On Feb. 25, 2019, at about 7 a.m., Mike Crowley touched the tip of his Lowa Camino boots to the Pacific Ocean. Ten months and six days later on New Year’s Eve at about 1 p.m., now wearing Vasque Breezes, he performed a similar ritual, at the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Henlopen on the southern edge of Delaware Bay.
In between, beginning the hike in earnest on Ash Wednesday 2019 after selling his Mission Viejo home, the 60-year-old real estate professional logged 3,897 miles on foot. The effort, which he called “Walk Across America,” was his attempt to honor and praise the Lord and share God’s light.
Walking six days a week, with a couple of breaks for things such as a funeral in California and to see a doctor about an ear infection, Crowley traversed the country professing or just experiencing a profound relationship with God. Crowley began his trek clean-shaven and looked like John Muir by the time he hit the Atlantic.
Of course, this being the 21st century, he also catalogued much of his trip on his cellphone, posting weekly videos of travels and musings. Those can be seen on his website, ilikemike.com. Crowley said he picked up more than 1,500 subscribers. He also took and honored prayer along the way.
Crowley, who is a recreational hiker and camper, said the idea of the walk percolated for about a decade, particularly while caring for several relatives during the end stages of their lives.
About 18 months before he left, he said the idea became more insistent.
“God was telling me to take a trip for him,” Crowley said. “About a year before I left, I remember saying, ‘You better tell me what you want.’”
One day during Holy Hour prayer, Crowley said, “It came to me clear as a bell.”
He was to take on a two-part mission: to spread the light of the Lord along his path, telling people that He loves us very much; and to let others know that time is running short.
Crowley said he was reminded of discussions with his spiritual advisor Fr. Leo Celano of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado.
“He told us that as we go through life to be a billboard and see if people accept it,” Crowley said.
After that, he said, it was all up to people to decide if they will receive God.
It is estimated that at any given time there are perhaps dozens of people attempting to walk or run coast to coast. There are formal and informal races and excursions. Some people are in organized groups. Some raise money for various causes. Some travel alone in search of adventure, enlightenment or other personal reasons.
For his journey, Crowley traveled light. His backpack, sleeping bag and essentials, weighed just 15 pounds, excluding food and water. It included gadgets such as electronic cables, adapters, drives and even a solar recharger to document his journey. He carried a rosary and small Bible in his “God bag.”
He slept on roadsides, at parks, on church grounds and cemeteries and the occasional home of a friend. He stayed at motels on off-days. He said he hasn’t broken down the cost of his walk, but estimates his gear at $1,200 to $1,500, food costs $300 to $500 a month, sometimes more if he splurged on a fancy restaurant. Plus occasional lodging costs, though some nights were donated.
Fr. Angelos Sebastian at St. Kilian Church, where Crowley is a parishioner, admired the journey.
“It’s a personal testimony of his faith in God,” Fr. Angelos said. “This was a journey of faith.”
It didn’t take Crowley long to have his faith tested.
On his second day out, he said he found himself considering the enormity of the undertaking.
It was then he said that he decided not to fret.
“I turned my mind off to time. I just trained myself to enjoy the moment, (and) to be more in tune with God and not have preconceived notions.”
In the desert in California and Arizona, Crowley said he experienced “a great stripping down of myself,” which helped peel away ego. On a Navajo reservation, he experienced a “dark night of the senses,” a Catholic stage of purification. And by Kansas, “a great light.”
All this led to an inner peace he carried across the country.
As for being a “billboard,” Crowley said his faith came up if people asked about his journey.
Crowley said he isn’t sure what the future holds.
However, he is also already considering another journey in a year or two, maybe from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Key West.
“I think that’s what God has in store,” Crowley said of the 2,200-mile walk. “It’s just a hop, skip and a jump.”