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One step at a time

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By Lisa King

Like other customers at McDonald's restaurant at Governor's Square on Wednesday, Sam Neace was just passing through.

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"I just stopped in to get a bite of breakfast on my way to Chicago," he said, taking a last sip of coffee before hitting the road again.

What makes Neace so different from other travelers? He's hitting the road on foot.

Known as  "Killer Neace" at The Killer B, WKCB -FM in Hindman, this mild-mannered DJ began his trek from Hazard to Chicago on Sept. 22 and says he expects to set foot in Chicago on Oct. 13.

"I expect to walk about 25 miles a day," he said.

"I'm walking, not running like Forest Gump, but I am working on the beard," he said with a grin.

Why is he walking?

"Well," he said, leaning back in his chair and scooping up the last of his breakfast, "two reasons. I am walking to Chicago to raise money for the Relay for Life and to see Oprah."

Neace, a cancer survivor, said in addition to raising money for the American Cancer Society, he is also walking 511 miles to prove something to Oprah Winfrey, whose show is headquartered in the Windy City.

He hopes she will promote an unpublished novel he has written.

"I got the idea of walking to Chicago because I figured that if I walked all the way there, she would see how serious I am about it and at least sit down and read it," he said. "The reason I picked her is because I really get a sense that she enjoys helping people, and she's genuine, and then there's her love of literature. She loves books,"

Neace, who is also the author of Neace's Pieces, said he is confident that if Winfrey reads Bad Boy, she will give the novel her endorsement.

His wife, Rebekah, who brought the couple's two young children, Mollie and Callie, from Hazard to the Shelbyville McDonald's to have breakfast with their dad, summed up the plot of the novel.

"It's basically about a young man who gets a taste of freedom and goes hog wild and then later realizes the error of his ways," she said.

"I couldn't have put it better myself," he said, grinning at his wife. "I was just getting ready to launch into a synopsis of the plot."

When asked if the novel is autobiographical, he laughed, and his wife snickered.

"Not anymore," she said, with a chuckle.

"It's not at all," he said. "My inspiration was the condition of young people in southeastern Kentucky. I looked around at so many of my friends, and it seemed like there was so much addiction and so much misery in their lives just because of the way the world is and the temptation and giving in to it. The book does have an uplifting ending, though."

Though Neace is walking alone, he has been joined by short periods of time by his Relay for Life friends.

Though he mapped out his route ahead of time and tried to plan for every contingency, one unforeseen detail has been a big pain in the neck, or rather, the back.

"I wish I could tell you that while I'm walking I think about all my life events, leading up to a great epiphany," he said. "But all I can think of is the weight of my backpack. It really hurts."

The weather has not been that kind to him either.

"The weather has thrown everything at me except for ice and snow," he said, laughing. "And, oh, man, these hills in Shelby County. I though once I passed through Richmond that I was done with the hills, but I've walked up more hills here than in any other county."

But walking does have some advantages, he said.

"It's a more intimate experience than driving," he said. "In a car, you see the landscape, but walking, you really get the feel of the town, you see the children playing and the people. It is scary sometimes when you walk through a place you've never been before, and you're all alone. But I've been really surprised by how nice everybody has been, Shelbyville included. That's made it a lot whole easier for me."

Neace said his route would take him up U.S. 60 into Louisville, where he planned to spend the night with his cousin. From there, he will cross over into Indiana via the Second Street Bridge.

Neace updates his station's Web site (wkcb.com) every day so listeners can check out his Killer Neace Tracker, which shows his progress.

Does Oprah know he is coming?

"Well, the entire student bodies of Perry County Central High, A.B. Combs and Big Creek are all sending Oprah E-mails, so she probably knows by now," he said.

Neace kissed his wife and kids and adjusted his backpack.

"Good luck to you; glad you stopped in," McDonald's Manager Yvonne Munoz called out, waving to Neace across the crowded restaurant.

And he was off again, at a steady pace down Main Street, wearing a UK stocking cap and a T-Shirt promoting the future of coal in Kentucky.

Walk, Sam, walk.