Noah Barnes, 11, has burned through more shoes than other kids his age this year — he’s on his 11th pair — but then none of his peers are about to become the youngest person on record to walk across America.
On Thursday, Barnes and his father, Robert, could be seen along Washington State Route 14 near Wishram, the 311th day of their more than 4,200-mile journey.
They took a short break to talk with a Chronicle reporter about the expedition that began in Key West, Fla., in early January and ends Dec. 9 in Blaine, Wash.
Rob Denning from Immense Imagery captured video footage of the interview, which will be posted on the businesses’ Facebook pages, as well as the Chronicle website, www.thedalleschronicle.com.
When the long trek is finished, Noah will have walked from the farthest southeastern point of the contiguous United States to its farthest northeastern point, yet another record.
"Less than 300 people have crossed the U.S. on foot since they started tracking these journeys,” said Robert.
Setting a new record isn’t what drives Noah to get up every day and walk 17 to 22 miles, or more. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 16 months old and has lived with insulin shots most of his life.
He longs for the day that needles and testing his blood sugar level multiple times a day is no longer a part of his routine.
“It’s like having a cold only this cold is different because it stays with you,” he explained of his condition.
Noah came up with the idea for the trip after stumbling across an article about a diabetes walk fundraiser.
“How far do I need to walk so that I can be cured,” he asked dad.
He believes the family’s quest will lead to more dollars being spent on research and an eventual cure. That is what gives him determination on rough days, such as braving the snow near Baker City earlier this week.
"Diabetes is not a ‘good’ disease so people don’t talk about it — they think you do it to yourself,” said Robert.
He said that is untrue of type 1 diabetes, which is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
“They have an idea what triggers it, but they don’t really know,” said Robert.
Diabetes is autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The disease affects 30 million Americans, about 10 percent of the population. If not cured by 2050, the American Diabetes Association predicts that more than 100 million citizens will have the disease, which will further strain the health care system.
The classic symptoms of diabetes are frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, and weight loss. Additional symptoms include blurry vision, strong fruity breath, nausea or vomiting, rapid and deep breathing, confusion, weakness, fatigue and poor healing.
To keep his blood sugar in a healthy range, Noah eats four to five times per day, consuming 4,000 to 6,000 calories during the walk.
“This kid can eat,” said Robert, who heats up packets of rice and chicken and other Mountain Home dehydrated specialties to give his son a warm boost on a cold day.
Sometimes people drop off gifts of food, although Robert is hesitant to allow Noah to eat anything that is not sealed.
Other times, motorists like Marilyn Singer of British Columbia, Canada, who was passing through the Gorge Wednesday, pull over to give them a monetary donation.
“Good luck Noah,” she said after taking a quick photo with the boy.
Noah said up to 50 people a day have taken time to encourage him or ask questions.
“If people see his story, they know – otherwise, we just look like homeless people,” said Robert, who pushes a cart filled with things Noah might need during long days on the road.
He and wife, Joanne, have been homeschooling Noah and his two younger siblings along the way. Their lessons are geared for the area they are traveling through, so it seemed fitting to discuss the journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition while walking along the Columbia River.
Robert also provided instruction in geology, pointing out the rock formations in the scenic corridor.
“They do book work in the morning and journal about what they did at night,” he said.
Noah posts excerpts of his video journal on www.noahsmarchfoundation.org, the website that chronicles the family expedition. Donations can be made on that site.
Some days, all three children walk but Wednesday’s cold, wet weather made mom decide to keep the younger ones, ages 4 and 8, in a nearby motel room.
For 200 days of the trip, the Barnes have stayed with people, said Robert. When housing is not available, he said motels frequently have donated a room, although some have charged full price.
There has been sleet, snow, wind and rain during the almost year-long journey, as well as blistering sun.
Noah has more than 30 badges that have been given to him by law enforcement officials and wears several of them on his bright yellow vest.
Homeless people have offered him their spare change and even walks through rough neighborhoods in some big cities have seen people reaching out to them, said Robert.
Sometimes they have been offered rides by people who feel sorry for them, thinking they are down on their luck.
“I’ve learned that people in America are really nice,” said Noah.
“We haven’t had anything negative, except some rudeness in Illinois and California drivers that have screamed at us and made hand gestures — that was really bizarre,” said Robert.
He said Google maps have identified cities that “didn’t really exist,” meaning they ended up as byways without services or amenities.
“That made things a little more difficult when we needed supplies,” said Robert.
The Barnes family started their journey at the same time as many other people were taking to the road.
They monitored the progress of these individuals on US Crossers, www.usacrossers.com, but, as the months wore on, these walkers dropped off the grid before they could meet up with them.
“There are three types of people who do this: Advocates, adventurers and athletes,” said Robert.
His family is so serious about advocating for a diabetes cure that Robert will begin a bike ride from California to Georgia in mid-December to raise further support.
The Barnes sold their home in Florida so, when all of the walking is done, they will have to decide where to live next. Joanne has family ties in Walla Walla, Wash., so that community might be given consideration.
“I just hope diabetes goes away,” said Noah of the family’s efforts.
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