Man, dog, donkey and friend walk across the country, pass through Craig
Eric Sheets stood on the side of Colorado Highway 13 north of Craig on a sunny autumn day with a dog, a donkey, a friend and a vision.
Ten years ago, Sheets was studying to be an orthodontist in Ohio.
A car wreck in summer 1999 left Sheets with the possibility of losing one of his arms, and a wake-up call from the universe.
“I knew I had to leave and see the country before it’s too late,” Sheets said. “And what I’ve learned is, we’re all the same wherever you are.”
Sheets, 31, his donkey, Moses, his dog, Buck, and his cameraman, Nick Jenkins, 18, who joined him a month ago, are walking from Ohio to Seattle to try to meet Bill Gates.
Sheets has been on the road since Memorial Day 2008.
He arrived Friday night in Craig and will stay for an indefinite period.
Sheets was inspired when Gates retired from Microsoft, and he asked anyone to come to him with ideas on how to better educate children.
And Sheets had an idea.
Instead of riding his motorcycle to Gates’ doorstep to make his proposal, he decided he’d be better received if he managed to introduce himself to the world as he walked there – barefoot every step of the way.
Along the road, he said, he meets, inspires and encourages every kind of person to look at the world in a new, positive way.
Sheets’ proposed education program revolves around an interactive touchscreen device, designed to be a learning tool for any occasion.
“It’s going to be a tool for teachers,” he said. “It’s individualized so a teacher will know where a kid is at each new school year. If they don’t understand something, their device will give them extra help and present it in a way they can understand.”
He said the current educational system leaves children behind if they don’t understand a concept or have a different learning style.
“Just because we pass a test at 70 percent, it means we still don’t understand 30 percent of it,” Sheets said. “Then on Monday, the teacher just goes on to the next lesson. You can only repair half of a car if you have half the tools. We need to inspire kids.”
He said his system will be designed for everyone from toddlers to the elderly, and is an answer to the world’s need for lifelong learning and “education instead of vocation.”
“A 5-year-old always asks, ‘Why, why why?'” he said. “We get them into school and just tell them to shush. But we’ve got to know, if we want to create new markets or even find a cure for something, it’s going to come from a child.”
The mission of saving the future of the planet turned out to be only a part of the message Sheets and his road travelers spread wherever they go.
With an arsenal of cell phones for updating their Web site, a high-definition camera for recording their adventure and a satellite tracking device, all charged by a portable solar panel mounted on Moses the donkey’s back, the pair keeps in touch with the rest of the world.
However, Jenkins said the two learned last week that the electronics don’t provide a safeguard against Mother Nature.
The two were stranded on the Continental Divide in Wyoming during a snowstorm for three days last week. They didn’t know when or if the snow would stop and they had no cell phone service.
Sheets went to the road and flagged down a truck.
It was Jared and Cori Soron, of Craig, who pulled over to answer a few questions about the weather.
“I was a little frightened” Jared Soron said. “It was a little weird. It was just this guy and he was talking about a donkey, and I didn’t see any donkey.”
But when he arrived home, he looked up their Web site, miles
ofsmilesforever.com, and said he was inspired by what they were doing.
Later that night, Soron’s truck appeared again, bearing some jerky, hand warmers and some hunter’s orange to protect them during hunting season.
He also offered them a place to stay when they made it to Craig.
Friday afternoon, with Moses’ new hunting hat fit perfectly around his ears, the cart got a flat tire a few miles from Craig.
It was Jared who showed up with lunch and a new tire tube.
“People like (Jared) have much better things to do all day,” Sheets said. “They don’t have to come over here, help us fix our flat tire and bring us sandwiches. People do good for other people all day long. You just don’t hear about it on the news.”
Jenkins said his favorite part of the journey is meeting people from all walks of life.
From staying with impoverished people with fewer belongings than their ragged group, or being invited into expensive homes, Jenkins said he’s been surprised at humanity’s overwhelming generosity to strangers.
But he doesn’t think people would approach just any vagrants walking the streets.
“It’s Moses,” he said. “It’s the donkey. He brings them in. He breaks down barriers. He makes people curious, and we’ve gotten to meet so many amazing people that way.”
As they walk, a business lawyer in Oklahoma is working on setting Miles of Smiles up as a non-profit company.
Sheets said he has received offers for support from the Audubon Society and Microsoft, who said they can’t develop the software for the program but can help them as a charity.
While Sheets said he would like to be able to sit down with Gates, that’s not necessarily the end of the road.
“The overall mission is the breath of life,” he said. “We all have it. We’re not born to work for 65 years then retire. We’ve got to know there’s something bigger out there.”
He said he wasn’t sure if a dog and a donkey were the answer to the world’s problems.
But Jenkins was.
“I think if everyone got a dog and a donkey and set out to walk across the country, the world could be a much better place,” he said. “Just the true happiness we wake up with every morning and go to bed with every night. : We’re living hand-to-mouth, but it’s nothing but happiness.”
After they finished fixing the tire and tearing Moses away from his lunch of roadside brush, Jenkins and Sheets hoisted up their packs and set out on the road once more.
Sheets’ feet were clean but tan and calloused from the thousands of miles of pavement they’d kissed away.
He doesn’t complain, though. He knows there’s a reason for everything.
“I don’t actually get any arch pain,” he said. “I have flat feet, which makes me think I was just born to do this.”
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