Eric Kramp isn't dying any time soon, he hopes, and he hasn't struck it rich.
But, at 35, he's quitting his job and hitting the road to see new places and meet new people. He says he has to.
His cubicle is killing him.
Kramp started working as a medical bill processor about four years ago. All day long, five days a week, he sits in a cubicle listening to talk radio and logging in lab results.
For lunch, he heads to the nearest fast-food joint. Every few hours, he hits the vending machine or grabs a cookie or two brought in by a co-worker.
Little by little, he's gained 100 pounds, an amount he never imagined. He weighs 326, way too much for his 6-foot-2 frame.
Last week, his doctor said his cholesterol was dangerously high and put him on a low-fat diet. "Everything is bad,'' Kramp said. "Just as I figured.''
Kramp chose not to mention his Wendy's plans.
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Originally from South Dakota, Kramp moved to the Tampa area in 1997 to live near the beach. Athletic in high school, he loved the idea of playing tennis outdoors in March. Kramp didn't flinch at turning 30, but panicked when 35 loomed. Tragedies struck a few of his co-workers. Life seemed so fragile.
"I started thinking about life, in general,'' he said. "When you sit all day long, you question a lot of things like existence and purpose and how long am I going to be here?''
For years, he had dreamed of moving to France and studying French. Get out of corporate America. Do something exotic.
As good as it sounded to him, it proved out of reach. Instead, he turned his focus to the United States and all the places he had never seen.
About a year ago, Kramp started putting his dream in motion. He moved in with friends in Temple Terrace and got rid of his dog. He pinched pennies where he could and avoided any new relationships.
Today is his last day of work at Quest Diagnostics. He leaves Tampa on Monday, or Tuesday at the latest. His first stop: Mobile, Ala.
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Kramp plans to visit all 50 states and several cities in Canada and Mexico, logging an anticipated 15,000 miles in the cheapest rental car he can find. Along the way, he'll couch surf — stay with strangers who offer their couches to travelers for free. He'll also play tennis in every state.
Kramp intends to shed many of the pounds he's gained by eating nothing but salads, side dishes and items from Wendy's Super Value menu. He'll keep an emergency supply in a cooler for places that don't have a Wendy's.
Kramp insists he's not trying to copy Jared Fogle, who lost more than 200 pounds eating Subway subs, or become the next Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame.
He did the Wendy's diet with his girlfriend in high school and lost 20 pounds in a short time. He knows it works and won't cost a bundle.
He also knows that day after day of chili, side caesar salads and mandarin orange cups will get old – and could backfire. "It would be funny if I came back 50 pounds heavier,'' he said. "But I doubt it.''
In all, he expects the journey to last 80 days and cost him $6,000, which includes the flights to Alaska and Hawaii. He'll blog about the experience on his Web site, ericsdream.com, and hopes to write a book about it.
"I have a list of things I want to do and this is one of them,'' he said.
• • •
Kramp initially planned to take a leave of absence from work. His boss was all for it and started processing the paperwork when the news came down from corporate. Denied.
Maybe that was a sign not to go, he thought. Maybe he should stay home and keep getting fatter and more miserable.
His boss became his strongest advocate and encouraged him to stick with his plans.
"There's so many people who have dreams and they just don't follow them,'' said Rita Hill, his supervisor at Quest Diagnostics. "If they aren't happy with the job, they need to find something that makes them happy.''
Hill promised to try to find him a job when he returns but can't guarantee it. She hopes he comes back or at least stays in touch.
Kramp doesn't know what he'll do. He's got miles of road to think about it.
Contributor: John Martin