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Who is this walking man? Cross-the-nation walker passes through Idaho Falls

August 22, 2018

Gary “Laz” Cantrell walks along the Arco Highway on his way to the Oregon coast. He started in Newport, R.I., in April. The 64-year-old needs to walk 28.03 miles per day to meet his goal of reaching the Oregon coast before his scheduled return home.

A few miles west of town on U.S. Highway 20 — a little past Noise Park — Laz, formally known as Gary Cantrell, hit a milestone Friday in his walk across America.

He came to mile marker 298 and paused to type in the time on his smartphone.

“This marker equals 100 marathons in my walk across the country,” Laz said. He finished typing in the time and started walking again. “Gotta keep moving,” he said.

The average American walks 4,774 steps per day, according to a 2017 Stanford University study. That’s about 2.5 miles and ranks 30th out of 46 countries evaluated in the study.

Laz, 64, began his quest April 10 as he started walking mostly following Highway 20 west from Newport, R.I. When he’s not walking, he lives in Short Creek, Tenn., and organizes one of the nation’s toughest ultra marathons, the Barkley Marathons. The race is so tough that no one finished the 2018 100-mile version. In his earlier days, Laz was a distance runner. Now his body lets him do long distance walks. On Friday, he was headed to Arco at an easy 2.5-mph pace.

“I went to the doctors for a pre-trip physical and he said my body wouldn’t make the whole trip (across America),” Laz said. “But I figure I could do one day. So each day I get up and do one day.”

A few days ago, Laz crested Teton Pass and headed to Idaho.

“Idaho is surprising,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting the Big Hole Mountains, I thought it would be flat desert plains after the Tetons. The Big Holes are beautiful.”

Though the walk has been challenging, “It hasn’t been boring for a minute.”

It’s also been a learning experience.

“I’ve been learning geography, geology and the infrastructure of the country,” he said. “When you walk through it, it gives you a much different perspective.”

Laz is supported by a network of helpers organized by his wife back home in Tennessee. At the end of the day of walking, he sleeps in a motel or at a friend’s home, returns to the point he left off the previous day, and starts trekking at the break of day and goes unitl about 7:30 p.m. He says years of connecting with distance runners from across the country has given him a core of helpers. His drinks of choice are Dr. Pepper and milkshakes. A friend from Utah had driven up to help on Friday.

His biggest worry is time. He wants to finish in time to get back for his next race he is in charge of organizing. A few unexpected setbacks have slowed him down.

“I got lost in Boston and Jackson, (Wyo.), and lightning storms slowed me up in Nebraska,” he said. “I have to walk 28.03 miles per day to make it to the Oregon coast in time.”

Another worry is his body.

“The body is a bundle of injuries,” he said. “It’s all about learning to manage them to keep moving.”

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