Mike Oren’s ultimate goal is world peace, but for now he’d be content with ending the war in Iraq. Oren has decided to let the nation know he’s tired of war by going on a peacewalk from San Bernardino, Calif. to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
Oren, 51, arrived in Winslow last week for a few days before heading for Holbrook and about another 2,500 miles to New York City. He plans to follow Route 66 all the way to Chicago, then make a fairly a straight line to his final destination.
“It’s a very spiritual experience for me,” he said. “I spend a lot of time meditating and thinking.”
He left from the steps of the San Bernardino courthouse on Sept. 21 on a mission he said he was inspired to take after watching a CNN report. The network reported a father set himself on fire after learning of his son’s death while fighting in Iraq.
Oren, a retired bartender, union activist and Democratic Party delegate for Nevada, has charted his route with the help of locals along the way.
He’s also relied on people who support his cause to provide him with everything else he needs. Churches, restaurants, residents and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have offered food and shelter. His backpack, shoes and money for supplies have been donated to him and railroad workers handed out six packs of bottled water, which came in handy in the Mohave Desert. Temperatures reached triple digits in September.
La Posada hosted him for one night in Winslow and other hotels and private residents have given him a place to stay. He did sleep under the stars for 14 straight nights and said he saw the Northern Lights.
“The worst part was the coyotes make a lot of noise,” he said.His most permanent donation came from Wildcat Tattoo — a red, white and blue tattoo across his back that reads PEACEWALKER.
Heavy snowfall in Flagstaff delayed him somewhat, though he said he’s still on schedule. The respite gave him time to visit his children, ages 19 and 17, in Las Vegas. He also took a detour to the Valley.
In Tempe, he stayed on the Arizona State University campus. He said he tried to get an anti-war rally going but could not because it was finals week. But he met one young female student who donated $20 to his cause.
“She was crying because she lost her boyfriend in the war,” he said.
He’s also received encouragement from soldiers he’s met, especially those who have served one tour in Iraq and may be called back for another.
Back in Flagstaff, he started gathering signatures for a petition to protest the war. He gathered more than 300 from Flagstaff and Winslow. He said he plans to include everyone’s name in a book that a friend is writing about his journey. It is called “A Simple Quest.”
Oren’s quest was almost over before he left California. While in Barstow, he ate a bowl of chili at a bar, which he said made him sick. He took a few steps and collapsed. He was told his eyes were fixed and dilated and he’d stopped breathing. He woke up soon after 9-1-1 was called. After a few days rest, he was back on his feet.
The journey has put a strain on him physically. The former four-sport letterman in high school has lost 45 pounds so far to drop to 200. He said he’s averaging 20 miles a day with his backpack but walks as much as 30 if someone takes his pack on ahead of him.
He said he won’t accept rides but if someone wants to walk with him, he accepts the company.
His walk has attracted the media as well as someone at Ithaca College in New York who has asked if a film crew could be with him as he entered Manhattan.
He said that even if the war ends before his journey is complete he would still finish it and “If the war is not over, I’ll walk to Washington and hang out there,” he said.
He said he’s also considering a peacewalk from Cairo, Egypt to Damascus, Syria for peace in the Middle East.