Walker with the world and a cause reaches Cottage Grove
Erik Bendl has the world on a string, his dog Nice on a leash and many miles to go.
Bendl is using an unconventional approach to raise awareness and money for diabetes research. The 49-year-old from Louisville, Ky., is walking cross-country, pushing his 6-foot inflatable globe as motorists and passerby crane their necks at the unusual sight.
"It is an effective way to raise awareness," Bendl said as he walked through Cottage Grove Thursday toward St. Paul Park and points farther north.
Bendl, a carpenter by trade, is on his fifth multi-state walk. He has set foot in 26 states with a goal of hitting all of the lower 48 states. Bendl said he started his current, several-hundred-mile trek July 3 in Sheboygan, Wis., "shaved the hair of" Iowa by crossing through the northeast corner of the state and headed north on Highway 61 in southeast Minnesota. He'll continue north to the Mississippi River headwaters before walking to North Dakota and South Dakota.
"From Sheboygan to when the snow flies," he said of his plan.
A sweat-stained fedora on his head and a daypack on his back, Bendl sets out early each day and usually walks between 12 miles and 14 miles. He sleeps in his van, relying on kind strangers to shuttle him back to his starting point at the end of the day. He then drives his van to where he finished walking.
"I meet people every day," he said. "It always works out."
With his dog and inflated orb, Bendl is hard to miss as he walks the roadside. He got the 75-pound canvas ball from someone at a camp and painted it to look like a globe. Bendl tethers it to a buckle on his belt as he walks, patches the canvas exterior as holes develop and occasionally has to "deflate the world" to pass over narrow bridges or through doorways at resting points.
Bendl's cause was inspired by diabetes in his own family. His mother, Gerta, a former Kentucky state lawmaker, had diabetes and died at 54, he said. He is not diabetic, but wants to encourage others to exercise as a way of warding off the disease.
"My little message is, take care of yourself," he said, adding that simply going for a walk is healthful.
Bendl directs people to the American Diabetes Association through his website www.worldguy.org. He formed his own non-profit organization, but doesn't get too concerned with tracking the small donations that he receives, which are in addition to what supporters contribute directly to the American Diabetes Association. He wants to encourage people to live healthy lives.
"What warms the cockles in my heart more is when somebody will send me a message and say, 'I'm making a change,'" he said.