Walk the line

Former Fox Chase res­id­ent and Car­din­al Dougherty grad Mike Tit­tinger walked about 3,500 miles in six months from San Fran­cisco to Ocean City, N.J., to raise aware­ness for trans­plant pa­tients. He also cre­ated a schol­ar­ship fund to help trans­plant pa­tients’


How does a guy walk from San Fran­cisco to Ocean City, N.J.?

Former Fox Chase res­id­ent and Car­din­al Dougherty grad Mike Tit­tinger can testi­fy that do­ing about 3,500 miles on foot in six months is not so much a phys­ic­al chal­lenge as it is a men­tal one.

“You get to a point your body gets used to walk­ing,” said Mike Tit­tinger. “It comes down to what’s go­ing through your head.”

But then, what was go­ing through his head when he de­cided to wear out his sneak­ers hoof­ing it coast to coast?

For Tit­tinger, it was a very per­son­al “sense of un­fin­ished busi­ness.”

His wife, Deanna, died in 2000. She had suffered from a con­gen­it­al heart prob­lem. Her doc­tors had pre­dicted she would die a teen­ager, but she had lived on, Tit­tinger said. She had a heart trans­plant op­er­a­tion when she was 30, he said, but she died three months later.

Tit­tinger moved to the West Coast, set­tling in Los Angeles. He re­mar­ried. He had a new life.

But the feel­ing there was something he needed to do be­came acute on the 10th an­niversary of Deanna’s death. He wanted to do something to hon­or her memory as well as to help fam­il­ies of trans­plant pa­tients.

“I de­cided to take the long walk home,” he said.


He also de­cided to cre­ate a schol­ar­ship fund to help trans­plant pa­tients’ fam­il­ies pay for sec­ond­ary edu­ca­tion. Tit­tinger and his wife, Brooke, call it the Onny and Oboe Schol­ar­ship Fund, us­ing the names of two ima­gin­ary friends Deanna dreamt up when she a little girl.

Tit­tinger, 41, then got spon­sors for the transcon­tin­ent­al walk to raise funds, got fam­ily and friends to come on board with the idea and got ready to go.

He picked a pal’s pub on San Fran­cisco’s land­mark Fish­er­man’s Wharf to be the step­ping-off point, and Ocean City, N.J.’s beach, where Deanna’s fam­ily va­ca­tioned when she was a child, to be the fin­ish.

He set out on June 18, a warm enough day un­til he crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and fin­ished Dec. 18 near Ocean City’s Mu­sic Pier, tak­ing a dip in the cold At­lantic Ocean with some friends and fam­ily.

He said he had quite a few people with him as he walked across New Jer­sey in four days, in­clud­ing a po­lice es­cort in Ocean City, and many joined him on the beach.

“It was very emo­tion­al when we got to the beach,” he said. “I was kind of over­whelmed by it all.”

Tit­tinger raised money — about half of his goal of $25,000 — and made friends along the way.

In an in­ter­view last week at a re­l­at­ive’s home in Hat­field, Tit­tinger said he didn’t have one bad ex­per­i­ence with people along the way.


He had been warned he might, he said. He had talked to people who had cycled or walked across the coun­try, he said, and they had re­lated some less-than-up­lift­ing events dur­ing their jour­neys. These con­sulta­tions lent him more than dark tales. He got some good ad­vice, too, he said.

He talked with one walk­er about the ro­mantic no­tion of the trip, he said, about the ad­ven­ture of it.

“He warned me primar­ily about the men­tal and psy­cho­lo­gic­al chal­lenge,” of the jour­ney, Tit­tinger said.

It’s not how strong you are phys­ic­ally; it’s how strong you are men­tally,” he said. “The chal­lenge is to stay pos­it­ive.”

One oth­er piece of ad­vice was not to use a back­pack. It’s too heavy, too hard on the back. In­stead, he pushed his pos­ses­sions — clothes, tent, sleep­ing bag and all-im­port­ant sup­ply of drink­ing wa­ter — in a small, three-wheeled cart that of­ten was mis­taken for a baby stroller.

That er­ror promp­ted some road­side con­ver­sa­tions with po­lice of­ficers who had been called by con­cerned mo­tor­ists who thought some guy was push­ing a kid in a stroller across a desert or through a rain­storm.

In Pueblo, Colo., the cart got away from him and speedily rolled down a street.

“Cars were stop­ping, and people were think­ing my baby was do­ing thirty the wrong way,” he said.


Al­though the cart was easy on his back, it oc­ca­sion­ally be­came a tri­al to push. Things that have tires, get flat tires now an then. They can be pushed, but not eas­ily.

One day, Tit­tinger was walk­ing across east­ern Col­or­ado when two tires went flat. East­ern Col­or­ado isn’t moun­tain­ous, he said, adding it was as flat as Kan­sas, but it was about 105 de­grees, there was no shade along the road and he was miles from a town. He was of the opin­ion he was not hav­ing a good day, but that changed.

“As I star­ted get­ting closer to town, cars star­ted pulling over and people gave me wa­ter and snacks,” he said.

But he didn’t get in­to Fowl­er, Colo., un­til after 6 p.m. and everything was closed, in­clud­ing the gar­age he found.

The gar­age’s mech­an­ic had just closed up, he said, and was sit­ting down hav­ing a cold beer when Tit­tinger ar­rived, shov­ing along a cart with two flat tires.

“He put a can of beer in my hand and fixed my cart,” Tit­tinger said, and then a guy in a pickup pulled up and said, “We’ve been look­ing for you.”

Tit­tinger had been in­ter­viewed by dozens of re­port­ers as he made his way across the coun­try, and the pickup’s driver’s daugh­ter had read one news­pa­per ac­count and sent her fath­er out to find Tit­tinger so the fam­ily could take him out to din­ner.

People spring­ing for meals be­came com­mon enough, Tit­tinger said, adding that was what touched him.

“I was over­whelmed by gen­er­os­ity,” he said. “I can’t even count the num­ber of meals that were bought for me.”

An­oth­er flat tire took Tit­tinger in­to an­oth­er small town, where he was re­ferred to a loc­al mech­an­ic. He got the man’s cell phone num­ber and called it, but the mech­an­ic told him he was on va­ca­tion and had just left town. Tit­tinger ex­plained his situ­ation; the man was back in 10 minutes and fixed the cart.


Al­though he was ac­com­pan­ied at times by friends and fam­ily, Tit­tinger was of­ten alone.

He didn’t spend that time listen­ing to mu­sic or the ra­dio, he said, adding he wanted to un­plug.

“You want to em­brace your solitude and hear your in­ner voice,” he said.

That meant no ra­dio, no iPod, no CDs — but it didn’t mean no phone.

And Tit­tinger’s well-used iPhone presen­ted its own little chal­lenge, too, and it wasn’t just the spots where there was no sig­nal.

It was juice; the phone’s bat­ter­ies would drain. Even now, with the trip over for weeks, Tit­tinger finds him­self look­ing for elec­tric­al out­lets so he can plug in and power up his phone. ••


Long jour­ney…


Read more about Mike Tit­tinger’s transcon­tin­ent­al stroll at www.mikey­walks.com. The site has pho­tos, Tit­tinger’s blog and lots of trip de­tails.

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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