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Second cross-country trek spreads the word on hospice Briton again visits Lockport to highlight care provided by organization

A British man walking across the United States to raise awareness about hospice care is back in town.

Colin Skinner's trek across the country -- from New York City to San Francisco -- repeats a similar journey he made in the late 1980s for the same purpose.

The 43-year-old molecular biologist, who also has walked across Great Britain and New Zealand, is visiting Niagara Hospice in Lockport on Monday on his way through the Great Lakes and the Plains to Minot, N.D.

Skinner, and his 40- to 50-pound backpack, arrived in New York City from England on Aug. 22.

He has been on foot since then, arriving in Niagara Falls on Sunday.

Skinner described his mission as spreading the word about how hospices can provide compassionate care and improve the final days of those near the end of their lives.

"Seeing the good that they're doing," he said, "that's what keeps me walking."

On his many journeys, Skinner has snowshoed over the Tioga Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, walked through an active volcano in New Zealand and marched through Death Valley, Calif.

Along his current journey, many people have come up to him to talk about their experiences with family members helped by hospice organizations.

That's the biggest difference from the first time he hiked across the United States: On his first trip, hospices still were relatively new, and many people didn't know what they offered.

This time, he said, he seems to have millions of Americans to keep him company.

"You're not as alone as you think," he said.

He's following the same route he took on his first cross-country walk and plans to stop at about 70 hospices along the way.

"Hopefully, hospices will continue to grow to help people," he said.

Skinner, who travels up to 16 hours a day, said his walk has been inspired by the 2003 death of his mother, Monica Pickford, from pancreatic cancer at 59.

At every hospice he visits, he said he meets patients who find happiness in little things.

On his first trip, he met a man named Ralph in a hospice in San Francisco. Ralph, who had no family to care for him, was dying of AIDS, and the hospice staff had organized a birthday party. Skinner said he remembers one of the nurses massaged Ralph's feet.

"Hospice," he said, "is about making the most of life."

Patricia Evans, Niagara Hospice board member and co-founder, met Skinner on his first cross-country walk when he visited Western New York, when the organization was working out of three rooms in Cambria.

"I think what he's doing is just amazing," Evans said.

Skinner wrote a book, "Beyond the Setting Sun," about his first cross-country trek. It is available at amazon.co.uk. Some of the proceeds will benefit hospice organizations.

Skinner plans to pause his journey once he reaches North Dakota, coming back in November 2010 to finish his route to San Francisco by March 2011.

Skinner's visit Monday coincided with an open house at Niagara Hospice.

Tours of Niagara Hospice House and Niagara Hospice Memorial Gardens were conducted.

"It's great for me to see how this has grown in the past 21 years," Skinner said.

For more information about Niagara Hospice, visit www.niagarahospice.org.

To read Skinner's blog, visit www.nationalhospicefoundation.org/colin.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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