In eastern Kentucky, there are 2,000 fourth and fifth graders watching Joe Bowen's every move. Now 62, Bowen is retracing a 14,000-mile bike ride he took when he got out of the Air Force in 1967. "I read [John Steinbeck's] Travels with Charley and was like, 'Man, I've got to do that,' but I couldn't afford a camper," says Bowen. Instead, he left Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California, by bicycle and, 16 months later, showed up back home in Kentucky. "I've always known I had to do it again." Not that Bowen was idle in the meantime - he's the stilt walker. In 1980, he walked 3,008 miles on stilts to raise money for muscular dystrophy. "I'm a little bit of a ham," he admits.

Bowen started on April 8, 2005 - 38 years to the day after he began his original trek. Along with retracing his cycling route, the retired construction manager is also rekindling some of the friendships he first made back in 1967. He says these remeetings offer confirmation that a "faded memory" is really true: "You would not believe the reunions." Take, for instance, what happened in Sheridan, Wyoming. "Thirty-eight years ago, I rode into the little town and I only had a few dollars. I stopped by at a little restaurant and told the owner that I was looking for work. He said, 'I'll help you,' and found me a job working two weeks stacking hay on a farm." He also let Bowen sleep in the restaurant - as long as he cleared out by the time the breakfast customers arrived. "I thanked him, left, and had never written to him." But a local gave Bowen the man's number when he got to town on his return trip. "I called him and said, 'Do you remember a young man in 1967?' and he said, 'Joe, is that you? I'm coming to get you, and you've got to stay a couple days.' He's just an incredible old man. I guess I was good medicine for him."

As for those kids back in Kentucky, Bowen­ is their on-the-road guide to America. During his ride he meets with them through teleconferences and online to fill them in on his adventures and teach them about culture, history, science, and much more. He also hopes to teach them to be proud of their Kentucky heritage: "They know I'm a mountain man; they know I'm one of them." Bowen interrupted his road trip after reaching Atlanta around Thanksgiving so he could go home to Bowen, Kentucky. He'll use the break to visit local classrooms involved with this project, then put on his biking helmet and resume his trip for the final 3,000 miles in the spring.

Duct tape, Neosporin, and ibuprofen. That's Dan Rogers's version of a first-aid kit. "If I can't fix it with that, then I'm in trouble," he says. Rogers, 42, might want to consider buying his Neosporin in bulk. He's just one-eighth of the way through a planned 24,000-mile walk around America­ that he'll complete in segments over the next decade.

Like many devoted trekkers, Rogers's passion for wearing out shoes started with the Appalachian Trail. In 1999 he took a six-month sabbatical from his corporate job to hike the trail and, not long after he got back, his father died. Rogers realized "you only get so much time," quit the job, and, in August 2001, set out on the first section of his walk. So far, he's walked 3,400 miles. The next stretch will kick off in April 2006 when he'll go 3,100 miles, mostly along the Pacific Crest Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Now a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America, Rogers says he originally­ "just went to meet the country. I found when I traveled that we all make a difference - like it or not." While people are initially unsure of Rogers ("I have hair to my shoulders and a big beard"), they usually grow curious once they realize that he got to town via his own two feet, not by ­hitchhiking.