Walking the walk: Mike Posner travels across America

Southfield-bred singer-songwriter stops into his hometown during his journey across the States

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

It's a quiet morning inside Mill Dam Corner Grille off of National Rd SE in Hebron, Ohio, about 30 miles east of Columbus. An older couple sits down to breakfast, while a group of four burly men in construction gear grab a table near the bar. 

Outside, next to the Ford E-350 RV in the far end of the parking lot, Mike Posner is on a yoga mat, stretching his limbs.

He's getting ready for the next leg of his walk across America, the Southfield-bred singer-songwriter's step-by-step trek across this great land of ours. He's breaking up the 2,800 mile journey into daily 20 mile increments, and after launching April 15 in Asbury Park, New Jersey, he expects to reach the Pacific Ocean sometime around September.

For Posner, whose "I Took a Pill in Ibiza" was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2017 Grammy Awards (it lost to Adele's "Hello"), the journey is about self-discovery and inspiration, both to others and himself.

Mike Posner usually walks 20 miles a day on his walk across America.

"I think you have to have goals that inspire you," says Posner, who plays a benefit concert Wednesday night at the City Theatre in Detroit during a brief hiatus from the walk. "Your whole life can't just be about taking care of stuff, and solving problems that exist. There has to be some element of mysticism and adventure, and the walk is that for me right now."

Before you ask: yes, he knows it's a little ridiculous to pull a Forrest Gump and hoof it across the U.S. But that was part of the appeal, he says. 

"I had a conversation with one of my best friends and told him about the walk, and told him how people think it's a crazy idea. He goes, 'What a great sign!'" says Posner, who has already traveled 500-plus miles and has crossed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and a sliver of West Virginia. "He told me, 'Not all crazy ideas are great, but all great ideas are crazy.' He helped me see it's exactly what I should do." 

"The Walk," as he refers to it, started as a goal about four years ago and he committed to it in August.

It comes at a time when Posner, 31, is looking at life a little differently.

In recent years he's been affected by the deaths of several people close to him: his friend Avicii, the EDM recording artist who inspired "I Took a Pill in Ibiza," died in 2018, his childhood friend Ronnie Posey passed away in February, and most strikingly his father, Jon Posner, died in January 2017 after a battle with brain cancer.

Those brushes with death made Posner more in tune with the present, and the fleeting nature of existence.

"It just reframes your life when you accept death. You start to go through life and do the things that are actually meaningful to you," he says. "It sort of gives you a blank check, doesn't it?" 

Appreciating the little things

Right now, Posner's blank check is an open roadway.

He walks on county roads and highways alike. Tractors roll by, cars whip by. Sometimes he'll pull out his phone and document a moment, others he'll commit to memory. 

Mike Posner uses a pair of walking sticks that he considers extra limbs.

Six weeks into his sojourn, he's learned to appreciate the little things in front of him. Sidewalks don't pop up often, so they're a treat when they do. Rain is a pleasant diversion. Floating pieces of cottonwood cause him to light up, as do the sounds of chirping birds. And waves from passing drivers are like currency, especially when collected in multiples.

There's also carnage on the road, and Posner has seen his lifetime fill of roadkill. Birds, squirrels, badgers, deer: you name it, and Posner has seen it laid out on the side of the road, in various stages of rot and decay. "It's gotten so bad," Posner says, "that the other day my friend said, 'I saw a baby fox!' and I go, 'a live one?' Because every animal I see is dead." 

Not everything he comes across roadside is as grim. Spotting a familiar empty bottle at the side of the road along U.S. 40, Posner exclaims, "Faygo? We're getting close to home!"  

On the road, Posner wears Nike tights underneath a pair of athletic shorts, and a tight long sleeve shirt that wicks away sweat from his body. He wears a reflective vest around his chest which houses his phone, which calls out directions, and has pockets for mementos and keepsakes he picks up along the way.

He wears a floppy hat that keeps the sun off his face and he applies liberal amounts of sunscreen; he's not about to be derailed from his itinerary by a bout with sunburn. He's been growing his hair out and his beard is bushy, though he's trimmed back the mustache so it doesn't hang over his lip. 

Sun protection is key as Mike Posner walks across America.

Songs occasionally get stuck in his head, and he hums or sings them to himself: Today it's Feist's "1234" and Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me."

He uses a pair of walking sticks; he initially thought it would be uncool, but he says they're like having a third leg, which is beneficial when every day brings another 20 miles of walking. 

Strong in mind and body

He begins each morning with a 7.5 mile walking meditation, where he stays silent and keeps to himself. (The Birmingham Groves High School grad has practiced Transcendental Meditation for years.) He breaks for food and stretching mid-morning, before taking on another 7.5 miles. Another break, some yoga, maybe a nap, and he finishes the day with a five mile stretch. Then dinner, an early bedtime at the back of the RV and repeat once his alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

"He has an incredible daily practice that he keeps up," says Julian Roy, Posner's right hand man along the current stretch of the walk. Roy, himself a singer and songwriter in Los Angeles, tails Posner in the RV, cooks his food, helps with fans and followers who want to join the walk and keeps Posner company. 

Roy, 30, says Posner is strong not only in body, but in mind. 

"After 20 miles, sure he's tired at the end of the day, but that's about it," he says. "The drive and integrity that he carries with him is really commendable."

Aside from Roy, Posner interacts with folks he meets along the way, some who stop to say hello, some who follow his journey through social media — Posner is active daily on Instagram — and wish to join him for a leg of the walk. 

Mike Posner displays a memento that was given to him by a fan in New Jersey during his walk across America.

Lisa Gonzalez of Mount Laurel, NJ, met up with Posner early in the trek and walked with him for seven miles as he crossed over the Delaware River from New Jersey into Pennsylvania.  

"It was pretty awesome," says Gonzalez, who connected to some personal elements of Posner's story; her father is currently battling cancer. She says she spent a lot of time talking to Posner about life, yoga and meditation, and at the end of the day, Posner took out his guitar and played a mini-concert for Gonzalez and about eight others.

"It was a really special day," says Gonzalez, 40, who said Posner recorded a video message for her two children, telling them to listen to their mom. She says she found him humble and unassuming, and hopes to meet him on the road this summer and spend another day walking with him. 

Pete Petrides was driving earlier this month when he saw Posner walking along the highway outside of Pittsburgh.

"In the back of my mind, I was like, 'is that Mike Posner?" Petrides says. "I did a U-turn and said, 'Hey, Mike!' He turned to me and waved, we started chatting, and he was super friendly." 

Petrides wound up walking with Posner for a couple of miles, which made him late for a work meeting, but he said it was worth it. Petrides, too, recently lost his father, and he connected to Posner because of their mutual loss.

"We talked about a lot of life stuff, he had a lot of great insight," says Petrides, 29, of Canton, Ohio. "It was definitely a surreal experience, one I'll always remember." 

'Enjoy where we are'

Posner, too, will always remember his walk, even if sometimes he finds his mind drifting toward the end of his journey. 

"One thing my mind loves to do is think about the last day. And it's like dude, the whole reason to do the walk is to enjoy the walk, and then you finally get on the walk, and you're just thinking about it being over?" he says. 

Mike Posner takes a break after a 7.5 mile trek during his walk across America.

"And it's like okay, I catch myself, and try to come back to where I am," he says, which he relates to the bigger picture of the journey we're all on." Whether we're on the walk or not, we have to come back to where we are, enjoy where we are." 

Posner's walk was originally scheduled to bring him through Detroit. But after he suffered a stress reaction to his left foot during training, the launch date was pushed back six weeks and the route was altered, so he could avoid traveling through the Rocky Mountains during potential cold weather. 

He's making his way through his hometown anyway: after attending his sister's wedding in New Orleans over the weekend, Posner flew to Detroit to perform a concert Wednesday at City Theatre, an acoustic show which will raise money for his friend Ronnie Posey's two daughters' college funds. It's the only scheduled concert on his docket, although occasionally he'll play pop-up "Ninja Shows," free concerts in open air settings which he'll announce on social media. He'll resume the walk on Thursday, right where he left off.

Mike Posner does yoga while his friend, Julian Roy, strums a tune during Posner's walk across America.

Posner is exact about his coordinates; at the end of each leg, he uses his walking sticks to tap the nearest road marker, which he hits again when he resumes his walk. No shortcuts; if he’s going to walk across America, he’s going to make sure he hits every step.

There are the days when Posner doesn’t want to walk, especially when that first alarm goes off in the morning and he reasons he could sleep in for a few minutes. But the commitment he made is part of his drive, along with the promise of self-growth and a deepening of his understanding of his country. He rejected corporate sponsorship because he didn’t want to sell the soul of the walk, he says.

But he admits there's another motivator as well.

"There's a small percentage of me that likes the attention of it," he says. "I'm not proud of that, I think that's a flaw in character, but so far it's still there. There's not anything wrong with that, but certainly you don't want that to be your only North Star." 

It's a push-pull he talks a lot about in his music. "Too tired to be famous, too vain to be unknown," he sings in "Stuck in the Middle," a song off his latest album, "A Real Good Kid," which was released in January.  

"A Real Good Kid" is several worlds removed from "A Matter of Time," the 2009 mixtape Posner made when he was still a student at Duke University, but they're both products of the same artist, one whose own journey has taken him to some unexpected places.

Such as downtown Kirkirsville, Ohio, a small strip of Main Street, USA where Posner stops and chats with Kathy Rogers, owner of the Depot Thrift Shop, and tells her about his long trip. 

Mike Posner chats with Depot Thrift Shop owner Kathy Rogers during his walk across America.

Like everyone he meets on the walk, Posner asks Rogers whom she would like him to mention the next time he says a prayer.

They part ways, and Posner heads down the road, one foot in front of the other. 



Mike Posner 

8 p.m. Wednesday

City Theatre, 2301 Woodward Ave, Detroit

Tickets $30