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A father's journey

Mike Sciales walked from Boise to Moscow to attend daughter's graduation

By David Johnson
Lewiston Morning Tribune

MOSCOW – Thousands of parents will be traveling to Moscow this week to attend commencement ceremonies Saturday at the University of Idaho. Most will come by car, some by plane and a few by bus.

Mike Sciales, 50, walked – all the way from Boise – to witness the graduation of his 25-year-old daughter, Kate Johnston, from UI's College of Law.

"I arrived here Sunday afternoon," Sciales said after spending 18 days in a brand new pair of walking shoes covering 300 miles.

"You're goofy," is what Sciales says his wife, Laurie Sciales, told him. Nonetheless, she agreed to drop him off on the outskirts of Boise. "And I was off to Horseshoe Bend. By the time I got there, I realized I'd made a mistake."

That was less than 20 miles into the trek. But the recently retired U.S. Air Force judge advocate general, who himself graduated from law school at UI in 1987, said he slept the night and climbed out of his little tent the next morning with renewed determination.

"I wanted to tie it (the walk) in with Kate's graduation and celebrating my retirement." He carried a 40-pound back pack, ate in restaurants and spent three nights in motels when, as he explains, the "body funk" demanded showering. As his beard grew and his appearance became more scruffy and questionable, he developed a preemptive introduction for those he met.

"Ladies, I'm not a wino or a vagrant. I carry Visa."

He encountered only one menacing dog ("I bluffed him off."), enjoyed mostly cool weather, learned that "Kings Thrones" porta-potties are indeed strategically located, and found people are almost without exception accepting – especially those who seemed to identify with his circumstances.

"What I learned was that people in old vehicles who look like they don't have much going on will stop and offer rides."

Early in the walk, Sciales found an American flag in the ditch after it apparently blew off a car. Being a military man who doesn't hesitate to say he's proud to have served, he dusted the flag off, mounted it on his pack and left it unfurled for the duration of his journey.

Sciales, who returned with his family last year after serving in Kuwait in the Air Force's Office of Military Cooperation, said he read newspapers while eating breakfast in restaurants and was right around McCall when he first started learning about the alleged abuses of prisoners in Iraq. As an attorney, said Sciales, he thinks the cases should be prosecuted and guilty parties punished regardless of rank or where the evidence may lead.

He said the prisoners deserve to be treated with the respect afforded all prisoners in a war zone.

But as someone who's worked the legal ranks of the military and spent time in the Middle East, Sciales said the American public needs to know that the prisoners now being called victims are most likely "very, very evil people" who themselves have dolled out much worse "brutality and savagry."

His own opinions on current events aside, Sciales said he found it fascinating to walk alone with his thoughts during the day, camp at night and then catch up with world events the next morning. "I've been reading the Tribune for a long way, since about Riggins. I've been reading all the big news, including the commissioners going after each other in Idaho County."

The real Idaho, said Sciales, comes alive every morning in coffee shops where the news breaks, people talk and the beauty of the countryside seems to buffer all that's unsavory about the world. "Idahoans are some of the most gracious people in the world," said Sciales. "And the state varies so much from south to north. I think we have the most beautiful state."

Aside from his natural inclination to engage people in conversation, Sciales said the real keys to his successful arrival in Moscow were his "Dr. Scholl's inserts ... and get the arch supports." He admits he took a couple of rides in cars for a few miles along the more treacherous stretches of highway between Boise and Moscow. But he's spending the next few days prior to graduation walking around town and adjacent locales making up the miles.

"Just so I can say I really did the 300."

His daughter, who's been working as a legal intern at the Ada County prosecutor's office in Boise, will be driving up Friday for commencement. Sciales said his wife and younger daughter, 15-year-old Maggie Sciales, will be accompanying the graduate.

"Both my daughters think it's great," Sciales said of his adventure.

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