Part spiritual conquest, part health initiative and all adventure: two North Georgia men have set out on a journey to turn their lives around and get a sense of America the only way they know how — by experiencing it one step at a time.
Thursday, those steps brought Todd Gouge, 42, and son Collin, 20, through Statesboro, where the Monroe natives continued what they hope to be a nearly 3,000-mile march from one coast to another.
Making brief stops at Walmart, for a night’s rest, and convenient stores to rehydrate and refuel, the Gouges lumbered alongside Northside Drive 10 days after embarking on a hike leading across the Unites States from Tybee Island to San Diego.
The elder Gouge, an imposing figure weighing in at more than 400 lbs. and standing taller than six feet, and son, a not-so-miniature version of the old man, steadily lopped-off about six miles through town, continuing toward Portal and the setting sun.
The trip, still in its early stages, was an idea forged from tumultuous times in the lives of the men who call themselves “Toddzilla” and “Man-Cub.”
“The reasons for doing the walk are numerous. Primarily, I found myself in a position in life where everything was turned upside down and I didn’t know what to do with anything anymore,” said Todd Gouge, with cars zipping by as he neared the conclusion of the Statesboro-leg of his walk. “I started trying to sort things out. I am a spiritual man so I was doing a lot of praying, and I felt like God was telling me to walk.”
“So, I started putting it together and things began rolling into place,” he said. “It has become like a spirit, mind and body quest for me.”
Gouge says he wants to realize his potential; demonstrate to himself that failure isn’t a certainty.
“I am proving to myself that I can succeed,” he said.
According to Collin, the trek provides a much-needed worthwhile experience in his life.
“I joined in because I spent 20 years doing nothing; just sitting on a couch and gaining weight over time,” he said. “Next thing I know, I’m 300 lbs.”
“I just wanted to do something with my life,” Gouge said. “I feel like opportunity knocked and I had to answer the door. This is an adventure, not just a walk. I think everyone should be able to make the time to do something awesome.”
As a bonus, the men expect the physically demanding expedition to help accomplish a goal of losing weight and improving overall health.
“When we started, we did a combined weigh-in and had to go to a scrap-metal yard,” Todd Gouge said. “We weighed about 758 lbs. combined. So, the physical reasons for doing this walk are plain and simple.”
He hopes to see at least 300 lbs. lost from the combined total.
So, with positive attitudes and a determination to do something great, the march began.
Perhaps surprisingly, the plan was met with nothing but positivity, said Todd, who temporarily leaves behind a wife and family at home (Gouge is father to five children).
“Everybody was gung-ho for the trip,” Gouge said. “I am the kind of guy who throws out ideas all of the time. It isn’t uncommon from someone to hear a wild idea from me.”
“The execution usually falls short,” he said. “But we managed to pull it off this time.”
Since Jan. 16, when the men first stepped from Tybee Beach, they have progressed one mile after another. They rest when rest is needed; they walk when they feel like walking, Gouge said.
To make things manageable, a trail-van, which includes food, water, a mattress and other assorted supplies is following the same route – stopping every few miles, until the walkers catch up and can break.
Another of Gouge’s sons will drive the van for the first two weeks of the trip before giving way to a family friend in North Georgia. When the friend’s turn is up, the Gouge’s hope another volunteer steps in to keep the van in motion.
If not, the pair will have to carry heavier packs with days’ worth of supplies and live out of a tent.
“If anyone gets the notion to drive for us for a couple of weeks, they can get in touch with us on our website,” said Gouge.
The team tracks their progress on a website, where they also accept donations to fund the trip.
As the duo blaze their trail along U.S. Highway 80, they will take up a side-project hoped to eventually be turned into a documentary.
“We have a side thing that we are doing along the way that has become a big focus,” Gouge said. “And that is looking for the spirit of America; because I am worried, for future generations’ sake, about the status of America in a big way.”
Gouge says he will film people, asking questions about their thoughts on the status of America and their own lives.
“Everyone is worried about the country and feels they can’t do anything about it,” he said. “It’s like Americans have lost the dream. No one dreams; they don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing. They’re lost.”
He encourages all he speaks with to “dream a dream;” to “chase (that dream) down because it belongs to you.”
The group says everyone they have spoken to thus have been welcoming and hospitable. Gouge says some have even invited them into homes to spend the night.
Thus far Todd and Collin are averaging about ten miles each day, but hope to increase the number to 20 over time. They pass through Portal and Twin City after leaving Statesboro and will continue to Swainsboro, Dublin and Macon in coming weeks.
The men hope to complete the entire voyage in approximately nine months, ending sometime in September.
To make it, they will continue to ask for donations by visiting www.toddzillawalks.com.
“We have a donate button on our website,” said Gouge. “We are running off of the generosity of family, friends and even people who just like what we’re doing.”