PINEVILLE — Step by step, Al Slusser is seeing America as few people have — by walking across it.
Slusser, 71, started his trek on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, bound for the Atlantic coast in Virginia.
He made it to Kentucky in late June, crossing the state line at Guthrie. He has spent the last two weeks traveling across the southern part of the state from the flat farm fields of Todd County to the wooded, coal-rich mountains of Bell County.
Slusser, a retired Christian-school administrator from Cottonwood, Ariz., has dedicated his journey to senior citizens and people with disabilities. But the trip is not about raising awareness or money for a cause.
The main goal is to walk the length of the country. Slusser thinks he'll be the oldest man to do it.
"It's to fulfill a dream and to encourage others to fulfill theirs," he said.
Slusser planned to spend Wednesday night in Middlesboro and then head through the U.S. 25E tunnel out of the state early Thursday, picking up U.S. 58 to head east through Virginia.
Slusser pulls a three-wheeled, aluminum cart that contains food, clothes and camping gear. The cart weighs about 140 pounds fully stocked — quite a load when he hit the hills of Southern and Eastern Kentucky amid the wet-blanket humidity of July.
Slusser tries to cover 15 to 20 miles a day. He is wearing out his sixth pair of shoes and has lost 40 pounds.
He's gotten rides for a short distance a couple of times, but he has walked nearly every one of the 2,600 miles he estimates he's covered so far.
He carries a tracking device that updates his Web site — www.c2cw.com — with news of his progress, and he posts photos and news stories with the help of his son.
Slusser says he's had some close calls with cars and trucks when he's had to travel two-lane roads, and a dog bit him on the hand.
He gets lonely on the road at times, but he sings, prays and takes comfort in his faith.
"I would be a fool to try something like this without knowing the Lord," he said.
There have been far more kindnesses and blessings than bumps along the way, Slusser said, calling the trip an incredible experience.
Slusser camps when necessary and stays in motels, but people often take him into their homes for the night.
People all along the journey have given him meals, pressed a few dollars into his hand or walked with him for a while.
That's been the best part of the trip, Slusser said: getting to meet a wide range of people, and discovering that "Americana," and goodwill, are alive and well.
"People have been so incredible," Slusser said. "My faith in humanity has been restored."
Slusser is diplomatic about what he thinks is the most beautiful part of the country.
"I think that every place has its own beauty," he said.
But he has loved the mountains and the deep green of the fields and forests in Kentucky, he said, as well as the hospitality of residents.
Slusser, a father of two and grandfather of five, started his trip on Oct. 1, 2009. He had planned to walk straight through, but he took three months off in the winter because of an illness in the family.
He hit the road again on Feb. 7, his 71st birthday. On Thursday, he will have been on the road a total of 184 days, he said.
He documents the trek in a journal, asking mayors along the way to sign a card showing he was in their town.
After Slusser steps into the Atlantic Ocean, he wants to turn north to Washington, D.C. He hopes to be there by Oct. 10.
The trip is one-way. He plans to have his son pick him up in a van to get home to Arizona.
Slusser jokes that he and others have questioned his sanity, but he's never doubted he could finish the trip.
When he's done, he would like to do public speaking to encourage others. The message is simple: "Don't let your dream die before you do."