Over the mountains and through the canyons, two pilgrims are making their way, step by step, across America.
Steven Wescott looks less like a pilgrim intent on doing God's work than he does a guitarist in a heavy-metal band. Tatted up and favoring a black t-shirt, shorts and close-cropped hair of any rock star, the broad smile on his face and easy-going demeanor is more like that of a dude you'd want to hang with at a local bar more than a missionary. And his traveling companion, LeeRoy Brown? LeeRoy Brown is a goat.
Together, they're meandering across America on a quest to change children's lives in Kenya.
It's not unusual in the summer months to find people walking, biking, riding or running across America and passing through the Uintah Basin. Not many come with their own goat, though.
The idea of the walk came to Wescott years ago. He knew he wanted to walk across America, he said. But he wanted the walk to have a purpose, too – not just to be a selfish experience. He wanted to use the experience to make a difference in the world and grow closer to God – a God who turned Wescott's life around and who Wescott said is saving children in Kenya.
The guy and God
Wescott is the first to say he's no superhero, no wise man, not even a monk. He said he knows he had plenty of failings before coming to Christ.
Wescott said he's saved by grace, but is using the walk to redeem his past.
Wescott said he doesn't try to evangelize, but if the conversation turns to religion, he'll go there.
“Being a Christian, I feel like everywhere I go, it's put into the conversation,” he said. He also keeps track of his journey on his blog, Needle2Square (for the walk from the Seattle Space Needle to his final destination in Times Square, New York City).
Wescott said he'll tell people about how his life has been turned around. That involves owning up to his sins and confessing his shortcomings.
“I'm a very prideful, egotistical person,” he admitted in a room at the Duchesne River Inn, shortly after washing the road grime off his hiking socks in a bathroom sink.
But Wescott said the walk isn't about him. Or even his goat. It's about Uzima.
Wescott is trying to raise money for Uzima Outreach and Intervention, a ministry in Nairobi that aims to reach addicted adults, as well as the abused, neglected and orphaned children of those addicts. It's located on the borderline of a slumland in Nairobi known locally as “Sodom.”
Sodom is a small area of land in a slum, Wescott writes on his website. It's home to rape, murder, robbery, drugs and more, he said. Uzima tries to reach out to children in that land, many of whom are suffering from drug and violence problems of their own, and bring them love and compassion.
The ministry is headed by Wescott's friend, Steve Turner. Wescott's mother spent time there as well (Wescott has yet to make the journey personally to Kenya to visit).
“It's turned into a family thing,” he said. Wescott noted that his friend Turner is the more analytical, planning type. He's the perfect person to be in charge of the mission, Wescott said.
Wescott himself is the more impulsive of the pair. Which comes to explain how he's walking across America with a goat on a leash.
The goat of destiny
Trading in the steel and concrete canyons of Spokane, Wash. for the mountain canyons of Utah, he's ventured this far in two parts.
He came up with the idea in late 2011 while touring with a band. After the last tour date, he told a bandmate that he wanted to make the walk. He spent the next year planning and eventually made a trip to the REI in Seattle.
He selected his backpack and equipment based on how cool it looked, he said. Wescott had never been much of an outdoorsman.
“I was like 'this is a cool color, I like it,'” he said.
Wescott said he knew he needed a traveling companion. He had his sights set on a sweet Rottweiler to fill the bill. But a knee injury meant his canine friend couldn't make the walk.
“The vet said 'He can't go,' and I remember crying,” Wescott said.
Wescott said he was heartbroken and felt bad about leaving his friend behind, but wanted to continue his mission anyway.
“The thought of getting another dog... it seemed like it would be cheating,” he said.
Then he heard about the New Moon Goat Rescue through a friend.
“I was like 'I've got to see this magical land of goats,'” Wescott said.
He made the drive to the goat rescue in his Subaru.
“It was destiny,” he said. “She (the rescue owner) takes extremely good care of the goats. She was so thorough (in the interview and application process), she wanted to make sure I was a good fit.
Wescott was paired with a goat named Popsicle.
Almost immediately he renamed Popsicle to something a little more bad – LeeRoy Brown, after the Jim Croce song. Wescott and his friend loaded LeeRoy Brown into the back of Wescott's Subaru, and Wescott made the drive back laying in the back seat next to the goat. He wanted to bond with him, he said.
The first night in a tent was just on the outskirts of a city. Wescott spent a nervous night with LeeRoy in the tent (there were dogs nearby and he was worried about leaving LeeRoy outside) only to wake to a mountain of goat droppings in the tent.
Since then the duo have found their groove, despite a few hitches (LeeRoy was impounded by Salt Lake City police when left tied up outside a restaurant there), and continue their progress, slow as it is.
“The Internet tells you a lot about raising goats,” Wescott said, “but it doesn't tell you how slow they are.”
LeeRoy pays his own way – the goat carries his own food and gear, though Wescott said he tries to keep LeeRoy's load light so as not to stress him. Other than LeeRoy's alarming habit of eating discarded cigarette butts on the roadside, Wescott said he's been a fine traveling companion.
At first, he was stopped by the unexpectedly harsh winter conditions at Soldier Summit. Wescott was also slowed by his gear mistakes – opting for cushier, heavier and sometimes unnecessary equipment in lieu of the ultralight gear favored by most hikers who want to go far and fast.
That meant a retreat and a wait for conditions to clear up before starting again at the same spot this spring.
Which brings them to now. Wescott was spending the night Friday at the Duchesne River Inn (the owners gave him a free room when they heard about his quest) and restocking in Duchesne. He had a good breakfast at Cowann's Cafe in downtown, where a woman paid for his meal without his knowing it.
Things like that happen, Wescott said, and it's a blessing. Every penny he saves is a penny that goes toward the orphans in Sodom.
Those people who comp him rooms, pay his meals, let him stretch his pennys? Placed by God, he's certain.
Unexpected experiences like that, and like seeing the full majesty of the night time sky in rural Utah (a city kid, Wescott said he had no idea there were so many stars in the sky and that they actually did twinkle like that), mean that for all the good he's trying to do for others, he can't help but come away a changed man.
That change was something he needed, he said. And he said that change came from following a path set by God. A path that can't be walked without a goat named LeeRoy Brown.