Just one day away from completing his 300-mile walk from Spokane to Issaquah and Johann Neethling couldn’t take another step.
A blister had formed beneath his toe nail, each stride came with absolute agony. He debated heading to the hospital when his wife Anne asked, what if they tell you to stop?
“I’ll say, ‘That’s too bad,’” he responded in his thin German accent.
His doctor did recommend stopping, but Johann didn’t listen. Each step from his final trek from Monroe was a reminder about the chronic pain some of his patients at Issaquah’s Providence Marianwood experience daily.
A chaplain for the nursing home, his trek focused on raising money to build a bistro for the patients.
However, the journey began five years ago when Johann, now 68, had a heart attack. Motivated by not wanting to miss out on his grandchildren growing up, he lost 50 pounds at the gym.
He didn’t grow serious about walking until this April, when the nursing home passed out pedometers to encourage patients to walk. He walked 850 miles in three months.
Looking for a challenge, he decided to walk from his Klahanie home to Whidbey Island. He enjoyed it so much he began planning another trip, when Anne jokingly suggested he walk across the state.
He liked the idea and signed up his daughter Maria Henderson to come along. Anne followed the two in a car.
They pushed off from the Marianwood location in Spokane. After the 90-degree weather covered their legs in heat rash, they decided Eastern Washington was best done at night.
The evening greeted them instead with thunderstorms and a torrential downpour.
“It was flashing all around us,” Johann said. “We were just praying the whole time.”
During the day, the asphalt was so hot that not even the nicest boots could keep it from blistering their feet.
On the hardest evening, they walked six hours, before giving in to sleep. After an hours search, they couldn’t find a vacant room. They slept in Anne’s car outside a Walmart.
It felt a bit Biblical, like Mary and Joseph looking for an inn, Johann joked.
The next morning they purchased cheap pairs of off-brand shoes, which had the give their swollen feet needed.
While the howling coyotes were scary at first, walking in the dark turned out to be glorious. They could walk for hours down the middle of the highway, before encountering a car. The heavens shined bright in the darkness. They filled the silence by belting old hymns and telling stories.
“It’s a flavor of life you don’t normally experience in the city,” Johann said.
They returned July 25 to Issaquah High School students playing, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and a party at Marianwood.
Inspiring those patients was what kept Maria going, she said as she finished the last few miles. Each step she took was painful, but she took it with a smile.
It was also a spiritual experience.
“God’s promise is ‘I will never leave or forsake you’ and that’s something we’ve experienced,” Johann said.
Johann Neethling and his daughter Maria Henderson, left, walked from Spokane to Issaquah to help raise money for a cafe at Providence Marianwood nursing home.