MEREDITH — On October 5, Jim Gregoire waded into the surf of the Pacific Ocean rolling on to the beach at Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington to complete a journey that began eight years earlier at Portland, Maine, taking him from coast-to-coast — across 4,200 miles, through 13 states — on foot.
"In 2005, I completed the Appalachian Trail, which took me 10 years," Gregoire recalled, "and began thinking about something bigger in scope." Tempted by a coast-to-coast trek, he explored the prospect and sought the inspiration through the experience of other hikers, particularly Nimblewill Nomad, who has hiked all 11 national scenic trails as well as walked from the Florida Keys to the Cliffs of Forillon at the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, a stroll of some 4,000 miles.
"In June 2006, I dipped my toe in the Atlantic Ocean and headed west," said Gregoire, who proceeded to walk 284 miles through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. Although "through hikers" have crossed the country in a single trip, he broke the journey into segments, 14 altogether — two a year but for two years — each of about 300 miles.
Gregoire said each trip began with a fresh pair of hiking boots, but after wrestling with blisters he switched to Teva sandals halfway across the country. But, the walking stick that carried him along the Appalachian Trail also took him from ocean to ocean. He said that walked about three miles per hour and covered approximately 17 miles a day.
With a tent, food and utensils in his back pack, Gregoire said he camped and cooked in RV parks and farmers field from time to time, but frequently passed through small towns to get a square meal and soft bed. "I met some of the finest people in bars," he remarked, adding that he was given advice about places to eat and stay and upon telling his story was stood drinks.
"I had not a single problem with people," Gregoire said, "and relatively few with animals, except for some stray dogs." He encounter a few rattlesnakes on the roadside and, in Glacier National Park in Montana a grizzly bear. "He stood on his hind legs when he heard me, but I talked to him and he went back to the huckleberries."
Each day Gregoire telephoned his wife Jane, a native of Laconia and his high school sweetheart at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover, who transcribed their conversation and wrote a journal entry every third day. He said that the journal of his travels are currently being distributed to around 170 people, including many of those he met on his journey.
When Gregoire reached the Pacific he was joined by 13 classmates from the class of 1969 at Princeton University, along with family and friends who shared the last couple of miles with him, erupting in cheers when he doffed his socks and sandals and stepped into the ocean.
Now 65, he returned to New Hampshire after a career as a financier in New Jersey, Gregoire has begun pondering what to do next. "I haven't figured that out yet," he said, "but I thinking of hiking the the 25 or 30 highest mountains in the lower 48 states, all in California, Colorado and Washington, from base to summit. I think I could do four or six a year and be done in five or six years."