As Hannah Bacon flew across the country in October to visit with friends in California, she read a book about the growing climate crisis, and it got her thinking about her own impact on the planet. “I had driven and flown across the country a bunch of times, and it occurred to me that I didn’t want to do it again,” says Bacon, 27, who grew up in New Milford and earned degrees in Spanish and human rights from the University of Connecticut in 2015. “So I decided I was going to walk home.”
Just one month later, on Nov. 21, she began her trek.
Bacon had lost her job at an environmental nonprofit in New York City due to the pandemic, so she was spending much of her time reading about environmental issues and applying for other environmental jobs. “That reading really opened my eyes to all the ways that climate change is going to affect our society and the planet in ways that we don’t think of,” she says. “It’s not just sea level rise and species extinctions, but also the economy, mass migration, more pandemics. So I figured, I have the time and the resources to do something more, and this is what I can do.”
She spent three weeks planning her route, talking with others who had completed similar cross-country journeys, and gathering the necessary gear to safely walk from San Clemente, California, to Virginia Beach, Virginia — a trip totaling more than 2,800 miles and likely taking six months to complete. And when she finishes, she may walk the rest of the way back home to Connecticut, too.
Since Bacon is walking through the winter months, she has planned a southern route that takes her across the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico and avoids high elevations and snowy conditions. On her back, she carries everything she needs — a tent and sleeping bag, water, first aid kit, camp stove, and a minimal amount of food and clothing. She plans to resupply at markets along the way.
Speaking from just outside Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, 10 days after beginning her trip, Bacon says she is averaging 20 miles of walking each day, though she has already had to change her route several times due to road closures and other issues. She replaced her hiking boots with a new pair of sneakers after blisters became a problem on just her third day of walking.
On a typical day, she wakes at 5:30 a.m., packs up her gear, tends her blisters, and starts walking. Although she prefers to sleep at campgrounds, she has also found rest at random places, like the courtyard of a Thai temple.
This isn’t Bacon’s first long-distance hike, but it’s the longest by far. She participated in numerous hikes with the UConn Outing Club, backpacked in the Rockies in 2016, and hiked the entire 200 miles of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Mountains of northern California a year later.
Without a hiking partner, she is savoring the solitude of the walk. “I’ve always liked backpacking on my own; I enjoy the alone time,” Bacon says. “I thought I’d have a lot of downtime, but so far there has been a lot of rerouting that’s like a puzzle every day, and that’s kept my mind busy and kept me from getting too lonely.”
The solitude also gives her plenty of time to think about why she is on the road in the first place. “On a small, personal scale, I’m limiting my carbon footprint as much as possible, and that feels really good,” she says. “On a larger scale, I realized this would be a great opportunity to do some fundraising for the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization focused on electing officials who prioritize climate change.
“I hope this journey will inspire people to be aware of their impact on the planet,” Bacon adds. “It’s something we should all be thinking of every day.”
Follow the journey: To learn more about Bacon’s walk across the U.S. or to make a donation, go to milesforclimate.org, or follow her on Instagram at @milesforclimate.