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Messages gathered, step by step

B.J. Hill has a few messages for the next president – two leather-bound notebooks full of messages.

Hill's collected them from thousands of Americans during a cross-country walk that began in San Francisco on March 1, and so far has gone 3,200 miles through 14 states into North Carolina. He expects to be in Charlotte early this week after spending several days in South Carolina.

He hopes to present his notebooks to the new president after he finishes his trek in his native Massachusetts.

Hill, 32, a teacher before he started walking, cares not who the next president is. He just wants John McCain or Barack Obama to find good bedtime reading on the concerns of their country.

Like this request from a woman in Easley, S.C.: “Dear Mr. President, If you could please get the U.S. back on track that would be wonderful. Right now, from where I'm sitting, things are not great. If they continue down this path, there may be a point of no return – and it's very close at hand.”

And this from a convenience store clerk in nearby Greenville: “Dear Mr. President, Please take to heart, first and foremost, the ending of the Iraq war. Spend the little we have … on rebuilding our own nation and people. Then and only then can we help the rest of the world.”

Hill has walked over the Rockies. He's walked through once-thriving towns that are no longer. He has gotten lost in communities that weren't on his map.

He plans to walk another 1,000 miles in 10 states before he gets home around Christmas.

He's on his seventh pair of boots. He's blogged his journey (www.walkamerica2008.com) and slept in the houses of strangers and friends, or under the stars.

He's lived off savings and donations.

“You can live pretty cheaply on apples and beef jerky,” he said.

His body is “half muscle, half mosquito bites.”

This is his second major walk. Two years ago, he walked across Massachusetts collecting messages for the state's new governor.

He plans to try to hand deliver his latest messages to the next occupant of the White House.

“I've put a lot of effort into this, and it's important to me that these messages get into the hands of the president,” Hill said. “Hopefully these journals are something he'll keep nearby – and he'll lean back and open them up and read why we elected him president in the first place.

“Once they get sequestered inside the beltway, it's tough for them to understand what we're going through.”

So, if you see a man strapped in a backpack walking down the road this week, it's probably B.J. Hill. Stop him and leave the next president a message.

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