News & Politics

This Man Walked From Washington State to Washington, DC

Holden Ringer—who logged more than 4,000 miles—loves to walk and believes America should be safer for pedestrians.

Holden Ringer sits on the ledge of the Capitol Reflecting Pool next to his walking carriage, nicknamed "Smiley," on March 10.

Holden Ringer is sitting on the lower steps of the Lincoln Memorial, staring across a drained Reflecting Pool, when I find him and “Smiley,” a bright red running stroller with two big googly eyes and a painted-on smile. 

“It’s funny,” he says. “For some reason, the whole time I was walking here, I kept imagining it without people. But of course there would be people—it’s the Lincoln Memorial!” 

He watches as tourists stream up the steps, a few of them slowing down to eye the strange red stroller, from which two pairs of shoes hang off the handle bars. There is no child inside—just all of Ringer’s necessities for living. On the outside of the stroller, words in thick white paint explain: “I am walking across America. Follow@Walk2Washington.” 

His on-foot odyssey began 367 days (and eight pairs of shoes) ago when he departed from the craggy shores of Second Beach in La Push, Washington, and headed east, documenting his journey via his Instagram and website (He had wanted to call it “Washington2Washington” but says a family reunion event had taken that.)

A tourist who’s spotted the stroller’s message asks what states he’s walked through thus far. Ringer, age 26 and originally from Texas, rattles them off in a single breath: “Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia”—and now, on this morning of March 10, the District of Columbia. 

Soon, others begin to crowd and pepper him with questions, such as “Where did you sleep?” His answer: “Anywhere and everywhere—under bridges, in abandoned buildings, and $6 million dollar homes.” While he spent most nights outdoors in a small tent, he explains that people throughout the country often opened up their homes to him. “At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the generosity and the kindness of strangers,” he says.

Ringer talks to strangers about his cross country journey at the Lincoln Memorial.

“What did you eat?” another asks. His answer: Many meals at local Mexican restaurants (he always tried to find at least one hot meal a day), 25 different flavors of Pop Tarts, tortillas with Nutella, Tallboy-size beer cans from gas stations, and countless cans of pear halves—so many cans that he began referring to people who helped support his journey as “the pear brigade.”

Finally, one man asks the question on everyone’s mind: “What made you do it? 

“You know, it seemed like a fun thing to do, and I’ve gotten to meet nice people such as yourself,” says Ringer, though it’s really an abbreviated version of his “why,” which he still struggles to pin down in a single answer.

His original “why” was simple enough. He liked walking and he wanted to go for a long one. But, over the course of his journey, that “why” has grown to take on an advocacy angle too. He now uses the attention he’s garnered to advocate for more walkable cities and he encourages people to donate to America Walks, which works to advance “safe, equitable, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk and move.”

After all, cars were the most dangerous and scariest thing he encountered on the walk, says Ringer, who is dumbfounded by the number of drivers he’s seen distracted by their phones. He estimates that he spent about 80 percent of his walk alongside country roads and highways, during which he wore a neon green vest and avoided walking at night. 

“I’m very much for building a world that isn’t as car-centric or as dependent on cars,” says Ringer, who envisions continuing to advocate for walkable cities after his cross-country journey is over. Whether that involves going to law school or finding a place in local government, he isn’t entirely sure, but a sticker on the side of “Smiley” puts his feelings succinctly: “Cars ruin cities.”

Holden Ringer sits on the ledge of the Capitol Reflecting Pool and enjoys a can of pear halves, a favorite snack of his during his walk from Washington state to Washington, DC.

An American history and marketing major in college, he’s completely transparent on how he’s afforded the yearlong trip, which he estimates probably cost around $12,000 altogether. “I inherited money that gives me security in order to do this,” says Ringer. Though he says he hasn’t had to use that money (and instead has funded the trip with the earnings from selling his car and furniture), he openly adds that, “If there had ever been anything where I came into a rough situation, I would have always been able to have been bailed out. Not everybody can do something like this, so I feel very fortunate, privileged, and appreciative every single morning I wake up and get to do it.”

Of course, that’s not to say the trip was easy. There were still plenty of challenges along the way. Plantar fasciitis forced him to take a break early on in the trip and, since then, at least something—whether it’s his left knee or right achilles—is usually bothering him. He also walked while coping through a breakup with his girlfriend shortly after starting, and his parents weren’t exactly keen on him walking across the country. (Oh, and don’t get him started on “those fucking mosquitoes.”) During one particularly low point, he took a two-month break in Denver, before deciding to set off again. 

Ringer crossing the bridge from Arlington into DC.

Averaging about 25 to 30 miles on the days he walked, he’s now traversed more than 4,000 miles of the country, and he plans to continue on to New York City and Rockaway Beach where he can overlook the Atlantic. His Instagram is a compendium of the cities, adventures, and people he met along the way—from the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, to meeting a food influencer in Kansas City who joined him for about 12 miles of the walk, to serendipitously meeting the head of transportation in Durham, North Carolina, and talking walkability with him.

As we walk along the Mall together on a sunny but blustery Sunday, Ringer (whose wind-blown hair nearly reaches his shoulders a year after he began his walk with a fully shaved head) says he’s still wrapping his mind around the fact that “we finally made it”—the “we” referring to him and Smiley but also to “everybody who’s helped along the way.”

“I made this little video yesterday when I was walking along the Potomac,” says Ringer, now sitting on the ledge of the Capitol Reflecting Pool and enjoying a can of pear halves. “It was me talking to my future self, and [I was saying,] ‘No matter what the challenge is, no matter how terrible walking along the highway in the rain is, you did it.’ “

Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor