MONTEZUMA, Iowa – Two teens from opposite coasts are marching across the country for peace, hoping to gain followers and attention with each step.
Ashley Casale, 19, of Clinton Corners, N.Y., and Michael Israel, 18, of Jackson, Calif., had hoped others who oppose the war in Iraq would join them on their 3,000-mile walk from San Francisco to Washington.
However, since they started off May 21, it's just been the two of them for the most part.
"Although it's always nice to have as many people as possible, it's more about the message and we haven't been disappointed there aren't tons of people walking," Casale said.
It wasn't what Casale planned when she started a Web site and sent fliers to colleges nationwide to promote what she called the "March for Peace." Still, after 1,600 miles and three pairs of sandals, she seemed satisfied with the march's progress.
The two met 10 minutes before beginning their journey. Casale just finished her freshman year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and Israel recently graduated from high school.
Israel learned of the anti-war walk from the Web site. "I was looking for something bigger to do than just a weekend rally," he said.
On Wednesday, the two stopped for lunch in Montezuma. Wearing T-shirts and displaying deep tans, the two described the blisters and achy knees they have endured as they crossed the western deserts, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.
"We've never thought about quitting, but there are parts of the country that are so isolated and towns are so far between we feel like we're alone without any support, but then we come across a town and see the support we have and it helps," Casale said.
They said most people have been receptive, even if they have not agreed with their position on the war.
One retired farmer and World War II veteran in Nebraska met them along the side of the road with a welcome sign and had dinner with them, they said. Other people have brought them food and water, opened their homes or let them camp in their yards.
Then there are those who greeted them with obscene gestures and yells.
Still, Israel said he felt good about what he and Casale have accomplished.
"I hope it inspires people to be more vocal and politically active and become more aware of what's going on around them," he said.
Both acknowledge they get homesick. Casale said she calls home once a day -- at her mother's insistence. Israel calls his family at least twice a week.
They rely on each other for emotional support but insist their friendship hasn't become romantic. "We're just friends," Casale said, smiling.
Casale and Israel said they have gone two weeks without clean clothes and a week without a shower. They go through a lot of water, sunscreen and bandages for blisters.
They hope to reach Iowa City for a peace rally on Friday and to arrive in Washington by Sept. 11. Along the way they hope their message will be heard.
"Our message is about ending the war in Iraq, but it's more than that," Casale said. "It's about cultivating peace in our daily lives and responding to things in a peaceful, nonviolent way."