Man finds footing on 4-year trek

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian neighborhood news coordinator

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Something sparked inside him when he neared the age his mother died.

Barbara Throop was two days shy of 34 when bone cancer cut her life short. Twenty-four years later, as George Throop got older than his mother ever was, he embarked on a transformative journey -- on foot -- across America.

Casting aside his career as a security manager for high-rise office buildings, Throop embraced a new path in his early 30s.

"It felt like there was more that I need to be doing with my life," the Vancouver man said. "It felt like there was more of a calling than just being a cog in the wheel of a profit-making enterprise."

Throop has seen more of America in less than four years than most of us will see in a lifetime.

He began walking Sept. 20, 2009, from the Oakbrook neighborhood home where his family lived. On June 22, with an entourage of supporters cheering him on, Throop reached his final destination: Washington, D.C.

As he traveled the United States to promote healthy living -- touring small towns, crashing on couches, speaking at schools -- his mom was on his mind.

"If she ever had the chance, she would have loved to do something like that," Throop said. "She had no chance to live beyond that point."

Until he reached San Francisco, Throop kept to a 20-mile-a-day pace. But as Throop crossed the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, observing the beauty around him, he decided to take it easy.

At first Throop planned on a nine-month expedition, but he gave up that goal in favor of fully embracing the once-in-a-lifetime moments ahead.

"I found the experience of walking across America (happening) too quickly. I wasn't savoring it the way I thought I would," he said. "Slowing down can really have a richness."

Deciding to take it easy paid off. Throop fell in love last fall after meeting Rocio Sotomayor, a college professor who offered him a place to rest in Atlanta. Their romance blossomed as Sotomayor began walking with him on vacations.

Traveling cross country isn't a unique concept, but few have the gumption to pull off such a trek. Throop was driven by a desire to promote a simple "bumper sticker" message: "Get out and take a walk today."

He knows most won't follow in his exact footsteps. But for those who have stopped caring for their physical or mental health, Throop hopes they can be inspired to, at the very least, step outside, stretch their legs and breathe in the fresh air.

Throop said he plans to rest and catch up with family and friends when he returns to Vancouver with Sotomayor next week -- this time by plane.

"It's become my life. It will be quite an adjustment to reintegrate to life off the road," he said.

But he won't sit still for long. He plans to immediately apply for AmeriCorps' "Teach for America" program and work with students for two years at a public school. And in September, he'd like to hit the road again, this time walking 600 miles from Washington, D.C., to Portland, Maine.

"I have to continue to live my life in ways that are good for me and good for the world around me," he said.

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.