Hillside hellos and a big Burlington RMH welcome

Hello from hilly, and sometimes chilly, Vermont! Started my trek around the Green Mountain State with morning temps in the 30’s. But thanks to cozy accommodations and warm welcomes everywhere I go, I’m still “walkin’ on sunshine.”

Highlights as I crossed the NH border into VT on JTJH Leg 6 included my first moose sighting with my wife, Audrey, and son, Curtis. Swimming in the middle of a huge lake, no less! On my way to two South Burlington McD’s and the Vermont Ronald McDonald House—the forth RMH in my Journey Back Home to my starting point in Boston—I got to tour the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile in Plainfield. The RMCM is an amazing operation that provides complete dental care to school children throughout Vermont.

Stopping by to say hi in South Burlington, VT

Leg 7 definitely started out on the right foot, pun intended. My brother, Warren, walked with me to the Ferrisburgh McDonald’s, where I was welcomed by Bill and Michael Marcellus and a generous donation.

What a greeting I got in Rutland! My mom, dad, and sister met me at the Rutland McD’s, where Carlo, Jacob, Samantha, Monika, Mariah and Emily treated us to a delicious lunch and a homemade cake decorated with a bright red sneaker! And then my 89-year-old dad walked with me for two miles to my next stop. Way to go, Dad! He helped me make it to the Manchester McD’s the next day, where I met Amanda and Alice. Aaaand….snuck up on the 700-mile mark in my journey—three-quarters of the way home.

With 700 miles on my sneakers and over $90,000 raised for RMHCNE, I am looking forward to week 6, and Leg 8 out of 10 on my incredible journey. And now, more than ever, I am realizing the importance of family and friends, both old and new. My tires get pumped up each day by their love and support, which keeps coming in many shapes and sizes. Donations to JTJH, kind words, encouragement, a walking buddy, a visit along the road, dinner at the end of a day. Those things all matter so much in their own special ways, and really keep me going as I make my way toward my last Vermont stop at the Bennington McD’s and down into Western Massachusetts. Meanwhile, here are some more highlights.

Walking buddies and roadside hellos

Roadside donors

Other things that made me stop and just look

And all sorts of “Vermonster” trucks and…whatever

See you in Bennington and North Adams, MA!

Halfway home! Western ME, Northern NH and over to VT

“I think I saw that guy walking west on Route 2 in Skowhegan on Friday,” a Facebook follower commented on my picture. “He was wearing a McDonald’s backpack and red and white striped socks, right?” Correct, he was told. “He should be carrying a sign,” he replied. “I just thought he was one of our many kooks.”

And then, further down the road, came this comment from someone who wondered whether she should stop: “I seen him walking Sunday in Farmington. Wish I knew!”

It’s taken awhile for me to get noticed, in the way that I want anyways. But now that I’m halfway home on my 1,026-mile loop, I am attracting more and more “followers”—on social media, on TV and radio and newspapers throughout New England. And even some folks (and critters) who follow alongside me for a bit en-route.

What would a Join the Journey Home sign look like? And how could I carry it or somehow strap it to my already maxed-out pack? Maybe I should have both sides of my bright red RMHC shirt flashing #1000Smiles and #GoDwightGo in LED lights. Now that would be kooky!

Seriously, I am so pleased and grateful for the JTJH donations no matter how I help bring them in. And for all the honks, waves, cheers, greetings, snacks, shelter and shout outs since I left Boston a month ago. Plus, talk about signs! Seeing “You got this, Dwight!” and similar messages emblazoned under the golden arches every place I go definitely puts more pep in my steps.

By the start of Leg 4, I was inspiring so many drive-by greetings (and subsequent donations), I felt like I was waving almost as much as I was walking. It felt good to be heading west, into the middle of Maine, and super great to meet the hardworking crews at the McDonald’s in Newport and Skowhegan. Sorry to have missed talking to the guy who wondered if I was kinda crazy, though. Maybe I could’ve changed his mind.

Next stop was the nice U Maine college town of Farmington, where I enjoyed a complimentary room at the Farmington Motel and warm greetings the next morning from Kim, Andrea and staff at the local McDonald’s.

Labor Day was reunion day in Rumford with my longtime friends, Tom and Joy from Rangeley. They treated me to a picnic dinner from their hometown Oquossoc Grocery, complete with a whole quart of Gifford’s Chocolate Lover’s ice cream and extra whoopie pies and cookies “on the house” to make extra sure I was good and filled-up Maine style. Friends since Tom and I roomed together at UNH 45 years ago, we hadn’t seen each other for the last 15, so it was definitely a fun and nostalgic visit to their neck of the woods.

Fueled up on goodies, well rested and full of good cheer, I continued down Route 2 to the Rumford McDonald’s to meet up with Andrea, Mary and her crew. Along the way, a couple other colorful local characters got my attention.

I’ve now reached the end of Leg 5, leaving behind 380 miles of Maine to cross back into New Hampshire for a brief visit—including stops at the Gorham and Lancaster McDonald’s—on my way to Vermont. I’m halfway home!

I’m happy to say that the majority of my 24-plus mile days are behind me now and, once I get to the hills of Vermont, most jaunts between stops will be shorter. Lodging accommodations, mostly provided gratis, continue to be very much appreciated at the end of each loooong day. You know that expression “as soon as my head hit the pillow?” That never used to be me. Until now! Sleep comes quickly with so many miles in between.

Making my way towards Vermont, I met up with another longtime friend totally out of the blue. I hadn’t seen Margo since she lived in my hometown of Deerfield, NH, 20 years ago. And suddenly there she was, saying hello and giving me a donation. Then, along came two ladies out walking their goats. On leashes. I’m not sure how many people can say they inspired a donation from goat walkers, but I’m proud to be one of them.

On to Vermont and my next Ronald McDonald House there!

Rockland to RMH Bangor and a song for the road!

I’m almost three weeks into my journey and have walked more than 300 miles. So you can imagine how much I love my nightly accommodations. Seeing the local lodging sign that tells me it’s time to sit down, have some supper, and just stop moving for awhile is almost as much fun as seeing the golden arches! It’s especially rewarding at the end of a long day on the road when I get a complimentary room and, best of all worlds, a donation to Join the Journey Home for RMHCNE. As of this writing we’ve raised $80,000!

Thanks to the Cedar Crest Inn in Camden for the comfy complimentary room and donation. It was a great send off to head up to Belfast to meet Robin and her stellar McDonald’s crew there.

Then I beat feet to my second Ronald McDonald House in Maine, the RMH in Bangor, where I was welcomed by terrific staff, some tasty cupcakes, and the local media. I wasn’t sure who the camera crew thought was the main attraction, me or the cupcakes. But it was all good!

Next stop, Newport McDonald’s and the start of Leg 4! As I gain miles, I’m gaining notoriety, too. Word is getting out about my journey home, I guess, or maybe folks are more used to encountering roadside attractions in this part of Maine. But people are stopping instead of just driving by, introducing themselves, wishing me safe travels, and donating! I’m meeting lots of new friends. And, meanwhile, my old friends decided I needed a theme song. Something upbeat to keep me motivated, to get stuck in my head for at least 10 miles a day and, hopefully, stick with people till they just have to Join the Journey Home, too.

Blame it on my college buddies, Joy, my blog editor, and John, my equally boisterous dorm friend. Glad to see you guys are still “bustin’ my chops” after all these years. Here, sung to the tune of The Monkees theme song by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, is my new song for the road.

Here I come
Walkin’ down the street
I get the funniest looks from
Everyone I meet
Hey, hey I’m still moving
And people say I should slow down
But I’m too busy walkin’
To just be a sittin’ round clown
I go all over New England
Raising Two-Fifty Grand
I don’t have time to get restless
With so many donors and fans
Hey, hey I’m still moving
And people say I should slow down
But I’m too busy walkin’
To just be a sittin’ round clown.
I’m real happy and friendly
Come and see me at your McD’s
And please bring a nice fat donation
For my fine charity
Any time, or anywhere
Just look down the sidewalk
And guess who’ll be hiking there
Hey, hey I’m still moving
A thousand miles out and around
Stopping at Ronald’s great houses
All the way back to Beantown!

200 miles and beyond! Wiscassett to Rockland, ME

Super warm welcomes at the stores in Wiscasset and Damariscotta kept my spirits high, even when I had to take an extra “zero” day due to widespread thunderstorms. Thanks to the nice “comp” cottage, courtesy of Moody’s Motel right on Route 1 in Walderboro, and the awesome food at Moody’s Diner next door, I was fueled up and well rested to visit my next stop on Leg 3, the McDonald’s in Thomaston.

“Every little bit helps,” I tell myself as I head on my way. I find it hard to look at this journey in its 1,026-mile entirety. Instead, I focus on the next stop, finishing the next leg, the next RMH tour. And I keep walking, sometimes surprising myself when, at the end of a “tour” day, I’ve completed another 20-plus miles. It’s a good way to look at the fund raising aspect, too, the reason why I keep walking till I reach each Ronald McDonald House in New England and 65 McD’s along the way. It’s wonderful to know that, as of this writing, my Join the Journey Home campaign has raised over $75,000 for RMHCNE. More than 30 percent of our goal since leaving RMH in Boston less than two weeks ago!

Thirty percent, one-third, is an amount that keeps coming up in my thoughts and conversations with the owner/operators I meet. Thirty percent of funds raised for RMHCNE come collectively from local stores—from the staff and patrons who fill up the donation boxes with spare change, who purchase Happy Meals, who ask to Round-Up their purchase to the next dollar amount so the difference can go to families in need. Thanks so much everyone. It doesn’t matter how the money flows—in corporate or individual donations big and small on the Join the Journey Home website, in the “Scan the Smile” boxes on the counter tops, or rattling around in my back pack till I hand it over—each trickle helps fill a big, life sustaining well of support for sick children and their loved ones.

Ashley and her staff greeted me at the McDonald’s in Thomaston with many thumbs up…and some travel gifts. They presented me with a “Way to Go Dwight” t-shirt signed by the crew, a Frogg Toggs chilled neck wrap towel, water bottle and a pack of Dude Wipes. Thanks for sending this dude on his way up to Rockland refreshed and well dressed.

Stopped for the night in Camden, where the Cedar Crest Inn gave me a beautiful, complimentary room and a generous donation! Next, on to the Belfast McDonald’s on my way to RHM and McD’s in Bangor. And the 250-mile (quarter of the way back home) mark!

Saco to RMH Portland and on to Wiscasset

After an early morning stop at the Saco McDonald’s, I headed north along a beautiful estuary trail and then on to Route 1 to the Scarborough store, where I had a great visit with Owner/Operators Bob and Rich Hogan. Owner/Operators of both the Saco and Scarborough stores, the Hogan Company is a Bronze Lace sponsor of Join the Journey Home. Bob also sponsored my dinner on the road, which was greatly appreciated. Thanks, Bob! As you know, those calories, and the money, are going to a great cause.

Arrived in Portland to have dinner with great nephew Ollie and his family on the eve of the third anniversary of Ollie’s bone marrow transplant in Boston. During his time at Children’s Hospital, Ollie and his family stayed at the Boston Ronald McDonald House. So it was especially meaningful for me to be with them the night before I headed over to the Portland RMH and fundraiser at the Maine Medical Center.

The next day was a long, eventful, rewarding one. After a luxurious stay at the Westin in Portland, I arrived at my first home away from my RMH start in Boston Harbor: the Portland Ronald McDonald House. What a beautiful facility! With 36 rooms, they recently more than doubled their capacity by adding 15 brand new rooms. Other driving team members from the RMHCNE crew met me there, complete with matching red-and-white clown socks. We got the grand tour before it was time for me to hit the trail again and head to a fundraiser at Maine Medical Center and the Portland McDonald’s. And then it was back up Route 1 to the Falmouth McDonald’s on my way to Freeport. Along the way, I figured out I must have said too much about not being “noticed” and staying out of the spotlight since I left Boston. Because suddenly I was shadowed by the Channel 13 WGME news crew, doing a mobile phone interview with The Hippo magazine, and setting up a Portland Press Herald interview for later that day. I’m relieved to report that I have also figured out how to talk and walk—flanked by cameras—at the same time!

I guess I bragged about the nice weather too loudly as well, because Mother Nature caught up with me as I was heading north on Route 1 up to Freeport. Luckily, I was right outside the Maine Visitor Information Booth in Yarmouth, so I ducked inside and waited out the torrential downpour. By the time I got to Freeport, I could relate to the ginormous L.L. Bean Bootmobile—that larger-than-life traveling replica of the famous rugged, weather proof boot that makes tracks all over the country.

A restful night, courtesy of the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport, was just what I needed. And the following day, I was on my way to say hello to Taylor Goble and Ron and Cindi Lydick, and other owners and staff during stops at the Freeport McDonald’s and two Brunswick McD’s.

Crossed over some beautiful bridges and past Bath Iron Works on my way up to Wiscasset and Damariscotta where I will cross the 200 mile mark. Thanks for keeping up with me…and stay tuned!

Up the coast and up over 100 miles! Newington, NH to Saco, ME

Greetings from the beautiful coast of Maine! After a nice stay with my sister, and a stop at historic Hilton Park on Dover Point, NH, I was on my way to the McDonald’s in Newington and up to Kittery, ME.

Began Leg 2 with a visit to Stonewall Kitchen in York, where my son Jordan works. Grand kids Flynn and Harper welcomed me with a festive handmade banner. And, for the first time since I began training for this journey in December, I had ice cream at York River Landing! Not too long ago, that was my favorite indulgence, and part of the reason I packed on about 50 pounds when I first retired. That, plus, I wasn’t walking 20-plus miles a day. But now that I got a taste for it again, and I’m down to a healthy trekking weight, maybe I’ll earn a swing by the Ben and Jerry’s headquarters by the time I get to Vermont. We’ll see. By then, I’ll probably crave a steady supply of Rocky Road just to keep me motoring forward!

Just as I was wondering why passersby seem afraid to give me a second look, a woman on Route 1 got so excited to see me she almost caused an accident. No turn signal, just pulled right over toward me as I was walking on the driver’s side of the road and, I think, was trying to fumble with her phone to take a picture. Then she banged a left-hand turn back into the wrong way traffic! Luckily, no collisions or injuries occurred. But it did take me awhile to get my pace, and my heart rate, back to normal.

Most strangers ignore me, though, scurrying past not wanting to make eye contact. And it’s not because of COVID cautiousness. It’s the way I look—with the funky, striped socks, the baggy, clown shorts, and the safari hat. Maybe if I’d gone for the whole Ronald McDonald get-up and not just the socks, people would smile and wave. Everyone waves at Ronald, right? Those big red clod hopper shoes he wears, though, those would be a problem. Pretty sure he doesn’t walk 20-plus miles a day in those big boys!

I was happy to have company from good friend and former colleague TJ Shaughnessy, who joined me from Oqunquit to Kennebunk. He was a great sport and walking companion, but I think the poor guy got blisters. Maybe he should get a pair of Ronald socks, too?

Stopped at McDonald’s in Wells, Kennebunk, and Biddeford before spending a relaxing night in Saco after mile 127. Now on to the Saco and Scarborough McDonald’s. Then on utpa Portland to the RMH there, plus a fundraiser at Maine Medical Center and the Portland McD’s. After that, I’ve got fifty-one McD’s to go, and four more Ronald McDonald Houses around New England. Hope to see you out there!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is logo-one-line-1.png

Off and walking! Charlestown, MA to Dover, NH

Had an 8 am send off at Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Charlestown, MA. First stop was McDonald’s of Somerville. Then on to Medford, Winchester, Woburn, and my hometown of Burlington, MA. Almost everyone I saw was wearing a mask. Most sidewalk encounters were odd, as most people wanted no eye contact with me. I looked much different than everyone else. Maybe the socks, blinking lights and large backpack? Only one kid on a bike said “Hi Waldo!”

Enroute from Burlington to Salem, NH, no one had any idea who I was except for “Big Phil, ”a local auctioneer. He banged a U turn, asked if I was the McDonald’s guy, hopped out of his van, threw his side door open and asked me to stand next to the door so he could get a picture of his kids with me.  Big Phil is a character. I do not think you forget him if you meet him. Great visits to McDonald’s in Andover and Lawrence MA. Had a 2:15 pm call in to Ken Cail’s radio talk show on 107.7 The Pulse out of Concord, NH with Al Lessels, a friend since my college days at UNH, in studio. Wrapped up the day with another great visit to McDonald’s in Salem. 

Started my third day from the Salem NH, LaQuinta Inn and Suites, where I enjoyed a wonderful comp room. Thank you very much! Nice place, nice people. Next stop, Epping NH McDonald’s, the restaurant I owned and managed for many years.  Fantastic welcome in Epping! Many family and friends. Good friend Mike Nikitas walked with me all 24.07 miles. Three-fourths of that was rail trail. Tough going in spots. It was slow, but real nice to have great company. What did he do after dinner that night?  Went for a walk. 🤪

McDonald’s in Epping to Dover, NH, via Lee and Durham included a sentimental swing through my alma mater, UNH. Staying with my little sister tonight. Best accommodations evah!