Meet Kentucky Walker
This piece about Kentucky Walker is the first story in my latest book project, The Day I Changed My Life: True Tales of Total Self Transformation. This piece will be included as a sample chapter in my book proposal, so it’s an important cornerstone for my book. I’d appreciate you reading it and offering me your thoughts at email@example.com. Thanks!
To most of us, the men and women who live on the streets are disturbing reminders that we, too, could end up homeless should our fortunes go bad. There but for the grace of god go-I…
But for one man, a rootless life without the comfort and security of a permanent domicile is just what he needs to stay happy and sane. In fact, it has literally saved his life.
Kentucky Walker is his name and solo travel is his game. He ventures forth on foot, his worldly belongings stowed in a blue backpack weighing 19 pounds fully loaded. The contents therein are what he calls his “creature comforts,” though most of us would find them extreme in their frugality. His only other cargo is a one-gallon jug of water fastened to his arm with a bandana to keep his fingers from tiring out.
Unlike the typical “home bum” found destitute and starving in urban alleyways, he camps in stealth locations away from cities and towns, invisible to others. His daily routine starts at sunrise, when he packs up his minimalist possessions—sleeping bag, padding, toiletries, extra t-shirt, jacket, hoodie, underwear, socks and pajama pants—and heads in search of coffee. Soon thereafter, he’s on his way to whatever destination strikes his fancy that day.
He wears a button-up shirt, long pants, Merrell’s shoes with Vibram soles and an Indiana Jones-style brim hat. Although he may go a while without bathing, he manages to maintain a clean, presentable appearance to everyone he meets as he wanders across this great land.
Most days involve unremitting exposure to the elements and a steady diet of truckstop coffee, spam singles and his favorite food, pizza. He mostly walks, but sometimes hitchhikes, and even occasionally boards a bus or train when he wants to get somewhere quickly.
In his travels, he’s not above “spanging” from time to time—asking for spare change. “I put up a sign that says, ‘Ex had better lawyers.’ And I’ve made some money off of that one.” He’s been known to dumpster dive on occasion, and has learned to time his visits to Little Caesars to lay claim to leftover pizza when they close.
“I have not had a bad day on the road,” he attests, despite whatever challenges have come his way. “I’ve had a struggling time on the road, but not had a real bad day. I still go to sleep with a smile on my face and I wake up just the same.”
Kentucky Walker, given his nickname by a woman he met in Parsons, Kansas, was born Stephen Michael Haycraft in a small town outside Louisville, Kentucky. He owes his wanderlust in part to congenital factors, being descended from a long line of adventurers, some of whom crossed paths with explorer Daniel Boone and fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.
“I’ve always been an adventurer, a hiker, going out into the wilderness, enjoying myself. I’ve always understood why people would want to get away.”
But family genetics only partly explain why Haycraft has abandoned the workaday world, trading in his life as husband and provider for a free-form existence on the road.
The stout and muscular thirty-two year-old Kentucky native still bears the scars of his first suicide attempt at the age of seven, when he tried to slit his wrists. It took another two decades for him to try more creative approaches to killing himself.
During those twenty years, his mother abandoned the family, leaving him and his sister in the sole custody of his father, an abusive drunk. He was eventually forced into foster homes and at twelve, ended up living with his paternal grandparents. His grandmother, the one adult who didn’t abandon or abuse him, became his main source of moral support and parental guidance.
When Haycraft joined the Navy in 2006 at the age of eighteen, he was “very, very, very, very fucking angry” at the world. He went on to serve two tours of duty in the Middle East, spend a year in the forest service, marry three times, divorce twice and have a daughter by his second wife and a son with his current spouse, Noel, all by the age of twenty-seven. He would be diagnosed with PTSD and eventually awarded a monthly disability check, which is what he now lives on.
For most of his life, Haycraft’s personal relationships have been hugely disappointing and painful. Spouses have cheated on him, friends have abandoned him and family members have turned against him in times of need.
“Relationships are fickle,” he says, with unintentional understatement. “My family would drop me on the street and support my ex-wife even though she cheated on me. And my friends—as soon as I went into the military from high school, we disconnected because I left them and they took offense to it. My best friend, Adam, he took offense to it. ‘You left me, you left me here high and dry.’”
No wonder, then, that he has suffered a long history of depression, a condition he describes as an emotional black hole. “I call it the black hole because when I cross that event horizon, I’m not coming out until I attempt [suicide].” He’s attempted four times.
In 2011, after divorcing his second wife, he chose his birthday to gas himself.
“I popped a lot of pills, drank a lot of alcohol that night, zip tied my hands to the steering wheel and had the charcoal grill in the back of the SUV and proceeded to gas myself out. And I woke up with the windows down and the car doors open and everything out with the zip ties broken. I woke up on the concrete. It must have been my survival instinct.”
That same night, Haycraft tried again with different means.
“I put a shotgun to my chest, loaded a round in the chamber and I told God I wasn’t going to see the sun rise. I looked out the window and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. I saw the sun rise, and then I passed out.”
A man of faith, Haycraft explains his survival in spiritual terms. “God—it’s not my time until he says it is.”
He made one more try several years later, while separated from his third wife in Kentucky. On March 17, 2017, “I hung myself with an over-the-door power cord, simple suspension rod. Eleven pounds of pressure on the carotid artery—it was supposed to work. The bolts sheared off. There’s no logical explanation for that except for it’s not my time.”
The next day, frustrated by repeated failures to end his own life, Haycraft decided to let the world at large bring about his demise.
“I grabbed my pack with a dollar in my pocket and I told God that if I can’t kill myself, the world will do it.” The result wasn’t what he expected. Instead of ending his life, the world opened him up to a whole new way of living.
“That opened my eyes. That put me in my place, where I’m supposed to be.” And where he is supposed to be, he reckons, is on the road.
“I made it to California on April 12, 2017. I felt reinvigorated, I felt great, I felt like I could accomplish anything because I just made it cross-country with a dollar in my pocket. The date stands out in my mind because I haven’t gone into the black hole since then.”
After rejoining his wife in California, where she and his five year-old son Enzo were living with her parents, he made an earnest attempt to re-enter the workaday world and be a reliable provider.
“I was executive security bodyguarding, working for a CEO. And I lost it, I broke. I was getting depressed again, I was losing it. I took off in September in 2017.” He’s been living on the road ever since.
“Coming back into the civilian world just doesn’t work,” he realizes. “This year  has been my year of acceptance, and her year of acceptance of who I am now.”
The only thoughts of suicide Haycraft has these days are thoughts of “social suicide,” that is, a life without the messy social complications most people deal with every day.
“Been there, done that and got the t-shirt, and now I can’t do it anymore.”
A life without the unpredictable vicissitudes of personal relationships gives Haycraft the psychic space to focus on his daily experiences. “When I’m looking up at the stars, I don’t worry about that shit. It’s not even in my mind. I feel content and great in those silent, silent moments because my head’s not spinning. Me, myself and I, and me being able to witness that we’re on this earth, being able to feel the earth’s pull of gravity.”
His hard-charging, adventuresome ways have yielded to a serene, be-here-now attitude and Zen-like focus on the present moment. “I’ve learned to slow the fuck down. And I slow down because you can take in the moment. And being truly here and now in the present moment is the most important thing you can do.” As a result, he now experiences a profound connection to the natural world. For example, he recalls waking up in Mammoth Cave National Park at dawn and beholding an awe-inspiring scene.
“God could have painted this picture for me… it’s a canopy of trees, the sun’s just coming through, and I see these deer coming across this canopy. And then this hawk comes through, right under the canopy over the deer. That’s my happy. And I see that all the time, every day I wake up. I feel very connected to everything around me.”
Wherever he is in his wanderings, Haycraft is sure he’s always right where he should be. That includes volunteering his services in Houston during Hurricane Harvey and lending a hand to an aging traveler named Bob whom he met hitchhiking from Michigan to California.
While he has forsaken the workaday world and its trappings, Haycraft doesn’t totally avoid personal relationships. He enjoys the serendipitous connections he makes on his travels, what he calls “single-serving friends,” a term gleaned from the film, Fight Club. These are one-off friendships that last for a limited time, like a car ride, and then end, leaving him free to continue his travels alone.
“You have a lot of those,” he says, admitting that he sometimes misses longer-term relationships. But long-term relationships require a normal life, so it comes down to the lesser of two evils—loneliness or suicide.
“I would like to keep friendships going, but after a while it seems monotonous. It seems like I’m falling into the same insane routine that I was in before. And then, once I hit the road, I’m happy. It’s like, what’s going to happen next? Who am I going to meet next?”
The one personal relationship he misses most is the one he has with his five year-old son, Enzo. “It’s very rough. I miss him all the time when I’m out on the road. But I see him happy and it helps me kind of deal with it.”
Enzo considers his father’s lifestyle and absence from home nothing unusual, Haycraft says. “My five year-old is too young to understand it, but he knows daddy is an adventurer. As long as he can remember, I’ve been doing this.”
His relationship with his wife, Noel, is another story. While a life of non-stop wandering has been good for his mental health, it’s been hard on his marriage. “We do love each other very much, but living with each other and being with each other just isn’t going to work. She wants a boring life, and I can’t give her that. I belong out there, I belong on the road.”
With Haycraft committed to his current lifestyle and Noel wanting a more traditional arrangement, they plan to amicably divorce. “It’s easier to face the facts and accept it than it is to keep on trying to fight and keep on going insane.”
However extreme his way of life may be, Haycraft says many people tell him that they envy his freedom and wish they could live the way he does. “I don’t blame them for wanting to live my life because I think living a nine to five is just fucking nuts.”
For most people, the chief obstacle to packing up and heading out in search of adventure is the comfort and security they become addicted to. He insists that a life on the road is actually “easier done than said.” The key is to get out of your comfort zone.
“You have to get out of your comfort zone to experience it. And a lot of people don’t want to do that because it’s scary. A lot of people call me fucking crazy. But you know what? I step into an unknown world where I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, and I have a wonderful sunrise and wonderful sunset that I can enjoy somewhere. And I’ve never had a bad fucking day.”
And how many people can say that?
Meet Susan Marrufo
Susan Marrufo had it all going on—money, a loving husband, a career in advertising. She had arrived. Unfortunately, it was the wrong destination. Driven by immense unhappiness, she gave it all up to find out who she really was and what she really wanted in life. This is her story. I’d appreciate you reading it and offering your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Susan Marrufo’s life was going swimmingly at an early age. She had followed all the rules—attended college, earned a graduate degree and taken a job in advertising. She moved to the big city from a little Texas town and married a “great guy” with a successful high-tech career. They earned boat loads of money and lived a life they didn’t believe possible for two young millennials.
Her parents thought she’d arrived. Her friends thought she’d arrived. By all outside appearances, she had arrived. But it was the wrong destination.
Everyone was understandably shocked when she announced that she was leaving her husband, Dave, after over a decade with him. Her motivation was simple: she was miserable, so much so that she was drinking a lot, enough to end up in the hospital on one occasion. She had no idea why, but she was chronically unhappy despite the marriage, the money and the career. She had done everything right, so what was wrong?
Susan knew only that the life she was living was killing her. She told her husband that their marriage didn’t stand a chance if she didn’t leave. Otherwise, they were destined for a certain divorce.
She had dabbled in yoga, and Dave encouraged her to pursue her interest in the discipline. Following a yoga class one day, she experienced something that gave her an inkling of what the yoga path could do for her. She came home, sat down on the couch and cried for hours.
“It was so much stuff coming up on the ways I had mistreated myself and allowed myself to be treated, old wounds that were coming up and I was feeling, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here? Yoga is leading me to something.’”
It wasn’t easy, but with the help of her mother and one of her two brothers, Susan moved out of her Dallas home.
“I did feel some guilt with Dave,” she recalls. “But I also knew it was clear. I remember I was at my dining room table and I was, like, your mind is going to fuck with you. Remember that you know that this is the right thing.”
She saw a therapist for a while and left Dallas in 2008 to spend a year in Seville, Spain with nothing more in mind than doing something different from her normal routine.
“I needed to get outside of being anybody’s wife, being anybody’s daughter, being anybody’s sister, being anybody’s boss, being anybody’s employee. I wanted to know myself outside of those roles.”
Her year in Spain was a process of intensive self-exploration. She practiced yoga on her own and took time to get to know herself on a deeply intimate level. She did mind-mapping exercises and got in touch with her own likes and dislikes, including her natural body rhythms.
“Something that was a huge learning for me was that I move at a different rhythm than I was brought up in. People move fast, and that was so contracting for me, and my body was so tight and uptight and not relaxed. I had no idea because it was chronic.”
A year spent on her own in Spain revealed to her a person she never knew, and gave her a sense of direction very different from the one she had before.
“I like things quiet and I like to be quiet. I like to write and I like to meditate and I like to practice yoga and to connect with God. Those were the things I didn’t know about myself before. After that, it was, like, this is the purpose, this is what my life is all about for me.”
When Dave suggested that Susan become a yoga teacher, she searched the Internet and found a school called Agama Yoga on Koh Phangan Island, Thailand. It offered a five-hundred hour tantric teacher training that intrigued her. Most programs were only 200 hours. It would be a major turning point in her life.
After spending a year in Spain, she traveled to Thailand to begin a three and a half month training at what was described as the world’s largest tantric yoga school. She didn’t realize at the time that Agama was notorious for its environment of sexual license and promiscuity. In fact, it was widely considered a sex cult. The alleged misdeeds of its founder, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, née, Narcis Tarcau, from Romania, included rape and sexual assault. He would eventually resign from Agama and flee Thailand to return to his native Romania. Shortly after leaving, his yoga center was raided by Thai police and shut down, although it has since reopened without him being in charge.
Soon after she arrived at Agama, Susan suffered a mysterious foot ailment. Her feet developed large boils that prevented her from walking. “A lot of things were coming out of my body,” she recalls, abstaining from the gory details. It was a strange phenomenon that she took to have a symbolic rather than medical meaning. She believed that she was at Agama to go through a cleansing and purging process that was an important part of her nascent transformation. During the time that she couldn’t walk, she was carried to her classes and other places by a kind man named Hector who referred to himself jokingly as her donkey.
Susan speaks glowingly of her time at Agama, although not without misgivings about the misogynistic culture there. The island itself was everything she wanted—it was exotic and the yoga was exotic, esoteric and metaphysical. “It was blowing my fucking mind open. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged.”
One word that Susan’s uses to characterize her time at Agama is transgression. The environment there provided her with opportunities to go beyond the conservative norms of her Catholic upbringing. “I wanted to transgress. It was all about that.”
Agama, she says, “was a place that people went to have their boundaries crossed. It was a place where it was all about sexual exploration. Once Dave and I divorced, I thought, ‘I want to explore and this is the perfect place to do it.’”
Swami, who slept with many of his followers, told women to sleep with multiple partners, as many as five men a day, to clear themselves of their sexual blockages. Her explorations never involved Swami, although he did attempt to seduce her. She wasn’t attracted to him, so she ignored his interest.
Susan has no regrets about her time at Agama, during which she periodically traveled to India to pursue the teachings of guru Sri Prem Baba. She recalls fond memories.
“When I was on the island, I was living the life. I was having some love, I was practicing yoga, I was eating Thai food and drinking coconuts.
“I had such amazing experiences there, and it was such a powerful time in my life, and so healing. I would not do it differently. And [yet] there was a shadow side to it.”
The shadow side of Agama caused a lot of pain for some women, Susan recalls, and it eventually had its nefarious effects on her.
“I started dating someone, someone I really fell in love with. He was someone that was brainwashed by all these Agama teachings. He was very sexually coercive, telling me there was something wrong with me and my sexuality because I wasn’t fucking him four times a day.
“To have somebody telling me, ‘you’re no good, or you’re not right, or you’re not a woman because you don’t do these things…’ I believed it for a while and it really affected me. In a lot of ways, I’m really healing from it pretty much.”
After teaching yoga in India and Mexico for two years and then traveling widely for several more, Susan rooted herself in Los Angeles where she runs the Samarasa Wellness Center with one of her brothers. She recently suffered a crisis of faith when it was revealed that her spiritual teacher, Sri Prem Baba, had kept a long-term romantic relationship secret from his followers. Given that he had always stressed the importance of honesty and transparency, Susan was shaken by the revelation and her teacher’s hypocrisy. It nearly caused her to lose her passion for everything she had so ardently believed in.
“I felt like, fuck spirituality, fuck all of this. Fuck sangha, fuck community. I felt like I need to be out of all of this, this is a huge mindfuck. While at the same time I just opened a center in the middle of Los Angeles,” she laments, and was preparing a course on sexuality for women. Still on the mend from her previous romantic relationship, she wasn’t feeling very sexual.
Rather than let disillusionment get the better of her, Susan opened her yoga studio and created a course called Yoga, Sex and Death. This six-week class, in part, teaches women to avoid sexual exploitation by getting in touch with themselves and their true desires. It has been very popular.
“It’s all about boundaries and consent and feeling into our bodies so when we are in the moment, we feel the “no” instead of going along with something and after the fact, being, ‘shit, that didn’t feel good.’ To me that’s part of the answer: self-responsibility.”
Running a business in Los Angeles is a challenge far removed from the stress-free life she had enjoyed in ashrams and yoga studios. Susan fears that her new life as a businesswoman will cause the reemergence of the kind of the self-protective armoring she has worked hard to overcome. She is considering turning over the business side to someone else to focus on teaching, her true passion.
Come what may, Susan now faces life with a fearless attitude. Experience has taught her “to let go and not know, not fucking know what my future’s going to look like. I think that’s the key whenever you do something like this. It takes a certain amount of just surrender to life.”
Paradoxically, it is by letting go and surrendering to life that Susan has learned that her life can look any way she wants it to.
“I just have to be bold enough, courageous enough to make the choices that might not be popular or people might not get, might not understand. I might have to disappoint people. But I know that it is possible because I did it.