A walk to remember; Actor, filmmaker looks back at a trek that changed his life

Published 7:01 am Monday, December 29, 2014

A photo of Mark Phillips after entering Austin in 2001 on his walk across America in 2001. Photo provided

A photo of Mark Phillips after entering Austin in 2001 on his walk across America in 2001. Photo provided

Mark Phillips may have acted with the likes of Robert De Niro, but he may not be where he is today if it wasn’t for a little stop he made in Austin in 2001.

Phillips, a 44-year old New York City actor and filmmaker, made up his mind 13 years ago that he was going to walk across the United States. One day Phillips, who was a graphic designer with no hiking or camping experience at the time, started to walk away from his office and he began to wonder how far he could walk on his own. Six months later, he gave up on his job to take the massive hike across the U.S.

“It was very child like,” Phillips said. “It was that Forest Gump moment, where I figured what’s to stop me?”

Mark Phillips stops to take a drink on his trek across America in 2001. Photo provided

Mark Phillips stops to take a drink on his trek across America in 2001. Photo provided

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Phillips was near the end of his patience when he reached Austin in 2001. He ended up walking down a 1/4 of a mile stretch of I-90 to get into town, because he didn’t want to walk four miles to get around the freeway, and eventually he found himself in the SPAM Museum, which was located in Oak Park Mall at the time.

Phillips had been battling with heat and mosquitos so he took two days to stop and rest in Austin. After camping anywhere he could find for most of his trip — including some people’s backyards — Phillips got a hotel room in Austin. He remembered the SPAM Museum being a nice relief from the stress of walking all day, every day.

“It was a little chance to feel like a normal human being,” Phillips said. “I usually don’t spend much time in towns, but those two days probably helped me get through the rest of Minnesota.”

Phillips watched the movie “Moulin Rouge” while he as in Austin, a film that featured the actor John Leguizamo. Phillips couldn’t help but recently recall his stop in Austin as he is now working on a project with Leguizamo.

“I knew I had some memory of him and Austin together and then it clicked that I had watched Moulin Rouge there,” Phillips said.

Unfortunately for Phillips, his trip in 2001 ended in South Dakota. But after getting back to N.Y. and getting involved in acting, Phillips began to regret not going all of the way on his journey. So, 10 years later he tried to walk across the U.S. again, while filming the documentary ‘The Walking Fool.’ Phillips was successful the second time, but that trip did not include a stop in Austin.

“It wasn’t until I got back in New York that I realized it was a mistake not to finish the first time,” Phillips said. “Ten years later I had more motivation and I had to complete it. It’s a story of not giving up on your dreams.”

Phillips, who carried a 70-pound backpack on the trip, estimated that he walked 25 miles per day on his first attempt across the US and he went 19 miles per day in his second trip. He said time has a way of playing tricks on you when you’re walking all day.

Sometimes things would happen to Phillips in the morning and later in the day it would seem like those things happened days ago instead of hours ago.

“It’s a very fascinating sense of time travel and time really does slow down,” Phillips said. “A day feels like a week.”

Phillips did return to Austin in 2013, on his bike as he wanted to film the town for “The Walking Fool.” He was surprised to see the SPAM Museum had moved out of Oak Park Mall, but he was glad to see Austin again.

“It makes a town seem more special when it offers a safe haven like Austin did for me,” Phillips said.

Phillips is expecting the city of Austin to appear in his film, which is still looking for funds at www.walkingfool.com.

Phillips said he had a greater passion for acting after completing his trip across the U.S. He appeared in the the 2013 film “The Family” with De Niro and he was in the Showtime series “The Knick.” Phillips is now focusing on completing “The Walking Fool.”