Arizona Man’s Cross-Country Trek Makes Pit Stop in Ford City

Drew Blondeaux, 23 of Tucson, Ariz., stands with a group of supporters from the Elite Cosmetology School in Yucca Valley, Calif. as he walks cross-country. Blondeaux began walking from Oceanside, Calif. March 24 to raise awareness and support for a family battling multiple sclerosis and hopes to be in New York City by July 20. (via the WalkforLiz.com website)

by Jonathan Weaver

A four-month long Random Act of Kindness is propelling Drew Blondeaux through Western Pennsylvania again today.

Blondeaux, 23 of Tucson, Ariz. has worn out seven pairs of shoes while on a 3,000-mile cross country journey – all in an effort to raise awareness for a young family.

Blondeaux heard the story of Liz Estes – a soon-to-be mother of two who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after conquering leukemia – from his uncle, Ken – an Oregon pastor.

“(Estes and husband, Jeremy) got flown out of her hometown to get diagnosed, and they ran out of money after paying for the helicopter. So they called churches, and my uncle helped them back home,” Blondeaux said.

“I was traveling around when I heard Liz’s story and then I started walking – I didn’t plan any of this out – I did it on five days notice.”

At the time, Blondeaux was traveling through Latin America, but he knew something needed to be done for Liz, Jeremy and daughter, Ashley.

“Not only does this family need help, they deserve it,” Blondeaux posted to his Facebook site. “I want to give Elizabeth and her family a fighting chance at normalcy, but cannot do so without your support. Please help make my cause a success and give my walk a fulfilling purpose.”

Blondeaux’s journey began along Camp Del Mar Beach in Oceanside, Calif. – 30 miles north of San Diego – March 24 after watching brother, Spencer, graduate from a military school, with a final destination of the Statue of Liberty in New York City Harbor.

By March 31, Blondeaux helped raise $1,000 and two weeks later hit the 450-mile mark. His efforts also spurred an anonymous individual to donate a $6,000 wheelchair at the beginning of April.

As of this week, those donation totals have tripled and additional funds and awareness have been raised through T-shirt sales.
And yet, he has still only talked with the family once and through text messaging.

Blondeaux said the endurance isn’t as much the problem anymore as the endless hours of road, rain or shine. He credited five years spent with the U.S. Navy – two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Asia – for training.

“It’s not so bad anymore – it’s just the time you have to put into it that’s annoying,” Blondeaux said. “I’ve done as many as 120 (miles per day) at one time, and I’ve averaged 60-70 for eight straight days, but since I did the first part so quickly, I only have to average about 20 miles a day from here-on-out.”

The snow and rain he’s walked through has also not been an obstacle – it’s the heat that caused him to ditch his sleeping bag and most of his heavy clothing. Blondeaux only relies on a torn tent – after it was scratched by a badger hunting for groundhog in Utah – and a blanket.

Before his July 20 deadline, Blondeaux made a side trip to Ford City June 23 to visit with relatives, Bill and Kathy Oleksak, for the first time. This trek has marked Blondeaux’s first trip east of Chicago.

Blondeaux carried with him a cart full of clothing, a sleeping bag and supplies as he left, but ditched the sleeping bag and many clothes before he rolled into Ford City June 23. He stayed with relatives for four days and hopes to resume his walking trail in Brookville, Jefferson County today.

Bill said Blondeaux has inspired and helped him understand the charitable lifestyle.

“When I read or hear on the news about people on the news that do this, it seems so glamorous. They’re doing these great things, meeting all these people, but we’re finding out the nuts and bolts of this and that it’s not so glamorous and what a sacrifice it is for him – that’s what impresses me: a kid, 23 years old doing a random act of kindness for someone he’s never met,” Oleksak said. “The kid’s got his act together.”

Blondeaux’s previous charitable efforts included assisting orphaned children in Cambodia and helping apprehend a child molester from Seattle.

The Oleksak’s had a family party in honor of Blondeaux’s journey Wednesday night.

After he takes a flight back to Arizona shortly after arriving in New York City, Blondeaux will set his sights on life after the military and seeing his parents, Lisa and Kirk – who was born in ACMH – and pitbull, “Georgie.”

“Pretty much nothing, man. I didn’t have enough to do the trip, but it’s worth it to try and help somebody out,” Blondeaux said. “I’m dead-broke now – like in debt-broke, so I need to go get an education and get a job.”

Blondeaux has not yet determined his course of study.

After sleeping four hours per night during April and May, he didn’t rule out sleeping on the flight home.

Blondeaux is to leave this morning from Brookville, Jefferson County for the last 340 miles of his trip. He hopes to arrive in Dubois (Clearfield County) tonight – with only two pair of shoes remaining.

Rough internet estimates predict Blondeaux will walk more than 900 hours during his trip.