Keoni Smith Walks Across America

By J.R. De Groote - West Hawaii Today

After five months and nearly 3,000 miles of walking, Keoni Smith can rest his feet.

Smith, a Kailua-Kona resident, started a walk across America on April 12 at Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey, and wrapped up the trek on Friday at Dana Point, California, greeted by family and friends.

“Honestly, it was a little numbing once I finished,” Smith said. “I have been on the road so much worrying about this or that, but once you hit the ocean it is kind of like, now what?”

The idea started when Smith was listening to a podcast about a young man who had walked across America. Smith quickly found himself relating to the story.

“It resonated with me,” Smith said. “The more I heard and read about it the more I wanted to do it. It was a crazy life changing experience for him. That kept lingering in my head and finally I said I was going to do it.”

The walk spanned 13 states — admittedly, some by accident — and his longest day of walking was 47 miles. Smith cited the toughest stretch as being a scorching hot walk from Parker, Arizona to Twentynine Palms in California. He said he had to do the majority of the section at night to avoid the triple-digit temperatures.

Smith, who is just 20 years old, is no stranger to tall tasks. Fresh out of high school at 18, he completed the IRONMAN World Championship triathlon.

However, Smith — who finished the world championship race in a little over 11 hours — assures the feats are not comparable.

“When I did IRONMAN I knew I had a bed at the end of the day,” Smith said with a laugh. “It’s also a race. On the walk, I was out there to enjoy the surroundings.”

Smith said that finding places to rest along the way was the hardest part of the walk. Luckily, he received some help from some friends — old and new.

“It took some getting use to not knowing where I was going to sleep. Sometimes I had planned to stay certain places, but a lot of the time it was strangers who helped me out,” Smith said. “It blew my mind that I could look almost like a homeless dude, but once people heard my story, how willing they were to help out.”

While Smith said he enjoyed the views along the way — like Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon — the giving spirit of the people he encountered along the way will be one of his biggest takeaways.

“Everybody worries about getting mugged or attacked, but he majority of the people are really great. Obviously, everyone wasn’t friendly, but a lot of people were willing to talk,” Smith said. “There were times where I would be on my own for two weeks at a time, without talking to a single person face to face. As soon as someone took me in and made me feel like a human again, it was incredible.”

More than just where he was sleeping was improvised on the long trip. Smith said he read some books on what it would be like, but wish he hadn’t.

“Nothing can prepare you for it,” Smith said. “A lot of it was learning on the fly and adapting to situations.”

Smith is sticking with that mantra going forward. He still doesn’t have a ticket back to Hawaii, and is keeping the door open on what he plans to do in the future.

“It’s unknown right now,” Smith said. “Now that I’ve finished, I can take a step back, digest the trip and see what happens. Every day is a new opportunity.”