A diary from The 12-Hour Walk

My initial reaction to this idea was the realization that it was the perfect fit for what I was needing and wanting to discover about the world, and about myself in this stage of life.

I loosely committed to the idea of it within a few minutes, knowing that it would be something that I would eventually partake in.

When I was out for a casual walk the day after hearing about this idea, the doubts began to flood.

I have to be honest – my initial fear was that “somebody” would see me and wonder what I was doing. Was I homeless? Did I need help? Was I okay? That fear of being judged or questioned quickly tried to tear down my hopes.

But then something interesting happened. I thought to myself… maybe this is exactly WHY I need to do something like this. To overcome and navigate my mindset beyond these fears, doubts, and worries.

I suddenly began thinking about all of the GOOD things that could ensue because of this journey. Maybe I’d run into someone doing something similar. Maybe I’ll meet a stranger that I connect well with. Maybe I’ll be able to help someone out along the way.

Instantly, these things far outweighed the fear of being seen, judged, or even failing the task.

Eric Pfohl 11 Hour Walk Adventure Diary

A Long Time to Sit, A Long Time to Walk

12 hours is a long time. But only 5-6 months ago, I would sit at a desk for 8-9 hours day after day… for five years. And believe me – that was a difficult enough task.

If my body could withstand being stagnant for a majority of a nine hour day, what was stopping it from walking at a casual pace for twelve hours? In fact, maybe my body would delight in the idea of hitting the opposite end of the spectrum compared to what I was so accustomed to during my 9-5 office job.

When the idea of this walk first struck, a neighboring town called Dyersville instantly came to mind. I figured with it being a 30 minute drive, it would be a logical distance to walk in 12 hours, even at a fairly slow pace with many breaks in between. 

The idea of having a “destination” to reach seemed like a more intriguing approach, not to mention it sounds more profound to walk to a town that’s 30 minutes away (or in this case, 12 hours away) compared to walking a simple loop in town and finishing right back to where I started.

Remember that one time I walked to Dyersville?” I loved the sound of it!

A Pair of Shoes & A Backpack

Before I knew it I was packing my gear, buying the necessary snacks, and trying to fit everything I needed for a days journey into a small backpack I had previously used for fly fishing gear. 

Here’s what I ended up with:

  • Nalgene water bottle (filled with water)
  • Bike bottle (water with Liquid IV)
  • Ibuprofen
  • Tissues
  • Pocket knife
  • A few Omega 3 nut mixes
  • A few Clif bars
  • Peanuts
  • Raisins
  • Bagel with peanut butter (for a midday delight)
  • Credit card
  • ID
  • Insurance card
  • Film camera
  • Phone (on airplane mode)

It doesn’t sound like much, but it took up more space and weight than expected. 

Oh, and the pants. You wouldn’t believe the ordeal leading up to deciding what pants I should wear.

At about 10:00pm the night before leaving, I made an important realization that I didn’t have any pants that fit the task. Some baggy jeans, a couple pair of carpenter khakis, and one pair of “comfy” sweatpants were the only options in my expansive closet.

So… panic ensued. No stores were open and I was dead set on leaving before sunrise the next morning. I opened a few drawers in my closet with no avail. I moved a few pairs of shorts out of the way, only to reveal the dress pants I had worn one time, and one time only.

The pants I wore on my wedding day.

To my surprise, I felt the athletic-like material, and slipped them on for a test fit.

Like a glove.

They were EXACTLY what I was hoping for. Unreal. Of all things in my closet, the pants from my wedding day were the answer to this panic.

The Journey Begins

My bag was packed, my water was being refrigerated, my outfit was (finally) dialed, and the only thing between the 12-hour-walk and me, was a subpar night of sleep.

The next morning began with a “big” breakfast of eggs, yogurt, a bowl of shredded mini wheats (a personal favorite), and some fruit. I ate as much as I could despite the nervous excitement, told Lizzy I would be okay, and barreled out the door.

HOUR ZERO (6:55am)

The walk out of our neighborhood was a familiar route–except this time I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise of bursting colors. The birds chirped excitedly. I was eager to get moving and it was very chilly out, so I began with a quick pace that may have burned myself out a bit during the first 30 minutes.

The surroundings of my familiar neighborhood were quickly overtaken by busy morning traffic along a 45mph road. The sun began to peek over the horizon and illuminate the trees in their peak colors.

I occupied my time with investigating the MANY different objects of trash on the side of the road as I walked and wondered how they got there.

A fly swatter, an electrical fuse panel, a flattened soup can, a car mirror, and a plethora of beer cans. 

The sun crept up behind me as my silhouette danced and stretched on the road beside me. I was really doing this thing!

ONE HOUR IN (7:55am)

It was amazing to me how “little” progress I made in the first full hour of walking. Even with living on the outskirts of town, I hadn’t even quite made it to the farm fields yet. Fortunately this brought opportunity to take a short break to bask in the warm sun that was illuminating the valley beside me.

I had made it to the last water tower of the Dubuque area, signifying a milestone as I embarked on a journey beyond my hometown.

Another hour, another fun round of objects found. Fast food wrappers… more beer cans. A laundry basket being the most intriguing object this time around.

This hour also brought my first time having to pee. The only problem was, I was outside of town, but I wasn’t quite to the farm fields (aka bathrooms) yet. And on top of that, a majority of the corn was either harvested, or currently being harvested…

If you don’t know anything about Iowa, cornfields are plentiful around here. Since this was the case, it took me less than five minutes of walking to find a suitable “bathroom.” 

Hour two brought the flooding expanse of farms, which would be the majority of my view the rest of the day. Calf huts, to abandoned vehicles, and everything in between. 

My first “official turn” happened at around 8:15am, which allowed me to continuing pushing west towards my destination.

Not long after this turn was my first official snack break. These became the BEST parts of the day. I found a small strip of trees next to a cornfield that invited me right in, as I indulged in a delicious pack of dried fruit and nuts, water, and a quick rest for my legs.

My hands were so cold that it was difficult to zip my backpack back up.

Getting outside of town brought much more peace and quiet. I stumbled upon my first of a few fuzzy caterpillars along the way.

It struck me as I watched the caterpillar inch its way across the road, that caterpillars are one insect, that literally become something else… They begin entirely as caterpillars, and then through a process of weeks, slowly form into an entirely new thing.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, but massive change can happen!

Overall, the second hour went by quickly.

TWO HOURS IN (8:55am)

McDonalds fry boxes, Milk Duds, corn husks, entire bags of garbage, and more. 

At 9:43am it was time for another rest break with a substantial snack and some stretching to stay loose! It felt good to get off my feet for even a few minutes and refuel to stay hydrated and energized.

During the third hour of the walk, reality set in of what I was really up to. It was going to be a long day, but I was off to a solid start. 

Although tough to admit, I started to feel it a bit in the balls of my feet which was especially noticeable after taking a short rest. I knew this would happen eventually, but having signs of pain this early on in the day was a bit alarming!

A lot of time was spent enjoying the natural beauty around me and finally getting warm from the chilly morning as the sun began to warm the day.

Hour three also brought another cornfield break. This time around I found a luxury row of corn and was feeling like a million bucks afterwards!


More creepy crawling things were found this hour. It was fun to observe the many aspects of creation around me. From the birds, to the sun rising in the sky, to the corn planted in the ground, and the caterpillars and bugs that scurried across the road.

It was all happening just like any other day–but this time I was there to observe it.

A few more items were found on the side of the rode around this time. One of which will not be named…

Overall it was interesting to note that the amount of garbage left behind was much less the further you got outside of town. Except for Busch Light cans… the amount of those around SKYROCKETED. Again, it’s an Iowa thing.

As I wound through hills and small valleys I found myself crossing a couple creeks with beautiful limestone walls where cows roamed freely.

A couple different farms dogs greeted me with some not-so-welcoming barks, but fortunately for me they were all bark, no bite. I figured if this walk ended prematurely due to a farm dog attack, that would at least be an epic story. After all, was I exactly what the farm dogs were supposed to warn their owners of?

At this point, I was far enough out of town that even the cows gave me strange looks as I walked past.

This hour brought my next big milestone, which was another intersection that forced me to walk north for a short stretch before continuing back west.

I found me a nice spot to sit on a fallen tree, to once again refuel with the warm sun, a snack, and some water. It’s funny how finding an inviting spot off the main road can become such a satisfying pleasure when your back, legs, and feet could really use a rest.

I definitely started “feeling it” around this time.

As I got back on my feet to continue west, a roadkill skunk left me in a cloud of stink for a solid quarter mile. It is a bit different WALKING past roadkill versus driving past it, when it stinks for a quick 5 seconds.

Walking was a bit different pace.

FOUR HOURS IN (10:55am)

Some of the energy and stoke began to wear off at this point. 

Getting back on my feet after stretching and getting some rest revealed the raw feeling in my feet, and the tightness in my hip. But as I got back on my feet and into the swing of things, those pains seem to resolve themselves as I began to focus on other things. 

This taught me an important lesson. If we’re constantly focused on and complaining about the problems in our lives, our lives will be filled with problems. If we’re constantly focused on the negativity around us and in the news or in the world, we’re going to be negative people.

Conversely, if we’re focused on the joys and peace in life, we’re going to feel more joyful and peaceful.

Your mindset wholly affects your outlook. Focus on the fruits, not the flies.

As 11:00am rolled around, I couldn’t help but daydream about the peanut butter bagel in my backpack, which was likely flattened into more of a peanut butter pancake at this point. But oh man did it sound delicious!

I again came upon another intersection that zigzagged me towards a mix of north and west. Checkpoint!

Things started getting difficult, and it was hard for my mind to avoid negativity. Having small milestones or goals helped tremendously to keep moving forward and continue putting one foot in front of the other.

Funny enough, I found that filming myself and documenting what was on my mind helped to pass the time and took my mind off of any aches, pains, or negativity I was feeling. 

Reaching 11:30am officially put me at ~4.5 hours on the road, which was over a third of the way there!

“One step after the other. Let’s go!”

Another intersection was reached here, which began my stretch of gravel road. At first, I was excited about this stretch with a change of texture, but quickly learned that it was more difficult and a bit more dusty when cars drove by…

Nothing like eating some good ol’ Iowa limestone dust!

The gravel drained me more than I thought it would, as the material was not as easy to walk on, and had more “give” to it than asphalt did. This difficulty added up when walking a few hundred or a few thousand steps on it.

I think this queued yet another important lesson for me.

Undoubtedly in life we will have “gravel roads” to walk. They’re inevitable. Realizing when you’re on one of these “gravel roads” of life is the most important part. You must detour as soon as possible when you feel yourself not living up to your full potential. You must seek concrete roads where you’re able to use all of your energy with confidence in each step. Don’t let the “gravel” around you limit you from believing in the power of each step you take. 

It was a whole different world as I got further away from my front door.

A whole different world was only a walk away.

Farms got bigger, the stretches of road got longer, and my whole body got sorer. 

Fortunately there was one major thing keeping me going – the vision of a fat slice of Casey’s pizza for lunch.

FIVE HOURS IN (11:55am)

When noon passed, I found myself on the same gravel road. This road was unique in the fact that it was slightly uphill, and I could physically see the intersection that I needed to reach, which would eventually lead me into town for lunch.

Sometimes it’s harder to see where you need to go, versus just putting your head down and putting one foot in front of the other. And then you can look up and realize you’ve already made it “this” far.

“It’s good to have a goal – but it’s putting your foot out in front of the other each time that gets you to where you’re trying to go.”

At this point of the walk, I became much less picky about what my break areas looked like. If I was tired, I simply sat in the nearest patch of dead grass filled with gravel dust. Best of all–it felt great.

As I rested, I was greeted by the nearby small-town “siren” that signified that noon was here. Lunch time was upon us! And this was also a reminder that I must not have been too far from town!

I passed more barking dogs as they excitedly warned me of their presence, as each farm slowly faded away behind me.

At 12:12pm I reached yet another crossroad, where I began to head north into town. This felt like an important milestone to reach. 

5.5 hours in, I hated to admit that my legs officially began to hurt. On the other hand, I was finally back on actual concrete pavement and could see civilization on the road ahead.

As I approached town, I already felt so estranged to this pace of life. The locals drove by on their lunch breaks, and the cars on the highway above the underpass I walked wizzed past at alarming speeds. The world seemed to be moving at a million miles an hour, and I on the other hand was averaging about 2 and half. 😃

I embraced the strange looks that I would undoubtedly receive at the small town gas station, barged my way into the convenient store and made a B-line to the revolving pizza rack.

I picked the largest piece of pizza I could find (regardless of freshness, toppings, or convenience) and stood in line to check out. I was amazed at how busy this store became in a small town at lunch hour. Casey’s is the spot!

Doing my best to limit human interaction, I checked out with my pizza and water and found a nice looking curb to sit on and enjoy this (well deserved) lunch. Although it may not have been the most healthy choice to fuel my body… it sure was delicious.

After refilling my water, Liquid IV, and belly, I was ready to take on the second half of my day. Taking this quick lunch break was a much needed refresh for my body and mind.

SIX HOURS IN (12:55pm)

The official halfway mark! Yewww!

Right after my lunch break, I had a short northern stretch walking through town, which was an exciting change of scenery. It was good to know that the rest of the world was still alive and well.

I was feeling pretty good overall. I was tired and worn out. My back hurt, my feet hurt, my legs hurt… but I was happy to be out there and making this happen. Knowing I was halfway gave me a bit of a boost.

Going into town shifted my mindset slightly away from the “zone” that I was in, being away from any civilization. It was a strange feeling, but I quickly found myself getting back into the groove that I needed.

It wasn’t long before reaching the next (and last!) intersection of the journey – a western turn onto the Heritage Trail.

This was an encouraging place to be considering it was a bike and pedestrian-only trail, was a bit more secluded, and provided some beautiful tree cover.

I opted to take more of an “official” break at the trail access point to eat a few snacks, hydrate, stretch, and rest before the next chapter of the journey. Oh, and I couldn’t forget the infamous change into a fresh pair of socks!

My legs hurt, and I planned to tackle the next sections in slower, smaller increments with rest in between.

The thought that people casually and regularly run marathons crossed my mind. I was appalled at how incredible of a feat a marathon is.

I now had a new-found respect for those people who RUN the distance I was walking today, and then some. Granted, they finish much quicker than 12 hours… but that’s still a long way to not only walk, but run!

As I sat down for my break, I definitely felt I was in a low spot for the day… but I knew things would get better.

To top if off this necessary rest break, my fruit strip pack had an extra fruit strip in it and came with two instead of one! Yeehaw!

After a 20-minute break, I was back on my fresh-pair-of-socks-covered feet. Although refreshing—it was still painful. 

The soreness of my feet was like walking on needles with each step. It took longer than normal this time, but getting back into the rhythm helped the pain from my feet to dissipate as I kept chugging along like a well-oiled machine.

Fortunately, about a mile into this stretch of trail I was greeted with beautiful trees at peak color. They provided protection from the sun and immense beauty! I was grateful the Lord provided this much-needed section of trail.


I started hour seven off feeling great mentally, after my rest break not too long before. The beauty from the trees and sunshine lifted my spirit and kept me moving!

Unfortunately, my knee somehow got tweaked, and was hurting with each bend of each step.

The soreness of my feet seemed to improve, but now the pain from my knee was hard to ignore. But again, I was feeling good mentally and that was the most important piece of the puzzle.

This new section of trail was a huge blessing. Quiet, peaceful, serene. It gave me the necessary space to clear my mind and focus on each step.

With each step my mind was occupied with prayer, thanking the Lord for this opportunity, and for the strength to carry on.

Another cute little caterpillar made its way across the gravel trail, once again reminding me of the lesson I learned earlier in the day.

I walked past miles of harvested cornfields as the distant hum of the nearby highway rang with cars driving at (what seemed like) light speed.

A nearby alpaca farm kept me entertained for the 30 seconds or so it took to pass by. 

Each step provided two different things: pain and insight.

While walking for nearly 7 and a half hours in a day, with very little human interaction, no external input (music, podcast, etc), and nobody telling me what to do or where to go… a plethora of thoughts had come to mind.

It was simply time in my head, and with the Lord.

Finally these thoughts spilled out during a 7-minute video I filmed of myself while walking – which is so good and so beneficial to look back on and rewatch my thoughts from that unique perspective. 

I’m sure I will be sharing some snippets of what came to mind in this video, but the gist of it boils down to one thing:

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with an idea, and a decision–not merely a single step.

I will definitely be expanding upon this idea in future blog posts, and in my weekly newsletter.

At this point in the day, everything began to hurt. Each step was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to keep going. It was difficult. But I had no other choice.

This pain forced me to become more grateful for the beauty around me and the opportunity to even be doing this walk at all. When my mindset shifted, so did the pain.


The late afternoon had arrived! My entire body hurt and my legs were killing me. Yet, I had so many moments of appreciation for everyday life.

The thought of hanging out with my wife at home sounded so nice that it almost brought me to tears. I missed her. And the thought of eating a warm meal sounded phenomenal. 

Thinking of these simple, yet amazing things made me realize how often I take them for granted.

Another black and brown fluffy caterpillar slowly scurried across the trail as I walked past step by step. A grasshopper had jumped on my leg and hitched a ride unbeknownst to me, until I looked down to notice it.

It was getting difficult to walk. Every opportunity to take a seat on something, whether an actual bench or a fallen tree, was welcomed gratefully.

The walk was so much harder than I thought it would be. 

A bench, some water, and a delicious snack had never been such a treat.

Fortunately for me, I could see signs of civilization ahead, which meant my destination was getting closer!

NINE HOURS IN (3:55pm)

My right knee continued to give me trouble. The pain continued with each step.

On the bright side, I was surrounded by yet another group of beautiful trees that canopied the trail I was on. Bright fall colors glowed above as the sun began to lower towards the horizon. These simple reminders of beauty helped propel me along.

My plan was to reach my destination and reevaluate how I was going to be able to continue walking. First, I just had to reach that destination one step at a time.

A 20-minute break provided some temporary relief mentally, but as soon as I was back on my feet the pain in my legs and body continued just as the same as before.

Even though my body was still in pain, those longer breaks helped my mind to shift away from the negative focus on my pain and onto other things while my legs rested.

It’s hard to focus on anything BUT the pain when the pain is so relevant. But that’s what I had to do.

For the first time in a couple hours, I ran into a few people on the trail, two of them being a couple sweet older ladies who were also out for a walk. I passed by them once, and then they turned around and passed me again as I sat on a bench to rest. 

One of them asked, “You walking pretty far today?” As I proudly responded, “Yep, walking from Dubuque to Dyersville today!”

They wished me luck, but didn’t seem too impressed… 

Here I was thinking I was doing something extraordinary, only to be humbled by the response of the first person I told of my adventure.

This was an important lesson and necessary reminder that this walk wasn’t about external recognition, but rather what I would learn internally. 

My “walk” turned more into a “hobble” for the last few stretches of trail. Walk, rest, walk, rest. I felt silly walking so gingerly, but I had no other choice!

At 4:20pm, 9.5 hours after departing from the front door of our apartment, I arrived at the Dyersville access trailhead which essentially marked my goal destination.

Instantly I used this opportunity to find shade under a nice row of trees and get some much needed rest. I had no other choice.

People working at the nearby lumber yard began to leave work, and a train whizzed past on the tracks in front of me, as I began to soak in all that the day had brought forth. I laid in the grass, let my body rest, and allowed my mind to explore all that I had learned.

In retrospect, I can’t help but notice how my physical limit was reached exactly when I stepped foot at my goal destination. As soon as I arrived at the spot I had in mind from the planning stages of this journey, my body gave up.

I think this speaks to the idea that our goals are so important. What we set our minds upon will determine our actions. Had my mind been set on fulfilling the full 12 hour timeframe, rather than on a physical destination that could be reached sooner, I believe the walk would have been different for me.

This was a powerful reminder for my mindset moving forward.

TEN HOURS IN (4:55pm)

After a really nice break, the longest of the day, I had to get back on my feet to keep my legs moving and keep up with the walk.

I hobbled over to the very end of the trail I had been walking on to mark my official ending.

As I made my way towards this final spot, some concluding thoughts began to come to mind.

The day did not feel as strange to me as I thought it would. Spending long periods of time without external input or screen time was not entirely foreign to me, but was still an extremely refreshing reset for my mind.

Being away from your normal routine or familiarity is not as difficult as you may think. It’s necessary in order to grow. It’s necessary in order to truly appreciate the comforts you have.

I had a lot of really good thoughts. I had a ton of learning experiences.

My body and legs hurt WAY worse than I thought they would. I most definitely underestimated how much of a physical challenge the walk would be. “After all – it’s only walking right?!” Man, I was wrong!

Here are a few direct quotes from my phone videos when I completed the walk:

“All in all, I gained so much clarity. I learned that I want to be a helper. I want to be an educator, an encourager, a motivator. I want to use my experiences to teach others, and encourage them in unique ways. I want to be extraordinary, and then use the things that I’m doing to share the Gospel. To give glory to God.”

“This has been a crazy journey. It was strange taking the last few steps to my final destination I had in mind.”

“I definitely learned that amongst the pain, when I’m expressing my thoughts and thinking on a higher level, it makes me feel a lot better.”

“The other thing I learned today was just to put one foot in front of the other. I wouldn’t have made it to Dyersville without taking one step at a time. And let me tell you, about 85% of those steps… I didn’t want to take. But I pushed through and I took those steps because I needed to do it in order to get where I wanted to go. And so if each of these steps represents one small action towards a goal in my life – let it be so. Take those steps. I need to do that in order to get where I want to go.”

“I also learned that it really IS about the journey. I might have this vision of what I want to do, but be where you’re at right now. Right now is so important. We don’t have anything else but right now. Why am I trying to jump 10 steps ahead when I could just enjoy where I’m at right now and I’m going to get there eventually if I know that I’m doing the right things and working towards that?”

“And I can’t rush things. I need to get used to taking the steps that I need to do because they are fulfilling and they are good, even if I’m not using my time exactly how I think I should be.”

“You can’t rush things. One step at a time. Encourage people. Motivate people. Create an online presence. Love those around you. And be grateful for them. Do difficult things. Don’t worry too much about things – everything will work out. And walk more because your legs hurt SO BAD right now, haha.”

The Final Steps

At 5:04pm, I arrived at my the spot that I imagined being that morning. And… I arrived via walking.

Everything hurt, and I had to go to the bathroom very very bad! But I physically couldn’t walk into town because that was another half mile at least. So, I found another option and lived to tell about it. 😅

All in all, I MADE IT!

At 5:10pm I turned my phone off airplane mode and gave Lizzy a call to let her know I survived.

She warned me that the house that she toured that morning was “the one”, and that she totally loved it. She forwarded me the photos to review and set up a time for me to view it the next morning. This was a lot to take on after being completely disconnected from the outside world ALL day.

As I slowly and painfully paced around town for the next 40 minutes, I developed such clear peace about making this next move. I was reminded that I needed to “make more mistakes” and to do more things that don’t have a safe and clear outcome. It was in these things that I learned the most and grew the most, yet I rarely had the courage (or foolishness) to make them happen.

I decided this house was going to be our next step as I made those last few steps around Dyersville. The peace I felt was an incredible gift, and my heart was full of gratitude from the day!

Who I was at 6:45am the morning of October 7th and who I became by 6:00pm that day felt like two different people.

I was still entirely me, yet my mindset was entirely renewed.

Taking Action

It’s tough to attribute 100% of my follow-up actions to what I learned on the walk, but I can confidently say that the Lord provided immense clarity on the walk that has fueled my actions in the past 2.5 months since accepting this challenge. 

Big things have happened since that day, and I am in yet another entirely new place (literally) since completing the walk.

We bought the house, I’m writing every day, and my website is live.

I’m immensely grateful that the idea of this walk was presented to me in a miraculous way. It changed my life!

My hope is that you enjoyed this read, and most of all, were able to make a realization for taking action in your own life. 

Thanks for reading. Let me know in the comments what you enjoyed most or learned from this experience!

To continue reading, check out my other articles here

Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly insight and encouragement!

—Eric P

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