April 13, 2018 Updated: April 13, 2018 at 8:02 pm
“I’m gonna die here,” Joe Turcotte recalls his 17-year-old self thinking, before he went off on a hitchhiking, Kerouac-ian odyssey, eventually landing in Colorado Springs.
Now, 36 years later, he’ll return to Boston. Pushing a baby stroller with all his survival gear, he’ll take the first of an estimated 6 million steps. He plans to total 3,000 miles on foot across 13 states and expects to finish in Oceanside, Calif., before Labor Day. That’s assuming 30 miles a day, with one day off every week.
He’s leaving the comforts of home, his girlfriend of 12 years. Diane Sebastian gets it. She’s a traveler, always flying somewhere, because she’s retired and seeing the world is what she’s always wanted to do.
They were at church when the pastor asked his listeners what they would do if they could do anything.
Run across the country, Turcotte thought. “What the hell are you waiting for?” Sebastian asked.
So off he’ll go April 28. In some ways, it doesn’t feel so different than the last time he did something like this.
Except, “at 17, all I wanted to do was drugs,” he says. And throughout his adult life, without kids or career, all he’s wanted to do is test his body.
That passion was discovered in the Springs, the young nomad’s next spot because he had a buddy who lived here.
“Knew him from the time I was 8 years old in Massachusetts,” Turcotte recalls. “Well, he wound up going into an attic and killing himself. By this time, I was 23 or so, and that suicide was probably the best thing that happened to me, though it was the most horrific at that time.
“But I thought, well, this is me, it’s gonna happen sooner or later. That’s when I decided I’m gonna run the Pikes Peak Marathon.”
That seemed unlikely for the periodic construction worker – how else to pay for the booze? – weighing 260-plus pounds with a thick beard to hide his frown. Athletics never appealed to Turcotte. Maybe they would have if he had a father who was into that. But his father left, and his mother was left to care for the 4-year-old boy.
She worked long hours. “I was kind of able to do what I wanted most of the time, unfortunately,” Turcotte says.
In 1983, he wanted to run up Pikes Peak. He did. And so began a new addiction.
“This was something I totally did to get away from drinking and drugs,” Turcotte says. “After work, I’d just go run.”
He signed up for more marathons, shedding the bad thoughts with the weight. He got into triathlons. Then he went on an Ironman kick. Over seven months in 2016, he completed five of the sufferfests consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
“When he sets his mind to do something, it’s gonna happen, and he just really embraces challenges,” Sebastian says. “He likes to kind of just go to the next level. I guess this is just the next journey in his adventure with himself.”
He wants to see how he does “in situations to communicate with people I don’t know, which I haven’t done in a long time.” He wears hearing aids for the severe loss over the past decade.
It’s made him a shell of himself, no longer the social man he’s always been. He stopped running in his regular meet-ups because he couldn’t hear others talking to him, and he felt bad for not responding.
He felt he fit in better with Achilles Pikes Peak, the group of people with disabilities who push each other to be active.
“He’s showing people he’s not afraid to get out there,” says Karen Kantor, executive director of that nonprofit, for which Turcotte will raise money during the cross-country run.
He’s also benefiting Canine Companions for Independence, because once he attended “a graduation” where trained pups met their new kid owners, kids with disabilities. “It’s the most emotional thing I’ve seen in my life,” Turcotte says.
He’s calling the run his “6 Million Steps of Gratitude.”
“I really am pretty damn lucky to get to do something like this.”