If you saw a woman in an orange vest and walking gear in and around Granger and Sunnyside on Friday, she was not a hitchhiker.
In fact, Ceiridwen Terrill turned down offers from passers-by who were willing to drive her to her next destination. “One farmer tried to convince me to let him give me a ride to town,” she said. “Please,” he said. “But I told him no — that would be cheating and I must walk every step.”
Since Oct. 8, the English professor from Portland’s Concordia University has taken thousands of steps as part of a 225-mile trek from Oregon’s largest city to the Hanford nuclear site. On Sunday morning, Terrill, 45, expects to finally complete her personal, physically demanding, environmentally-conscious and spiritual journey.
“It’s really a remarkable feeling for me,” Terrill said.
“Two hundred and twenty-five miles is not really that far in terms of distances. If we have an accident in Hanford, it will go downstream. If I can walk that far, it really is not that far for pollution to travel.”
Hanford opened in the 1940s and was the site of the first full-scale plutonium reactor in the world. As a result, Terrill’s grandparents moved to the Lower Valley in the 1950s from Oklahoma; her grandfather found a job as a Hanford pipefitter.
Working and living near Hanford’s radioactive waste left a lasting impact on the Terrills, she said. Her grandfather died in 1959, only one year after being laid off from Hanford; her father died from cancer in Portland when she was only 5. She said her family has always believed his death stemmed from living downwind from Hanford while growing up in Sunnyside.
“We have this incredible farmland out here, and we rely on that food to eat, we rely on that water to drink, the air to breathe,” she said. “I feel like these voices need to be heard … because we have leaking tanks on that site going into the (Columbia) river and it’s moving.”
Two months ago, she visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima for the 70th anniversary of the U.S. bombing. The trip moved her to make a “pilgrimage” of sorts — even if it took a toll physically, Terrill said.
“Why do we do anything?” she asked. “Because we need to. We need challenges (in our lives).”
Her faith, goal and determination have kept her going, even as the blisters worsen, her legs weaken and each new step hurts just a bit more. The constant sunshine has been no help, either: “Heat shimmers (on the road) just make me more thirsty,” she said.
Terrill is not walking completely alone: Her husband Lonnie drives to the projected resting spot, where he has a small trailer and supplies waiting. She usually stops in the evenings and gets about six hours of sleep before starting again the following morning.
Such a journey requires her to consume about 6,000 calories per day, she said. On average, Terrill has walked 22 miles per day.
It will all be over Sunday morning, when she holds a miniceremony at the Yakima River entrance to Hanford.
She brought along soil from her childhood home in Portland — the last place she saw her father — and Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki contained plutonium from Hanford — and Sunnyside — the childhood home of her dad and his family. She will bury the soil in a symbolic gesture; her walk also coincides with the anniversary of her father’s passing.
And on Monday, she will be back in Portland teaching literature.