Beginning the journey | VailDaily.com

Beginning the journey

Veronica Whitney
Vail Daily/Coreen SappVail's Polly Letofsky just two weeks away from finishing five-year walk.
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She’s walked through major flooding in Australia, lightning storms in Colorado, 110-degree heat in Singapore, hail in Arizona, a 7.2-richter-scale earthquake in California, 60-mph winds in Kansas and snow in Scotland and Iowa.She’s sat in a hotel room in India watching “Friends” while there were riots outside. In Luxembourg, she was told she couldn’t eat at a restaurant because she was alone. She’s given 2,000 interviews in five years. She’s only paid for a place to stay 10 times in more than 1,800 days of travel.To Polly Letofsky, who is 100 miles short of completing a five-year walk around the world to raise breast cancer awareness, being back in Colorado is the happiest time since she started her 14,000-mile walk on Aug. 1, 1999.”It’s fun being in familiar territory,” said Letofsky in an interview at Estes Park on Tuesday. “Being in Denver and seeing familiar faces for the first time in five years. And it’s time for it to be over.” When she walks into Vail on July 30, Letofsky, 42, who has periodically published her journal entries in the Vail Daily, will be the first American woman to have walked around the world. On her trip, she walked across the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Turkey, and throughout continental Europe – from Greece to Belgium, to the United Kingdom and Ireland.Letofsky’s 5-foot-2-inch-, 100-pound body has endured hundreds of 20-mile walks. After walking 14,000 miles, she’s in great shape – she has even highlighted her hair.”My core person is the same,” said Letofsky. “But over five years of fending for yourself in foreign lands you’re going to grow personally and emotionally.”

Although she’s never had breast cancer, Letofsky’s goal when she began her walk was to raise awareness worldwide of the disease, which according to the American Cancer Society, will strike more than 200,000 times this year and claim more than 40,000 lives.”I’ve always wanted to walk around the world, and I decided to do it for breast cancer when a lot of women I knew were diagnosed with the disease,” Letofsky said.Debbi Linker, 59, of La Quinta, Calif. – a six-year breast cancer survivor – recently joined Letofsky’s walk for the fourth time. Linker met up with Letofsky in Denver on July 7 to walk the last weeks of her trip. These days, the two women, who are walking mostly in 90-degree weather, are close to Granby. From there they’ll walk to Georgetown and then through Summit County into Eagle County.”I was amazed by the spirit she was going about doing this,” said Linker, who met Letofsky five years ago on her third week of the Globalwalk. “To me, hers is the pioneering spirit that you don’t see in today’s world.” To Letofsky, her challenge has been the walk.”Every day, I faced cultural complications like foreign foods, the languages, government restrictions, adverse weather,” Letofsky said.

Letofsky left her home in Vail, on Aug. 1, 1999. She headed west, walking from 15 to 20 miles a day depending on the distance between towns. “Generally speaking I have a plan every day and people are expecting me,” Letofsky said. “The picture in my head before I left was that I would be camping nearly every single night. Once I got on the road I was pleasantly surprised to find people coming out of the woodwork to offer me accommodation.”Perhaps her greatest stroke of luck was when Lions Clubs across the world started adopting her off the street and putting her up in houses and hotels. “Each country is different though – when I entered Europe I did indeed act on that original picture in my head of camping nearly every single night,” she said. “People were so friendly around the world … until I got to Europe.”From California, Letofsky flew to New Zealand, where she created a network of cancer survivors. “Every day, I was with a different family finding out about their favorite hobbies,” she said.Then she went into Australia, where the Lions Club started adopting her.

“The small population of this country rallied behind me. I hardly spent a dime in Australia,” said Letofsky, who paid for the trip with her savings and the help of sponsors, which donated products such as sneakers and vitamins.Looking back, Letofsky feels she did too much during the first three years of her trip.”I wanted to take advantage of the support system. But it kept being there,” she said. “In Malaysia, there were sometimes 100 people walking with me.”Letofsky hadn’t planned to have so much company during her walk, she said. “I was planning to deal with loneliness,” she said. “But that didn’t happen, especially in Asia, where the measurement of how to be a proper host is how little time they can leave you alone – and how much you eat. They refused to ever leave me alone for a minute.”To be alone, I would go to the bathrooms,” she added, “and Malaysian toilets are not where you want to hang out anymore than you have to.”Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.