‘The Mission Walker’ travels through Dayton, Liberty

Dayton Mayor Caroline Wadzeck (right) joined Edie Littlefield Sundby of California as she walked through Dayton and Liberty on Friday, June 4. Sundby is on a 1,200 mile journey from Florida to San Antonio on the Old Spanish Trail. Wadzeck accompanied her on the walk from Dayton to Liberty, and showed her around the courthouse square before Sundby continued her journey.

Edie Littlefield Sundby, known as ‘The Mission Walker’, was welcomed to Dayton on Friday morning, June 4, by Mayor Caroline Wadzeck as she passed through town on her 1,200-mile journey to Florida from San Antonio.  Sundby has set a new goal of walking the OST (Old Spanish Trail – now U.S. Highway 90) in stages. 

She accomplished her previous goal to walk the 1,600-mile El Camino Real de las California’s mission trail through the mountain wilderness of Mexico – one of the hottest deserts on earth – and across the border to Northern California.  It was a walk that “elevated my life with meaning and purpose that transcended pain and fear – and healed my broken body,”  Sundby said.

Sundby began that walk six months after losing her right lung to cancer, fighting recurrent stage 4 cancer that included 79 rounds of chemotherapy, four radical surgeries (liver, lung, colon/stomach, and throat), and dozens of radiation treatments. 

Her book The Mission Walker, published in 2017 by HarperCollins, is her first-hand account of that harrowing adventure that included encounters with wild animals and drug smugglers, desert heat and cold, walls of cactus, sleeplessness, hunger, both physical and spiritual exhaustion, and no water other than what a pack mule could carry.  She described it as tortuous agony and transcendent beauty.    

Sundby’s goal for Friday was 12-13 miles that took her from Dayton to Raywood.  Caroline joined her in the walk from Dayton to Liberty, around the courthouse square, and dropped off at McDonald’s Restaurant while Edie continued the trek.  The professional walker came dressed in her Lowa hiking boots made in Austria (“the best hiking boots in the world”), a great hat with a generous brim that protected her face and neck from the sun, and a bright yellow vest with a blinking light so that oncoming traffic could hopefully see her. 

Sundby is very much aware of the fact that it’s her job to be alert and not depend on drivers. She said that when you walk a lot, you look like a homeless person and smell like one, too,, making businesses reluctant to allow her to enter.  But she found that with the application of red lipstick, her problem was solved. She is welcomed everywhere along her journey. 

As they traveled from Dayton to Liberty, Mayor Wadzeck recounted local history and talked about the challenges that the traffic on Highway 90 presents to residents and travelers alike.  Sundby chronicled the walk with photos she took at the Dayton hill with the wildflowers and longhorn statues, the flooded river bottom, a good Samaritan who stopped to ask if they were stranded and needed help, the old Liberty US 90 bridge, the Dayton star statue, the Liberty bell statue located at the now closed Riverside Inn in Liberty, and the Liberty County Courthouse with its street marker indicating its old Spanish name. 

Sundby plans to make it to the Louisiana border by June 13 before needing to return home to California with her husband Dale who attends to the trip details and shadows her from a distance in a van while she walks.  Later, she will again take up the journey and complete it to San Augustine, Fla., where the OST Highway construction began in 1915. 

Encountering all kinds of wild animals while walking including mountain lions and bears, the only animal that scares her are dogs because they can be so aggressive.  That is, until she saw a large wild dead pig on the road between Liberty and Ames. 

“Now that I know there are wild pigs out here along Highway 90, I’ll start carrying my walking stick with spear end!”  she said. “Walking is good for the body and soul.  Walking prolongs life and you get to connect with the history and the past along the way.  You learn a lot walking thousands of miles.” 

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