“We lived in separate continents for over 30 years, and so we saw one another maybe once a year, but in the last few years we had daily contact via texts,” says Alevropoulos, who joined Carter on the first day of his walk this past June. “We shared the small, seemingly boring details of our lives. What we had for breakfast, what the weather was like. I very much miss that daily contact.”
A month after returning from a family vacation in April 2015, Melitta stopped cancer treatments. “As it became clear that she was going to die, I think that she wanted to just be with the family and friends,” Carter says. “Two or three weeks before she died, we went to a field near the Potomac River along River Road and she was photographing the sunflowers with the kids and me. That combination of the natural world and photography, and being with the family, that was perfect for her.”
In her final days, Melitta liked to sit at home on a sofa that faces the garden where her son, Nic, had built a pond. “It was a classic project because she found this location, I dug out a 3-foot-deep hole, and then she changed her mind,” Nic says. “So we turned that one into a flower bed and I dug out another pond, which we filled with lilies and goldfish. It’s still there and doing great. I look at it and I’m reminded of her.”
Comforted by the family’s poodle, Cino, and Shih Tzu, Ella, Melitta was at peace. “My sister was in New York, but had been coming every weekend during that summer,” Georgie says. “The day before she died, she was calling out for Emily. Emily came the next day, and she passed away when we were all with her. She was waiting, basically, for us all to be together.”
Carter is, by nature, a pint-half-full kind of guy.
“Way too optimistic for his own good,” Georgie says. She can’t believe he’s walking 3,500 miles. “What he’s doing at the moment is completely crazy. No sane person would put themselves through that. If my mom were alive right now, she would call him an idiot.” (In good fun, of course.)
Carter’s bosses at the World Bank loved the idea, however, and after he’d spent a year or so planning the trip, they granted him a sabbatical. He bought a van to sleep in when he doesn’t have an Airbnb or an invite from a friend, created a website (3500toendit.com) to track his progress and raise awareness, and asked Emily, a health consultant for a communications and marketing agency, to make a video on the fight against cervical cancer. Through mid-September, it had more than 223,000 views on YouTube.
“He has a way of coming up with an idea that seems radical or unimaginable and then just doing it,” says Emily, 28. “Last summer we decided to run a marathon together, and it was the same thing. I am not a runner at all, but every single weekend he would drive up to New York for the day and make me go on a run. We ran the New York City Marathon together.”
On Day One of Carter’s trip—June 16—he walked 14.1 miles in 4 hours and 43 minutes. The weather was perfect. But not every walk has been easy. He’s worn through at least one pair of shoes, so he bought walking trainers from Mountain Warehouse (a British version of REI) that are guaranteed to last at least 5,000 miles. He’ll put that warranty to the test.
Aside from a few blisters, Carter is in perfect health. He hasn’t even lost any weight. (At the end of a long day’s walk, he says, nothing beats a beer or two.) As of mid-August, he’d raised more than $30,000 from those closest to him and from strangers around the world. He’ll keep going until June, in memory of the woman he loved and with the hope that someday no more spouses will lose a wife, no more children will lose a mother, to cervical cancer. He’s walked from Selsey to Chichester, from Totton to Calshot, from East Portlemouth to Kingsbridge. Tomorrow it’s on to Truro.
Mike Unger is a writer and editor who grew up in Montgomery County and lives in Baltimore.