Ilia Carson is shown outside the mission in San Juan Bautista.

Los Angeles resident Ilia Carson went whizzing through San Juan Bautista last week on her quest to walk across California and stop at every mission in the state.
Carson, 50, has been to 27 countries and 45 of the 50 states, but the California resident woke up one day and realized she knew only small sections of her own state.
It all started several years ago when her son—now in high school—was in fourth grade putting together his mission project.
“I had only been to two and I didn’t know there were 21 of them,” Carson said.
While the entire journey will be roughly 800 miles, the avid walker is doing it in several legs. Carson started the first section, which spans more than 426 miles from Sonoma to San Luis Obispo, this month. Carson has given up measuring exact distances and estimated she added at least 20 miles by missing a crucial bike path and getting lost.
“I’ve probably gotten lost a couple times,” Carson said to the Free Lance. “I’ve gone through towns a couple times.”
So far, Carson has mostly been staying with strangers who signed up to host fellow travelers through online groups such as and In San Juan Bautista, Carson stayed with long-distance biker Jim Ostdick who wrote a book about his 8,000-mile trek across the nation on bicycle. They swapped travel stories and Carson visited the mission she had traveled so far to see.
“I loved it,” she said. “It was so interesting because it was on the fault line and part of the original road is along the fault line.”
San Juan Bautista is one town Carson is adding to her growing list of visited places. So is Watsonville.
“There’s so many places I’d never been to and you know they all have their own charm, and some of them don’t have any charm at all which is also interesting,” said the walker.
The next section of the trip will be from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, but Carson has yet to decide if she’ll do it “in one swoop” or over several, smaller trips, she said.
After finishing this journey, Carson is planning to take her walking passion overseas to trek El Camino del Santiago—or the “Way of St. James”—a 500-mile walk in Spain that she estimates will take her five to six weeks. Compared with this walk, the one abroad will be easy since thousands of pilgrims make the trip and there are overnight stopping spots called refugios.
“This one, you have to organize yourself,” she said. “It’s so not set up for pilgrims.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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