In 1935, a young nurse made a 1,000-mile journey across Alaska by dog sled.
“If a man announced his intention of taking a thousand-mile mush, certainly no one would think it strange nor would his statement be greeted with roars of laughter,” Mary Joyce wrote in her diary in December 1935. “I, as a woman, resent the fact that men seem to think they should have a monopoly on all the fun.”
Joyce completed her journey despite freezing temperatures and jeers, and she also owned and operated Taku Lodge in Alaska, became a pilot, and raised and sold sled dogs.
La Honda resident Jane Sullivan learned the story while on a trip to Alaska and took it as inspiration. She dubbed her RV the “Mary Joyce” and set off on an “American Walk of Life.”
During Sullivan’s trip, or as she sometimes calls it, “Jane Gone AWOL,” she hiked more than 1,000 miles and biked more than 800 miles. She began her journey by dipping her toes in the Atlantic Ocean in Lewes, Del., and will finish it by stepping in the Pacific Ocean before coming home to La Honda.
Joyce’s story made Sullivan feel “so bloody inadequate.” But it also encouraged her.
“I decided I’m going to make a memory and try to inspire other people to make memories, so later in life they can … be able to say I did that, rather than I wish I would’ve done that or I could’ve done that,” she said.
Sullivan’s an energetic 62-year-old dual citizen with tattoo sleeves that cover her legs like tights. One leg is dedicated to England, the other to America. Her tattoos match the American and British flags that she carries with her on her sojourn. It’s usually the tattoos, Sullivan said, that initiate conversations with people. That, or the Yorkshire accent.
“I’ve always chatted easily to anybody and everybody, right down to the beggar up to somebody posh,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”
The first person she met in Delaware was a 95-year-old war vet named Joseph who said he fought on the beach in Dunkirk, France, during that fateful World War II battle. He was the first person she decided to ask for an interview. Throughout her travels, she took videos of the people she met, asking about their dreams and their philosophy on working hard.
“You be damn careful, all this walking,” Joseph told her.
“Delaware,” Sullivan ended her video with a big smile. “First state and me first mate.”
Alongside interviews of the people she met, Sullivan posted updates on herself. The videos start, often without Sullivan even in the frame, when she jumps out behind a tree or building or rock or a vehicle shouting, “Ay up,” which is a Yorkshire greeting. (It can also be spelled “ey up.”)
“(AWOL) is about being the best you can be and achieving something in your life,” Sullivan said in a video from Day 7 of her trip. Her goal is to inspire people the way Joyce inspired her. One boy made a video that Sullivan shared.
“Hi, Jane,” he started his video, “I met you yesterday and I wanted to share my dreams with you because you seemed interested in my dreams.
“Today, I wish I was still hanging out with you because you’re really cool,” he said.
Sullivan talked to high school students uncertain about the future. She interviewed college graduates just beginning their careers. She met park rangers, truck drivers, marathon trainers, business owners, people out of a job and tourists from other countries. One woman she talked to has a tattoo memorializing her husband who died 2 ½ years ago. Another man is a fisherman on the East Coast who believes in karma. His daughter always wanted to be a teacher and now works as a professor in California.
“See, you’ve made your dream come true,” she told a man named Mike who always wanted to be a ranger and now works on the Chesapeake and Ohio canal.
“I knew it was going to be physically challenging,” Sullivan said over the phone at a stop in Nevada. “I didn’t know it was going to be emotionally challenging.”
“It’s been amazing, kid,” she added. “Really it’s beautiful.”
A welcome home
Jane Sullivan’s cross-country journey started and will end with friends and family. She plans to walk over the Golden Gate Bridge at 7 a.m. on Friday. She’s inviting everyone to come along on the last leg.
The next day, she’ll head into La Honda with a parade set for 11:15 a.m. above La Honda Elementary School on Sears Ranch Road. The festivities will continue with a reception at Play Bowl and a party at the San Gregorio Store where Sullivan will perform with her band, the La Hondettes.
“I’m so glad I did it because I know, at the end of it all, I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” Sullivan said. “The people I’ve met, every state, you won’t be disappointed. They’re all amazing in their own way. Beautiful too. … America, to me, is the bee’s knees.”