Del Mar resident and Rancho Santa Fe real estate broker John Cote walked 2,140 miles from San Diego to Georgia in 98 days.
Cote made the "Walk for Warriors" trek to raise awareness about soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to raise funds for the Fisher House Foundation, an organization that houses families of wounded soldiers for free near military hospitals across the U.S.
Cote has collected $26,000 so far, in addition to a $10,000 donation to Fisher House at the Naval Medical Center in Balboa Park. He plans to keep the fund open for donations until Dec. 31 at http://walkforwarriors.blogspot.com
As far as his effort to raise awareness about wounded soldiers, Cote says, "There's no way to know how much of an influence that [my walk] had but it was more than zero."
Cote left on April 1 from the Naval Weapons Station in Fallbrook and arrived at Fort Benning, Ga., on July 7. He returned to San Diego on July 10, the trip home taking considerably less time — anxious to get back, he drove cross-country in two and a half days.
Cote's plan was always to walk 20 miles a day — he drove his car ahead 10 miles, walked back 10 miles and then returned to the car. He spent some nights in hotels, some camping and some sleeping in his car.
Cote said the key to his journey was getting into a daily routine. He'd start each day with coffee and breakfast and try to finish that day's walking by 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. at the latest.
"It usually took me about two hours to recover and feel 100 percent energetic afterward," Cote said.
Before resting up for his next batch of mileage, he would always take time to write in his blog and reflect on the experience of the day.
One of the things that amazed him most about his walk was that he couldn't go a day without meeting or speaking to someone who had a military experience — whether it was their own or a relative's.
Once people found out the reason Cote was walking, the stories would come. Many people knew someone who had been in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cote said he really enjoyed seeing the particular slice of America he walked through.
"I saw so many beautiful places because I chose to walk in really rural areas," said Cote of the sights in Texas and Louisiana. He especially loved "lush and lusty" Mississippi and the days he spent on the University of Mississippi campus.
In Texas, he also met another man on a cross-country walk — the other man walking with a cross on his back.
Cote took him out to lunch. "I just wanted to find out if he was crazy and it turned out he wasn't," Cote said.
He said his hardest days were in New Mexico — the wind was so heavy with dust and gravel that he felt as though his legs were being "sandblasted" — and the dust even became caked onto his teeth.
"It was horrible," Cote said. "I picked up a mask and goggles that I wore for a week in New Mexico."
During the trip, Cote said he also experienced a bad reaction to insect bites and his legs became inflamed after a brush with toxic plants. He took a trip to a Mississippi emergency room where the war even found him there.
The nurse who helped him wore a necklace with a pendant imprinted with her nephew's thumbprint — she told Cote he was killed in Afghanistan in July 2009.