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With a week to go, Lou Ness' walk has been 'difficult, strenuous,' but 'wonderful'

Published: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 2:03 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 11:05 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Northwest Herald file photo)
Lou Ness set off April 1 on the 750-mile trek she called "Hear Our Cry," which since was stretched to about 930 miles due to a re-route. She wanted to change the conversation around poverty in the U.S.

She's had to add some miles and skip some others, and police have stopped her more than once.

But not quite two-and-a-half months since she departed on foot for Washington D.C., all that separates Lou Ness from the steps of the U.S. Capitol is 45 short miles and about a week, the Woodstock woman said Tuesday.

Ness set off April 1 on the 750-mile trek she called "Hear Our Cry," which since was stretched to about 930 miles due to a re-route. She wanted to change the conversation around poverty in the U.S.

"I am so close that I am a little like, 'Oh my God, now what am I going to do?'" Ness said over the phone from Fredericks, Maryland, where she was staying at a church for a couple of days while the trails dried from recent rain.

The trip hasn't been without complications for Ness, the executive director of Shelter Care in Rockford and a former director of Turning Point in Woodstock.

Ohio police stopped her more than once, running her license before ultimately allowing her to continue.

In Pittsburgh, Ness' switch from pushing a cart full of belongings to lugging a backpack caused a shift in her walking weight distribution. Blisters formed on her feet. Ness called a woman she'd met in Pittsburgh, who, upon arriving, found her new friend immobile.

"I was laying on the parkway in the grass, probably looking like a dead woman," Ness said.

Ness went to the emergency room, skipping some miles along the way. She estimates that she cut about 70 miles off the trip because of the blisters.

But the setback was temporary. Ness has continued her march. She uses five adjectives, in succession, to describe the up-and-down experience: "difficult, strenuous, arduous, wonderful, remarkable."

"I didn't actually expect it to be quite the way it was," Ness said.

She's spent much of her time – when not along lengthy stretches of pavement – in small, rural communities, an experience at once heartening and awakening, she said.

"They are just suffering," she said, but she added that the sense of community is strong in these areas. "People are coming together to care for each other. They're still remarkably resilient."

But the trip also has filled her with another sense of hope – belief that she's not outmatched in fighting structures she says are stifling advancement of lower-class individuals.

She said she's been energized to come back to Woodstock and McHenry County and call for change that she believes will, over time, end the area's poverty.

"Quite frankly, I never thought I'd get out of Chicago," Ness said. "If I can do this, we can do that. It is possible. I believe it now more than ever before."

Ness plans to reach the Washington National Cathedral on June 19, where friends and supporters will await her, she said. The group will complete the trip with a five-mile walk to the Capitol.

"I don't know what's going to happen at the Capitol," Ness said. "I'll probably thank everybody for coming. And then I'll get in my car and come home."

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