PORT TOWNSEND — Bryan Jacobsen is searching for some answers.
Most people would take a walk in the woods or a short hike to the beach or in the mountains to clear their heads and find some direction.
Jacobsen hopes to find his answers walking across America.
A graduate of Port Townsend High School, Jacobsen had been living in Norway for the past 15 years.
He married a Norwegian woman and settled in with jobs as an engineer. Life was good.
But then his life started unravelling.
“In Norway, job seniority is huge,” Jacobsen said. “Since I had only been at my last job for eight years, I was a target for the layoffs they were considering. This made me very anxious.
“My mother, Ginger Jacobsen, who had been very active in the local community here, had ALS and passed away in May.
“Norway saw its worst winter last year. I had six feet of snow on each side of my driveway. I’m so sick of snow, I don’t want to see it ever again.”
Then he and his wife separated.
It all happened about the same time. And he fell into a depression.
“I was thinking about how other people are in this state all the time,” he said. “They constantly have to deal with it. It can totally destroy lives.
“It affects me, but it isn’t a life-consuming issue. I’ve been here before. I’m coming out of it.”
Some people close to him suffer from mental illness and it seemed like medications worked for a short time and then were no longer effective, he said.
He became frustrated when therapies and drugs did not seem to help them.
Jacobsen felt one thing he could do for himself and others is to raise awareness and money for mental health research. And he’s passionate about his mission.
“All of a sudden my life changed. I have nothing holding me back, no responsibilities. No direction. My assets were liquidated. I’m free to do this.”
Jacobsen is dedicating the next 18 months to a personal meditation of sorts, at a pace of 20 miles per day that he believes is doable.
He plans to start the cross-county trek at the end of the month, assuming his first few hundred miles are navigable after Wednesday’s devastation from Hurricane Michael.
Jacobsen, 50, will leave Port Townsend and fly to Florida next week and plans to leave from Jacksonville and head west, through mid-Florida, along the Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana coasts, heading west towards Houston, Texas.
He’ll continue through the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona, then north through Los Angeles, Calif., and up the coast, ending in Port Townsend 18 months from now.
“I’ll either be in really good shape, or my body will be falling apart,” he said.
He’s built a 40-pound, three-wheeled cart to pull behind him filled with his provisions. He finally has a pair of study comfortable shoes after a 15-miles training walk left him with bloodied feet. He’s researched the route that, he said, can change depending on where the journey takes him.
His intention is to do some good along the way for mental health support and research.
“I’m raising money for two organizations: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation.”
He’s asking people to donate directly to these charities. He’s received support from psychologists, sobriety advocates, and mental health advocates.
“I’m interested in understanding the brain. I’m not a professional, but I’ve taken a lot of courses and understand that it’s an area where there’s a long way to go.
“Recently we’re seeing the technological advances that allow us to get concrete scientific proof of certain things. But it’s still theoretical. We can look at brain scans and see what parts are active, but we are just beginning.”
He plans to eat a brain-healthy diet of fish, fruits and vegetables whenever he can and meet up with mental health organizations and media to spread the word about mental illness.
And he wants to keep the dialogue going with stories and conversations about this illness that affects people not just in our neighborhoods, but around the world.
He’ll post a daily story on his facebook page and dedicate each day’s walk to someone who is struggling with depression.
On his website, there is a place to help him financially, but he said wasn’t looking for donations.
“If no one gives me money, I’m still doing this,” he said.
And, as for that cart that weighs 40 pounds unloaded, Jacobsen isn’t too worried about it.
“The only time I’ll feel the weigh is when I’m going uphill.
“Fortunately, the first thousand miles are flat.”
Jacobsen can be reached at bryanwalksusa.com or on Facebook/ Instagram: Bryan Walks USA.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or a [email protected]