Best feet forward: Naples man walks from Minnesota to Key West to preach gospel of active life

Phil Woods' goal for each day is 25 miles. It's his hope that more people will consider smaller targets, such as adding daily walks to their routine, when they see his example.


Phil Woods' goal for each day is 25 miles. It's his hope that more people will consider smaller targets, such as adding daily walks to their routine, when they see his example.

Read Phil Woods’ blog, see photos from his 2,700-mile walk and sign up to get automatic updates here:

Farm Country, Tuesday, May 18

Another beautiful walking day. Started about 7:45 a.m. Walked to Pigeon Falls and took a little break (about 3 miles ), then on to Whitehall for lunch and on through Blair and now am about 31 miles north of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Looking for another good day tomorrow. I’m walking through some really good farm country and have been for several days. It’s interesting to see all the newborns in the animal world. I’ve walked past puppy farms, llama farms, sheep farms, cattle farms, dairy farms, horse farms, and grain farms. This time of year farmers clean out their barns and the smell is not always to my liking. Got in 25 miles again today. We are definitely getting on down the road. Miles Walked: 25

New Pair of Shoes, Sunday, May 23

Started walking at 7:00 a.m. I was pretty slow this morning and it didn’t get any better as the day went on. The day was hot with sunshine, 91 degrees. This makes walking a little bit tougher. My feet are complaining, so I took time out to go buy a new pair of shoes. 420 miles out of the shoes I replaced. Dave Beiborn’s friend and his father stopped to wish me well and said they were keeping up with me. Jeremiah Knoll and his family passed by and wished me well. I made it to the south side of Prairie du Chien. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. Miles Walked: 17

— Rain got in the way of Phil Woods’ 2,700-mile walk. Woods, 72, of Naples, is walking from International Falls, Minn., to the southernmost point of Key West, Fla., because he wants to inspire others to be active — for their own health and for the good of their local communities.

But on May 25, the sky grew dark and Woods only walked 12 miles before he had to stop.

Even worse, his daughter called and warned that there were flash flood warnings out for their area. Woods and his wife, Carol, 74, spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in their truck on the side of Highway 35, just south of Lancaster, Wis. under rainy skies, part of it talking to a reporter. Woods, through friends who help him with publicity, is trying to contact news media all along his route to give them his “Phil-osophy” on being active.

Some of what Woods experiences is posted on his blog, where he updates the inspired and the curious on his progress. Carol Woods is the trip photographer, though her husband teases her that she’s gone a little trigger-happy.

“I’m surprised I have any privacy left,” he joked.

Woods says he tries to write something every night, when the couple stops at hotels, and, when he can, he includes a video or audio recording for a podcast. Carol does the laundry while he works on all of his “computer stuff.”

If Woods misses a night of blogging, people call him, he said. So he tries to be consistent. But he admits it can get tough. “When you’ve had a long day and you don’t get back before dark, it’s hard to get in and sit down and recall a whole day in full,” Woods said.

His goal for each day is 25 miles. It’s his hope that more people will consider smaller targets, such as adding daily walks to their routine, when they see his example.

“If an old man who’s 72 can walk 25 miles a day, a whole bunch of other people can walk a mile or two,” he said.

The Woods, who have been married for 51 years, have weathered storms together before, but Phil wished this one in particular would end quickly. He was about 20 miles away from Dubuque, Iowa, his intended stop.

“If it would quit, I would still walk, but it does not look promising,” he conceded.

Woods began his walk on April 23 and expects to finish it in October. Days like this put him behind schedule. He won’t walk in fog, either, because of safety concerns, but he presses on in the heat. And the previous day had been a scorcher.

“I’ve used all of my sunscreen,” Woods said. Another day, Woods had to stop because of blisters on his left foot. It was also his 72nd birthday.

“My goal for the day was 29 miles so we would end up with 100 miles in 4 days … after 15 miles I had to quit. Got lots of calls wishing me happy birthday. Don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Woods wrote in his blog.

He happily endures the blisters and the weather because he wants to combat American apathy. He believes it’s everyone’s responsibility to “stop complaining” and mobilize to solve problems instead.

“There should not be anyone in your county that goes to bed hungry tonight,” Woods said.

This isn’t the first time he has walked thousands of miles to get people’s attention. In 2004, Woods walked from east to west. He started in London Towne, Md., and finished 3,100 miles later in 2006 on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Since then, Woods had toyed with the idea of walking from the northern part of the country to the southern. “I just procrastinated for four years,” he said.

Carol Woods has adapted her daily routine to his mission.

“He kisses me goodbye (in the morning), tells me he loves me and that he’ll see me down the road,” she said. She waits for 30 minutes to an hour before catching up to Woods in their truck. By then, he’s usually walked about three miles.

Carol Woods drives ahead of him the rest of the way, keeping a lookout for his signal — a hand wave — if he needs help. Sometimes she’ll just pull over on the side of the road to wait. “We go leap frog about three to five miles at a time,” Woods said.

If Woods is the race car, Carol is the pit crew. She keeps him going with bandages for his blisters and foot rubs for his aching feet.

She’s not complaining, though. “Just being with him is OK,” she said.

They will occasionally stop in a town for lunch, but they usually eat in the truck. They carry foods such as canned chicken, orange Jello-O and water with them. Woods estimates he eats about 6,000 to 8,000 calories daily.

“I burn so many calories … I almost eat constantly,” Woods said.

Local journalists interview him as he moves along. He’s been on featured on TV, radio and print. In Wisconsin, a group of kids recognized him from a TV segment and stopped to talk with him and present him with a four-leaf clover.

“The word is spreading. I just hope it spreads to 250 million people,” Woods said.

He’s not interested becoming the eighth wonder of the world because of his treks, Woods says. He doesn’t think what he’s doing is that extraordinary.

“All you gotta do is be smart enough to put one foot in front of the other and keep your balance.”

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