California couple walks to Myrtle Beach for charity
It was a long, cross-country journey on foot from Cali to Myrtle Beach–seven months, 154 walking days, and 2,858 miles, to be exact–for the engaged couple known on Insta as @theggoldenroad. On its own, that’s a massive accomplishment. However, the views taken in by Matt Grooms and Grace Nesseth during that time were all about the little things along the way.
“We wanted to inspire others to find love in the little things, no matter where they are and what they’re doing,” says Matt. “We just want to keep it all balanced by positivity and love.”
But Matt and Grace did so much more than that. They raised more than $90,000, along with the much-needed awareness for a charity close to Grace’s heart, Time in a Bottle, a nonprofit Grace’s mom founded in 2011. The group cleans homes for children battling life-threatening illnesses free of charge. The charity was inspired by Grace’s brother, who had cancer when he was 11 (he’s now 37).
“She realized how important it was to have a clean environment for someone with a weakened immune system,” says Grace. “So Time in a Bottle schedules cleanings based on chemo treatments and stuff like that. Our goal on the walk was to not only raise money for it, but also to spread awareness.”
The first step of their walk set the pace: Their inspiration, a combination grounded in the book, To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret, by Jedidiah Jenkins, and the couple’s love for the little things in life.
“We felt like we had something we wanted to share with people,” says Matt. “The love that we find in the little things and helping people find the love in the little things.”
Some days, the route revealed very little to love, but Matt and Grace and their two dogs, Foxi and Nemo, persevered–even through the desert, snow storms and a tornado in Arkansas. They averaged between 10 and 20 miles per day; the longest day totaled 35 miles. Matt did most of the mapping for their route, mostly walking from city to city, guided by friends and a Facebook group of fellow walkers.
“We would either ‘stop camp’ or we would go to campgrounds or inside churches or under a bridge next to train tracks,” says Grace. “Our social media kind of blew up in January and we had a lot more people offering to help pay for hotels, offering places to stay, which was really awesome.”
And their finish line? Myrtle Beach, of course.
“We chose Huntington Beach [State Park] because my dad used to live around there when he was 12 and he had never been back, so I knew he would fly back if we chose there,” says Matt. “And then we made our way up to Myrtle Beach because we had never been there.”
The two say that, once they stepped foot into Oklahoma, they experienced true Southern hospitality, along with some good, old-fashioned rivalry. It started with Matt wearing an Oklahoma Sooners hat on social media, which turned into a state-by-state fundraising competition between rival schools. He wore a Clemson hat once they entered South Carolina, after fans raised $3,400 versus the Gamecocks.
“Everything was pretty positive,” says Matt. “We had no problems with people, especially toward the end of our trip. People were pulling over, bringing us snacks, bringing us water, asking if we needed anything. It was nice knowing that people who didn’t even know us were out there taking care of us.”
It was this same philanthropy that funded Matt and Grace’s mission every step of the way, through cash donations, Venmo or Paypal. And they’re not done yet! Their next move will be aboard a bus they just purchased and renovated, traveling to all 50 states for a pitstop of 30 days in each state to help out nonprofits in each state. They’ll start August 1 and finish four years later. Next year, Matt and Grace will be married on August 13, 2022.
“During these times, with people being stuck in their houses for so long, there were a lot of people that began to question things or began to be scared, which is normal,” says Matt. “But I think the thing that we saw, though, from the people who followed along with us is that people are really good. Most people want to say hello, to have a conversation. It’s just about taking that first step, and our big thing was waving. We waved at every single car that drove by and we had people pull over and say, ‘That meant so much to me.’ It’s the little things.”
You can follow the next leg of Matt and Grace’s journey on Instagram: @theggoldenroad. And you can still donate funds to support Time in a Bottle at Timeinabottle.org.