Vail’s wandering daughter comes home
“I walked from Vail to East Vail and it took me five years.”A lot has changed since Polly Letofsky left Vail on Aug. 1, 1999, intent on walking around the world to increase breast cancer awareness. But nothing, not even time, has changed her sense of humor. “There are 14,115 miles between Vail and East Vail, via the India route,” she said with a laugh. The petite 40-something who has dreamed of walking around the world since she was 12 finished the task Friday with a 9-mile walk from the Gore Creek campground in East Vail to Ford Park. She’s trekked across four continents, met people from all walks of life and has survived a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, she said.And for her last few miles, she had friends and family by her side. Welcome homeFriends gathered down the road from the campground Letofsky had slept in Thursday night. As they waited for her to stroll down the road and meet up with the group, many who hadn’t seen her since she left wondered aloud how the now-worldly woman would adjust to everyday American life.”I’m excited to see her and I wonder what she’s going to do now that she’s back,” said Micki Schnieder, who hasn’t seen Letofsky since she left Vail five years ago. “Obviously, she’s learned a lot,” said Stephanie Padden, who attended high school with Letofsky in Minneapolis. She was able to visit with Letofsky when she traveled through Minnesota. “I walked with her for five days. She has a huge, worldly sort of insight.”
Padden and three other high school classmates joined Letofsky Thursday night at the campground where she stayed. They also picked up on the challenges ahead.”I think she is very emotional, every excited, and has some anxiety, too,” said former classmate Dawn Schulte. “I think she’s a little overwhelmed. There are people here she hasn’t seen for years.” Indeed, even Letofsky had some concerns about her return to the “real world.” Her journal entries, which were printed regularly in the Vail Daily, started to touch on that issue as she crept closer to home.”Last year a stranger in a cafe in London, Ontario, said to my face, congratulations on your walk but I’m scared for you,” Letofsky wrote in a June 3, 2004 journal entry. “He said that 10 years ago he went on a five-month bike trip across America and getting settled afterwards was the toughest time of his life. He plugged himself right into the life that he had had but he was different, he didn’t belong anymore.”As she greeted friends who had gathered near the Gore Creek campground Friday morning, Letofsky was all smiles and hugs, but at times, teary-eyed.”I’m going to have a moment,” she said, as she broke away from an embrace. “I’ve been having a lot of moments.”In that June 3 journal entry Letofsky acknowledged that while she was “nervous about this upcoming re-assimilation process, there’s the much bigger part of me that is sooo ready to just sit down in one place and know that I’m going home every night.””The only travel related words I want to hear for years to come are ‘package tour’ and ‘daquiris by the pool,'” she wrote. Touching the lives of many
At one point during her walk, Letofsky told friend Vicki Tosher that she didn’t think her travels were really making a difference in the world. Tosher said she wanted to set Letofsky straight.”Wherever Polly has gone she has made a difference,” she said. “If one woman has a mammogram who hasn’t had one before, she’s made a difference.”Tosher is a breast cancer survivor and advocate herself. She helps run Sense of Security, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to breast cancer patients to help pay for things like groceries, child care and transportation. Tosher walked with Letofsky in Glenwood Springs, in parts of California, New Zealand and Australia. She also vacationed with Letofsky in Turkey – Letofsky’s favorite place.”It’s a wonderful mix of west and east, of ancient times,” Letofsky said as she and a troupe of friends and family walked toward Ford Park. “The people there are so friendly. The food is good, the infrastructure is good.”When she started out on her trip, she was surprised by how open people were to talking with her and inviting her into her homes. Letofsky started to get used to it and when people didn’t react so positively to her, she said she was disappointed.Her trip has had some less-than-obvious side effects. Her high school friends, many of whom hadn’t kept in touch, rekindled a connection with each other as they followed Letofsky’s travels, said Julie Bendixen, a former high school classmate.Some of those walking with Letofsky were strangers. One man came up to her and explained that while he had never met her, he and his wife followed her journal entries in the Vail Daily and grew to admire her. He offered her a place to stay if she needed it. What’s next?Letofsky has said she may write a book about her five-year adventure. Her friends say she should, adding they were impressed by her journal entries.
“I didn’t know she could write like that,” Schnieder said. “I feel like she’s right next to you, telling you the story. It’s honest.”Ask Letofsky what her plans are, now that she’s accomplished the goal of a lifetime, and her answer seems open-ended. “I’m going to go down to Denver and get my life together,” she said. Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555, ext. 607.Good causePolly Letofsky has reportedly raised around $200,000 for breast cancer support organizations around the world. Money raised has remained in the country of origin. The International Lions Club helped gather funds for the effort in Europe, Asia and Australia. Lions Club members have assisted Letofsky in the United States. as well, accompanying her during travels through towns and cities and offering her lodging. She has kept a journal for the past five years. To take a look, log on to http://www.globalwalk.org.