ORLANDO, Fla. – While many Floridians hunker down in the air conditioning to escape the summer heat, Riley Nutt is on a mission to walk from the Sunshine State's Atlantic Coast to Gulf Coast.
His 250-mile trek aims to raise money for the Sao Paulo Mercy Ministry in Brazil, an organization supporting homeless children in the city. So far, the 51-year-old has raised more than $4,000 toward his current goal of $20,000 through shirt sales, a GoFundMe and more.
While the distance might seem daunting, the Volusia County resident has walked almost twice that during his first "camino," or pilgrimage, in Europe that was inspired by a PBS show with travel guru Rick Steves.
"He says, 'Now we're going to talk about what a camino is.' It was just amazing," Nutt said. "I can either walk and worry about ticks and snakes and bears and mountain lions and lightning strikes. Or I could walk across one of the most beautiful areas of Europe and Spain. I could eat my way across Spain. It was a no brainer."
Nutt journeyed the Camino de Santiago for 40 days and about 500 miles from the Pyrenees Mountains of France to the shrine of Saint James in Spain before walking to Portugal as well.
"I walked that to raise money for Father Stephen and Mary in 2017 and we raised a little over $4,000. And they didn't even know I was doing it," said Nutt, referring to the missionaries of Sao Paulo Mercy Ministry. "This money that I'm raising now is to help Stephen and Mary set up group homes for about four kids at a time: $50 will rent an apartment for a month, $20 will feed them."
This summer, Nutt had planned to fly into Porto, Portugal, and walk 250 miles along the Atlantic Coast into Spain. But when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted that plan, he pivoted to a 250-mile "Coast-to-Coast Camino."
Nutt isn't camping or staying in hotels along the way. At the end of each day, his wife, Diana, shuttles him back home to sleep before he picks up where he left off the next day.
Recently, he walked the section of the trail that runs through Enterprise, a historical community near Deltona where Nutt has deep roots. Not only did he grow up in the town, but he also teaches art at Enterprise Elementary School, owns the town's post office and is heavily involved with All Saints Episcopal Church. In fact, Nutt's faith led him to seminary, where he is studying to become a priest.
While Nutt's camino is helping to raise money for a local organization, he's also hoping to spread awareness for the path on which he walks: Florida's Coast-to-Coast trail system. This network connects Central Florida's paved trails from Cape Canaveral to St. Petersburg and is nearly 90% complete.
Former Volusia County council member Pat Northey has been one of the trail's biggest champions and a supporter of Nutt's mission. She was involved with getting the first mile of trail built in Volusia County about 25 years ago and has advocated for the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop as well.
"Right now, with COVID, the trails are used all the time. People have gotten outside. As bad as it is, one of the offsets is people are re-discovering the outdoors," Northey said. "The momentum is now there that I expect to see, in my lifetime, that the Coast-to-Coast will be done and the River-to-Sea will be finished. And that's going to be something really special, that's a gift to the future."
Along his coast-to-coast trek, Nutt is listening to scripture and inspirational audiobooks while also praying as he walks with God. He said he's grateful for what has come of his effort so far.
"So many people don't have work right now and they're still giving. I just see God's hand in this," Nutt said. "Everywhere I look, it's so amazing. I believe He protects me while walking with the heat and what I encounter."
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