SYCAMORE – Neal Thompson attracted a lot of attention as he passed through DeKalb County on foot Monday and Tuesday.
The bearded, 59-year-old resident of St. Louis was dressed in layers of all-white clothing, carrying a staff and wearing a large wooden cross when he arrived by train Aug. 4 in Chicago. After a quick visit to Lake Michigan’s lakefront, he headed west on Chicago’s North Avenue, which becomes Route 64.
Thompson said he travels to a different location every year, usually by bus or train, then walks back to St. Louis. He has been making the treks for 15 years, and said on average, he can cover a mile in about 45 minutes.
“Every year I go out from four days to six weeks,” he said. “On average, I walk 11 hours a day, but lately it has been closer to 12.”
Thompson uses the walks as an opportunity to share the gospel and stories of his personal journey to becoming a Christian. He has walked more than 20,000 miles of roads in 45 states and “all corners of the United States,” he said.
With the guidance of his guardian angel, he sleeps in secluded areas along the side of the road and relies on strangers for food and water, and occasionally lodging or rides, he said.
He sometimes wears a white mask and white gloves to protect himself from sunburn, which can raise suspicions.
“The police got me three times today,” Thompson said as he walked west Monday evening on Route 64 near Five Points Road.
Local authorities received several calls Monday about Thompson, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Gary Dumdie said. Since Thompson was not doing anything illegal, after making sure he did not need help, police did not question him further, Dumdie said.