For those of you who thought you saw a bearded man in short running shorts going through Preble County last week, you weren’t wrong. And no, he isn’t homeless. And yes, he might be a little crazy for running through the late fall weather in Ohio.
The man’s name is Josh Seehorn, and his walk through Preble County, and many other counties before that, is part of 4,800 mile trek by foot across the country. He’s doing it partly for himself, to prove that he can. But he’s also doing it for something bigger, a program he believes strongly in: Envirothon.
Envirothon is an international high school environmental education competition, and next year, the final North American competition will be held in Seehorn’s home state of Georgia. He’s doing the walk partly to raise funds for the Envirothon program, but also to just raise awareness. Despite Ohio having one of the largest Envirothon competitions, Seehorn said many people still haven’t heard of it.
“It’s a big program, but it can get a lot bigger,” Seehorn said. “And we need a lot more funding support and people to get involved. Where it starts is just getting out there and letting people know it exists.”
Seehorn, who recently completed a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources with an emphasis in coldwater fisheries from the University of Georgia, began his career in natural resources by competing in the Envirothon program in high school. After high school, he volunteered with the Georgia Envirothon before becoming the vice-chair for the Georgia program, and he’s currently serving as Event Coordinator for the North American competition. That competition will be held in Athens, Georgia in 2014.
In that position, part of his responsibility is to raise fund for the program. So, he decided to traverse the country from Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware on foot. It’s not your normal fundraiser, but Seehorn isn’t your normal guy.
Just after completing his Master’s Degree in 2011, he backpacked the 2,181 miles from Maine to Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. The trail from California to Delaware is known as the American Discovery Trail, and it comes in at over 4,800 miles. He started the trip in March of this year, and he said after the Appalachian Trail, supporting Envirothon on the ADT was a good choice.
“For me, it was a logical decision to support education, support natural resources, and support Envirothon,” he said. “I believe in the program. It’s a program I can speak about in depth and vouch for. That’s what I decided to do for this trip, and it makes sense because Envirothon is in all the states.”
The Envirothon program teaches students about natural resources in different categories, such as wildlife, forestry, soil, aquatics, and each year, there is a different issue that has current relevance. Next year, that issue is sustainable farming. According to Seehorn, the program gives away $107,000 in scholarships each year, and it’s in 47 states and 10 Canadian provinces.
Walking and running across the country with a scruffy beard and short shorts has afforded him the opportunity to spread the word about Envirothon. Thus far, he’s averaged about 25 to 30 miles each day.
“It depends on what opportunities I have during the day,” he said. “There are times when I could meet someone to talk about my trip, meet at noon, and that eats up part of my hiking day.
“There may be a day where I’ve done 24 miles, and I walk into a bar, and I just want to sleep. But either I’m going to be sleeping out wherever, or I make a friend, and that friend doesn’t want to leave until one o’clock in the morning. What do I do? Sometimes, the social aspect affects the productive, athletic, run-as-far-as-you-can side of it.”
The trip across the country certainly has an accomplishment associated with it, and Seehorn takes that mentality into other parts of life.
“I enjoy the challenge. I enjoy sweating and feeling accomplished, like you’ve done 20 miles,” Seehorn said. “To look back and go, ‘You know, it took me a while, but that’s the distance that I covered or that’s the mountain I just covered or the desert I just crossed.’ For me, it’s to apply that to other things I try to accomplish in life. Because each of those things, if it’s schooling, education, that is a mountain you cross, a valley you went through.”
Along the way, Seehorn has slept in some strange places. He started out backpacking, setting up tents in the Rocky Mountains. Many times, he has found a willing host to give him shelter and food for the night. And he’s met a lot of people so far. That means telling his story over and over, but because he’s excited about it, he said telling the story doesn’t get old.
“There have been several times on the trip where I might similar things often, but then someone will ask a question, and it may be verbatim the same question, but I may hear it in a different way. Or they may ask it slightly different that makes me go, ‘I’ve never really been asked that question that way before,’” he said. “It doesn’t really get old to me, and I think it’s because I love it and because I value what’s happening. If I was in a job that I was not satisfied with and was displeased with the management, displeased with the direction it was going, I would not want to be telling that story every day. I am satisfied with who I am in my life, what I believe, and what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m satisfied with those things, so I take pleasure in speaking about those things.”
And the beard? He started growing that just before he hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2011, and it’s been there ever since.
“I will admit. I have lost control of it. I think it has a mind of it’s own, and it’s going to keep going,” he said.
Combined with the running shorts, Seehorn’s look has been a definite conversation-starter, something he relishes as he tries to spread the word about Envirothon.
“I also wear them because people want to go, ‘What are you doing? Who are you and why are you doing this?’ It’s starts conversation. It’s like the beard,” he said. “Once people hear the story, they’re just like, ‘That’s cool, man. You wear whatever you want.’”
Seehorn has definitely been met with some strange looks along the way. But again, those people staring or talking under their breath, he sees that as another opportunity.
“I actually have found enjoyment in confronting controversy,” he said. “If I were to go into a bar or I were to go to a particular place, and hear people talking. I hear people kind of being condescending or just using vulgar language. Most people may just walk on past that, but I just turn around and beeline straight toward that person.”
That happened in Iowa when he heard a man talking under his breath to two girls outside a bar. What did he do? He introduced himself and told them what he was doing, and he ended up there for a while talking to those people, others in the bar, and the bartender.
“If nothing else, it just made him go, ‘Wow. That was nothing what I expected,’” he said.
He also met a group of frat guys when he walked past their house. The five guys were cat-calling and yelling at Seehorn from their porch. What did he do? He ran straight up onto the porch, talked to them, and after some time, they posted a photo with Seehorn on Twitter.
“Finding controversial moments, and helping people break down that stereotype barrier has been an interesting and challenging part about it too,” he said.
Traversing 4,800 miles on foot is a daunting task, and Seehorn’s physical condition is certainly helpful. But he also has a solid spiritual condition to help him through. He’s a Christian, and that’s been as big a part of his life as working in natural resources. This trip, on a faith level, has given him new perspective.
“The opportunities that happen, they don’t necessarily happen all the time. But for me, this trip I consider probably the closest I’ll get to wandering around like the disciples did back in the day, going from town to town and sharing or living what they believed,” he said. “I just take that opportunity and share what I know and learn along the way too. See what prevents people from believing or what makes them believe in something else. Is it because of what they’re taught or where they grew up. There are a lot of things that condition us to feel a certain way and believe a certain way.”
For Seehorn, the trip is more than just a physical one. It’s a spiritual one, and an interpersonal one. He’s met a lot of people, and he’s sure to meet a lot more, and if there’s one thing he doesn’t do and doesn’t want others to do, it’s to take people at face value.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, how you speak, the way you look. Ask,” he said. “They might be a good friend. You might meet a new friend, and you might meet people you don’t want to be around. But it isn’t going to be because of their appearance or their skin tone or their faith or whatever. They may just be a terrible person, but find that out.”
Seehorn has since left Preble County on his way to Delaware. He plans to finish his journey by the end of January. He’s upgraded from backpacking a bit, as he now has a twin baby stroller he tethers to himself as he’s running/hiking to hold supplies and information on his trip.
To follow Seehorn’s trip or to donate to his cause, follow him on Twitter @theoutdoorjosh or visit his blog at www.outdoorjosh.com. The website also has a link to his Facebook page. For more information on Envirothon, visit www.envirothon.org.