Poems from the road: One woman's westward walk

Sasha Landauer
A 24-year-old woman walked from New Jersey to Limantour Beach, collecting stories.  

The regular stream of cyclists, trucks, and motorcycles winding their way to Limantour Beach last Thursday was forced to swerve upon encountering a woman in an orange vest pushing a stroller up the road. “People have been really confused,” said Margaret Wright, a 24-year-old Princeton graduate who received a $35,000 grant from the university to walk across the country and interview people for a poetry project. “They’ve thought I was homeless, had an infant, ran away from home.” Ms. Wright started her journey on Aug. 6 of last year in Princeton, N.J. She has since walked about 2,500 miles, mostly along the American Discovery Trail, which terminates at Limantour Beach. She took one major detour to go south for the winter and encounter a wider variety of people. “The drawback of walking is you get a really slim section of the country,” she remarked. She chose her Bob jogging stroller because it was recommended on the blog of one of the only other women to walk across the country alone. “I have a real emotional attachment to the stroller,” she said. “I accepted recently that when I talk to it—I’m not kidding.” Having spent her entire life in the town of Princeton, Ms. Wright had a lot of adjusting to do. “For me one of the biggest things to get used to was to associate gunshots with recreational activities,” she said. “I also hadn’t been camping much before. My dad took me out for the first time a month before I left.” Over the last year, she stayed in campgrounds, backyards, living rooms, church basements, Airbnbs and motels. “It took me a long time to get comfortable approaching people,” she said. “My mom was like ‘You make me kill spiders in your room and you want to go live in the wild? You won’t even open the door for strangers!’” Yet Ms. Wright grew accustomed to roughing it, and ended up with over 500 interviews. In small towns, she stopped people on the street to ask about their typical days, fears, hopes for the country, beliefs and first memories. In larger towns, she tried to hear from under-represented communities. “I didn’t think quite enough about what it would be like, before I committed to doing this,” she reflected. “I got really lucky. At no point was I not excited about this lifestyle. I’m also excited about sleeping in my own bed.” Ms. Wright, who flew home this week, will now work to compile the interviews into poems with the hope of publication. Her goal is to show that poetry can come out of listening as much as it is a form of speaking. Eight miles away from her destination, she paused and said; “I’ve been picturing this beach for a long, long time.”