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Monroeville man ditches job to make trek across country

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Javier Janik’s Facebook page
Javier Janik leaves Memphis, Tenn., this summer on his walk from coast to coast. The Monroeville man, 26, quit his job at a bank to embark on the 196-day trek, to raise awareness and tolerance for others around the world.

Javier Janik was an analyst who spent workdays in a cubicle while crunching numbers for a bank until an idea led him from his routine to a walk across America.

The accounting graduate was on the phone one day last summer when he had the idea.

“I hung up and didn't let the idea fade,” said Janik, 26, who had graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2010 and took a job in downtown Pittsburgh in 2012. “I thought, ‘Why not? If it's something that interests you, why not look into it?' ”

So he did.

Janik of Monroeville had a plan: taking 196 days representing 196 countries, to walk from one coast to the other. He would promote “a message of unity and to love each other as one.”

Janik began his journey after about one month of planning. He purchased 196 T-shirts — one for every day and each representing a flag from a different country. Janik's parents were surprised when they heard about their son's plans.

“Our reaction was shock,” said Ros Mary Maldonado-Janik, Janik's mother. “After we realized what he wanted to do, we supported him.”

Janik gave two weeks' notice at First Commonwealth Bank; his last day was Nov. 15. He departed on Nov. 17, from Virginia Beach, Va., bound for San Diego. He finished his walk in July.

“The reason I picked walking instead of biking is because it's 100 times more challenging,” he said.

Equipped with a bike trailer filled with camping supplies, a half-gallon canteen for water and a smartphone with Google Maps, Janik walked seven to eight hours a day.

“The first two weeks were the toughest,” Janik said.

The first time he was offered a place to sleep was in Alabama in January, when it was snowing and about 20 degrees. A motorist offered Janik a hot cup of coffee and a place to stay.

“I was freezing; I don't know what would have happened if he didn't offer me a place to stay,” Janik said.

Along the way, he also found support from firefighters. After those first couple of weeks of sleeping in a tent, he was being welcomed to sleep in fire stations along his route.

“As far as the physical aspect, the first two weeks beat me up,” he said. “It is a thousand times harder mentally than physically.”

There also were repeated delays as he was stopped by police and border-control agents.

“The main reason I got stopped by cops was because passing vehicles would call the police and tell them there's a man pushing a stroller (the bike trailer) along the highway,” Janik said.

Police and border control agents were not the only difficulties.

“The thing I disliked about being on foot was the anxiety it caused my mom,” Janik said.

He also had support from his friends, and a former co-worker at First Commonwealth Bank helped spread the word about his walk.

Tina Rhoades, a senior commercial portfolio specialist, kept in touch with Janik every week.

“I tried to anticipate towns he would be in, and I dropped the Facebook paragraph description to media outlets, newspaper and news stations ... to see if they were interested in covering the story,” Rhoades said.

One of the biggest milestones Janik reached was crossing the Mississippi River Bridge. The bridge has no walkway to cross legally, so he had to receive permission to cross from several people — from police, the mayor, and even local FBI got involved.

“They all called the bridge commission to put pressure on them to let me cross the bridge, and I was able to cross with the help of those 50 people involved who made it possible,” he said.

Janik made it across the Mississippi River, trekked through the Mojave Desert and even experienced “a few days of having to rely on granola bars” for nourishment.

After two pairs of shoes, half a dozen pairs of socks, two bike carts, 196 days and 3,110 miles, Janik made it to San Francisco. He celebrated by jumping into the Pacific Ocean.

“It was worth it,” says Maldonado-Janik, who met Janik and his brother to walk the final mile to the ocean. “For him to achieve this is a major accomplishment, and I'm very proud of him.”

Janik gained 700 followers on his Facebook page, “Walking Across America From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.”

He now plans to get a master's degree in international development.

“I want to do something with the Peace Corps,” he said.

He also plans to write a book to share the message of his walk.

Jacqueline Dell is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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