Eddie Schneider said he told everybody he needed to “unravel some knots.”
He had faced some tough times. He had recently divorced and started a new career path that, he said, failed.
“I just got to a point in my life where I wanted to change, I wanted to simplify, I wanted adventure. I wanted to feel alive, really,” Schneider said.
The 31-year-old Germantown resident, who worked in mutual funds accounting, decided that the adventure would take the form of a journey across the country — on foot.
“It’s not that I hated my job and I despised everything,” he said. “It was an itch. I just felt I needed to go take a walk and just kind of process life and move on from there and just take control.”
Schneider said he had always found walking a form of therapy. His sister, Kerstin, 27, of Silver Spring, described his past walks from downtown Boston to his home miles away, were “just at the end of the night to kind of decompress.”
The planning and preparation for the walk would span several years, but on April 1, Schneider set off walking from San Diego, headed for the District.
He would be on the road for more than five months.
Schneider planned an itinerary, printed out maps and carried a smartphone with a solar charger to help guide him. He had a 40-pound backpack, complete with a sleeping bag and one-man tent. He would camp outside or stay at a motel each night.
But he also left plenty up to fate.
He said he knew he wanted to go to Kansas City and St. Louis but also would just explore along the route he chose through Google Maps.
“I didn’t know anything when I was walking. Like, I would walk into a town and just discover stuff, and that was the beauty of it,” he said.
Through the course of his journey, he would travel on many paths, from desert highways to a trail that “just got swallowed up by the forest.”
He met many people who helped him and were interested in his story, which some found “inspirational,” he said.
“Part of it was, for me, I had lost faith in humanity, and I really wanted to reach out and make sure there were still good people in the world,” he said.
He found those good people, he said.
Some paid for his meal at a diner, others stopped in their cars to offer him water or a ride. One man even gave him a shotgun, which he quickly returned.
He developed deeper relationships with some people as well.
“There’s good people along the way where I absolutely developed more than just the casual, stranger-passing-walking-with-a-backpack relationship,” he said.
Tom Roughton of Garden Grove, Calif., said he met Schneider about 20 miles north of Blythe, Calif., in a mobile home park where Roughton was vacationing with friends and family, including Roughton’s two kids and two nieces who would later dub Schneider “Cousin Eddie.”
“It’s crazy how you become attached to someone in 48 hours,” Roughton said.
Schneider said he also found the solitude he sought.
One of his favorite spots for thinking alone was along the Colorado River.
“I really liked anytime I was along a body of water or there was a creek, stream, river and you could hear the actual flow of the water,” he said.
Schneider’s childhood friend Abraham Biriggwa decided to join him for the 150 or so miles between Kansas City and Columbia, Mo.
Biriggwa, 31, of Gaithersburg said he made his spur-of-the-moment decision to walk with his friend of more than 20 years because he wanted to support Schneider and “walk a mile in another man’s shoes.”
“I would just call [Schneider’s walk] hitting the reset button on life,” he said.
Since Schneider began his walk, his confidence has risen, Biriggwa said, adding that Schneider has showed “grit.”
“I think he’s always had it in him,” he said. “I think he just hasn’t had an outlet for it.”
Schneider’s sister said his trip has affected how she is searching for a new job.
“I don’t think I’ll ever do [the walk] per se, but he definitely inspires you to really figure out where you want to go, what you want to get out of life,” she said. “You don’t need to live in those constructs of that corporate 9-to-5 world.”
On his last day of walking, last Thursday, Schneider left his sister’s apartment in Silver Spring around 8 a.m. with a light backpack and full beard. In the company of his mother and sister, he walked the roughly 7.7 miles to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, where a couple of his cousins would greet him with signs reading, “Welcome Home” and “We Love You!”
“It was an overwhelming sense of lightness,” he said.
In a post published on the blog of his trip, “The Eddie Blog,” the following day, Schneider wrote a short entry:
“The hard part is over. I now get to sit back and enjoy all the memories. I finished, I actually fulfilled my dream. Thank you to every person that stopped to listen to my story. Thanks for all the support from friends and family. Really not sure how to react right now, so I’m just going to act as if this is another day in my journey and make friends with complete strangers.”