YORK, Maine — Phil Cihiwsky dipped his feet into the Atlantic Ocean at York Harbor Beach Friday morning, marking the end of a seven-month, cross-country trek.
“It felt very nice,” said Cihiwsky, 59, who has lost 20 pounds since leaving San Diego on March 4. “It was a lifelong dream to do something like this.”
In his hometown of Vestal, N.Y., Cihiwsky received a written volunteer award from President Barack Obama for his walk to raise awareness and funds for Meals on Wheels.
Meals on Wheels Association of America also honored Cihiwsky by naming him its 2013 Volunteer of the Year.
Cihiwsky, who lives in Loveland, Colo., started the journey three days after retiring as an engineer.
“It’s something a lot of people think about,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about walking or biking cross country since high school. Six to 10 years ago, I started joking about it with my wife.”
He walked between 20 and 24 miles per day, pushing what appeared to be a converted baby stroller filled with a tent, clothing, and up to three gallons of water a day while he walked through the Southwest. There was no backup vehicle carrying supplies or any other planned support system along the way, he said.
He often camped along the side of a road, or asked at area churches if he could place his tent on the ground for the night, he said.
However, because word had spread that he was walking to benefit Meals on Wheels, volunteers nationwide sought him out, he said, often putting him up for the night.
His route took him through 15 states: California, Arizona, New Mexico, the panhandle of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and finally Maine, where he entered South Berwick from Dover, N.H. and arrived in York at 10:04 a.m. Friday.
Walking across country is not for everyone, Cihiwsky admitted.
“When you’re taking things at the speed of walk, you’re taking things in with the senses,” he said. He said he could hear the popping of the guardrails in the heat while walking along state highways, and along the back roads, hear acorns falling as summer turned to fall.
Cihiwsky’s trip raised at least $2,000 for Meals on Wheels.
The Southern Maine Agency on Aging is the Meals on Wheels provider for York and Cumberland counties, said organization spokeswoman Jessica LeBlanc, who was at the finish line. Meals on Wheels feeds between 750 and 800 people a day in those two counties, she said.
The government’s partial shutdown has not affected Meals on Wheels as much as federal budget cuts earlier this year due to the sequester, LeBlanc said. When employees were forced to take five furlough days, they delivered frozen meals ahead of time, she said.
They have had to limit meals to those over the age of 60, but unlike other states, they have no waiting list, she said.
“We’re holding steady,” she said.
Cihiwsky said what’s next for him is to go home to Colorado. He chose York as the place to finish because he and his wife, Sharon, visited the area in the 1980s, he said.
Sharon Cihiwsky was at the finish line to welcome her husband.
“We have a lot to be grateful for, this is a beautiful country,” Phil Cihiwsky said. There is also “a lot of good in people.”