Joan Brown was adamant before an aggressive form of cancer claimed her life in 2011 about wanting her husband to quickly move on with his life and find happiness.
“Right up to the very end, she didn’t want me to sit around and mourn,” said Dave Brown, 61, of Collegeville, who is taking his wife’s wishes seriously.
Rather than sit around and mope, Brown plans to spend most days through October walking the nearly 3,000-mile distance between New Jersey and California, mostly following the historic National Road, otherwise known as Route 40. He is using the journey as a way to memorialize his wife and also raise awareness about ovarian cancer and money to support its research.
The couple met at a dance in 1970 at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia following a Navy and Notre Dame football game. He was attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., when the young blonde caught his eye across the dance floor. They quickly fell in love, marrying five years later.
Joan Brown was diagnosed with the disease in February 2011, and died six months later at age 58.
“It’s a nasty disease,” Dave Brown said when his journey reached Washington County this week. “Its symptoms are subtle. Most women don’t know they have it until they’re in Stage IV.”
Having grown up in Ohio, he developed a keen interest in the National Road, the nation’s first interstate authorized by the federal government in 1811 as part of the westward movement. Along the way, he is attempting to recreate photographs published in a 1953 book, “U.S. 40 Today,” by Thomas and Geraldine Vale, which his wife had given him three decades ago.
He began the walk Feb. 28 in Atlantic City, N.J., and expects to reach San Francisco Oct. 12. He wears a fluorescent green hoodie to increase his visibility on the road, where he has been walking about 14 miles a day at a speed of about 3 1/2 miles an hour.
Along the way, he said, he has experienced countless coincidences and kind gestures from strangers who help him find places to bed down at night.
On Monday, he came across a man at Century Inn in Scenery Hill whom he jogged with while staying at the hotel nearly 30 years ago, when he was in the area working in information technology for Lukens Steel and providing training for employees of its Washington plant.
“Every day is a story,” he said Tuesday.
That night, he planned to stay at historic Manchester House in Claysville, with the lodging fees donated by a supporter. As of Tuesday, he had raised $10,413 toward his goal of donating $110,000 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.
For more information, visit his blog, http://www.ocjoan.blogspot.com.