18. One Step at a Time
In a hotel in rural Idaho, Joe Bell nurses his aching, blistered feet. He walked 30 miles today along a green stretch of Interstate 84, turning in for the night only when he "couldn't take another step." Exhausted but determined, Bell plans to keep walking for as long as it takes—two years, he estimates—to travel a winding route from his Oregon home to New York City, where his 15-year-old son, Jadin, had always wanted to live. Jadin committed suicide earlier this year after being harassed in school for being gay. Bell, distraught and restless, quit his job at a plywood plant and hit the road in April, carrying little more than a sleeping bag and a tent. (His wife and younger son will visit him along the way.) As he walks, Bell is stopping at schools and community centers to offer support to struggling teens and convey to bullies that "the pain they cause is long-term." One day, while trekking through Boise, he shared dessert at a local diner with a gay teen who had recently switched schools after being bullied. Bashful at first, the boy was smiling by the end of the conversation. "He said he wanted to move to New York City, too," reports Bell. "I talked to him about how once you're out of high school, there's so much more to live for."