Working with stone is hard, physical labor – but there’s one thing those who do it can pretty much count on.
It will be here long after they’re gone.
This week a 33-year-old stonemason from upstate New York passed through Decatur on a 2,800-mile trek from Charleston, S.C., to San Francisco. He’s walking to raise awareness and funds for the Wounded Warrior Project, a national foundation that helps injured service members as they return home.
Joshua Lydell hopes the impact of this journey will resonate when the stones he’s set have been reduced to rubble.
“I’m healthy,” he said. “I’m capable of doing things, and there are a lot of people out there who are not. They’ve been through things I couldn’t imagine being faced with, day-in and day-out.
“You don’t get a day off from not having a leg, you don’t get a day off from not having an arm, you don’t get a day off from PTSD.
“So I’m giving up six or eight months of my life to try and help these guys, these men and women, out – to make a little difference in the world if I can.”
Lydell spent Monday night at Decatur’s Hampton Inn, on the house, after Manager Sonny Wimberley took him for dinner at Sweetie Pie’s Ribeyes. He said Texas is the most hospitable state he’s been through so far.
“Up until this point I just camped out 90 percent of the time – hiding in the woods,” he said. “I’d set up a little one-man tent, hope it didn’t rain too much and fight off the bugs and dirt.”
Lydell grew up in Jamestown, N.Y., – Lucille Ball’s hometown – and has a degree in art. The last eight years he has built a business in stone in Charleston. Before that, he fought mixed martial arts professionally, and prior to that he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Since March 3, he’s been walking.
He started by the Atlantic at Mount Pleasant, S.C., and trekked through Augusta, Athens and Atlanta, Ga., then Birmingham, Ala.
“Mississippi was pretty good to me,” he said. “Their television stations all came out and talked to me.”
All he remembers about Arkansas is a “really nice Sonic Drive-in,” but once he got to Texas, he began to get more attention. He was on television Monday evening after CBS 11 sent someone to interview him on Memorial Day.
From here, he was headed to Wichita Falls, Amarillo and Albuquerque – looking to get up to higher ground before summer heat.
The Marine training definitely helps.
“I really did not have a good work ethic until I joined the Marine Corps,” he said. “Then somebody pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of.”
Aside from his military service and “the fighting stuff,” Lydell said he doesn’t come from an athletic background.
“That’s not my thing,” he said. “If somebody had told me a year ago that I’d be able to go 37.6 miles in one day and then get up the next day and do 33 miles, I’d have slapped them in the face and said, ‘You’re a liar! Get out of here with that. That’s nonsense!’
“But here I am, doing that. I never expected it to be something I would do.”
His guiding principles are: stay hydrated, eat well and “take care of your feet from the ground up.”
Food-wise, his staple has been the cuisine available along the highways of America: McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, Sonic, Burger King and Whataburger. At the halfway point, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of fat on him as he chugs along, pushing a baby jogger that carries all his worldly goods. He could definitely go faster without the stroller, but he’s not looking for speed.
“Sometimes somebody will ask me, ‘What time do you expect to be there?’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, I’m walking.’ It’s not like hoppin’ in the car, and I’ll be there in 20 minutes. It depends if I get a flat tire, how my feet are feeling, what the traffic’s like, what the heat’s like, what my water situation’s like.”
Generally, he said, he covers 15 to 20 miles a day – although he’s done 37.6, and he’d like to log a 40-mile day somewhere along the way. But he’s not trying to set any records.
“I just try to stop and talk to a lot of people, raise a lot of awareness,” he said. He hopes to be in San Francisco by mid-September and keeps the route and schedule as flexible as possible.
“I plan for about 150 to 200 miles at a time,” he said. “That keeps my route a little more fresh, so if someone comes along the way and says, ‘Hey, there’s going to be this festival on this date’ I can plan my route around that, rather than saying, ‘I planned this out six months ago.’ I like to have a little flexibility in the plan.”
He’s worn out two pairs of shoes, and the third is just about gone. When they are, he’ll get on the phone with Amazon and have them shipped to a post office along his route.
Close calls on the road have come mostly at the hands of people wandering onto the shoulder while talking on their phones, although he did get surrounded in Denmark, S.C., by three guys who had heard he was raising money.
“They’d seen it on the news,” he said. “They didn’t ask me how much money I’d raised – they said, ‘How much money you got?’ I said, ‘Not enough for anybody to get hurt over.’ That was about the end of that. Other than that, I’ve had zero issues, smooth sailing.”
Lydell isn’t looking for people to hand him cash. He’d prefer they go online with pledges to the Wounded Warrior Project at http://wcmess.com/woundedwarrior.
“I just hand this flier out, get on the news, raise a little bit of awareness about the cause in general and refer people to that donation link,” he said. “Obviously that’s kind of a roundabout way of doing things, but personally I don’t like carrying cash.
“Even if they don’t donate through my event towards the Wounded Warrior Project, if they donate toward the Wounded Warrior Project, I’ll feel like I’ve kind of done my job.”
When he’s done, Lydell will undoubtedly rest his feet for a while. He’s not sure he’ll go back into the stone business.
“One of my employees is running the business right now, and I may just let him take over,” he said. “This might have been a segue into charitable type events for me, to work more in that regard.
“Stonemasonry – I make a fair amount of money at that and do a lot of good work, but at the same time, I’m not sure what impact I’m having on the world besides making somebody a fireplace, making somebody a retaining wall. I’d like to do a little bit more than that.”
As Lydell headed up U.S. 81/287 Tuesday morning, the sky threatened rain, but his steps were firm and confident.
The stride of a man doing something he knows will last.