Helga and Clara started the journey on May 6 with the hope of earning $10,000 promised by an unknown party if they could complete the coast-to-coast walk. The Estbys needed the money in order to keep their family farm.
The two women wore long gray dresses and high boots and carried a compass, a map, a Smith and Wesson revolver, a pepper spray gun, a knife, a notebook and pen, a curling iron, and $5 apiece in their satchels. They stopped at a number of newspaper offices to promote their trip, and worked for food and lodging along the way.
Helga took notes in anticipation of possibly writing a book about the venture. The book never appeared, partly because Helga’s written journals disappeared in New York, and the party with the $10,000 never came forward. As a result, the Estby’s lost their farm when it was sold in a sheriff’s auction in March of 1901
The Estby’s long journey was long forgotten until eighth-grader Doug Bahr entered the 1984 Washington State History Day Contest with an essay titled “Grandma Walked from Coast to Coast.” Author and scholar Linda Lawrence Hunt read the essay and in 2005 published a book titled Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. In 2011, two young-adult books were published about the Estby’s journey: The Year We Were Famous and The Daughter’s Walk.