In many ways, Allen Mullins is an ordinary guy. He enjoys taking Sundays off and watching football. But when Mullins watches the big game, he's most likely in a bar or a stranger's home thousands of miles away from his home state of Georgia.
Mullins has walked about 22,000 miles across the country — dressed as Captain America, Superman and other comic book characters. It's part of his effort to visit all the continental states' capitols to raise awareness about the problems facing homeless veterans. He has 39 state capitals under his belt — his latest stop was Olympia, with Salem next on the list — and he hopes to have them all visited by this summer.
In many ways, though, Mullins is not ordinary.
Mullins, 29, said he framed house in several states. His supervisor was a Vietnam veteran who employed homeless veterans recruited from shelters, missions and from under bridges.
"After working with him, I wanted to do something myself to try to help out the troops," Mullins said. "So I had my house and my two acres of land auctioned off and my boss sent the proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, and on Jan. 5, 2009, I started my walk until 2020 to try to get a VFW, a legion or some foundation out here to use me to try and make money off of me."
Mullins said he walked 5,000 miles from Jan. 5 to Nov. 15, 2009, starting in Louisiana and ending in New York. That first leg was to explore the problems facing America's homeless veterans. What he found was lack of action.
"If they need help, help them if you can. At least try," he said, adding that verbal support simply isn't enough.
"I think there should be some sort of account that's built, that's made by the system for when veterans do return home that they will have all the mental counseling, physical counseling they need," he said of the federal government's role in helping veterans.
That first walk was only the beginning.
His current trek to state capitols started Jan. 15, 2010, and he's not finished. Not by a long shot. After visiting the capitols, his next goal is to visit every American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the continental United States.
"I tell people to try to get behind their local VFWs and donate to them or (the American) Legions," he said.
Surviving on the road
Traveling by foot can be tough and tiring.
He said a VFW outpost in Palestine, Texas, helps him by providing his superhero costumes — he estimates he's gone through more than 100 outfits — and booking him motel rooms when he reaches each capitol.
"Other than that, I got to fend for myself — and it's not that easy," he said.
"I have no tent, just a sleeping bag. I have to sleep, like, up under a bridge or something," Mullins said.
In order to feed himself, Mullins said he picks up change lying on the highway or visits food banks.
Sometimes, a stranger will show him kindness, though Mullin's personal rule is that he can never ask for anything from people who stop to talk to him. Help from someone on the road must be offered freely.
Vic Johnson, 44, of Longview has helped Mullins. Johnson said he agreed to host the costumed traveller when he arrived at Hardtails Bar & Grill in Kelso on Saturday night until he leaves this morning.
"(I) think it's good what he's doing," Johnson said, adding that he appreciates the cause because his father, both grandfathers and other relatives are veterans.
Sometimes, people aren't so helpful. He said he's put up less than 30 times a year — making Johnson's help something of a rarity.
"People are more judgmental," he said. "There's a lot of people out here that see me and they criticize or they judge."
"You have to have forgiveness, and you have to entitle people to their opinions during this walk, because you get a lot of opinions," he said.
"I've had a guy throw a beer bottle at me... during my first three months," he said, bending forward to display a scar across his forehead. Mullins said it knocked him out, and he was found in a ditch in Missouri. He had to spend two days in a hospital after the incident.
In Texas, his foot was run over, fracturing a bone and landing him in a hospital yet again.
"You get stuff," he said philosophically.
Lessons from the journey
"Every year teaches you a lesson on this walk," Mullins said. "One of the main things I've learned on this walk is (homeless veterans) need a little bit more love. They need a little bit more concern, and they need people to reach out their hand a little bit more without criticism."
Mullins wants to keep going until 2020 — to walk 250,000 miles — but he has given some thought to what he'd like to do after.
"When I'm done with this, I'm actually going to make my own line of guitars," he said. Quality wooden guitars, he said, are in short supply, and he'd like to change that.
Mullins said he would like to settle down in Alaska, one of the states he won't reach during his journey across the lower 48.
"I want to find the closest place, town or city, that's closet to the Northern Lights, because I want to wake up and go to sleep seeing them," he said.