Many students have big plans after graduating high school, but those plans don’t often include sleeping outside, in the snow and deserts and getting shot at, all while walking across the country.
On Nov. 1, 2016, then-recent high school graduates Jacob Whedbee, of Forsyth County, and Musunga Mubuso, from Norcross, started walking from the Forsyth County Courthouse with the goal of making it to the Pacific Ocean.
And after eight states, five months and a combined 80 pounds lost, they did just that.
“We finally made it guys; we finally did it. That’s the Pacific Ocean,” Mubuso said in a video posted on social media on April 1 as the pair reached the beaches of San Diego to finish their journey, dubbed “The Hike Across America.”
It was surprising to see ... how many people didn’t care about, like, what skin color or what religion you believed in. As long as we were safe, that’s what a lot of people cared about.Musunga Mubuso
Mubuso said he wanted to do something big after graduating and considered hiking the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, but wanted to do something no one else he knew had.
“A lot of my friends thought I was kidding because I’m known to make a lot of jokes and things like that,” he said. “Then the day I left, everyone was like, ‘Oh, he’s actually serious about it.’”
Both said the trip was a little easier after the first couple of weeks, but the beginning of the journey took a lot of effort and was when they lost the majority of the weight. Whedbee said he lost around 40 pounds, while Mubuso said his weight loss was 40-50 pounds.
“The first two weeks was hard because we hadn’t trained that much,” Whedbee said. “After that it got pretty easy but monotonous, to be honest. For me, it felt like I was in a meditative state while I was walking, because it was like the same thing every day.”
Pushing a large, covered stroller full of supplies and each carrying a large hiking pack, the travelers braved the elements from snow in Texas to a lot of rain going through Mississippi and hiking all winter.
“We would usually wake up about 7, take an hour to pack up and eat and just start walking,” Whedbee said. “We would sometimes take a break for lunch if we saw a fast-food place, we’d stop in, so maybe like an hour for that. A lot of times we would eat snacks while we walked just to save time.”
A common phrase on the journey was “life at 3 mph,” which meant they had lots of time to take in the sights.
“It’s very different than driving, obviously, because you have so much time to take in all of your surroundings just walking by the side of the road,” Whedbee said. “There’s a lot of things you normally wouldn’t pay attention to.”
Along the way, many strangers gave them places to stay, food, advice. Mubuso said it was eye-opening to see the generosity of strangers.
“It was life changing,” he said. “You’re going across the country and run into so many different religions and types of people, but at the end of the day you tell them what you’re doing and people offer to help. I feel like there’s always internal goodness in everyone. Throughout the whole, entire journey we got a lot of help; people were just really kind.
“It was surprising to see that, how many people didn’t care about, like, what skin color or what religion you believed in. As long as we were safe, that’s what a lot of people cared about.”
Not all interactions were as positive.
While going through Alabama, the two faced something neither prepared for: gunshots on their first time walking at night.
“There was this yard with a ton of dog houses and they all started growling and barking at us, so we just kept walking, then we heard the door open as we passed the house,” Whedbee said. “We were already past the house but we saw like a lantern come out into the road, or Musunga did, and then gunshots started going off. Then Musunga takes off and it took me a second to register what was going on, then I took off too.
“We walked all night to the next town. We didn’t want to be anywhere near there.”
“All you see is him firing rounds into the air and then the barrel starts pointing at us,” Musunga said. “So the first thing we did was run, run for our lives, because if we didn’t it would have been bad. Looking back at it now, I just laugh at it because it was such a random experience.”
Even with the gunshots, weather and other missteps, the positives outweighed the negatives.
“People have been asking me if it was worth it and I would definitely say yes,” Whedbee said. “I feel like my mind state has changed afterwards. I feel more calm and at peace.”