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UI College of Law alumnus walked coast to coast

BY JORDAN MONTGOMERY | FEBRUARY 02, 2012 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa College of Law alumnus Tyler Coulson had no experience with long-distance hiking before he left his job at a big law firm in Chicago to walk from Delaware to California.

After two and a half years at Sidley Austin — the 12-largest law firm in the world — as a bankruptcy attorney, Coulson realized he was miserable.

"I decided one day that I could be completely homeless and walk across the country, and I would probably be happier," he said. "So that's what I decided to do."

Coulson decided to make the walk on March 11, 2010. On March 11, 2011, his cross-country trek began. He was one of almost 1,700 attorneys at Sidley Austin. But during his walk he was one of two — his dog Mabel joined him.

Coulson's fellow UI law graduate Sajal Agarwal remembers having mixed feelings about his friend's trip.

"I was shocked," Agarwal said. "But when we spoke in detail about the walk, I was impressed about how prepared he was. It didn't look like it was spontaneous — he had been planning for a while."

Coulson's meticulous planning was no doubt the result of his time spent studying law, which he said changes the way he approached every situation.

Despite his planning, he hit many setbacks early in the trip; the weather was not on his side. This spelled trouble for him, because if he didn't make it to the Sierra Nevada during the summer, he had little chance of making it through the vast mountain range when winter came, as the Donner Party discovered.

It took weeks, but after walking through Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio, Coulson reached Indiana. His friend Heidi Jugenitz joined him for in his walk across that state.

"By the time he hit Indiana, Tyler had already taken quite a beating at the hand of Mother Nature," she said. "[But] his outlook was tough-minded and pragmatic."

Coulson's tough-mindedness allowed him to overcome the three different kinds of challenges he ran across, the physical, the intellectual, and the emotional.

"It is frustrating being at the mercy of the weather, at the mercy of inconsiderate drivers," he said. "And the loneliness, that was really difficult."

But Coulson continued through Indiana, Illinois, steaming-hot Iowa, endless Nebraska, Colorado, where he almost died from altitude poisoning, and Utah.

"The night sky in Utah doesn't look black," he said. "It looks like someone's surreal painting of what the sky could look like. The stars in Utah look like fruit that you could pick out of the sky."

After Utah came Nevada, a few miles in Arizona, and finally California. In November he ended his walk in San Diego.

Coulson is now back in Chicago and writing a book about his experience.

"People always ask me what I'm going to do next," he said. "I don't know. Maybe go back to practicing law, maybe climb Mount Everest."˙


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