The ‘Preacher’ Just Walked Through Sioux Falls on His Annual 3,000 Mile Trek
"I just walk, and I don't worry about a thing" were the words of a wise elderly man who was slowly making his way across the country on foot. Our paths crossed during lunchtime at the 41st St. McDonald's on Friday.
His appearance was rough. Deep lines that creased his face were the tell-tale signs of the scorching midwestern sun.
He wasn't somebody that most people would willingly strike up a conversation with. But we were neighbors at café tables and I was immediately intrigued by his story. He simply goes by 'Preacher' because he's got a story to tell for all who are willing to listen. He comes from Bullhead City, Arizona, and every time spring rolls around he sets off on foot north-bound for cooler climates.
As we chatted on this early August day, he told me that he went as far north as Minot, North Dakota before heading back south. He figured he'd be back in his hometown in the Southwest by the time the weather starts to turn a little cooler.
Overall, he'll cross over 3,000 miles of America on foot - and he's done it annually for 20 years. "Every time I set out I say 'this is my last trip', but I guess God has different plans for me. So I keep on going."
"I was a mechanic for years" said the 69-year-old. "I can take apart a motorcycle and put it back together so I'm probably the only guy in South Dakota that has that kind of bike knowledge not heading to Sturgis right now" he said with a chuckle.
Preacher is not after money. He simply doesn't believe in earthly wealth. He said "I never ask for money, the Lord always provides." People toss him a few bucks from time to time or buys him a cup of coffee, for which he's grateful. "I've been doing this for 20 years and I've probably taken a million pictures. I've seen great things but I never go hungry."
When asked what prompted him to go on these yearly journeys he simply said, "Working every day is not fulfilling. Twenty-some years ago my wife died and I turned to alcohol and other things to get me through. But it was not enough. Nothing seemed to work. But it turns out that my kids have been going to church and they 'prayed me back to God.' I was mad at him for taking away everything. It was then that I realized that everything that had been dealt to me was for a reason. I was lost, but now I'm found."
I listened to him talk about his children with pride. Two of his five children are Navy SEALs. Another one is in the Marines. He's proud of the American flag he wears on his tattered green hat atop his head. His long beard is unkempt, but he doesn't care.
"On your way back home will you be going through Sturgis?" I asked him. "Maybe I should," he said. "I'm pretty sure this time of year it's tough to get into a bar but most churches are empty."
Armed with Bible passages and words of wisdom and hope, Preacher will continue his journey home. I gave him a couple of bills from my wallet and wished him good luck on the rest of his trek. As he slipped his tattered and worn backpack across his shoulders he said before he turned away, "I don't need luck. I've got the Lord."