NOB HILL--B.J. Timoner remembers how this year started. On January 2, 2013 Timoner left the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles and started walking to New York City. On his back he carried a small tent, sleeping bag, and everything else he thought he would need on a six-month hike to the other side of the country.
The Unseen Load
He also carried another sort of load…perhaps invisible, but just as real as that pack on his back. Timoner's father Bert passed away in 1974 from pancreatic cancer when B.J. was only five. His dad was 41 years old when he died. B.J. is walking across America as a way to draw attention to the disease and raise money for research.
I caught up with B.J. in front of the Central Ave. Flying Star yesterday morning. We sat down outside at a cold and shady table. He shared a little of what was on his mind.
This is not the first time he has walked across the country. The day after his own 41st birthday in 2011, in what he called his "bonus time" considering his father's lifespan, B.J. started walking east from San Diego. However, he suffered a heart attack in Texas and it took five months for him to recover. He did finish that coast to coast walk in a little less than a year, 49 weeks, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Along the way he had raised $26,000.
But in his mind that was not good enough. He thought he could do better, so he is walking across America again. So far the contributions have totaled about $6300. The money goes directly to the Lustgarten Foundation, a research and community awareness group. Nothing that B.J. Timoner collects on the road goes to support himself on this trip. Everything goes to the foundation. He supports himself in other ways: family, friends, crowd-funding. "I don't want to feel guilty every time I buy something," he told me.
Unchanged Since 1974
Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 6%. That is the exact same rate as survived when B.J.'s dad succumbed in 1974, almost 40 years ago. Why? For one thing, it is a very slow-growing cancer. A person can have it for 5 or 10 years before getting a diagnosis. Early detection is important, but hard to come by. It is usually one of the last things looked at when someone comes into the doctor's office with a pain in the side or gut. You need an image scan to see it. Usually doctors try to rule out everything else first. Often misdiagnosed, usually it is discovered very late.
Timoner told me that the goal of the pancreatic cancer network is to double the survival rate by the year 2020. That would put the five-year survival rate at 12%. Let me repeat that: the goal is to double the five-year survival rate to 12%! At this point a woman stopped opposite us and started talking to B.J. She had read his sign that told about pancreatic cancer. "I'm a breast cancer survivor," she said. "I'm going up the street to the Co-op but I'll be back in a couple of minutes and make a contribution."
How's It Going?
B.J. said he had been averaging about 17 miles a day, but just when his pack was feeling heavy he had found a stroller by the side of the road and started putting most of his stuff in that. "I upped my mileage from 17 miles per day to 25. I plan to be in New York City by the end of June." Sometimes sleeping in homes and sometimes "over the fence," he manages to keep it going day by day.
He does whatever media appearances he can for donations. Sometimes cars stop. Sometimes small-town newspapers take an interest. But it is hard to set up events and such when you are walking across the country by yourself. He did say that just the previous day a woman named Dee Cohen (!!!) had stopped to take a picture of him. He wondered if I knew her.
If you would like to contribute here is his donation page on the LustGarten (Lost Garden) Foundation website. He has his own website as well, BJWalksAmerica.com. He also has a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
And Dee Ann? The woman who went to the Co-op? She came back…handed him what looked like a twenty dollar bill and walked away.
A grateful B.J. Timoner thanked her, lifted his load, and headed east with the brilliant afternoon sun on his back.