A Quixotic Quest for Peace

updated 10/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

A fanciful eye might see them as survivors of the war they hope to prevent. The thin line of men, women and children seem forlornly small as they slog through a desolate winter landscape. Yet after an eight-month trek across America, 500 antinuke marchers are bringing off a stirring display of will and commitment. When they carry the banners of the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament into New York City this week and on to Washington, D.C. Nov. 15 for the finale, the marchers will have completed a mission that once seemed certain to collapse in debt and ridicule. Soon after setting out from Los Angeles, the march ran out of funds and ground to a halt. But a hard core regrouped and are bringing the peace marathon to a triumphant conclusion.

On May 22 the marchers crossed the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass, high in the Colorado Rockies. They were a third of the way into their journey, and like the gushing mountain streams, they were headed east to the Atlantic. At the highest point of the pass, 11,992 feet, the panting marchers celebrated with hugs and cheers.

Peace activist Bob Trausch, 43, of Chico, Calif. helps daughter Kelsi, 20 months, dig into breakfast oatmeal before the day's march. While Trausch trudged, Kelsi and her brother, Zenon, 5, rode ahead in ancient school buses with the marchers' other children.

Marchers pick their way over storage crates to get from the mobile kitchen to the food storage van (right) after rains flooded the campsite in Lincoln, Nebr. Later, some local farmers arrived with tractors to pull bogged-down vehicles from the mud.

A muddy boot came to symbolize some of the participants' hardest stretches. Because a highway in the Rockies was under major repair, the marchers were diverted to Cottonwood Pass in Colorado. A mix of mud and snow, however, turned the dirt road into a quagmire.

A fellow marcher embraces Franklin Folsom, 79, of Boulder, Colo, after he delivered an emotional speech in Denver. A Rhodes Scholar and author, Folsom is the oldest person to make the entire journey. His only concession to age is a 10-minute nap every four miles.

The daylong hikes were exhausting, and at least one child (right) happily leaves the walking to Dad. To help support the march, the man behind uses a homemade cart to salvage aluminum cans found along the road.

The most precious commodity at day's end is a shower. One marcher rigs up a cold-water spray by placing a plastic bag on his car roof. Sometimes marchers persuaded a local fire department to hose everyone down.

Gentle squeezing extricates a splinter from a marcher's heel. Most medical problems were handled by the group's two nurses. California dentist Mordecai Roth, 66, treated patients in a van equipped like an office.

At Grinnell College in Iowa, senior citizen Folsom gets a surprise birthday party from fellow marchers. "I hope when you are my age," he told a tearful crowd, "you won't have to demonstrate against nuclear weapons."

The low point came two weeks into the march when the original organizers pulled out for lack of funds. These women console one another while waiting to see whether the march would continue. Two weeks later, after raising enough money with small donations, the marchers were back on the road.

Marchers are often rewarded with fleeting but poignant encounters with sympathetic strangers. Outside Grand Island, Nebr. (right) a farmer flashes the peace sign to weary walkers on Route 34. Some locals even took marchers in for a hot meal and a warm bed.

In March (left) the group halts at a desert campsite outside Barstow, Calif., and hundreds of tents mushroom in less than an hour. Moving into campgrounds selected weeks in advance became a smooth routine. At dawn the tent village vanishes and is trucked to the next site.

Alone office worker (left) demonstrates her support as the anti-nuke pilgrims reach Chicago. Crowds haven't been thick anywhere along the route, but the marchers are not ignored. They often stop along the way to spread their message by speaking in schools, churches and, at the end of the day, even in bars.

In the California desert, John and Glena Records of La Grande, Ore. carry their-exhausted children-Semmy, 5, and Rosemary, 2 in stultifying heat. "Tent life with a toddler is no day at the Ritz, "said one mother, "but we feel responsible for our children's future in this nuclear age."

A bleached skull on the Mojave Desert floor reminds some of the marchers of the catastrophe they are working to prevent. After two weeks in the desert without seeing an outsider, they neared Las Vegas and met a lucky gambler who happily shared his winnings with them.

Attorney Kitt Horn, 32, a Vietnam vet from the Bronx, and Bonny Chartrand, 34, an opera singer from L.A., are married in Denver, two months after they met on the march. "It was love at 11th site," said Bonny, referring to the camp where they met. So far three other weddings have been recorded.

Last spring, marchers set up "Peace City" on the barren California-Nevada border. The large tent, known as the town hall, is for meetings and for those with no place to call their own. "All along the way," said a marcher, "we've planted the seeds of peace."

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