Jefferson natives Rich Stream (left) and Tim Donovan are walking across Iowa along the historic Lincoln Highway, an expedition of nearly 400 miles. They passed through their hometown last week and posed next to one of the surviving concrete markers placed along the entire Lincoln Highway by Boy Scout troops nationwide in 1928. ANDREW McGINN | JEFFERSON HERALDIn 1970, at the start of adulthood, Donovan (left) and Stream undertook an adventure with similar flair, taking a borrowed canoe from Squirrel Hollow southeast of Jefferson to Lake Red Rock near Pella more than 100 miles away. “We were ill prepared for where dams were,” Donovan, now 67, admits.No tent, no clue and a 10-pound bag of potatoes: Jefferson natives Tim Donovan and Rich Stream float down the river in the summer of 1970. Destination: Lake Red Rock. Forty-eight years later, the duo is back at it, this time walking Iowa from east to west along the Lincoln Highway.Walking the Lincoln Highway has given them a new appreciation for the nation’s oldest transcontinental highway. This is how the Lincoln statue along present-day Lincoln Way in downtown Jefferson looked in 1926.

The further adventures of Tim and Rich

Jefferson natives walking across Iowa on Lincoln Highway

By ANDREW MCGINN

a.mcginn@beeherald.com

When they finally walk into Council Bluffs this weekend, their legs will have carried them nearly 400 miles over bluffs, through hills and past unending seas of corn and beans that have yellowed before their eyes.

They will have seen their home state in ways few have, and they’ve developed a new appreciation for the nation’s oldest transcontinental highway in the process.

For Jefferson natives Tim Donovan and Rich Stream, a monthlong walk across Iowa along the historic Lincoln Highway has been a journey of rediscovery.

And of having to explain oneself, often.

The first cops showed up before they even cleared the Clinton County line on Sept. 1.

The deputy there was responding, as Stream explained, to the report of “a couple old guys pushing a baby on the highway.”

Oh, that. The duo has employed the use of a jogging stroller to wheel around their belongings.

By the time Donovan and Stream hit their hometown last week, they had been stopped by various law enforcement eight times — and there was still more than a week to go before they ventured into the Loess Hills.

Each encounter goes something like this:

Question 1: “Are you OK?”

Question 2: “Do you know where you are?”

Let’s face it, at this stage in their lives — Donovan is 67; Stream, 66; their beards are almost completely white — it’s difficult to ascertain whether they’re walking just to get groceries at the nearest natural food store or if they may have wandered away from a care facility.

Once they dutifully answer “Yes” twice, the third question invariably tries to pin down the purpose of pushing a jogging stroller across the entire state of Iowa. 

Everyone they encounter, whether they have the power to arrest for vagrancy or not, wants to know, “What’s the cause?”

Are they walking to bring awareness to climate change? Human trafficking? Homeless veterans? Nuclear disarmament? Alzheimer’s? Cystic fibrosis? Elephantiasis? That disease that ate Dudley Moore’s brain?

“My answer,” Stream said, “is just because.”

Most everyone responds, “That’s cool.”

That’s usually about the time Donovan slips them a little purple card that says, “Keep Smiling,” with “Two Old Guys’ Walk Across Iowa” on the back.

It’s not so much the walking people envy — they trekked the 21 miles from Boone to Grand Junction last week in 92-degree heat — but what’s admirable is their ability to unplug from society’s 1,440-minute news cycle, and its 24-hour barrage of analysts and talking heads and bickering, to just be alone with the sound of their own feet on the gravel below them.

“I’ve unplugged from all news content during this trip,” Donovan said.

Why are they walking?

Simply put, because they can.

Donovan and Stream are old enough to remember their dads talk about the days of hoboes.

“We’re not hoboes,” Stream said, “but we’re going out and seeing what the world is, not through a computer screen.”

From “On the Road” to “Easy Rider,” the idea of a road trip has always had a romantic aura to it in modern America. 

But car travel has only gotten faster — speed limits seem to be just a suggestion — and cellphone calls now come ringing directly through your stereo system.

And don’t bother pointing things out to your kids, if they’re along for the ride — they’re watching TV in the back seat.

Donovan and Stream decided they’d rather see the Iowa countryside one step at a time.

“It’s like a long meditation,” Stream explained. “There’s nothing out there to bother you. It’s just you and the horizon and the corn and the beans.

“Wherever your mind goes, that’s where you go.”

Walking into Jefferson last week, a flood of memories came rushing back to Donovan when he spotted the creek bank he used to fish from in the summertime with his grandfather.

“That spot,” he said, “hadn’t existed to me for decades.”

“We see things you wouldn’t see if you’re driving by.”

The two initially bonded 50 years ago while working together in high school at the Bee & Herald, Donovan pounding out sports stories for the local paper and Stream running the press.

The Des Moines Register may have RAGBRAI —  the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — but two Bee & Herald alums now have TOGWAI, or Two Old Guys’ Walk Across Iowa.

Donovan, a member of the Jefferson Community High School Class of 1969, and Stream, Class of ’70, have warm memories of growing up in Jefferson.

“This was a great town to grow up in,” Donovan said.

But like countless other Jefferson kids, that wasn’t enough to hold them.

Donovan left Iowa in 1976 for Vermont, where he eventually retired in 2015 as chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges system. Prior to that, he served for eight years as president of the Community College of Vermont.

Stream lived elsewhere in the state until three years ago, when he retired from his job at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and moved to Colorado Springs, Colo.

An English degree from the University of Iowa, Stream quips, “qualifies me to read anything I want and tell you all about it.”

It was Donovan who first hatched the idea of a walk across their home state about 10 years ago.

His wife of 40 years “figured it would never happen,” he said.

Little could she know that Stream was primed and conditioned.

Last year, Stream walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, an ancient Christian pilgrimage route leading to what’s believed to be the tomb of the Apostle James in Galicia.

The walk lasted 71 days.

By comparison, they’re walking across Iowa in half that time.

The duo eventually settled on the old Lincoln Highway as a route.

“It gives us a structure. It gives us a theme,” Donovan said.

As Stream explained, they could have picked from any number of routes, but “none of them have the story the Lincoln Highway does. It was Main Street.”

The Lincoln Highway can still take you from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and in a way, Stream and Donovan are walking coast to coast — from the Mississippi River to the Missouri River.

They left Clinton along the Mississippi on Sept. 1 following the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, Iowa’s longest byway.

“The signage has been spectacular,” Donovan said. “We can see those signs a quarter-mile away.”

Following the route as closely as possible, they’ve taken both concrete highways and gravel roads.

They’ve been rained on, waved at more times than they can count and, for good measure, flipped off a couple of times.

“There’s a certain romance to the Lincoln Highway,” Donovan said. 

“And,” Stream added, “to Jefferson.”

They came of age in the ’50s and ’60s, when Jefferson — whether real or perceived — was a charmed place where you could always drive away with the house unlocked. Downtown shop owners dressed up in pioneer clothes for Old Fashioned Bargain Days, and the next circus was never far away.

Their dads were businessmen who each ran body shops of a different sort: Stream’s dad, Orville, ran an auto body shop with Roy Van Dyke, while Donovan’s dad, Richard, was a local chiropractor of 40 years.

Walking the Lincoln Highway has given them a new appreciation for a road that’s seemingly always been there, running through the background of their lives.

As they passed last week by the entrance to the cemetery on the way into town, Donovan texted, “I’m about to complete the Memorial Day parade in reverse,” to his sister, Pat, who had once been drum majorette of the school marching band.

Donovan also learned to drive, he said, on Lincoln Way going out of town back when it was lined with curbs.

“I’d like people to drive this old highway,” he said. “This is an interesting road. The next time you go to Carroll, take the Lincoln Highway. The next time you go to Boone, take the Lincoln Highway.”

By virtue of growing up in Jefferson, they feel a part of the road’s storied history, which has been unfolding since 1913.

“We played a part in it by living here,” Stream said.

Walking across Iowa in retirement isn’t actually the nuttiest thing Donovan and Stream have done.

Forty-eight years ago, the headline “Youths conquer adversity on 250-mile river trip” graced Page 1 of the July 20, 1970, Jefferson Bee.

Pat Zinn’s story detailed the exploits of two inexperienced campers who decided to take a borrowed canoe from Squirrel Hollow to Lake Red Rock near Pella via the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers.

“We were ill prepared for where dams were,” Donovan recalled.

He was 19 and fresh from his first year at Iowa State. Stream was 18 and had just graduated high school.

Taking $15 in emergency cash with them, Zinn reported, they blew through $10 of it in Perry on a new paddle and a fishing license.

“We were going to live off the river and fish,” Stream said.

“We caught one fish,” he added.

And the rivers were so polluted, you didn’t want to eat it anyway.

They did, however, bring canned food and a 10-pound bag of potatoes with them.

“We just went to Bordenaro’s and started grabbing stuff,” Stream said.

What they didn’t bring was a tent.

“Which is a great idea,” Stream observed, “until it rains.”

In the end, they triumphed, floating onto Lake Red Rock in one piece.

At the start of this current adventure, it was just like old times — for two of the first four days, it poured. And then it rained some more. Six inches over two days.

“We were drowned rats when we got to Marion,” Donovan said.

Not that they really cared.

“For the first three days,” Stream said, “neither one of us shut up.”

“We had about 20 years of catching up to do,” Donovan added.

“I think we tried to do it in the first hour and a half,” Stream said.

If that first adventure was a journey of self-discovery for two men at the start of adulthood, this one is allowing them to reflect on where they’ve been.

Stream has been married for 33 years.

Donovan is set to become a grandfather for the first time in February.

“It’s now become an individual walk for both of us,” Stream said.

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