey to “dig deep for this great cause.” Only 300 miles into his trek, he’s raised $10,000 so far through CrowdRise funding found on his website, www.theroadichose.com.
“Serving others opens a lot of doors,” says Ferraro. “If you’re not sure of your plan for your life, serve others and you will never be at a loss.”