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By LuAnn Schindler

Walking Across America

Texas native hikes Cowboy Trail en route to West Coast


January 19, 2023

Elizabeth Odell

Stephen Ashworth, a Terrell, Texas, native, is hiking across America via the Great Rail Trail. He traveled through the Summerland region last week.

The sign on the backpack explains it all.

Walking across America.

Stephen Ashworth, a Terrell, Texas, native, estimates he's traveled more than 26,000 miles by foot.

"I'm a traveler," he said.

Ashworth ventured through the Summerland region last week, stopping in Clearwater, Wednesday. He dropped his gear at the village's park, pulled out his super cat stove - a well-worn cat food can - added fuel - HEET gas-line antifreeze works best - and placed a titanium pot on it to heat water for a Cup of Noodles.

Soon, the Clearwater Public Library would open, and Ashworth, also known as Smiley the Champ on hiking routes, would use a library computer to post photos of his travels on his Facebook profile.

"I take a lot of pictures and post on Facebook for family and friends," Ashworth said.

A Navy veteran, Ashworth owned a custom landscaping business in Texas. In 2004, he sold his company. He sold his vehicle.

"My driver's license is expired," the hiker said.

Since then, he hits the road, hiking when the mood strikes.

Ashworth has completed four of the 11 national scenic trails. In 2012, he ventured the Appalachian Trail.

"It takes a while to get your hiking legs," he said.

The following year he walked the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada.

He's ambled along an 800-mile Arizona trail, from the Mexico border to Utah.

"That's a short trail," he said.

Then, in 2015, he started what turned into his first walk across America.

He traveled 5,000 miles, starting in Florida, through a swamp. Ashworth said that particular trail is unique because it's more of a winter trail.

During the pandemic, he got his kicks on Route 66. His path started in downtown Chicago and ended in Santa Monica.

"Covid closed down a lot of trails, but I hiked it. It was quite an experience," he said.

On this trip, he started in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the North Country Trail and now follows the Great Rails Trail. The finish line: west of Seattle.

"I'll take a ferry across to finish it, so this trip won't have a continuous footprint."

He travels light. His gear weighs two pounds, 10 ounces.

"The gear I'm carrying isn't something you can buy out of Walmart," Ashworth explained.

He carries a sleeping bag, a 12-ounce tarp that keeps moisture from seeping into his sleeping bag and water bottles. Snowshoes help him trek along the Cowboy Trail. A cell phone records photographic evidence of his adventures.

"It's all about backpacking," he said.

He used to carry an ultralight solar panel, but said it's not practical to carry in cold weather.

He doesn't carry much cash and relies on a budget and thrift stores to get him through a trip.

He's scored Brooks and HOKA shoes at thrift stores. He'll snag a book off the shelf for nighttime reading material. Once he's read the book, he'll use the pages as fuel for his makeshift stove.

On one walk across the United States, he started with $180.

He said, "You have to be frugal."

On this trip, he started with $1,000.

When he's low on funds, he takes a break from hoofing it and works.

On this trip, he hopped off at Joplin, Missouri, and worked for three months. Sometimes, he'll return to Texas during a break to visit family.

After leaving Joplin, Ashworth cut across the Flint Hills of Kansas and landed in Nebraska last month. He made a pit stop in Beatrice and visited the Bargain Box Thrift Store, where he found a Columbia coat for $10.

"The lady said, 'I'm so glad somebody's going to put that jacket to use,'" Ashworth said.

He headed north toward Lincoln. A few days later, an arctic blast dropped temperatures into the below-zero range and wind chills dipped to 50 degrees below zero.

"It (the coat) really saved the day," he said.

He rode out the storm near Lincoln, camping underneath a bridge instead of being a "Hilton hiker."

"I don't do hotels," Ashworth said

Ashworth contends he had everything he needed. He used the super cat stove to heat water and filled water bottles, which he placed inside his sleeping bag.

"Sleeping bags trap body heat. This added more warmth," he said.

The water bottles would offer heat for a few hours, before he would need to repeat the process.

In Nebraska's capitol city, his shelter was near a discount store, where he could purchase his minimalist groceries, a McDonald's and a laundromat.

Ashworth said he's hiked through severe thunderstorms and high winds. It's part of the territory that comes with being a thru-hiker.

"I sleep under a lot of bridges," he said." I sleep in tunnels."

When he hopped on the Cowboy Trail, in Norfolk, he camped on the trail head, where it's cement. In Neligh, he camped inside a picnic shelter at the park.

"I do a lot of stealth camping," he said.

While some cross-country walkers use their travels as a platform and are sponsored, Ashworth said he hikes because he enjoys it.

He would like to walk across America along Highway 20, maybe even another walk across Highway 30.

His ultimate goal is to finish all 11 trails.

"I'm in no hurry to do my 11. Walking across America gets me distracted," he said.

"So many people work so many long hours to pay for that big screen TV or big fancy Charger or Camaro. For what you spend on a car payment, I can go out and live the dream."

Ashworth said he has no regrets about how he lives life.

He's a gypsy at heart.

"You only live once," Ashworth said.

To follow Ashworth's hiking adventures, visit


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