Wednesday–April 11, 2002
Location–Winds, Outer Banks, North Carolina, Sunset Motel
My good friend, Frank, better known as “Travelin’ Man,” dropped me off at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse this morning at ten. From this far eastern point at the Atlanatic Ocean, I begin Odyssey 2002, a transcontinental thru-hike that will end, God willin’ sometime later this year at the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, California.
The day is warm, the trees budding, the beautiful azaleas, their bright, multi-hued show in full swing.
What an historic spot to begin a cross-country trek, and what a fine day to depart, a day to mark tribute, for today is seven months to the day that those brave Americans died for all of us. This journey will be my way of showing the resolve and strength of this great country, to the unwavering principles of freedom and justice for all.
I manage to bang out a 25 mile day, despite a constant 15 mile per hour headwind and showers that came and went. Traffic was moderate, the shoulder’s wide. A great first day!
Thursday–April 12, 2002
Location–Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina, Tar Heel Motel, Bob and Mable Swain, proprietors
I’m out to a cool morning. Traffic is already heavy, but the wide shoulders continue. Late morning I go for my poncho, as numerous rain squalls come rushing through from the ocean.
The last two days I’ve been seeing vehicles with front tags, an oval plate that simply says “HI.” Most every driver has been waving and smiling to me, and I’m thinking how great the people are here. In a gas station after some pop, a lady explains to me that the plates are displayed by folks that live on Hatteras Island! Anyway, that doesn’t take from the fact that they’re all very friendly.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the number roadkill that I’ve seen along this road. I quit counting at 100, mostly raccoon and opossum. Lots of waterbirds all along. Saw an osprey catch a huge fish and haul it away today. Many Candian honkers also.
The Oregon Channel Bridge is a treacherous place, the lanes barely wide enough for two eighteen-wheelers to pass, and it runs for some three miles. I’m in luck though. Arriving I find that DOT has one lane shut down, so there’s only one way traffic and I’ve got the closed down lane all to myself. What a blessing. I make it across just fine.
More showers today, but the wind is not as bothersome as yesterday, just the rain, which comes in waves off and on into early afternoon. Then it clears, making a steaming frying pan of the road. I’m going after another 25 miler today–actually 27. My legs, back and feet are complaining, stifness and minor blisters, but I’m truckin!
By five, I’m in Nags Head. Pizza and longneck Yuengling, yes Yuengling! is the order for supper. There seems to be no off-season here, but I find a clean and neat little mom-n-pop motel, very reasonable, and I check in for the evening. I will sleep tonight!
Saturday–April 13, 2002
Location–Jarvisburg, North Carolina, Sea Oats Motel
It’s the thirteenth, sure glad it isn’t Friday the 13th! Just being the 13th has added enough confusion. I couldn’t figure our why it was taking so long to reach certain locations. Then I noticed the seven mile error in my mileage calculations. Oh no! And no, the mistake wasn’t in my favor. So I’ve been running seven miles behind all day, bummer!
I did stop to look in at the Wright Brother’s Museum near Kill Devil Hills, but I hastened on. I’ll write more about that very neat place, along with some of the interesting history that is Cape Hatteras, in upcoming entries.
The traffic on US158 was absolutely crushing today, and the hair-raising crossing of the three-mile Albemarle Sound Bridge, from the barrier islands, across to the mainland, is a story in itself. Sluffice to say, and perhaps you can imagine spending over an hour wedged in a two-foot wide slot, hoofing it along between the bridge railing and the grilles, wheels and boxes roaring past your elbow as both lanes of oncoming traffic go whizzing by at sixty-plus. Yeah, see what I mean! Well, I said two prayers: one as I set foot on the bridge, and one at the far end. The prayer at the far-end took a little longer!
Toward evening now, just shy of a thirty mile day, and in the rain, the little tornados constantly slamming me from the oncoming barrage, my prayers are answered once again. Comes into view up ahead the Sea Oats Motel. But the sign on the door reads “No Vacancy;” bummer number two, but I knock anyway. Hey, the lady motions me in. After greeting me, she says, “You’re in luck, just had a cancellation.” Whoohee! Fried chicken at the little mom-n-pop just down the road, and the day really comes around.
Now, if I can just get my hips, feet and legs from constantly complaining. I’ve up my daily dosage of coated aspirin to over 4,000 mg, but it’s helped very little in quieting the griping. I’m afraid to take any more than that. My ears are already ringing plenty, not a good sign. Perhaps, if I’m a little easier on them tomorrow, they’ll quiet down for awhile.
Sunday–April 14, 2002
Location–NC168, Sligo, North Carolina, Pitched behind Sprint Communications sub-station
What a blessing to be away from the crushing traffic of busy US168. This four-lane highway handles all the traffic coming and going to The Outer Banks. It is funneled from the Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Petersburg areas via NC168, a four-lane grinder in its own right. I’m on it now. Today, most of the bumper-to-bumper is headed back north, two lanes to the east, but the incessant rumble and roar gets to tugging after awhile. My voice is hoarse from the fumes and I’m wilting big time. The tarmac is lifting and dancing before me, like a desert mirage, a literal frying pan.
I’ve never failed to assert my pleasure and joy in road walking. I know that soon I’ll again get in the right mindset for this lunacy, but today I’m questioning my own sanity. Ahh, dear folks, it takes a different breed of long distance hiker to come down out of the cool, protected green tunnel of the mountains and the woods–and take to the open roads–a different breed.
Guess I better fill you in a little on Cape Hatteras and The Outer Banks before we get too far up this trail. The Outer Banks consist of three major islands, Bodie, Hatteras and Ocracoke. I’ve hiked two: Hatteras and Bodie. They form a thin, broken strand that curves out into the Atlantic Ocean, projecting and rising defiantly seaward at the Cape of Hatteras. Here is the tallest lighthouse in the United States, standing at 208 feet. Just a few miles up the road there’s another very impressive light on Bodie Island. The history of The Outer Banks goes back some 300 years. During this time, over 2,000 ships have been lost along this treacherous coastline, giving The Outer Banks the distinction of being known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Indeed, the waters here are some of the most treacherous in the world. It was a long, hot, traffic emerging from-to a pinpoint on the horizon, but the scenery was breathtaking. You can go flying up that road with your air and your stereo full blast–but you won’t see The Outer Banks!
A little about the Wright Brothers and big Kill Devil Hill tomorrow.
Monday–April 15, 2002
Location–US17/Cornland Road, Virginia, Pitched by the merge of an expansive open field
The hike today takes me through rural Virginia countryside and along beautiful farm and sparsely populated residential roads. Most are narrow and gently winding, with little traffic and much welcome shade. What a change from the past few days! By late evening I arrive at the little mom-n-pop country store in Cornland. I’m served up a fine supper and much kind and welcome conversation.
Last Saturday, on Bodie Island, I passed Kill Devil Hills. History was made here on December 17, 1903. After much tinkering–but never any doubt–the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, with Orville positioned in prone position on their flyer–man lifted into powered flight for the first time. “They have done it! Damned if they ain’t flew!” said a witness to the first human flight.
During the years to follow, the Wright Brothers performed above awestruck crowds both in America and Europe. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers cheered Wilbur’s twenty-mile circuit from Governor’s Island up the Hudson to Grant’s Tomb and back. The Wright Brothers Museum is a really neat place. If you haven’t been there–go!
Tuesday–April 16, 2002
Location–VA10, Chuckatuck, Virginia, pitched in woods behind 7-11.
I didn’t realize there was a dog kennel down the road where I pitched last night. It started raining hard right after I got my little Nomad tent set up. I heard the dogs for the first time right after I rolled in. In moments came an old pickup. I could see the headlights through the rain. Sure glad I pitched well to the side of the two-track and not on it. I never, ever go places where there are posted signs–not anymore–got a break in ’98 That’s a rule I keep now, no matter what, and it has served me very well. There were steel posts with a locked cable across the two-track, which I walked around to gain entry to the little road, but there were no posted signs. The driver stopped, gave a long look my way, probably more out of curiosity, then crossed the canal on up by the field. He must have fed his dogs, because they settled down right away. He then came back across the canal, right back by me, as he left without any hassling!
As I pass around the locked cable again this morning, I roll up one of my “Odyssey ’98” cards with my web address on it and stick in the cable loop by the lock. Perhaps he’ll check me out on the web. If so–thanks, kind sir, for not making me move on in that downpour last night. I don’t know, but I suspect you’ve been out in it like that yourself, anyway, thanks!
I’m hiking up US17 this morning, south of Norfolk, right through Great Dismal Swamp. A canal by the road, which connects Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound was chartered by Virginia in 1787 and North Carolina in 1790. It’s been in use since 1805, and is now a link in the Intercoastal Waterway. The Great Dismal Swamp has since been designated a national wildlife refuge.
Today becomes another scorcher out here on the tarmac. The occasional sanctuary of shade brings such welcome relief from the pressing heat as I wind and weave my way north through the rural Virginia countryside.
I guess, if you asked folks what’s worse on the ol’ bod, cold or heat, the opinions would probably come in pretty much split. I know the cold really gets to me now, in my advancing years. It isn’t the numbing pain so much; I’ve pretty much learned to live with the pain. If you’re a vagabond like me, a wanderlust at heart, roaming about as we tend to do, no matter the weather, you’ve got to learn to deal with the cold. So, I’ve pretty much made that adjustment. Reminds me of the first line in my ditty, Land of the Free, “Here’s to all hearts of that cold, lonesome track…” So, the numbing and the pain isn’t so much the problem, it’s the disabling effect it causes that is so unnerving. It takes very little cold now to turn my fingers into so many sticks. This is frightening, and at times, downright scary! When you can’t set up your tent, zip your zippers, tie your laces, reach in your pockets, then you’ve got yourself a real problem. To get a feel for this: instead!
of tossing out the next few toilet paper tubes, save them. When you’ve got five saved up, stick one over each of your fingers and your thumb, on your dominant hand, then try doing much of anything that requires the least bit of dexterity, and you’ll understand.
As to the heat, even the stifling, high humidity heat, that ring you inside-out kind of heat, I can still stick with fairly well. But, oh yes, I have been wilting out here these last few days. It’s been in the high 80s on the road. The tarmac isn’t bubbling, but it sure wants to keep my trekking poles as I dig them in.
I passed a fella’s house today. He was on his riding mower, wheeling around his side yards, in the sun some, but mostly in the shade, his lower half hanging over the seat, upper half, over his belt, cool drink in the cup holder. Yet, the sweat was pouring off the poor jent, his face as red as the paint on the fire truck that should have been on its way to cool him down. He was at least fifteen years my junior. He definitely needed to get off his machine and back onto his overstuffed couch in his tidy little air conditioned bungalow.
Oh Lord, I’m out here hammering it, pack on, the sun pounding as I continue knocking out twenty-five mile days. What a joy, what a blessing to have the health, stamina and resolve at near age sixty-three. It is a blessing, oh yes, it is a blessing, and I am thankful.
Wednesday–April 17, 2002
Location–VA10, Pitched in field behind Citgo, Surry, Virginia
I managed to break camp, get some coffee and a couple egg biscuits and I was on the road again by seven-thirty. I manage some good early miles, and by one I’ve banged out sixteen.
It’s been unseasonably hot for this early, and today old Sol cuts loose on me. As I enter the little berg of Rushmere, my pace slows to little more than a staggering crawl. Passing a local watering hole, I decide to give it a break for awhile. The place looks kinda seedy, but it’s cool inside, and the barmaid welcomes me with a tall, iced down glass of water. The couple whose Harley is parked outside are parked at the bar. The fellow overhears my answers to the barmaid’s questions and buys me a tall one. I move over to the corner where I take my shoes and socks off to give my poor barking doggies some air. Barefooted is okay here, I figure. Two tattooed gals are shooting pool–barefooted. I try working some correspondence, but mostly end up wasting time, two hours. I don’t get back out and on the road again until after four. Not real smart, as I’ve still got twelve miles ahead of me today. I finally arrive at my destination, Surry, Virginia, well after dark.
Potatoes, rolls and fried chicken closed the day out nicely.
Thursday–April 18, 2002
Location–Intersection, VA10/VA106, east of Hopewell, Virginia, thence to Evergreen Motel, Hopewell
I pull a real smart one coming out of Surry this morning. In less than a mile, I miss a turn. VA10 goes right to Hopewell; I take VA31 south, to Wakefield. I should have turned and stayed on VA10. Perhaps I was just going too fast to pick up the signs. A guardian angel was on my shoulder, though, in the form of Surry County Chief Deputy, Alvin W. Clayton, Jr. In awhile, and as I continue in the wrong direction, he passes, stops, turns, then waits for me. I’m thinking he’s pulled over to give me the usual hassle, so I have my driver’s license ready, but I find that he’s just curious about where I’m headed and what my journey’s about–didn’t even ask for my I.D. After much welcome conversation, we bid each other farewell. It’s then he asks, “Where you headed for tonight?” When I tell him I hope to make it to near Hopewell, his response is, “You’ll never get to Hopewell the direction you’re going.” What remarkable intervention; thank you, Lord! Four miles later, I’m back on course. If not for Chief Deputy Clayton, this day would have been right down the toilet!
I still manage a twenty-seven, in the right direction, not counting the wrong ones–another four. It’s dark as I near Hopewell, but no problem seeing, as the crushing heat of the day has generated a doozie of a thunderstorm. The wind comes up and the show begins. At first, there’s sky-to-sky bangety-bang, then in awhile the jagged light daggers start zapping the ground all about. The percussion is right on top of the light show, perfectly timed and synchronized. Then comes the rain, first in sporadic, quarter-sized splats glancing across the road. In the approaching headlights, they appear as random dart-like objects being hurled earthward.
I hasten to reach the VA10/106 intersection, my destination for the day. I can see the red, yellow and green lights as they rotate over and over, seemingly just ahead of me. The wind-driven rain is starting to fill in the splat gaps now as I hasten on, not wanting to stop my progress to don my poncho. Finally, as I reach the intersection, a vehicle makes a u-turn and pulls to the shoulder beside me. Down comes the window, and I hear a gentle voice–“Would you like a ride? We saw you pass our place in Spring Grove today, so we know you’ve walked a great distance. Please get in, get out of the storm.”
No argument! I am greeted by Tom and Diane. Tom turns around, once more, and they deliver me directly to the motel door in Hopewell. That’s twice today, oh Lord.
What an interesting and spiritually provoking time this has been. Two more sterling examples of God’s caring, his kindness to me. And we are to believe that chance has all to do with the play of circumstance from time-to-time, from day-to-day. Ahh yes, we’re told it’s all just coincidence…
Friday–April 19, 2002
Lcation–VA106, pitched in the woods near Tunstall Crossing, Virginia
A fine Domino’s pizza, plus a liter of Coke capped the day just fine, last. After that, there seemed little time to work journal entries or correspondence. I was just too sleepy and tired.
There’s a Miller’s Convenience at the intersection where I stopped yesterday. A taxi ride there, then a couple egg biscuits and a quart of coffee, and I’m headed (finally north) by seven-thirty.
The traffic is bearable and there is some shade. The plan is to work my way north, then west, around Richmond. As I hike along, and in an expansive green field by the road, I watch perhaps 100-200 honkers as they romp and cavort about. They’re in no rush to continue on north today–but I hasten on.
By one, the sun is working me over again. My feet and head are frying. The shade has gone away, there is not the least breeze. The heat is stifling as it radiates from the tarmac. It seems as though I’m walking on coals.
In awhile, I pass this large, tree-shaded lawn. I am drawn to it. There I retreat to remove my shoes and socks, and to give my feet some cool-down time. I lay back on my pack and am quickly asleep. In what seems a short while, I am awakened by a voice, “Would you like a glass of ice and some tea?” A black man is standing before me with a cup loaded with ice and a twenty ounce bottle of Nestle’s. What a beautiful thing!
As I continue on north, and beside the shoulder, another man hastens to overtake me, “Stop mister, stop!” he shouts. He’s brought me four tins of canned meat, a package of crackers and a full two-liter bottle of ice cold water from his refrigerator! “Where you’re going, there are no stores, no places to get water or food, Take this with you.” With that grand smile, from the perspiration-beaded brow of yet another kind black gentleman, his countenance before me now radiating that universal display of joy that invariably accompanies the act of giving–and with that, I accept his kindness, thank him, and continue on my way.
Just as I pitch and roll in, the heat provoked storm comes again, but I am dry and snug in my little Nomad tent.
I’m very thankful for the crackers and canned meat–the result of another day of coincidental happenings.
Saturday–April 20, 2002
Location–US301 north of Hanover, Virginia, Pamunkey Inn
The day starts out cool and remains mostly overcast, an absolute blessing. I pass a convenience store by early afternoon and partake of some fried chicken, green beans and mac-n-cheese.
I’m after another twenty-fiver today. Certainly, by now, you’re wandering about this lunacy–what’s the rush, why such a hurry to hammer the miles? Well, there is an explanation: You see, I had planned on getting cranking on this transcontinental odyssey no later then the first of March. Turned out, I didn’t get going until the eleventh of April. “So what, there’s plenty of time to get to California!” you say. Yes, it seems to make no sense, but permit me to continue.
A number of months ago I was asked by the American Hiking Society (AHS) to be the featured speaker as the first Southeast Regional Trail’s Conference to be held next weekend at Unicoi State Park, just up the road from my place at the Nimblewill. I immediately accepted. At the time, I figured that I’d be close by on my hike, having been on the trail for nearly two months, and a short bus ride would do. Well, that didn’t happen, and I’m very far away now from the upcoming conference. So, what to do? Not to back out, that’s not an option. I want to be there with bells on, to have an opportunity to talk up the two great trails of my dreams, the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT), and the Appalachian Mountains Trail (AMT).
So what I’ve done, is–I’ve reserved a round-trip flight from Reagan Airport in DC to Atlanta, where I’ll have a ride to north Georgia.
What’s neat about this whole idea is that the Mt. Vernon bike trail passes right by the airport, and I’ll be hiking into DC on the Mt. Vernon Trail–so, why not just cruise right into Reagan, catch my flight to Atlanta, then return to Reagan and continue my hike right out the terminal to the C&O Canal Towpath, where I’m now headed!
This scheme looked great until I started crunching the numbers. Let’s see, 360 miles to hike from Cape Hatteras to DC, and fourteen days to hike it. I ran the numbers a dozen times; every time the answer came out the same, and I didn’t like it. Twenty-five mile days for fourteen continuous days, that’s what the numbers said it would take to cover the distance.
Well, better judgment certainly should have prevailed, but oh no, not with the old Nomad! So now you know, I’m into day eleven tomorrow, an average of over twenty-six miles per day so far–looks like I just might pull this off!
By evening, I’ve banged out another twenty-five. I stop for a fine dinner at a little mom-n-pop in Hanover, then head for the motel north of town. Along the way I stop at Lee Dison’s little store. Here I also meet Tom Gray, manager of Pamunkey Inn where I’ll be staying, so I drop my pack and pull up for a cold one. Lee is 85 now and has kept the beer cold in this place for 62 years. What an interesting, crotchety old fellow, Lee Dison. It’s amusing when you meet folks like Lee. There’s a glow in the countenance of certain people you meet. I’ve commented about this before, how such innocent radiance is present in the children around us, then it disappears, generally not to be seen again until it shines forth again in the faces of the elderly. That joy and vitality cannot be concealed, cannot be hidden, and as much as this kind old man would certainly deny it, that unmistakable glow of a man at peace, radiates from the countenance of Lee Dison. It’s painted on his face, as if a neon sigh flashing from the pitch of night. It was a good time.
A great hiking day. My hip’s settled down, but my feet are still giving me fits.
Sunday–April 21, 2002
Location–VA2, Pitched in woods just south of Corbin, Virginia, across from Fort AP Hill Military Reservation
Another, cool, drizzly day. Oh, is this so much better than the pulverizing heat of the days past. I’m out at a decent hour this morning, a little stiff, my poor feet complaining, their gripe being legitimate. In awhile, as the coated aspirin and Osteo-Bi-Flex start kicking in, I work the kinks out and am again moving along smartly at a little over three per.
Into the hypnotics now of the rhythmic tap, tap, tap–my trekking poles striking their cadence, thoughts turn back as I recall again the interesting old fellow, Lee Dison. Lee epitomizes the type of person I strive to be, at least as viewed through the eyes of others I meet. During “Odyssey ’98” it became my goal, the will of mind, and to the grace of God, that the constant expressions of contentment and peace radiate from my countenance, never to be withheld. Lee, it’s a joy to meet kindred. This odyssey, “Odyssey 2002” is just getting rollin’, and I know it’s going to be a great adventure. I will meet many others like you, Lee, and it will be a blessing.
US301, the federal highway I’m hiking today, passes directly through the Fort AP Hill Military Reservation. My older son, Jay, was sent here years ago after completing US Army basic training. The kid had great potential, so they sent him to Fort AP Hill for advanced field combat training. I recall a particular mission, the outcome of which he related to me one day, and I would like to share it with you now.
Thrown in with others of like mind and talent, Jay was sent off on a mission through the woods. He had been put in command of a small unit, similar to many units that went out that day. His objective: to orienteer his way, using only compass and map, from point “A” to point “B,” passing certain checkpoints in the process, attempting all the while to avoid detection and ambush by the “enemy.”
Jay is one of those woods-savvy sort of people, the kind possessing an innate, inborn ability that cannot be otherwise taught–but that can certainly be honed. These folks are born with what’s become know as a “sixth sense.” This sense, it is believed, enhances and focuses all other senses, giving an individual the ability to hear sounds that are not audible, see objects that are not visible, and to sniff out and feel presentations or situations, where subconsciously, something says, “this is out of place, something here isn’t quite right.”
Well, Jay’s team was the only unit to complete its mission that day. In the process, he managed to maneuver his men–not only around the ambush, but stealthing the enemy’s flank–to gain advantage, then catch them off guard and capture them! Needless to say, the mission officer was ecstatic, the ambush officer, so it seemed, was not so happy or amused.
So, these fond, proud memories, that a father keeps for a son, are here with me today, as I pass the woods by Fort AP Hill.
Toward evening, the rain steady, the day becoming cold–and with another 25 behind me–I pull off to pitch in the piney woods, across the highway from Fort AP Hill.
Monday–April 22, 2002
Location–US1, Garrisonville, VA, Super 8 Motel
The rain died down sometime during the night, but this morning the air remains cold and heavy with gray, mist-laden gloom all about. Although I’m on the road well before eight, the relentless traffic’s beaten me here. This is going to be a grind-it-out day for sure, the only break coming when I pass through Fredericksburg.
I’m haulin’, and past Fredericksburg now, and in the presence of an old, steady friend, US1, I’m following historic paths over which this four-lane highway’s been built.
I guess we’ve all seen places that proudly proclaim, “George Washington slept here.” They’re all along this route. Here’s one called “Peyton’s Ordinary.” The old sign reads, “George Washington, going to Fredericksburg to visit his mother, dined here, March 6, 1769. On his way to attend a House of Burgesses, he spent the night here, October 31, 1769, and stayed here again on September 14, 1772.” US1 is also the route generally followed by the armies of Washington and Rochambeau. The signs are all along.
My legs are coming under me much better now as each day passes, and my feet, though still quite painful, are steadily improving. I gave up long ago trying to figure why and how change gets discarded along the roadway. As always, it is here, not in great quantities, but ever-present, nonetheless. I stooped for the quarters right away, but ’til the past two days I’d been passing on the dimes, nickels and pennies. Today I’ve got the confidence that I’ll recover from bending for the dimes and nickels–and within the next day or two, I’ll tackle the pennies. Yes, I’m getting stronger and more confident each passing day. My legs are coming back. I think I’ll do this trek just fine!
Late evening, and in Garrisonville, I stop at Buffalo Moes, one of the local watering holes. What a great time with Bob, Mark, Rick, Moe, Brenda, Michele and Kevin. Everybody’s elated for the old Nomad–’cause the old Nomad’s a happy camper!
Tuesday–April 23, 2002
Location–Intersection, US1/Mt. Vernon Memorial Parkway, Woodlawn Plantation, Virginia, thence to home of Larry and Mary Amos, Oakton, Virginia
This is going to be a great day, one I’ve been looking forward to with childlike anticipation. For today, as I complete this US1 segment of “Odyssey 2002,” I’ll be greeted, then taken in by my old childhood chum, Larry Amos. He and his wife, Mary, will be coming for me at the end of the day.
Larry’s retired now, after a distinguished government career in field and office-based cartography. I suppose we’ve kept in touch about as well as any of us have kept up with childhood friends over the years, this friendship stretching back over fifty. It was a joy and a pleasure being Larry’s pal. He was well liked by both teachers and students, being a happy, enthusiastic, very kind and thoughtful kid. Larry succeeded in all the things that going to school involves–honor roll, class president, homecoming/prom king, sport’s letters, all the neat school-days stuff.
Larry was a sharp kid–you know, the kind that can add up a column of numbers in their head. How do folks do that? Show-offs! I’ve got a pocket calculator and I can’t get the same answer twice.
We palled together throughout grade and high school. Larry was one of those who could–and usually would–try anything, with total confidence. After he got his driver’s license, he took to roundy-roundy stock car racing. He bought an old 41 Ford coupe for fifty bucks. I’ve still got an old faded black and white picture of him with his race helmet cocked, straps dangling, casually leaning against his chariot–one of the neatest devil-may-care smiles on his face I’ve ever seen. Reminds me of the old pictures, those of the early-on fellows who raced their coupes on Daytona Beach. They all flashed that “I know something you don’t know” sort of smile.
I helped him rip the fenders off and fabricate all the makeshift stuff required before rolling ‘er out on the track. Those were memorable times, great fun, especially the races. Larry would hang with the pack, wheel-to-wheel, right off the checkered, engines screaming, cabs banging, metal grinding, dirt flying. Sometimes he’d lead–for the first few laps. I remember thinking, “Dang, he’s gonna win this heat!” Then it would happen, it was always the same.
I used to help him work on the engine, under the old shade tree in his side yard in the little berg of Russellville, Missouri. I would plead with him repeatedly, “Larry, you need to get this radiator cleaned and rodded out, it ain’t workin’. These old flatheads never do cool real well, and this radiator is jammed clear shut.” He’d say, “Aww, it’ll work okay, just take your pocket knife and straighten the fins back out (from where the fan flattened them after he slamming some guy). If she starts overheating, I’ll back off a bit.” “Yeah, sure Larry,” I’d reply.
But it was always the same–third or forth lap, from the back straight high bank would erupt this enormous cloud of steam. It was Larry. He’d either sent another radiator cap into orbit or exploded another water hose. Dang it, Larry, you could have won if you’d just fixed the doggone radiator!
Oh my, those were the days. Larry and Mary now live in Oakton, Virginia, just outside the beltway, about a half hour’s drive from where I’ll end up today. They’d kindly invited me to spend some time with them, which I right away accepted. And, oh yeah, Mary’s promised to make me gallons of sweet tea–and there’s ice cream in the freezer. Think they’ve read my book!
It’s great when a plan comes together. As I reach the intersection of US1/Mt. Vernon Parkway, I hear this honking and shouting, and from the third line of cars over, waving frantically, are Larry and Mary!
Wednesday–April 24, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Key Bridge, Georgetown/Washington, DC, thence to home of Larry and Mary Amos, Oakton, Virginia
What a great evening last with the Amos family: Larry, Mary, their daughter Stephanie, and sons, Mitchell and Bryan. Despite my pleading, Mitch gave up his room for me and moved to the couch in the family room. The locals have a favorite watering hole in Vienna, the Vienna Inn. We stopped by and had a few cold ones with all of Larry’s buddies. What a grand time.
The traffic around DC isn’t nearly as bad as I would have expected this morning, and we make good time getting back to Mt. Vernon Memorial Parkway. Larry drops me off a little after eight. We’ve made plans for him to come downtown DC by the Key Bridge/C&O Canal Towpath to fetch me again this evening.
So, I’m off to Mt. Vernon on a cool, clear morning, my feet complaining yet again. I down a couple more coated aspirin, then proceed to pound the old doggies into submission. It’s been years since I’ve visited Mt. Vernon, home of our first president, George Washington. I remember it being a most majestic old place, situated on a gentle knoll overlooking the grand Potomac. I find the old mansion (farmhouse) and the grounds still kept in impeccable condition, not an easy job, the old house being framed and sided in wood. But it’s just as fresh, clean and beautiful as I remember from years ago.
There is much activity this morning, as families with children and groups of school kids scurry about. As I observe the youngsters and others here today, I can see deep feelings of patriotism; displayed is the apparent sense of value in our common heritage. Places like Mt. Vernon are hallowed ground to all who love this glorious country, America. Here at Mt. Vernon lived a man who nurtured and shared a dream, a dream of freedom and justice for all. What a dream, what a timeless heritage. We Americans today are the benefactors of that dream, it’s part of each of us, it’s in our fiber, our very being–the dream is ours now. We must all cherish it, be ever vigilant to protect it. Our forefathers fought and died for that dream, a dream that has turned to be the greatest experiment in all of man’s history…democracy. I take a few pictures, then turn to the Mt. Vernon Trail and the eighteen mile walk to downtown DC.
The hike today along the banks of the Potomac is pure fun. There are many folks out enjoying the path, walking, jogging and biking. By early afternoon I’ve hiked it in to Alexandria, where I stop for lunch at the old downtown market place. Continuing, I am greeted by many. The planes are coming and going from Reagan Airport. I can see the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. There is ever-increasing activity as I near Memorial Bridge, the parkway right beside, and there are many rowing teams out on the Potomac today. These are grand sights which bring a delightful feeling of pride to my heart. I am so blessed to be a citizen of these United States of America. Oh, is this path a fine way to enter this beautiful city!
Plans are for Larry to come to Key Bridge at five-thirty. What great timing. I arrive with a few moments to spare, so I follow the pathway down to the C&O Canal Towpath where I’ll pass next week. Returning to the bridge, I wait by the railing. Larry pulls right up for me. We make our way down Pennsylvania Avenue in good time, then head out for the beltway and his beautiful home near Oakton.
What an event-filled day, what an emotional time. I’m an American. There just can’t be any better place in the whole world to live than America, and there can’t be any better time to be alive than now!
Thanks Larry, Mary, Stephanie, Mitch and Bryan for your friendship, for your kindness, and for all you’ve done for me.
Thursday–May 2, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland, Swain’s Lock Campsite
What a near-whirlwind week has just passed. Larry, my friend from Oakton, dropped me off at Reagan National Airport last Friday afternoon for my flight to Atlanta. I managed to get through check in and security just fine, then everything came to a screeching halt. We weren’t boarding. The line backed out the little tunnel-runway to the plane. There we waited for half an hour. A bunch of teens had boarded first. Come to find out, they no sooner got on board than one of them threw up all over the seats and the aisle. No wonder the line stopped! By the time that mess was cleaned up, and we got loaded and out to the runway, we’d missed our takeoff slot, so we waited again. All that put us over an hour behind. Add another half hour strapped in after takeoff (apparently a federal regulation now), and you can imagine the mad scramble for the toilets once the seatbelt sign went off!
The conference at Unicoi was a huge success. I had the pleasure of speaking at the luncheon on Saturday–about my favorite subjects, the ECT and the AMT. My dear friend, Jan Benschop, performed with me. We were well received.
I spent a couple of days at home trying to tie the rest of the loose ends together, to get free for the rest of the year. Got to see my friends; Frank, at Nimblewill, Greg, my webmaster, and Larry, my sponsor handling film and photos–then only to bid them all good-bye for the next long while.
Tuesday, the rental car returned, I made it back on the plane for an uneventful flight back to Reagan National in DC. Larry Amos was right there to fetch me, and soon, we were once more at his lovely home in Oakton.
On Wednesday, Larry, Mary and I visited Arlington National Cemetery. It’s been years since I’d been to Arlington, and it was good to return again. Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an incredibly formal and solemn affair. In the afternoon, we looked and looked for the grave of Audy Leon Murphy, my longtime hero, but we had no luck. An unfinished task for another time.
Thursday now, after more sad good-byes to the Amos family, Larry drives me to downtown DC (Georgetown) and mile marker zero, the C&O Canal Towpath.
At Key Bridge, I meet my friends, Scotty Vandam and Ron Fry, from Wisconsin. Scotty will be hiking with me for awhile. After a great day on the towpath, we camped at Swain’s Lock. Just at dusk, Ed Talone arrived from Silver Spring to spend the night. He’ll hike on to Harpers Ferry with us.
The towpath is going to be a memorable hike. Great Falls, what a remarkable sight to see this first day. Many, many pairs of Canadian geese with their little goslings swimming and trailing along. This is going to be a special time–with these friends.
Friday–May 3, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland, Indian Flats Campsite
Stepping onto the C&O Canal Towpath is a step back in time. Few routes to the western frontier existed in the early 1800s. The C&O was one of them. But on the same day, July 4, 1828, the day the first spade of dirt was turned by President John Quincy Adams–in Baltimore, the first spade of dirt was also turned to begin construction on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1924, the railroad having won out, a flood finally closed the C&O for good.
Today, as a result of the efforts of Justice William O. Douglas, the C&O Canal Towpath is a national historic park, and for 184 miles it is possible to hike along its way on the Cheasapeake and Ohio Canal Historic Trail. Ahh, and today is a perfect day for a hike along that path.
By eight, we’re up and out to a cool, clear day. A few energetic folks are out jogging and biking, but otherwise we’ve got the trail to ourselves. By noon, we’re at Poole’s Store, to load up on hot dogs and ice cream, the good, local stuff.
Our destination for the day is Indian Flats Campsite. We’re in well before dark. What a fine hiking day.
Saturday–May 4, 2002
Trail Mile–C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland, confluence of Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, thence to Hilltop House, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
All night the trains ran nearby, but after the first two, they blended right in, detracting little from my dreaming. It’s good to be hiking and with friends again. By seven, we’re up and going. Hopes are to make it to Harpers Ferry today. By early afternoon, the hike in the bag, we take a detour into Brunswick, Maryland for lunch at the local mom-n-pop.
We’re in the mountains now. What an incredible black powder blasting job must it have been to get the canal around Point of Rocks. At the point, the railroad also squeezes through, too–almost. Part of it has to go through a tunnel.
By evening, we arrive at the white blazes marking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Here the trail follows the towpath for a couple of miles. Soon we’re in Harpers Ferry and the Hilltop Hotel where I’ll rest for a day or two.
In the evening I’m invited to Cootie Queen’s birthday party. In real life, she’s the outfitter here in Harpers Ferry. Her husband, Ron, drives us to her sister’s place where we spend the evening celebrating with all her family.
Sunday–May 5, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland, Hilltop House, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Harpers Ferry is a busy place, always, so I was fortunate last evening to get a room at my favorite old hotel, Hilltop House. When Ed and I arrived at Harpers Ferry, we hit a beeline for the outfitters right up the street, to be enthusiastically greeted by Laura, the Cootie Queen. She called Hilltop for me and was able to work a room, what luck!
So, today is a day of rest as I get caught up on correspondence and journal entries.
Around three I took time to downloaded my email. There was a short message from John Shaffer. His brother, Earl Shaffer, died today. We have all been prepared for this for some time, but it’s always tough. An era in the history of long distance hiking came to a close today.
Monday–May 6, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland, trailside, Taylors Landing
A friend came for Ed last evening. Ed works for the American Hiking Society in Silver Spring and he had to be back today. Two great days on the C&O with you, Ed! Thanks for coming out and hiking with me for awhile.
Folks here at Hilltop House are pretty laid back. Scotty and Vango parked their little Toyota motor home in the side parking lot overlooking the beautiful Potomac River the whole time they were here, and never got hassled in the least. And, as usual, I had a comfortable stay–for two nights. Thanks, Hilltop House, it’s always great to come back again!
My bounce box is waiting for me here at Harpers Ferry, so I head for the post office first thing. On the way, I stop by Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters in hopes of seeing my dear friend, Laurie Potteiger, but alas, she’s out for the day. My bounce box off to bounce along to Cumberland, Maryland, then a quick stop by the ATM, and a little after eight, Scotty and I are back across the Potomac and headed west once more on the C&O Canal.
The Potomac is still a wide rolling river, but here above its confluence with the Shenandoah, it takes on an entirely different character. High bluffs have forced the canal right to the river’s edge, and from this vantage many views open, both up and down this winding river. Huge sycamores line the towpath along the bank and within the canal ditch offering seclusion and shade. Many birders are out, looking and listening intently; for all along this morning are we passing through an absolute aviary. On the river proper reside the ubiquitous Canadian geese. They seem to be everywhere, and their constant bickering and squawking is becoming annoying.
It is interesting how the canal passes right over the smaller streams that come to the Potomac. For the larger ones, like Antietam Creek, aqueducts had to be built. Their remains, like here at Antietam, are quite remarkable, for they have all survived incredible floods, the power of which have bent them and reshaped them. Waters no longer flow through the Antietam Aqueduct.
Scotty’s friend, Ron Frey, answers to the trail name “Vango.” Indeed, he has a van (actually a little motor home), and he does, well, go! He’s helped Scotty along on many of his previous hikes, and he’s out with him again. A county road parallels the towpath today, and Vango keeps popping along ahead, then to stop to see if we need anything.
By late afternoon we’ve trekked out twenty-one to we pull up and call it a day by Taylors Landing.
Tuesday–May 7, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Williamsport, Maryland, thence to Red Roof Inn, Williamsport
The sound of geese squawking and the cluck of a nearby turkey wake me at seven. It’s going to be another beautiful day, clear and cool, and Scotty and I are out and moving by eight. Vango moves out ahead, to stop occasionally to check on us.
Above Dam #4 the river has washed out part of the towpath. Here, we must leave the river and take to the roads above. Along the detour now, and passing many fine farms, a man comes from his home to greet us. When he finds that we are hiking the towpath, he tells us about a shortcut, along his driveway, behind his house and past his field, all the way to where the detour returns to the river! What neat trail magic. It saves us the better part of two miles, avoiding the long-way road walk up and around.
The forecast is for thunderstorms this afternoon, and right on cue, the sky darks over and the rains come. By a little after two, we’ve reached Williamsport, Maryland. Here, we call it a day and head for Tony’s Pizza Time Cafe for their biggest and best. Vango then drives me to the Red Roof Inn for the evening.
We passed the midpoint of the towpath today; should be in Cumberland, the end of the towpath, by Saturday.
Wednesday–May 8, 2001
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Hancock, Maryland, thence to pitch on the porch of the old lockmaster’s dwelling.
Clothes all clean, great night’s sleep–I’m ready to go this morning. Ron and Scotty come for me at the motel and we’re off to the towpath.
Here in Williamsport is the National Park Service office, along with the store and museum for the C&O Canal Towpath. They’re open this morning, so in we go. Neat old building, built in the 1700s, flooded out numerous time, but still on its original foundation and standing straight and proud. Also standing straight and proud is the old gent running the store and museum. Charles Holden is his name, age 72, he’s been holding the place down for the past seven years. He remembers Sue Lockwood and Ed Talone stopping by on their transcontinental thru-hike!
Early afternoon, Scotty pulls up with blister problems. Decision is for me to trek on while Vango and Scotty visit Fort Frederick State Park, then for Scotty to bike out later to meet me toward evening. The plan works and we get together just before I arrive at the village of Hancock, our destination for the day. A great prime rib dinner at the local mom-n-pop, compliments of Vango, and this day racks up as a fine one.
I pitch for the evening on the tin-roofed porch of the old lockmaster’s house–in the pouring rain. But under its protection I’m confy and dry for the night.
Thursday–May 9, 2001
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, trailside, Little Orleans, Maryland
A cool, iffy morning, but the rain holds off. Scotty and I get going in good order to hike out together around eight. We’re in the mountains now and the Potomac is having a time of it, trying to figure out a way through. Winding and curving back it goes, and so goes the towpath, first west, then south, then east, then south some more before turning back west. Vango meets us at Cohill Station for lunch, then we’re off again. By early afternoon we jump up to hike the the rail-trail for awhile. Where it plays out at the Indigo Tunnel; we stop. Then Scotty digs out his flashlights and we venture in. The old tunnel has been abandoned for years, yet I can see a faint light, indicating the tunnel is open to the far exit. As we continue on, it takes only moments to realize that we’re in a spooky place, very dark, dank and forbidding. But on we stumble, through the rocks and puddles. It seems to take forever to reach the halfway point–the spot where both entrances appear as little more than faint dots at the end of the gloom. Nearing the other end, starts this loud, continuous noise. Then we both realize that it’s pouring down outside. We dally, digging for our raingear before finally leaving the tunnel.
Following the overgrown railroad grade, we’re soon in the village of Little Orleans. Right beside the old canal and rail grade is Bill’s Store, Bar, Grill, Canoes for Rent–etc. In we go for a few cold ones. Vango has driven to the parking lot at Bill’s so we’re all together again. Bill explains that the old abandoned tunnel runs for 5/8 mile, and that we’re lucky we didn’t bet caught in there.
Supper at Bill’s in Little Orleans, oh yes, another fine day. Pitched by the trail.
Friday–May 9, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath, Oldtown, Maryland, pitched trailside on the old Cresap homestead
I whiled the evening last with Bill at the bar in Little Orleans. The locals, mostly fishermen and hunters, had all gone their separate ways, each happier and much wiser, having heard tales (surely again) about “the one that got away,”–of the better days long past.
The original store, which was over 150 years old, was moved from the river to make way for the Western Maryland Railroad. Those were the boom days for Little Orleans, when both the canal and the railroad were cranking. Ledgers dating back to the early 1900s showed payroll entries, “salary, $2.50 a week, colored help, $2.00.” The old store stocked most everything, “milk, 10 cents, six yards of calico, 42 cents, five pounds of nails, 15 cents.”
Sadly, the old store burned to the ground in July, 2000. But Bill’s rebuilt it to another grand place now, and he reopened it in April last year. Bill talked about, and showed me with much pride, the old weather-beaten sign over his new door. In classic block letters etched deep in the wood, it read, simply, “Little Orleans.” “That’s off the old train station. The building’s been gone for years,” said Bill. “There were two of them signs. One on either end of the station. I got hold of one, my boy got the other,” beamed old Bill.
Well, the railroad’s long gone now, just like the canal, all grown up in trees, and Little Orleans has settled to be a pretty quite place.
I just had to take a couple of pictures–with his approval, of course–of the countless fixtures that Bill’s hung on the walls and from the ceiling. Like the “Redneck wind chimes,” an old Stilson wrench from which hung (and would ring if you bump them) old steel bean and beer cans. And the sign above the kitchen. Oh, this is a good one! “This ain’t Burger King. You get the Son-of-a-bitch the way I fix it, or you don’t get it at all!” Had one of Bill’s SOB’s last night.
Neat old town, neat old (new) store, neat old Bill!
Scotty and I head back out on the abandoned rail bed, up and over a ridge that has created a long, winding oxbow in the river–and in the canal. At mile 143 we drop back down to the towpath, only to leave it again at mile 147, for the old choked and grown-up rail bed. Bill had told me about another tunnel back in the rocks, through another long, high, ridge that punches another horseshoe bend in the river. Up and over the chain link fence Scotty and I go, past streams of water cascading down the tunnel entrance, to enter another dark and dank hole in the mountain, the gloom hanging heavy with the stench of creosote from the ceiling supports. Out comes the headlamp again as we stumble and grope our way through. This old train tunnel (Devil’s Alley), is just as eerie and forbidding as was Indigo. Another chain link fence blocks the far entrance, but this one we wiggle under. Following the overgrown rail bed again, we’re soon back to the canal. Here, the towpath remains elusive, close, but oh so far away! The old rail bed is thirty feet above the towpath, to cross it on a high, rusty old trestle that continues on across the Potomac. The canal, which is filled with water, separates us from the towpath. We can work our way across the helter-skelter, gaping crossties and onto the trestle above the towpath, where an old steel ladder is hanging and dangling from the trestle (and which probably hasn’t been used since the middle of last century), but this sure doesn’t look like the way to go!
So, down we retreat, on an old woods road leading to the canal–in the wrong direction. But alas, it does not cross to the towpath, and after following it for a quarter mile, we return to begin bushwhacking–along the far side of the canal–in hopes of finding a blow down or some other way across.
Saturday–May 19, 2002
Location–C&O Canal Towpath terminus, Cumberland, Maryland, thence to La Vale, Maryland, Continental Motor Inn
Last evening, I was able to find a delightful, manicured spot overlooking a lush meadow on the old Cresap homestead near the Potomac River. There I pitched. Before dark, Scotty, Vango and I spent some time at the private toll bridge that crosses to Green Spring, West Virginia. Here is the last remaining privately run toll bridge in the United States. The small toll booth is made of brick and has a sliding window through which the toll master thrusts an old pork-and-beans can that’s nailed to a broom handle. A toll of fifty cents is collected. One lady, who said she was going to church in Green Spring, put a dollar in for the round trip.
The forecast had called for cloudy and cool today, with a chance of thundershowers, but the day begins clear with just the least bite in the air. By mid-morning, both Scotty and I must change into short sleeves. Vango has vangone ahead into Cumberland to pick up my bounce box. This being Saturday, the post office closes at noon, and there’s no way we’ll get in before three. Thanks, Vango!
Afternoon now, Scotty and I slow our pace, savoring the last couple of miles into Cumberland. The time and the miles, it seems, have passed so quickly. Scott and Ron will be departing this evening for Damascus, Virginia, and Trail Days; hopefully, we’ll get to spend some trail time together again.
The final bit of canal into Cumberland isn’t anything like I’d envisioned. What is here, however, certainly proves ironic. For you see, from the very first day the first spade of dirt was turned on the canal, did the number of days before the canal’s total obsolescence begin clicking off. On that same day in 1828, the first spike was also driven for the railroad to Cumberland. Here, just outside of Cumberland, the canal has since been refilled with dirt, the railroad tracks now following right beside the old towpath, over the exact place where the canal boats once began their long, slow journey to tidewater. Down through the years, the railroad systematically bought up stock in the C&O Canal, and in 1924, after a devastating flood, the old outdated and no longer needed canal was finally shut down (by the railroad) for good. Thus ended a very special era, a distinctly unique period in time along this grand old Potomac. Ahh, it is so ironic, for as I pass now, do the rails seem to be whispering oh so softly, to the old mule tenders walking below–“We buried you!”
By three, we’re at the canal museum/train station in Cumberland. It’s celebration and picture-taking time. Soon, we’re off to Pizza Hut, then to La Vale, where Scotty and Vango drop me off for the weekend. Thanks, Scotty and Vango, for coming out and doing the C&O Canal Towpath with me. It’s been great fun!
Monday, I head into the Allegeny Mountains, for Frostberg, Maryland, along the old Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Come along, if you will. On this sixteen mile jaunt, we’ll cross bridges, look around horseshoe bends–and go through another tunnel. It’ll be a hoot!
Sunday–May 20, 2002
Location–Cumberland/La Vale, Maryland, Continental Motor Inn
I’ve sure been picking ’em right for a change–the days. What a dark, cold and rainy one this, perfect for laying back, cooling my heels, and just relaxing in my warm, dry motel room. Ahh, and that’s just the order for the day.
As I lounge here today, trying to work a halfway decent itinerary for the next couple of weeks, do Yogi Berra’s prophetic words come to mind. I recall him saying something to the effect that, “If you don’t know where you’re going, ya better be careful, ’cause you might not get there.” I certainly must consider, and no doubt, it’s going to be very hard to figure when I’m going to get someplace if I don’t know where I’ll be!
I very much like the spontaneous aspects of (and my not-to-worry attitude about) this hike.
Monday–May 13, 2002
Location–Western Maryland Scenic Railroad terminus, Frostberg, Maryland, thence to Continental Motor Inn, La Vale, Maryland
I have made a friend in Dana Patel. She is the Innkeeper here at the Continental. She checked on me yesterday, offered me food this morning, then called a friend to drive me to the post office in Cumberland. In moments, Wayne Conklin comes to fetch me. Wayne is the owner of Music Express, Disc Jockey and Karaoke Services. Last weekend Music Express had ten gigs going at the same time! He’s busy now helping Dana get the lounge here at the inn up and running again–and he takes time this morning to drive me back to Cumberland. Thanks, Wayne!
The weather all along the east coast has been unsettled the past two days, and things don’t look too good this morning. At the post office, I set my bounce box bouncing on to Shinnston, West Virginia, then it’s over to Holiday Inn for breakfast before returning the short distance to the train station. Here is the end of the C&O Canal Towpath and the beginning of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. I leave the train station and head up the tracks at ten-thirty.
In a quarter-mile there’s an overpass. Here I pull up to get out of it and don my raingear, as this day has not only started out in a nasty mood, but it seems determined to stay, the rain coming steady.
Hate to say it, but this rain is not only dampening me, but it’s managing to dampen my attitude about what’s been labeled as “scenic.” The old iron truss bridge turns out to be a run-of-the-mill thing over a highway, the tunnel is pretty much ho-hum, and the horseshoe bend is a cut in the rocks around the side of a hill. Quad-tracs have ripped up and down, all along the tracks. They’ve beat the golf ball size rocks down some, which helps me get along, but stumbling through them is no fun.
By four, I’m in Frostberg, not unhappy this hiking day is over, as the rain has kept me steady company the whole day long.
Past the depot, steps lead up the hill to Main Street. Here, right across from Domino’s Pizza, is Adventure Guides and Travel. I need directions out of here tomorrow, so in I go. I meet Keith Fulton, and we have a great chat. Got another sponsor for Odyssey 2002!
Keith lets me use his phone to call Dana. Dana gets hold of Wayne again, and just as my pizza is good to go, comes Wayne to fetch me back to La Vale and the Continental.
In the evening, a fierce storm plows through, knocking down a tree behind the inn. Glad I’m not out there in a tent tonight.
Tuesday–May 14, 2002
Location–Old Western Maryland Rail Trail, Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, Vitale’s Hotel, Joe Conn, proprietor
For starters, the weatherman is dead on. The forecast is for cold squalls all day. They’re here.
The old National Highway passes the inn on its way to Frostburg and points west. In the 1700s it was one of the major gateways to the frontier. It’s long since been paved over by US40. As I stand with my thumb out, trying to hitch a ride back to Frostburg, the wind comes, bringing rain–then snow! After an hour and not the least luck, and as my core temperature starts dropping, I shoulder my pack, grab my sticks and start walking toward Frostburg. After a couple of miles of getting whipped around by the wind and snow-laced rain, three construction workers finally stop, pick me up, and haul me on into Frostburg.
It’s now ten. This day is shaping to be a short one–for hiking, that is. My hands are nearly frozen as I enter Tombstone Cafe. Ed Spak, the owner, greets me as I look around for the coffee. In a few minutes, Terry, a local and Tombstone regular, stops in. Friendly chaps, he and Ed. We strike up a conversation. My short, canned, description of “Odyssey 2002” really grabs their attention. “Have some more coffee,” exclaims Ed, as he motions to the cook to whip me up some breakfast–on the house!
Terry could easily be the official historian for western Maryland. He takes on that task this morning as he talks about the grand heyday for Frostburg and the surrounding region, the era of coal mining, coke furnaces and steel mills. Those times are past now, leaving western Maryland living pretty much in the past, the abandoned rail grades all around being testimony. I’ll be hiking one of them today, the Old Western Maryland Railroad line which runs for miles, all the way to that once-great steel town, Pittsburgh.
It’s eleven now as I depart for the trail. Down the steps from Tombstone Cafe, I stop to get a snap of the authentic tombstones gracing the sidewalk. Ed had explained as to how he happened on them in a pile of old cast-away tombstones at the edge of town. Ha, I know graveyards have tombstones, but I never knew tombstones had a graveyard! Thanks for the great breakfast, Ed, and thanks for your friendship and kindness!
While riding back to the Continental Motor Inn with Wayne yesterday, he had explained how to find the old abandoned rail bed out of Frostburg, “Go down the paved road from the depot, oh, a couple hundred yards or so, look for a crumbling old overpass, that’s it,” Ed had explained. So down past the old train depot I go, to the crumbling old concrete overpass. I’m finally back hiking, in a near gale, a little after eleven.
I never knew that rail grades could actually go up and down. They can, apparently at somewhere between a two and three per cent grade. This one is maxed out. The climb is steady, never letting up. By two, I cross the state line into Pennsylvania, another state behind me now, Maryland. Counting DC, that makes four. I’m soon at the top of the climb, the last pop that’s left to get over Big Savage Mountain. Although this old rail line has been climbing toward the top of this mountain all morning, it doesn’t quite make it. I’m standing now at the entrance to the 4,000+ foot long Big Savage Tunnel–and a huge sign which reads, “Work area, keep out. Authorized personnel only. Hard hats, protective shoes and glasses required.”
Wednesday–May 15, 2002
Location–Allegheny Highlands Trail, near Markelton, Pennsylvania, pitched trailside past mile marker 35
Meyersdale is the epitome, the perfection of all that a great trail town must have. Just 500 yards off the trail is the grand old Vitale’s Hotel, complete with bar and grill downstairs (Yuengling on tap), a drugstore right across the street, cafe four doors down, library and post office within two blocks. Great folks, great town, thanks, Joe, Beth, and Shelva Conn, I had a great stay with you!
The first mile and a half out of Meyersdale is still pretty rough, the old railbed full of potholes, the usual graffiti sprayed everywhere. But that will change, as the extension of the Allegheny Highlands Trail will soon come to Meyersdale.
As I hike toward the viaduct, where the improved trail begins, I hear train horns behind me. Walking an old, abandoned rail bed, and hearing train horns, provokes a very unsettled feeling. Actually, what I’m hearing are the trains passing on the live CSX line a hundred yards below, but just to be safe, I move to the side just in case–don’t want some phantom, ghost train running me down!
The day is shaping up perfect: bright, warm sun, just the least breeze; quite enough breeze, in fact to crank the seven, huge air-driven electric windmills on the mountain just up the trail. Oh what memories, of Cap Chat, Quebec, where the constant winds from the St. Lawrence Sea drive nearly a hundred wind turbines much like these before me this morning. There was a lot of hubbub recently about a similar project that would have appeared in the view shed along the Appalachian Trail Corridor. Soon began the finger pointing, and the wailing and crying, not uncharacteristic of the loonies that would take us back to the stone age. These are the same fanatics that rant about the mining, the oil wells, the timbering, etc., then get in their steel-built cars, fill them with petro, then drive them to wooden, stick-built homes where they routinely run up a $500.00 per month electric bill. The windmills are not a problem, to look at or otherwise. They provide the cleanest of all forms of energy. Who could be opposed to that–oh yes the hipocrites are out there, in droves. Pick the best place and put ’em up folks–more power to ya!
I’ve got to start keeping track of the tunnels I’ve hiked through. Counting the one today, I think there’s six so far. The first three were along the C&O Canal. They were: Indigo, Devil’s Alley and Paw Paw. The forth one was the short tunnel on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. The fifth one was the Borden Tunnel north of Frostburg. The sixth one should have been the Big Savage Tunnel, but it was closed due to construction work and hazardous conditions, so the sixth one turns out to be a really neat one today, called the Pilkerton Tunnel. The rail bed actually crosses the Casselman River, at the narrow point of a very long oxbow, first on the Pilkerton Low Bridge, then through the tunnel on the narrow spit of land, thence to immediately cross the river again at Pilkerton High Bridge. What a remarkably rugged and picturesque place. The tunnel was blocked off at both ends–but I got through just fine!
I’ve made the miles today, even passed my planned destination. So with dusk arriving, I find a neat blow down hole on the side of the hill, up from Casselman River, and pitch for the night.
Thursday–May 16, 2002
Location–Allegheny Highlands Trail, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, American Youth Hostel
It must be around eight when I finally break camp and get going this morning, don’t know for sure, I lost my watch yesterday. Forecast was for nasty, but the day begins sunshiny bright, not a cloud in the sky.
The old Western Maryland Railroad grade has been going down, down, down, from the eastern Continental Divide at Big Savage Mountain, to snake its way through the near gorge-like canyon cut by the Casselman River. The river seemed quite small to begin with, but now, as it continues to be fed constantly by many tributaries, some crashing down in waterfalls, it is becoming quite the white-water river, the scenery all along, spectacular.
By early afternoon, I arrive at the village of Confluence, named for the merging of three rivers, the two main ones being, the Casselman and the Youghiogheny. From here, through Ohiopile State Park, I am told, is the most scenic section of the river. Hiking it, I certainly believe it to be true. I am in a gorge now, the mountains looming on both sides, the Yough (rhymes with jock), nearly 200 yards wide, crashing its tumult of whitewater in continuing cascades of roaring thunder–the old rail bed passing right beside. My senses of sight and hearing are definitely in overload. This is an amazing hike, and the day holds sunny and warm.
In Ohiopyle, I head for the cafe for supper and a few cold ones. At five, I meet Steve at the fine old American Youth Hostel, right on the edge of town. I check in and call it a day.
Friday–May 17, 2002
Location–Mount Braddock, Pennsylvnia, beside Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
The Allegheny Highlands Trail crossed the river at Ohiopyle on a high trestle to cap a sensational day yesterday. First thing this morning, it crosses again on another sky-high trestle. More photo ops. The rain finally catches up today but the damp of the day doesn’t dampen the spectacle of the hike into Connellsville. By one, I’ve completed the final seventeen miles that I’ll be hiking on the Allegheny Highlands Trail.
At the bike shop in Connellsville, I find that I’ve missed the turn onto the rail grade leading southwest toward Point Marion, so after a stop at the local luncheonette, I head southwest on US119, to pick up the trail at Dunbar.
The rail bed I’ll be hiking for the next two days is called the Sheepskin Rail Trail, however, the data I have on it is very sketchy. In Dunbar, the folks I talk to have never heard of it. One of the two active B&O side-by-side tracks has been partially closed, being used now as a sidetrack to park tank and other container cars, that’s it. I decide to hike out along the active tracks for a few miles while I come up with an alternate plan.
The rain comes hard toward evening and it’s turning very cold. By a sawmill, with wood drying sheds south of Pechin, I pull off and get out of it in the shelter of one of the metal sheds.
Saturday–May 18, 2002
Location–Point Marion, Pennsylvania,—-Motel
This is wild! Seven-thirty this morning, still rainy and cold, I hear this train coming through, at least I think it’s a train. But as I stare into the gloom, I see a huge forklift, enclosed cab, lights on, wipers running, headed for a stack of lumber, right here in this shed, right next to where I’m bed rolled! There must be a half-dozen sheds, hundreds of 9-12 foot-high stacks of lumber in and out of the sheds, and the guy comes to this shed, to the stack right next to me–at seven-thirty on Saturday morning, in the rain. The stack I’m on is about nine feet high. The operator moves one bundle from the twelve foot stack right next, then gets another bundle and takes it away. He wasn’t ten feet from me, but intent on his work, he never turned to look. Well, tell you what, as I try shaking the cobwebs, I’ve never been so confused or bewildered! Collecting myself, finally, I try collecting my stuff–shoving it into my pack, pronto–not fast enough. The guy’s right back again. He moves another bundle, then takes the last one. He moves away again. He still hasn’t seen me. I laid back and didn’t wiggle or he’d have caught me out of the corner of his eye, for sure. He’ll be back again in just a minute, this time for the stack right in front of me. Everything hastily jammed in my pack, I’m off the pile, pack and poncho on, sticks in hand, I’m back into it as I return to the tracks. As I head south, I hear him returning to the shed. On down the railroad now, I look back at the lumber yard, at all the sheds and stacks of lumber everywhere, and I’m thinking, “What were the odds? What a crazy experience!”
Along the tracks this morning, as I hike the live B&O grade on south, there remain the partially closed tracks, now sidetracks, with countless tank cars parked along; and now I see an old, old abandoned grade to the side. But there’s no way of hiking it, as it’s entirely grown up in trees and brush. After three hours of stumbling along the crossties and rocks, I see the tall spires of a church looming in the distance. There are large buildings and warehouses both sides now, along with old tires, junk and trash everywhere. My feet are mush. Somehow, I’ve avoided turning my ankles in the loose rocks. I’ve had enough of this. At a crossing, I see traffic moving a couple of blocks away; I go there. A lady on the corner informs me that I’m in Uniontown. Dang, not Uniontown! But I’m in Uniontown, five miles away from where I should be.
Oh well, it’s time for lunch, so I seek out a cafe, which I finally find after passing two defunct bakeries, four pizza places (all closed) and a bunch of boarded-up gas stations. This old town has seen its better days.
In the cafe, a fellow that deer hunts the area all around explains that there’s no way to hike the old grade anymore. “The rails and ties have been gone for years, and now they’ve torn out the old bridges and trestles too. Forget it,” says the old gent. Well, looks like, if the Sheepskin Trail ever did exist, it was mostly a product of somebody’s imagination. I should have suspected as much when the webpage I found had listed a disconnected phone number and a “fatal error” email address. So, it’s back on US119 it seems, on down to Point Marion.
I had planned on staying in Smithfield, but the crabby old hag that ran the rundown bar/grill/rooms wouldn’t rent to me. She glanced over, out of the corner of her eye as I entered the bar, then continued talking to the only other customer in the place. When I sat down right next to the fellow, she turned and went into the back storage room. I said hi to him. He kept sipping his beer and staring at the wall. In awhile, sweetie returned to continue the conversation, while she popped the cap on another beer for the guy. Amused, I watched and listened for the longest time. The old hag paid me not the least heed. Finally, I broke in–“Can I get a beer, or is this a private club,” I asked, somewhat sarcastically. She turned, and with a “you’ve sure got your nerve” expression,” I got “Whadda ya want?” I ordered a Yuengling Lager. Continuing her conversation with the local, she reached in the cooler and slammed the bottle down in front of me. I had to remove the cap. !
Cap off, the beer foamed up and all over the bar. I interrupted again. More as a question, I said, “I’d like to rent a room,” “Got no rooms today,” she growled. That was it. With the foam still running down the side of the bottle, I shouldered my pack, and leaving, quietly closed the door behind. I did pay for the beer. Aren’t you proud of me! But sweetie didn’t get a tip.
In Point Marion now, I’m just a very short distance from West Virginia. I’ll be out of Pennsylvania soon. Good riddance. I’ve never seen such an inhospitable bunch. All along the road today were “Keep out” and “No Trespassing” signs–and countless “Beware of Dog” signs, each brought to my attention by barking, growling dogs. One place had three dog houses out by the road right in front, three snarling chained-up pit bulls, three “Bad Dog” signs. Oh, and I just about got run down once. Yup, be glad to get out of Pennsylvania.
Neat trail town, Point Marion, Brass Rail Bar–Sarah, the cutest, friendliest and most congenial barmaid, generic (no name) motel in back–and a Subway right next door. Okay, Pennsylvania–I take it all back.
Sunday–May 19, 2002
Location–Mon River Trail, Morgantown, West Virginia, Morgantown Motel
Lots of neat trail towns on this odyssey, and Point Marion was one of them. Neat town, good folks.
This morning, I hike out on Railroad Street. Seems like a good bet, since I’m still looking for the Sheepskin Rail Trail. Oh yes, none of the folks in Point Marion had heard of it either. At the end of Railroad Street, leads out a faint gravel path south. I jump on it. Sure enough, I’m finally on the Sheepskin Trail! The quad-trac folks are beating the rocks down and have kept the brush knocked back.
As I continue on, there’s no lack of excitement this morning. The wind has come up and it’s turning downright cold. To say: “it’s a-darkin’ over,” is putting it mildly. Momentarily, as a view opens across the Monongahela River, I see a gray wall coming toward me. I drop my pack and immediately don my jacket and poncho–just in time as the wind-driven sleet come driving through. Yes, it’s sleeting! I crouch; in awhile the pelts turn to steady rain, and I turn and hike into it. The cold rain continues as I cross into West Virginia. Another state behind me now, Pennsylvania. That’s five. Don’t know how many that leaves. Guess that depends on where I’m going and when I end this trek, but I’ve a hunch there’ll be lots more; I think we’re just getting started!
Anyway, I’m headed the right direction now–southwest. Turned the corner two days ago at Connellsville. I could have done a roadwalk straignt across from Cumberland, Maryland to Morgantown, West Virginia, and saved three days and many miles in the process, but I would have missed the GAP (Grand Allegheny Passage) and the Allegheny Highlands Trail that winds its way thorough. The miles and the days were well spent. It was a glorious hike!
I’m headed now for the North Bend Trail through western West Virginia. It’s a rail trail with many more tunnels. I’m told it’s a great hike, so I’m looking to it with much anticipation.
The Sheepskin Trail, what little there was of it, ended north of Morgantown, where the Caperton section of the Mon River Trail began. I’ve followed it for about eight miles through Morgantown. At the old train station-turned-info center, I turned from the trail and headed uptown. Folks have told me about the grand old Morgan Hotel, so I give it a look. Neat place, but a look is all I can afford–$125.00 per night, single occupancy, senior. A little rich for my blood. So, I head for the south side of town and the Morgantown Motel. This’ll work!
In the evening I give Scotty and Vango a call. They’ve just finished up the week at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia. I get Scotty on his cell phone. They’ve had a great time and are headed back my way. They’ll meet me tomorrow in Fairmont, and Tuesday, Scotty and I will hike out together again–Whoohee!
Monday–May 20, 2002
Location–MC Trail, Fairmont, West Virginia, Avenue Motel, Lin Fowler, manager
Plans are to meet Scotty and Vango in Fairmont today. I don’t know the mileage to Fairmont, so I’m out and hiking by seven-thirty, just to make sure I get there in good order.
I’ve decided to do a road walk today, instead of following the Mon River and MC Trails along the Monongahela River. What I saw yesterday was a river running hard and high, pretty much a mixture of mud. My first view was the Monongahela Nuclear Power Plant. Then followed miles of coal loading docks accompanied by countless barges loaded to the gunwales with coal. I suspect there’ll be more of the same today, so I opt out in favor of a road walk through the rolling, rural West Virginia countryside.
Freeze warnings were issued for the entire region last night. This morning, even with both my shirts, and my jacket and poncho on, it seems to take forever to get the old jitney up to normal operating temperature–it’s cold, darn cold! The day starts out dark, and it’s staying dark. Within the hour, the wind whips it on me again, this time in the form of snow. Yes, now I’m hiking in wind-driven snow! Thirty days ago, I was getting my head and feet fried as I hiked the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Now, with summer supposedly approaching, I’m hiking in snow!
The distance to Fairmont isn’t as far as I had reckoned it would be, and by early afternoon, I’m in the post office in Fairmont. I mail a few souvenirs home, then head for the library where I’m able to spend some time on the internet.
In the evening, I meet up again with Scotty and Vango, then check into the Avenue Motel on the south side of town. Freeze warnings are out again. What is going on?
Scotty and I (all bundled up, no doubt) will hike out together tomorrow on the West Branch Trail, an old abandoned rail grade that leads to Shinnston. No lazy summer days just yet!
Tuesday–May 21, 2002
Location–Harrison County Rail Trail, Shinnston, West Virginia, Gillum House Bed and Breakfast, John and Kathleen Panek, hosts
This is the day to get lost. Oh yes, the daddy of all get lost days! Not a clue for the better part–where we were or where we were actually going. The whole whacky, glorious wandering started the instant Scotty and I set out this morning. We started on the wrong rail grade. We weren’t even following the right river! An hour into the hike, and for some reason, I casually pull out my compass. “We’re supposed to be trending generally north of west. So, why are we going south?” I question Scotty. After nearly four miles of this, we’re as many miles from where we should be–and there’s no quick fix, save turning around and retreating. Oh no, not that; we’re not going back! So now what?
Well, in another mile or so, we can cross the river we’re following (the wrong one) on the I-79 bridge. Then we can hike back roads to the west. And finally, after another eight to ten miles of road walking, we can get to where we should have been hiking all day.
Walking an interstate highway is an absolute no-no; foot travel is prohibited, especially across an interstate bridge–but we do it anyway. I can’t remember ever, ever, hiking along an interstate highway, but up and onto the bridge we go, the whizzing autos and grinding eighteen-wheelers literally hurtling past us. We successfully run the gauntlet, without getting pulverized or arrested–clear to the next exit. We’re now on the right side (of the wrong river).
The copy of the DeLorme map that Ed provided me shows a network of little spiderweb-like back roads leading in the direction we want to go–so we go.
The very first intersection isn’t on the map. Which way? We manage the attention of a chap edging his yard. His response to our inquiry–“Well yes, I suppose you could get to Killarm this way. Part of the road’s been closed for years. You’ll have to climb over a fence at the top of the mountain, then hike through the fields–you’ll be able to see Killarm from the top, though, just go that way.” Yup, you guessed it, up the mountain and through the fields we go!
We had made plans to meet Vango for lunch at Monongah, but we never make it within six miles of the place. After awhile, he’ll perhaps figure out that we’re not coming through, and drive on to Shinnston.
Having climbed the mountain, after going the wrong way yet again, we head down through the fields toward Killarm. Rounding a fence and passing a shed, we hear, “What are you doing in here?” Neither Scotty nor I had seen the farmer, but he sure sees us! Oh no, time to face the music. We’re on private land. We have no business in here. Sheepishly, we greet to the old gent, with the most pathetic and apologetic salutations. He’s amused more than angry. Thank God, we’re not going to get shot or arrested! In just moments, comes the farmer’s son tracking through the field behind us. We hadn’t seen him either! He is also of kind and friendly disposition.
The old abandoned road we were seeking is right next the fence, by the farmer’s shed–we were just on the wrong side of it. The kind fellow, and his son, Dusty (I did get the boy’s name), both kindly walk us to the final road intersection we need to take. On the way, both ask many questions and express much curiosity about my adventure. Thank you Lord–for saving my sorry butt–again!
At three, we’re finally on the rail trail in Enterprise. It’s a delightful path along the West Branch, Monongahela River. Within the hour, we’re in Shinnston, our destination for the day. Here, Vango is waiting. He greets us with much restraint, but can’t help exclaiming (quite understandably): “Where to hell you guys been!”
Wednesday–May 22, 2002
Location–North Bend Rail Trail, Wilsonburg, West Virginia, Towne House Motor Lodge West
What a great stay last with John and Kathy at the Gillum House B&B in Shinnston. Beautiful old two-story house, meticulously renovated and modernized, the entire place radiating such a warm, peaceful feeling. And the end result–not a wiggle out of me as soon as my head hits the pillow.
At eight this morning, the luring aroma of freshly brewed coffee working its magic, I’m drawn down to the dining room, where Kathy has prepared a grand breakfast, not only for me, but also for Scotty and Vango. She and John join us and we share the most stimulating conversation.
We manage to tarry, and are not out and going until after ten, then to make another trip to the post office. By eleven, Scotty and I are finally headed south for Clarksburg. First, it’s a road walk down busy US19, then at Spelter, we pick up the Harrison County Trail, another old rail trail, which also follows along and up the west branch of the Monongahela River. To access the trail, we must pass a barricade and “No Trespassing” sign, as the surrounding area has been declared a “Superfund site.” Here, the soil has been contaminated by the remains from zinc smelting operations carried on over many past decades. The entire place is shut down now, secure behind twelve-foot high chain link. To look upon the dilapidated, rusting hulks of old abandoned buildings surrounded by dismal, black mounds and heaps of earth is most depressing; Scotty and I hasten to pass.
Most cities the size of Charksburg have greenways that are tied in with other surrounding paths and trails. So, as we near Clarksburg, I’m expecting the rail trail we’ve been hiking to just get better and wider–finally to connect to a paved greenway. But here, as we near the city limits, the trail simply ends at a fence blocking the old rail bed. Scotty and I look at each other, then at the fence. A faded sign reads, “State Property.” We’re both bewildered–wondering the same thing: “What’s going on here?” Oh yes, over the fence we go, to enter a tangle of vines, blow downs and brush. As we continue along the old rail bed and into town, there’s another fence, higher than the first, then yet another. Up and over we go, to continue on–through paths plopped full with cow manure, yes cow manure! The old rail bed is now the upper reaches of a pasture. Some greenway, eh? Well, it is green! This scramble along the old grade continues for the better part of half a mile, to finally lead us out and onto an old railroad overpass at US50. Here we give up the “Clarksburg Greenway” to opt for the live rail grade leading around and back out of town.
Vango is waiting for us at the intersection of US50 and US19. After a cold one, we’re back out for the remaining short road walk to Wilsonburg. Tomorrow we begin the North Bend Trail, which runs for the next seventy miles to Parkersburg, there, to cross the Ohio River. We’ll surely have more adventures to share; why not come along!
Thursday–May 23, 2002
Location–North Bend Trail, West Union, West Virginia, High Street B&B, Ellen Froehlig, hostess
The day dawns cool and clear; the weather is finally breaking. It’s going to be perfect for hiking. Scotty and I get out around nine-thirty, with Vango hop-skipping the little motor home ahead. Within the hour, we’re at Wolf Summit, the eastern terminus of the North Bend Rail Trail. Looks like the next seventy-one miles will be most enjoyable, for the old rail bed is settled in with finely crushed limestone, the shoulders freshly mowed–this thing’s a scenic parkway!
By one, we make it to Salem and the trailside IGA. I’ve got to get more film, dang it! My camera’s done it again–it’s rewound after exposing only half the roll. This is the fourth time it’s pulled this trick. The camera people say it’s a problem with the film–oh sure, blame it on Fuji and Kodak! Well, I’m tired of excuses; I’m getting rid of the thing. It’s an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, no cheapie, for sure. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get Olympus to sponsor me this odyssey. I’m glad now they refused, because I’m fed up with them and their product–this camera’s out of here. I think I’ll look at Nikon, Minolta or Canon.
Vango’s been having some problems with the motor home, so Scotty hangs back to make some repairs. I head out again, due west. Yes, would you believe I’ll actually be hiking west this whole day. If I keep this up, I might actually make it to California!
The American Discovery Trail has come over to piggyback along the North Bend route. Actually, I picked it up yesterday at the Superfund site, but there were no ADT blazes anywhere along the poorly maintained Harrison County Trail into Clarksburg. Here today, though, where the trail is manicured and well maintained, seems the ADT likes the recognition and association, as I see numerous ADT blazes all along. Early in the planning stages for this transcontinental thru-hike I had considered hiking the entire ADT route exclusively, from coast to coast, but after I found that the organization’s main emphasis was on bicycling, with hiking being a very distant, secondary consideration, I decided to hike my own route.
The North Bend Trail passes through many tunnels, most constructed before the Civil War. Each has a beauty and character all its own–I pass through two today, #2 and Long Run, that makes seven total so far.
This has been a good mileage and good progress day. Late evening I am greeted by Vango and Scotty in the little village of West Union. On a high hill, on High Street stands High Street B&B, managed by Grandma Ellen. It’s another beautiful and painstakingly restored old two-story home. Kathy, from Gillum B&B in Shinnston, had alerted Ellen that I’d be coming through, so she was expecting me. For supper, Scotty fixes spaghetti, lots of it! Then Grandma Ellen has us in for cake and coffee. This has been a great day.
Friday–May 24, 2002
Location–North Bend Trail, Ellenboro, West Virginia, thence to Lewis “Camo” and Becky “Never Again” Moyers’ cabin, North Bend State Park, West Virginia
West Union is a very fine trail town. The only thing keeping it from being five-star is the lack of computer/internet access at the library, otherwise, neat town. High Street B&B is definitely five-star. The old two-story Queen Ann Victorian house has been completely restored by Paul and Liz Jerrett. Liz’s mother, Grandma Ellen, is now the hostess.
Paul is here this morning; I can smell the coffee brewing and as he greets me, I find he’s prepared a grand breakfast. Paul has been involved with caring for the North Bend Trail, and he speaks with much enthusiasm about his work. At nine, Grandma Ellen sees me off. Scotty and Vango have departed over an hour ago, to drive back to Clarksburg where they’ll get Scotty’s bike repaired. Then he’ll catch up with me as I head toward Ellenboro. Three more tunnels today, that’s ten so far. By three-fifteen I’m in Ellenboro–no Scotty. Vango is waiting at the DQ, as Lew Moyers will be here to take us to his cabin this evening. At four-thirty, Lew comes riding in on his bicycle. Still no Scotty. Lew’s been out on the trail and has found Scotty–another flat tire–he’s waiting in Pennsboro for Lew to drive back and fetch him.
In awhile, they’re back, and we’re finally ready to make our way to Lew’s cabin. A stop at the grocery and we’re off.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, a few cold ones and I’m gone, no luck trying to work my journal entry this today…
Saturday–May 25, 2002
Location–North Bend Trail, Walker, West Virginia, thence to home of Lewis and Becky Moyers, (AT, Georgia-to-Maine, ’00) Parkersburg, West Virginia
I used to have an old cabin in the mountains north of Dahlonega, Georgia. It was a special place. What memories of those times came rushing back as we crossed the creek up to Camo’s cabin, his, definitely a homemade place, just like mine, tucked back up the “holler.” The rain started just as we unloaded, the day turning immediately into that kind of day, when a warm, snug place, equipped with just the essential comforts–to be shared with friends, brings times so memorable.
Strange to find the place warm and dry as we entered, none of that musty odor so common to places prone to dampness, that have been closed up for weeks. As Lew goes ’round lighting all the gas mantels, he explains that he keeps the heat on all the time. I remark, “Don’t see a wood burning stove; why don’t you have a stove?” “Don’t need one,” he said, “Not when you got free gas!” Seems most everybody up and down the “hollers” here in West Virginia’s got free gas. “The well’s up on the ridge; I’m tapped into the line that comes right by the cabin–got all the gas I could ever use,” said Lew, with a big grin. Oh yes, gas heater, gas cook range, gas lights, and gas refrigerator. We really had to rough it last night!
I thought we’d be out of the mountains by now, but we’re not out of the mountains. The road weaves back and forth and up and around for the longest time it seems, Vango following, as Lew leads us back to Ellenboro. We’re in good shape for the twenty-two miles planned for today as Lew gets us out and going by a little after nine. More tunnels today, five in all, bringing the count to fifteen. The first one is the most remarkable so far, not a long one, being less than 400 feet in length, but the most impressive for sure, being carved from solid rock, having no lining, the raw, rugged granite jutting from the walls and ceiling in the most precarious manner, making passage uneasy and scary. I hasten my pace and manage to get through without the thing caving in on me (no pun intended).
We’ve been blessed with perfect weather, ideal for hiking, clear and cool with a gentle breeze. Climbing and climbing (on a railroad grade, that’s an incline of two and one-half per cent), by three, we reach the final tunnel on this grand North Bend Trail. Half way through, Scotty and I hear what sounds like an old train whistle–kinda! We both laugh, and Camo laughs, as he comes riding up with his headlight on. We continue together to Walker, enjoying each other’s company and talking trail, jabbering all the while. Then off we go again, Vango following, to Camo’s home near Parkersburg. Here I’m greeted by the other hiker in the family, Lew’s wife, Becky. For the evening meal, she’s prepared wild hog, corn on the cob, all the trimmings–followed by strawberry shortcake for dessert. It was scrumptious.
One more day on the North Bend Trail and we’ll be in Ohio. I am not lonely these days; it’s so good to be with friends.
Sunday–May 26, 2002
Location–US50, Belpre, Ohio, thence to home of Lewis and Becky Moyers, Parkersburg, West Virginia
Becky drives all of us to Walker. Camo will be hiking the day with Scotty and me, and Vango has come along for the ride. We’re out in good order by a little after nine. The day starts iffy but soon turns perfect again, cool and clear. The goal today is to complete the North Bend Trail, with our final destination being Belpre, Ohio, across the Ohio river from Parkersburg.
We’re making remarkably good time, and by noon we’ve reached the end of the beautifully groomed rail trail just east of Parkersburg. I comment to Camo how it would be nice to celebrate our successful completion of the North Bend Trail. He replies that there’s a convenience store just ahead, but problem is–there’s no beer in Parkersburg before one on Sunday. Bummer!
As we contine through the goose-egg-size rocks along the abandoned and unfinished rail trail, and reaching the last section, where rails and ties are still intact, I see a shopping bag, lumped up with a can protruding, laying right between the rails. I give it a poke with my trusty LEKI trekking pole. Instead of the usual “dink,” it goes “thunk,” and doesn’t move. I look at Camo, Camo looks at me. “Hey, it’s a full can of beer!” I exclaim. Reaching down, and retrieving it from the bag, follows another, and dangling, a third, three cans still looped together–half a six-pack, all full! Well, how about this folks! By golly now if I don’t believe I’ll challenge you to top this for utterly spontaneous and perfectly timed trail magic! Together, Scotty, Camo and I hoot as we clank the three cans of Natural Light, in celebration, a little after noon, on Sunday, this the 26th day of May, 2002!
Continuing on, the abandoned rail grade soon turns to an active rail grade. Here, we’re in the Parkersburg switching yard, an old diesel engine lugging and banging the continer cars around. Hesitantly, we approach a switchman as he lifts and drops another switch lever, then to release a single railcar, setting it free to rattle and roll its way, shortly to slam into the line of other railcars in its row. Funny, I never realized that railyards tipped a little downhill! The switchman greets us with a friendly smile and a cheerful “Hello” as we pass (we are trespassing on private property).
Folks in West Virginia take pride in their hometowns. Camo beams with pride as he walks us through his. He was born and raised here. His family’s all here–he’s lived near Parkersburg all his life. He frustrates that the old train depot’s been torn down, but points with joy to the beautifully restored old courthouse. It is, indeed, a work of art.
On US50 now, we cross the Ohio River on the old iron-trussed bridge. Another state behind me, West Viginia. Lew’s brother, Tim, soon comes for us at Belpre, and we’re back to the Moyers’ home on the bluff above the grand old Ohio. Thanks for coming out with us today, Camo, it’s been a grand time!
Tonight it’s cookout! Lewis cranks up his gas-fired cooker to deep fry the mounds of fish caught by Jim, his son-in-law. The whole Moyers family stops by, from Grandma Doris to young grandsons, Mark and Stephen. What happy people. All linger. We have a grand time together–much, too much food!
Monday–May 27, 2002
Location–SR141, Frost, Ohio, thence to the home of Lewis and Becky Moyers, Parkersburg, West Virginia
In the evening last, not such good news. There’s been a death in the Frey family and Vango and Scotty must return to Wisconsin. So, after a fine breakfast this morning, they drive Camo and me out to Frost, which is on their way home. Greeting old friends is always such joy, but bidding them farewell is always so sad. So long, Scotty; goodbye, Vango. May God keep you safe till we meet again.
To me, it really doesn’t matter which direction I’m hiking on any given day, as long as I cover the ground. So today, we’re hiking west to east. It’s just a lot easier this way, especially for Becky to come for us–yes, I’ve been invited to stay another day with the Moyers!
From Frost to Belpre is a road walk, a delightful one. Camo and I enjoy each other’s company as we meander the back roads up and down and over and around. We’re by the river most of the day, vacationers everywhere–this being Memorial Day. The weather is again perfect, the day grand.
We’re back to the Ohio River Bridge a little after three, and Becky soon comes to retrieve us. In the evening, Lewis gets his old ’48 Chevy out and we cruise the streets of Parkersburg. A couple of cool dudes, oh yeah!
Tuesday–May 28, 2002
Location–Athens to Nelsonville Rail Trail, Athens, Ohio, Highlander Motel, Randy Bhakta, manager
Right at seven, Lewis taps on my door with a steaming cup of fresh-brewed coffee. He knows how much I love my morning coffee. Man, am I getting spoiled! Becky has prepared another tank-stoking breakfast, then sends me off with a hug. Dang, Becky, I sure hate to leave you folks. Lewis drives me back to Frost, then hikes out a ways with me. We talk about the upcoming hike he’ll be taking along the SIA/IAT with our mutual dear friend, Jolene “Jojosmiley” Koby, as she completes her northbound ECT thru-hike. Otherwise, not a whole lot’s been said as we walk the last couple of miles together.
By a guardrail we linger and chat nervously for a few minutes, before facing the inevitable–time to bid farewell. So long, Camo, and thanks, thanks for your kindness. This has been such a very special time.
I’m hiking alone now, alone for the first time in many days, but I will not be lonely, as I have such grand memories of these recent times.
By early evening I’m in Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University. All along Union Avenue it’s a pub crawl. I hit ’em all, and by the time I reach the rail trail leading to Nelsonville, the sadness of leaving friends has all but left me.
Wednesday–May 29, 2002
Location–US33, Nelsonville, Ohio, Olde Townhouse Inn, Debby Whalen, proprietor
A quiet night, the much needed rest from both physical and emotional fatigue, a blessing.
The bike/rail trail from Athens to Nelsonville is called the Hockhocking Adena Trail. It’s a dandy, paved all the way through. Many rollerbladers, runners, and folks out on bikes today. They all pass me–guess I just need to keep in mind the story about the tortoise and the hare!
The rail trail is a breeze and I’m in Nelsonville by three. The Rocky Boot Factory is here. It’s a big place with a grand showroom, but Rocky makes no boots in the USA anymore. I’m hoping they’ve got a compass for sale. Somehow I managed to lose mine. I’m in luck, they’ve got just what I need, a little Silva. It’ll work just fine.
Enquiring of the kind lady that’s waited on me, as to accommodations in Nelsonville, she says she knows of no place other than the Ramada on the south side of town–but she does refer me to Jim Wilbourn, Mc Fadden Insurance, on the square, with the Nelsonville Chamber of Commerce. I passed the Ramada on the way in, and didn’t even bother to check their rates. I knew better. Oh yes, I immediately beat a path to the square downtown, and to Jim Wilbourn with McFadden Insurance! He greets this tired, sweaty old Nomad with a smile and a glad handshake. As to a place to stay, Jim says, “We’ve got a fine B&B, and it’s reasonable. Wait right here while I set you up.” He heads to the back of the office, to return in a moment–to lead me down the street and show me the way!
A couple of blocks and I’m at the Olde Townhouse Inn, where I’m greeted with a grand smile by Debby Whalen. Jim’s already told her about me. The old inn is really quite a place. When I ask as to the room rates, Debby simply says, “Follow me, I’ll make you a deal on a room.” Out the front door and up the steps we go, then back into the old inn on the second floor, through a spacious kitchen to a little room behind the stairs. “How’s this for ten bucks,” she beams! The little hiding place is clean and neat; the bath just up the stairs–and there’s a phone I can use, that will handle 877 calls. Doo Dah, “Yes Debby, oh yes, this will do just fine.!”
As soon as I’m out of the shower, Debby informs me of much good goings on–Jim has brought the latest internet printout on the Buckeye Trail, and a local, Gary Bergstrand, from Hocking College, who is knowledgeable about the Buckeye Trail, will be stopping by!
In awhile comes Gary. What great help–and he invites me to breakfast in the morning!
I stroll the old town by evening and have a few at Mine Tavern. The square in Nelsonville is quite impressive, what with every old storefronts all spiffy and clean, complimented by the classic fountain right in the center. Neat old town, much pride. Stir in the kind, generous folks, and the old Nomad hits the jackpot again!
Thursday–May 30, 2002
Location–Buckeye Trail, Old Man’s Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio, thence to rental apartment, Mark and Trent Milano
My stay at Olde Townhouse Inn has been most restful. Thanks for your hospitality and kindness, Debby!
Gary comes by at seven-fifteen to take me to breakfast. Waiting for us at the Coffee Cup is Russ Tippett. Russ is Dean, School of Natural Resources, Hocking College, and Gary is an instructor there. The three of us have much in common, especially our interest in nature and the great out-of-doors. We share much good conversation.
This is going to be a great day. For today I reach the Buckeye Trail, to actually hike in the woods after nearly 900 miles. First I’ve a road walk though, over twenty miles, which I manage to knock out by four-thirty. This is the last of the route laid out for me by Tric Talone. It’s been a great way to go, and the road walk along the scenic back roads today is especially enjoyable.
The sun’s really been pounding me, but I must toughen into this kind of hiking as the summer comes on and I move along to Kansas and The Oklahoma Panhandle. By two-thirty, old Sol’s managed to kick up a show, which comes grinding through. I pull off and make it under an old hay shed just in time to get out of the deluge and away from the accompanying light show. The rain comes in hammering waves but I’m safe and dry. I’m even able to refill my water bottle from one of the countless waterfalls cascading from the rusty old corrugated roof. The dark and rain passes almost as quickly as it came, leaving the pavement steaming, appearing as if on fire. Hot, hot, steaming hot, here we go again!
Hocking Hills Pit Stop is just outside Hocking Hills State Park. Brad Bruning is the owner. Kristen runs the register and Jerry Culverson handles the Bar-B-Que under the tent right outside. After checking the rates for a stay in the park, I hoof it right back to the Pit Stop again. Under the tent, and while having a plate of Jerry’s finest–and a few cold ones, I meet Mike and Trent Milano. They’ve stopped in for some of the same after a long, hot day finishing concrete. Brad has offered to let me tent behind, but Mike and Trent offer me the couch at their place. Oh yes, it’s off to Mike and Trent’s. In the evening, they invite me along to Logan, where we close Sam’s, a local watering hole–at two-thirty! All three of us have to be back on the job by eight. Well, you’re right, mine really isn’t a job.
Friday–May 31, 2002
Location–SR327, trailside, Buckeye Trail, Tar Hollow State Forest, Ohio
Y’all have heard me talk about horses and humans on the trail, so you know my thoughts and feelings on the subject. Comes now chapter two on this mix.
My excitement’s been building for weeks, in anticipation of actually hitting some hiking tread way. So now I must tell you: there is just no way to describe my utter disappointment yesterday evening. What I experienced upon reaching the Hocking Hills Buckeye Trail section was worse than a nightmare. I should have guessed what was coming when I saw the huge stable of horses just outside the forest, and the road shoulder just past, all the way from the stables to the trailhead, pounded to a muddy rut. Oh yes, the tread way in the forest–more muddy rut, a disgusting, indescribable mud-bogging quagmire the likes of which I’ve never before experienced, and it continued up and down, over the ridges and along the bluffs for the better part of three miles. What an absolutely disgusting sight, nearly impossible to hike, all the work of horses. Oh well, so much for my introduction to the Buckeye Trail!
This morning, Trent delivers me back to Pit Stop, where Brad cranks the fire for the day and prepares us a fine breakfast. Thanks Mike and Trent–and thanks, Brad, Kristi, Jerry and all at Hocking Hills Pit Stop, you’ve been very kind.
At the Old Man’s Cave Museum this morning I’m told that no horses are permitted in the state park, that the trail I hiked yesterday evening was in the state forest, not the park. Don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet that the stable owner and the county commissioner are both related to the forest supervisor.
Old Man’s Cave gorge is like no other place I’ve ever seen. The groomed trail is not really a hiking trail, being mostly a path for those who come to experience the marvel that is Old Man’s Cave. The gorge is not huge or deep by any standard, but it is a remarkable place, cut and carved over the eons. The cave itself is really not a cave, but rather a sculpted-out half-bowl-like amphitheater. The magnitude of it, the tons and tons of rock that make the bowl overhang, defy all laws of nature. Pausing, turning, looking, it is impossible to take it all in. And forget trying to get a picture. Three more tunnels today, natural ones, cut in the solid rock, the pathway going right through! That’s eighteen so far now.
From Old Man’s Cave, the trail leads to Cedar Falls, then on to Ash Cave, another huge, carved out half-bowl in the side of the bluff. It got its name from the piles of ash left by the Indians over the ages. Both Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave are spiritual places, issuing forth and emanating much energy.
In the evening, I’m back on the road and to a little store along SR327. I get a sandwich from the little deli, then pitch for the night behind the building at the grounds of Singing Gospel. The heat of the day has generated another dandy, and I’m no sooner pitched than the quarter-sized drops begin, but I’m snug and dry in my little Kurt Russell Nomad.
Saturday–June 1, 2002
Location–US23, trailside, Buckeye Trail, Scioto State Forest, Ohio
I follow the Buckeye Trail off and on today. Late morning, I make a side trip into the little village of Londonderry. At the post office, I meet the postmistress, Connie Snyder. She’s just closing up for the day and invites me to stop by her place in Richmond Dale, which is on my way. I can sure use a shower, so I avail myself of her kindness. At her lovely home, I meet her husband, Michael. After getting presentable, we enjoy some time together. They had met and knew most of the early folks on the American Discovery Trail, including Bill and Laurie Foot who biked it, and Bryan Stark, who ran it.
By evening, I’m back on the Buckeye Trail on South Ridge Road in the Scioto State Forest. There’s some very pleasant tread way along the Buckeye Trail, which I enjoy today, and I’ll certainly long remember Old Man’s Cave gorge, Cedar Falls and Ash Cave.
Sunday–June 2, 2002
Location–SR124, Long’s Family Campground, Lathem, Ohio
The blackberry and raspberry bushes are in full bloom now, so too, the multiflora rose. And a huge tree (is it the buckeye?), that is festooning the roadways with its large, fragrant flowers. More road walking today, but there is shade along, as the dusty backroads lead up and back and around and about. In Waverly, I stop at Bob Evans for their famous biscuits and gravy–and plenty of good-morning coffee.
The heat kicks in again and the open road I’m on now turns to a frying pan. As I hike along in my dream-like hypnotic daze, pulls over this toppered Toyota pickup. It’s sporting a Maine tag which reads TCABIN. Looking at the TCABIN tag for the third time, and as both doors open, I’m finally jolted back to reality–but how can this be reality? For, standing before me now are Marge and Earl Towne, Honey and Bear from The Cabin in East Andover, Maine! Good Lord, how can this be? How in the world have they found me out here on a back road in the middle of no place in Ohio? I’m not even on the Buckeye Trail! But here they are, in honest-to-gosh real life, filled with excitement–their success in tracking down the old Nomad! Here, by the side of the road, we hoot and hug. What an incredible experience, what a happy, joyful time. As Bear hands me a cold one, he takes my pack and stows it in the back. “Let’s go find someplace to stay for the night. We’ve got so much to tell you, and we’ll bring you right back here in the morning,” Bear exclaims. They take me by the arm and leads me around. I don’t know what to say; this is so incredibly unbelievable.
A sort distance ahead is Long’s Family Campground. Here, we get a cabin and a camper space for the night. A delicious pizza, a few tall ones, and oh-so-much great catching-up conversation, and this day proves to be another amazing one as the old Nomad continues along, “From Sea to Shining Sea.”
Monday–June 3, 2002
Location–SR321, rear porch, abandoned house, Mowrystown, Ohio
Comes a knock at my door a little before seven. I’d asked Bear to get me up. He and Honey offered to treat me to breakfast, so don’t want to miss that!
What a wonderful surprise and a great pick-me-up, this time spent with my dear friends, Honey and Bear. There really isn’t anything better than being with friends; the problem always comes in saying goodbye. They’re headed for California to spend time with family. That stay, however, will be cut short by at least a day–the time spent tracking down a member of their other family–their trail family. Folks, you exemplify the best of trail angels, your love and caring, the epitome of trail magic. Thanks, Earl, thanks, Marge, your friendship has become so very special!
Lingering, solid hugs, then time to turn, the old Nomad back to the trail, and the folks from The Cabin, off to California. A beep, a final wave, then they disappear over the next rise in the road and are gone. “Don’t get in a funk, Nomad, think of the good times, put your head down, dig in your sticks–and go.” So, off I go, to hammer the miles today, it’s a reliable and comforting way to chase the blues. That’s the best way for me.
I’m headed this direction because I want to see Serpent Mound, an ancient, earthen, Indian artwork. For sure, I’m not disappointed. It is a remarkable thing to behold, resting on a high hill, overlooking the valley of Brush Creek. There is much energy within this place. From an observation tower, one can get a partial view, but the only true way to view this work is from the air. There are pictures in the museum. Interesting, I’m right here at the very site, but I must view pictures in the museum. Know what, I bet the Indians knew exactly how it looked from the air!
From Serpent Mound, the Buckeye Trail dips down to the southeast, away from the direction I really want to go, so I hike out on the back roads, generally west. I’m right at a thousand miles now and still haven’t left the eastern time zone. It’s time to go west. The heat comes up again, no clouds, no breeze. I beg water from farmers along, and spend the day in dreaming of seeing my loving sister, Salle Anne, and all her dear family in Missouri.
I’ve been on the road for nearly twelve hours today, well over thirty miles. My legs don’t want to go anymore. As dusk arrives, I find an old abandoned house on the outskirts of Mowrystown and pitch on the dilapidated back porch. The night brings a gentle, cool breeze.
Tuesday–June 4, 2002
Location–Buckeye Trail, Williamsburg, Ohio, Valley View Hotel, Buck Walter, proprietor, Brenda Anderson, manager
More road walking today, mostly on busy four-lane (shade less) SR32. By early afternoon, I’m in Williamsburg at the grand old Valley View Hotel, a site once frequented by Morgan’s Raiders. A tunnel beneath the old hotel, leading to the East Fork, Little Miami River, is still intact. Here, at this historic old hotel, I’m greeted with a glad and friendly smile from Brenda Anderson, manager (more aptly: Valley View’s barmaid, and chief cook and bottle-washer), as she pops a cold one for me. Good news coming from the fellows sitting out front was that there’s rooms for rent. However, bad news coming from Brenda is: they’re full up. Sensing my disappointment, and after mentioning that all I really need is a shower and a corner to lay my head, Brenda leans over the bar, and in the most comforting voice assures me that she’ll find me a room. In awhile, comes Buck. Brenda gets him aside. Right away he’s back with a key. Whoohee, looks like I’m in! Buck shows me to a room on the second floor, and while handing me an armful of sheets and towels, says, “If a fellow tries to get in this room tonight, just send him downstairs to me!” “Okay, Buck,” I say, “this’ll work.”
I’m off now to the post office to retrieve my bounce box. Hey, it’s right here waiting for me! The evening brings rain, but I’m up to the bar with a tall one in my hand as Brenda prepares my supper, compliments of the house! A couple games of pool with Bob, a local, and this one racks up just fine.
Wednesday–June 5, 2002
Location–Buckeye Trail, Williamsburg, Ohio, Valley View Hotel
Williamsburg is an absolutely perfect trail town–old hotel with class-act bar right down, post office close up, pizza, laundry, pharmacy, library with no-wait internet–all within five minutes. Oh yeah, this is it. You folks know I’m a trail-town boy. Would I lead you wrong? Okay, lets get this into Appalachian Trail perspective. Hiker trash AT thru-hikers know their trail towns. Might I mention Duncannon? Thought so! To hiker trash, Duncannon, Pennsylvania is a five-star trail town. It’s got it all, including the Doyle Hotel, the old Anheuser Busch turn-of-the-century grand marquee. The Valley View Hotel is nothing less than the Doyle of the Buckeye Trail; take my word for it, it’s the Doyle. Yes–well no, you wouldn’t bring your momma here, but to hiker trash, you just couldn’t find better. When Buck showed me up the stairs last, I knew I was home. Only difference I could see, as opposed to the Doyle, the ceilings are still in this place. “I’d like to stay two nights,” I comment to Buck. “No problem,” says he. “How much I owe you?” I come back. “Aww, give me fifteen bucks, that’ll cover it,” he says. Oh yes, Williamsburg, Ohio is one fine trail town!
Brenda fixes me breakfast–on the house again, and I drain the coffee pot. Late morning, I’m still trying to get caught up on journal entries. In the afternoon, I while a couple of hours at the library. I guess by now you can tell I’m not hiking today. I really needed a day off, haven’t taken one since Harpers Ferry, and what better place than Williamsburg!
At the bar, in the evening now, and talking to the locals, I learn that Stephen Newman of world-walking fame lives right down the road in Bethel. I knew he lived in Ohio, but I never dreamed I’d come so close to his place. I met Steve at the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Gathering at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire a couple of years ago. Steve was the scheduled keynote speaker for Saturday night. I was on for Sunday. Time passed that Saturday, and Steve still hadn’t come in. Gathering organizers were starting to get fidgety. Larry Luxenberg and Noel DeCavalcante finally came to me a half-hour before Steve was scheduled to speak to a full auditorium. Larry said, “Steve’s stuck in a traffic jam, he doesn’t think he’ll make it.” Noel followed with, “We need you to go on.” A half-hour to get my act together and go, cheez! Fortunately, Steve made it in time, to put on an absolutely spellbinding show. So, that’s how I came to know Steve Newman.
Well folks, I’ve been able to get hold of Steve this evening, and he’s coming to fetch me to his place for the day and the night tomorrow!
No more time at the Valley View Lounge tonight. It’s back to my room, to get everything caught up, my bounce box, then a (very belated) spam to all my friends, then to get ready to go with Steve first thing in the morning. What an incredible time I’m living! Yes, Wolfhound, my hiker friend, life is good!
Thursday–June 6, 2002
Location–Ripley, Ohio, home of Stephen “Worldwalker” and Darci Newman
The rain came late last evening and has set in for the duration. Buck’s got coffee on in the lounge, so I linger while waiting for the post office to open at eight. I need to get my bounce box off to Corydon, Indiana, where I should be in about two weeks.
Back from the post office, and in just awhile, Steve comes for me at Valley View Lounge. Buck, who had walked with Steve over the last two miles of his famous earth-encircling hike that began in 1983 and ended in 1987, invites him to sit with us for coffee. Buck brings out a magazine article that plainly shows he and Steve together. What fun listening to them recall that very special time.
The rain is coming hard as we rush to Steve’s Jeep. As I toss my pack and sticks in the back seat and jump aboard, I’m thinking of the great new friends I’ve made here in Williamsburg. Thanks Brenda, Buck, Waldo, thanks all, for your kindness to me.
Heading out of Williamsburg, Steve comments that we’ll be going the long way around to his place near Ripley. On the way, he shows me the home where he was raised in Bethel, where his mother still lives–and the steps he walked down to begin his ’round-the-world trek. Then on we go to this most impressive sign at the city limits, that proclaims, “Bethel, home of Worldwalker, Steve Newman.” Steve cooperates, jumping out in the rain, as I snap him standing by the sign (probably for the umpteenth time).
As we continue on to his home, Steve speaks with much joy about his little corner of Ohio, its rich history, the good people who live here. I am struck by our similar childhoods–two barefoot kids from small-town America. Though he’s roamed the world, Steve’s managed to keep his roots, to return home to where–I guess we would say–“He belongs.” I wasn’t so smart. I did my share of roaming, too, and I should have returned to my little corner of Missouri–but I never did. And now it’s way, way past too late. Oh yes, on this journey I am hiking home, but I really can’t go home. Steve, dear friend, I truly envy you, the choice you made years ago, was the right choice.
Up a steep hill now, along a narrow drive that was once a path walked by Indian warriors and by Daniel Boone, we climb to the grand Newman home. Here, I am greeted by Steve’s wife, Darci. After a fine breakfast, Steve settles me into their spacious guest room where I’m able to get my feet up and write. Both Steve and Darci are making preparations for guests who will arrive soon, friends, and now business associates, that Steve met while hiking through Japan. Yet both have taken time from their busy schedules to be with me today.
In the evening, Steve and Darci show me some more local historic sites, including the little house overlooking the Ohio River that inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Newmans then treated me to dinner at one of their favorite spots in the beautifully restored downtown section of Ripley.
This has been very fine day.
Friday–June 7, 2002
Location–SR32, Batavia, Ohio, thence to home of Erric Hutchins and Lorry Maynard, Batavia
Steve insists on treating me to breakfast this morning. Then on the way back to Valley View, he stops by East Fork State Park to get maps for me. Everyone at the lounge really loves Steve. Most of the regulars are here this morning, for they know that Steve will be bringing me by. Buck’s got coffee on–and sitting for a spell, as we do, it quickly becomes storytelling time again. Steve lived some amazing adventures during his walk around the world, and he spins those tales and stories so well. Everyone is totally captivated.
Time soon comes, though, for me to hit the trail. Steve still hasn’t gotten around to all his chores in preparation for his guests, so, it’s time to say goodbye. Thanks, Steve, thanks, Darci, for taking me into your lovely home at such a busy time…and thanks especially for your kindness and your friendship!
While staying at the old Hotel Valley View, I made friends with many of the regulars there. They all know where I’ve been and where I’m headed, and today I’m headed for Batavia. Two who live there, Eric Hutchins and Lorry Maynard, have invited me to stay with them this evening. So, as I bid goodbye to Buck and Brenda (who now plans to fly to California to be with me when I finish), Erric and I make plans for him to fetch me just the other side of Batavia this evening.
Ohio not only has a favorite daughter to brag about in its hiking circles–Grandma Gatewood, but Ohio also has a favorite son–Steve Newman. Both have trails named after them here in Ohio. I walked the Grandma Gatewood trail last week in Old Man’s Cave gorge. And today, with the help of maps given me by Steve, I will hike some of the East Branch State Park, Steve Newman Trail.
Heading in, I find I’ve got some tough trail; Steve warned me. The recent rains have not only raised the rivers and creeks, but have made a total sop of the woods. Some of the trails in East Branch have had horse traffic, which makes hiking them nearly impossible due to the mud, but I manage to get through. Back on the tarmac, it doesn’t take long for the skin to start coming unglued from my totally soaked feet. I stop and wring out my socks as best I can, then dry my feet. They’ve really toughened up, so I manage the rest of the day okay.
By four, I’m west of Batavia where I stop at a Speedway to give Erric a ring on his cell phone. The plan is working, and a little before five, as the coming-from-Cincinnati rush-hour traffic builds, Erric pulls out of the line and to the shoulder just ahead of me. We’re soon to his home, where I’m greeted by Lorry, who immediately thrusts a tall frosty in my hand. “Double-R,” as Erric is known to friends around, as a fine cook, and for supper he prepares some of the finest stroganoff I believe I’ve ever tasted–pure hiker jet fuel!
In the evening I’m invited to go with he and Lorry to a friend’s birthday party. Randy has just turned 41. Many familiar faces from Valley View. It’s really nice how all these kind folks have taken me in so quickly, how they’ve made me one of their own.
Randy’s place is in the country, lots of room, lots of kids. As dark-thirty rolls around, we’re all treated to one incredible fireworks show by Randy. He’s turning loose of 40 with a bang!
Late night now, back at Double-R and Lorry’s, we relax and chat awhile. What a day, what a day, thanks dear friends, thanks, all!
Saturday–June 8, 2002
Location–SR8, Covington, Kentucky, Extended StayAmerica Motel
Erric has a special grill for the eggs and a cast-iron skillet for the sausage and potatoes–what a grand breakfast. He and Lorry both take me back to the busy highway where I’ll continue on to Cincinnati today. A few snaps, many good, solid hugs, and it’s time once more to leave dear new friends behind. Fifty yards, I turn, and with tears streaming down again, I give them one last wave, my sticks in the air as they pull into traffic and are gone. I turn into it, toward Cincinnati.
This is one tough road walk today, especially the section of US50 where the sign reads, “No bicycles, pedestrians or slow-moving vehicles allowed.” There’s no other way, at least that I can tell from my sketchy map, other than miles and miles around, so in I go. Three miles on this grinder and I’m little more than pulp. It’s tight, narrow, four-lane, a crash-rail less than two feet from the eastbound solid white line, double yellows only in the middle, and a four-foot “emergency lane” between the westbound solid white and a continuous six to twelve-foot high concrete wall. I must walk with the traffic, which I hate–it totally unnerves me–rear view mirrors just off my left shoulder, whizzing by at seventy plus. Where the wall dips down, drooping from it and blocking the narrow emergency lane, are locust-like hard briars. I try stooping under them or pushing them aside. I dare not step over the white line. The black barbs let me have it, and my scalp and arms are soon!
a bloody mess. It’s ninety degrees now though, so my sweat helps wash me. Somehow I manage to make it through without becoming road kill, and the cops don’t spot me. Another gauntlet safely run–thank you, Lord!
In Cincinnati now, I pick up the familiar blue blazes that mark the Buckeye Trail. I follow them to where they and the trail ends in Eden Park, a beautiful spot overlooking the grand Ohio River. A gentleman obliges and I get a couple shots of me standing by the overlook.
The state of Ohio, the Buckeye Trail, and all the great people it’s been my privilege and joy to meet while hiking here, will surely bring good and lasting memories. I really hate to leave this state behind, but I am bound for California, and I must go.
I pass the grand towers of Cincinnati, to trek along their promenades, then to pass the beautiful stadiums and cross the broad Ohio on the old suspension bridge built in 1886. This structure, the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge, is still a striking feature, blending the skyline of this fair metropolis.
At five, I cross into Kentucky to the city of Covington where I check into StayAmerica, right by the river. The clerk is both inquisitive and concerned when greeted by the grimy, bloody old Nomad. In the evening, I give my dear friend, Alvis “Paw Paw” Kinney a call. I remember that Paw Paw lives close-by in Highling Heights. He’s a dear hiker-trash friend. I get his son, Matt, on the phone. Plans are to spend tomorrow together–more good times comin’ up–ahh yes, let the good times roll!
Sunday–June 9, 2002
Location–Highling Heights, Kentucky, home of Alvis “Paw Paw” Kinney
I’ve decided to take a day off and spend it with Paw Paw, his family and friends. He and Matt come for me around ten and we’re soon back to their home in Highling Heights. It’s so good to see these dear friends again.
Paw Paw is pure hiker trash. Retired military, as are a good many of the trash fraternity, they took him right in. I met him at Trail Days at the Hobo Central hangout a number of years ago. We’ve been good friends since. Paw Paw was an honest-to-gosh WWII doughboy. He started carrying a pack when he was just a kid in the army. That was in 1936. He gave them his twenty, retiring from the army in 1956. Yes folks, that was awhile ago, for you see, Paw Paw is 85 now–and he still can put on a pack and go! He was already in his 80’s when he hiked the Appalachian Trail.
There’s a Time/Life picture book about Pearl Harbor laying on the couch. As I thumb through it, Paw Paw begins reminiscing those years. For you see, Paw Paw was on Pearl, at Schofield, on that infamous day in 1941. Up till that day, he had been living the life all adventuresome, footloose kids dream. He was known around simply as “Speed,” being the featherweight boxing champ of all of Pearl. His eyes drop and his kind face saddens. With voice trailing off, he whispers, “I lost a lot of good friends that day.”
In the afternoon, Matt cranks up the grill for a grand cookout. More family and friends come by. We have a great time.
Paw Paw and me, we make plans to hike some together in a few days. Matt will bring him out. This sure has been a joy filled day!
Monday–June 10, 2002
Location–US50, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Wishing Well Motel
After breakfast at Frisch’s, compliments of Paw Paw, I’m back on SR8, headed west by eight-thirty. Thanks, Matt, thanks Paw Paw, thanks dear Kinney family and friends, it’s been a great stay!
In a short while, I board the Anderson Ferry, to cross the Ohio. Another state behind me today, Kentucky. A final, short stretch through Ohio and I’m into Indiana. This should have been a routine twenty+ mile day, but I screw up and hike nine miles in the wrong direction, so it’s eight-thirty and thirty+ miles before I finally pull into Lawrenceburg. I am finding that US50 is not the most friendly highway in the whole world.
Tuesday–June 11, 2002
Location–SR62, Friendship, Indiana, pitched in a farmer’s pasture, by Raccoon Creek
Thought I finally entered the Central Time zone when I crossed into Indiana, but all the clocks here are on the same time I’ve been on–Eastern Time. At the truck stop last night I asked the waitress about the time. She said she thought the change was still some thirty or forty miles west, but she wasn’t sure. I know I’ll be glad when I get there, wherever it is, because until I do, I’ll keep wondering if I’m really getting anywhere.
It’s a casino crawl this morning, all the way through Lawrenceburg, like Vegas without all the tinsel. I wasn’t aware that Indiana had gone that way, but again, there are countless things about which I have not a clue anymore–one of the wonderful (and acceptable) virtues of growing old. Another thing about which I have not a clue, is where I’m going now that I’m in Indiana. Been stopping in all the gas stations along, hoping to pick up an Indiana DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer–no luck. There’s a Super Wal-Mart just ahead, maybe there.
Ever notice how Wal-Mart likes to sit off by itself, usually on a high spot, if one’s available? Even if one’s not available, they just push the top of a couple of hills together to make room. That’s what they’ve done here in Lawrenceburg. The store is right off US50, but to get there it’s a quarter-mile drive (walk) up and around, so I just dig my sticks in and climb the 300 foot weed-choked incline. Pay dirt! They’ve got the map, just one, what luck! Back down the manmade mountain to the road, and to the local fish place, I while the rest of the morning mapping my route. A couple of locals, Ed and Sugar, enquire as to my adventure, then help set me in the right direction.
US50 into Dillsboro is much easier going today, what with a fully paved emergency lane. There’s lots of traffic, especially eighteen-wheelers on the haul to Cincinnati, but I’ve got some room, and they all give me more. By late evening, I’m in Friendship, a little berg nestled in the south Indiana hills, known far and wide as the muzzle loading capitol of the world. Their annual event is in full swing as I pass through, thousands of tents and campers everywhere. I had planned on pulling into the local campground. Forget that! Instead, I have a couple cold ones at the downtown watering hole, then move on. Finally out of earshot of the rifle reports, I pitch for the evening by a happy little brook, behind some cedar trees, in a farmer’s pasture.
Rain has threatened all day, the clouds most welcome, and a few sprinkles come just as I roll in.
I believe that was the extent of the rain for the day–but I’m not sure.
Wednesday–June 12, 2002
Location–SR62, Madison, Indiana, Englewood Motel
Aww Jeez, I can’t believe this, cow doo everywhere, all over me, all over my little Nomad tent. When I pitched in the tall grass last night, I didn’t notice what was lurking below. Tall grass has a soft, cushy feeling under tent, never squishy or mushy–what a mess. I break camp and get going as best I can, flies following along.
The day has dawned cloudy, to remain overcast throughout the afternoon, with intermittent sprinkles off and on–what a blessing, not getting fried for a change.
The topography of southern Indiana is far from flat, the land being cut through by many creeks and rivers meandering to the Ohio just to the south. To call these deep cuts “valleys” is a stretch. They’re really ravines in the truer sense, having steep, rocky walls. The highway gets in and out of them with only moderate success, winding, climbing and pitching off, guided by crash rails, some of which have decided to go their own way, leaning and sliding into the near-vertical gulches. I glue myself to the rails as the traffic leans and pitches the endless curves toward me.
By late afternoon the landscape flattens some as I near Madison. Somewhere along, I finally entered the Central Time zone; in Madison, I’ve picked up an hour. The cashier at the corner Big Foot jiffy doesn’t have a clue. Inquiring as to where I hit the change–popping her gum, she replies, “dunno, don’t never go that way.” I can sure understand why–there isn’t much out there, unless you’re looking for (a little) Friendship!
I check into the local mom-n-pop motel, wash the cow poop off Nomad and my Nomad, hit Taco Bell across the street, then call it a day.
Thursday–June 13, 2002
Location–SR56, Scottsburg, Indiana, Dollar Inn
Well, I thought I’d finally entered the Central Time zone, but apparently not. I’m an hour behind Eastern Time now, but what’s happened is: folks hereabouts have never switched to daylight savings time, electing to remain on standard time–anyway, I think that’s what’s happened?? Spring forward, fall forward–I can never keep it straight. I’ll actually be there when I reach the Indiana/Illinois line; my watch just won’t know it.
I’ll be hiking some trail today, a short section through Clifty Falls State Park, another (but uniquely special) of the many ravines and canyons all along the Ohio River in southern Indiana. The canyon, with its delightful waterfalls, was formed during the last Ice Age when the Ohio River was created. An old rail grade goes part way through, along with a partially completed tunnel. So I chalk up another tunnel along my journey today.
While in the park, and hiking down to Tunnel Falls, I meet another hiker, a young fellow from Cleveland. Aaron Hay and his dog, Moses, are out section-hiking the American Discovery Trail. Tired from the constant road walking, they’ve pulled off to camp for a day or so before moving on. Aaron is carrying seventy pounds. Needless to say, he gives my pack a long, longing look! We share a good time.
I’m really late getting out of Clifty, and it’s a fair road walk into Scottsburg, my destination for today, so I dig my sticks and hammer. The rain also hammers, coming in waves right at me from the west. It’s late and my feet are soaked and sore as I stomp out the last of the thirty for today.
At Dollar Inn, and after a good tub soaking, I try calling my old friend, Paw Paw. We’ve planned hiking a section of the Knobstone Trail together, and I’m near the trailhead now–but no luck. I’ll take a day off tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll get together then, make final plans, and hike out together this weekend.
Friday–June 14, 2002
Location–SR56, Scottsburg, Indiana, Dollar Inn
I’ve decided to take a day off in hopes of reaching Paw Paw, then we’ll make arrangements to hike the Knobstone Trail together this weekend. I’ve also been in touch with Kevin Miller and John Egli who live here in northern Indiana. I met them last year at Barb Genge’s Tuckamore Lodge, clear up in Newfoundland. They were on a bear hunt and I was hiking the Newfoundland Appalachian Trail. We became immediate friends and have kept in touch ever since. We’d really like to get together, but they’ve got a long, six-plus hour drive, and it looks like I’m going to be in the woods all weekend. Maybe I’ll see them next week further west in Boonville or Evansville. What a disappointment.
I continue trying to reach Paw Paw all day and into late evening, still no luck. Dang, I sure hope he’s okay. Another disappointment.
I received a real nice email the other day from Laurie Foot. Laurie’s the president of the American Discovery Trail Association. Since I enquired about the ADT over a year ago, Laurie has kept in touch, providing much information and encouragement, so too, her latest email. She’s been following my daily journals for this transcontinental thru-hike, and has asked if I’d put in a little plug for the ADT in a future entry. I fired a response right back telling her there was no way I could recommend the ADT to the hiking community. “The ADT isn’t for backpackers, it isn’t a hiking trail,” I wrote. Well folks, how’s that for a grand show of appreciation and thanks to a kind, helpful friend!
It is true, the ADT is not a hiking trail. It’s really for bikes, over 90% of it. Laurie and her husband, Bill, biked (and hiked short stretches of) the entire route, including the northern loop from Cincinnati to Denver, nearly six thousand miles, before Bill’s untimely death.
Regardless of the design, however, there is much good that can be said for the transcontinental route the ADT folks have painstakingly laid out. From a hiker’s perspective, it can be looked at like this: Every year, thousands of enthusiastic backpackers leave Georgia, bound for Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps, over all the many years and for all those thousands of people, perhaps one or two of them had planned, as their initial goal, to hike from somewhere in the deep south, to somewhere in New England–by whatever route. Then they found out about the Appalachian Trail, which goes from Georgia to Maine, and once having made that discovery, jumped on it and went that way.
Okay, let’s apply this scenario to the few folks who may, from time to time, think about how exciting and romantic it would be to walk across the north American Continent; the numbers sure fit. For all that lift a backpack and go, for all those thousands and thousands, probably no more than one or two ever seriously consider, let alone plan and attempt a transcontinental trek. Ahh, and here’s where the ADT comes in! How to get there, where to start, which way to go? The USA is wide and vast, many beautiful and historic places to see. To look at all the possibilities boggles the mind. The ADT folks have thought long and hard about this, and they’ve created a route that takes in the most of the best any route could possibly offer–national forests and parks, state treasures and historic sites, and trails of all description make up the route of the ADT.
So, my suggestion is this: if you’re that one (in thousands) that’s just got to trek this continent, then stop and take a good long look at the ADT, it has much to offer. I did, and on my trek so far, I’ve been on the ADT more than off.
My apologies, Laurie, and thanks for all your help and encouragement. My 2002 Odyssey,” From Sea to Shining Sea” continues to be enriched by all you’ve done for me.
Saturday–June 15, 2002
Location–Knobstone Trail, mile marker 15, Jackson-Washington National Forest, Indiana, pitched near New Chapel Trailhead
Kent “Tent-n-Kent” and Terry “Toccoah” Wilson live in Indianapolis, Indiana. We met at the Ironmaster’s Mansion on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail during their northbound hike in 2000. We’ve been in contact the last few days, as they’ve expressed interest in hiking the Knobstone with me. I’ve invited them to come along.
As I hike out the eight miles to Leota Trailhead this morning, they’ll be driving two vehicles south, to leave one at Deam Lake on the south end of the trail, then to drive the other back to meet me at Leota. I depart Scottsburg a little after eight, which should work well to meet them at ten-thirty. We’ve planned two, thirteen-mile days to reach Deam.
At Leota, and as I wait, I’m entertained by four young fellows that are headed north from Deam, three brothers and a friend. I believe they said that today was their third day on the trail. As is customary with beginning backpackers, they all started with entirely too much gear, around sixty to seventy pounds each. I chuckle as one of the brothers explains how he threw in the towel, turned around at mile four and hoofed it back to the parking lot. From there, he drove their vehicle around to the next trailhead at the five-mile mark where they all dumped their huge external frame packs, opting for smaller and much lighter fanny packs. That’s how they came into Leota today. I soon get a full briefing on the “knobby” Knobstone Trail!
At one, Kent and Terry finally arrive–with both vehicles. Kent’s had an emergency at work and couldn’t get away. Shuttling one car south, we’re finally on the trail around three.
Somehow we manage over ten miles for the day, ending on a ridge top, to pitch just as the heavens open.
The Knobstone Trail is difficult only to the degree most backpackers might experience practically anywhere in the southern Appalachians, steep, short ascents and descents, with grand flat stretches in between, and that’s it. What a joy being on tread way for an entire day, finally, after over 1200 miles of multi-use trails and roads. As the rain settles in to a soft, gentle patter on my little Nomad, I’m quickly off to slumber land. Kent and Terry are neat folks; we’re going to have a grand time hiking together tomorrow.
Sunday–June 16, 2002
Location–Intersection, SR111/60, Bennettsville, Indiana, pitched in abandoned mobile home
The rain is still with us this morning, but soon slacks off as the clouds burn away to present another glorious hiking day.
Kent and Terry are seasoned backpackers. They’ve learned not to carry the store with them; both have lightweight gear and use Leki trekking poles. We find the treadway quite soggy, but are able to dodge and dance along, making very good time. By late morning, and as we comment on having the trail to ourselves, comes through a train of hikers, probably over thirty in all. They’re members of the Singles Hikers and Walkers, a hiking club from Louisville, Kentucky. As the last hiker approaches, I hear, “Nimblewill Nomad!” It’s Dennis Crowley, whom I’d met at the first Southest Regional Foot Trails Conference at Unicoi State Park in April. With a broad smile, Dennis says, “You don’t ever stay home, do you!”
Kent and Terry are both spelunkers and rock hounds. During the hike today I get up to speed on ancient artifacts, sparkle rocks and soft worms.
The Knobstone Trail is turning to be a very pleasant but demanding hike. A couple of the straight-ups involve staircases, one rivaling the infamous stair steps of Albert Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. It’s late evening when we reach Deam Lake Trailhead; time to say good-bye to more dear new fiends. So long Kent and Terry, I’ve really enjoyed our hike together.
Just before dark, I manage to make it down to the Petro/Food Mart at the intersection of SR111/60. I had reset my watch and PocketMail two days ago to reflect the time change–I’m an hour off again. This Indiana time is really screwy. The lady making my sub says the time changes a couple miles from her house. She didn’t know how far west I’d have to go before it changed back again.
By the tracks behind the station, I’d noticed an abandoned house trailer. After finishing off my fourth fountain Pepsi and one of the best ham, salami and bologna subs I’ve enjoyed since I can’t remember when, I stumble in the dark to the old trailer. The place is empty except for a mattress on the living room floor–ahh yes, a perfect ending to a perfect day.
Monday–June 17, 2002
Location–SR62/337, Corydon, Indiana, Kintner House Inn, Mark and Michael Wiseman, proprietors, Dee Windell, innkeeper
I’m back to the food mart first thing for biscuits and gravy, and half a pot of coffee.
The hike today takes me through downtown New Albany, a fairly large city on the Ohio River. Making great time, I’m in by noon, so I decide to hike on through to Corydon, my next mail drop.
Over the eons, the rivers and brooks here in Indiana have created what is known as a dissected plateau. The Ohio River has carved out one of the deepest valleys, which I must climb out of. Motorists probably don’t much notice the extreme elevation change, but my legs and back sure let me know. Once back on the plateau, the highway pops right along, with only minor ups and downs. By late evening I’ve made the 33 miles to Corydon, the old capitol of Indiana. Here I check into the Kintner House Inn, a beautifully restored old three story home, now a B&B on the list of national historic places.
The traffic and the people all along have been kind to me. This has been a good day.
Tuesday–June 18, 2002
Location–Corydon, Indiana, Kintner House Inn
Corydon is a beautiful town, neat old homes, a thriving downtown business district–I decide to spend another day, to rest and get caught up on my writing.
I hit the jackpot on my mail drop. It’s good to receive letters from friends.
Late last evening along the highway, a fellow stopped to talk with me. It was Dave Whipple with the Corydon Democrat, the local newspaper. He’d invited me to stop by his office, so I spend some time with him today. Two other hikers, a husband and wife team, are also doing a transcontinental hike. I’d heard about them along the way, but information was sketchy. They passed through Corydon a few weeks ago. Dave interviewed them and he shows me the neat article he’d written about Peter and Joyce Cottrell from Whiteford, New Hampshire.
Somehow I’ve ended up with an upset stomach and the chills. I spend most of the day buried under the covers–bummer.
Wednesday–June 19, 2002
Location–SR62, Sulphur, Indiana, pitched behind their fire station
The day starts with a great breakfast with Dee and guests. My tummy is still queasy, but I’m going on. A final walk through the beautifully restored and maintained Corydon business district and I’m across the bridge over Indian Creek, to the new post office–to send my bounce box on ahead to my sister’s place in Missouri.
The hike today leads me across and through more of Indiana’s dissected plateau, where the Blue and Little Blue Rivers cut through to the Ohio. As I climb, I’m reminded of the catchy little jingle that Kent and Terry kept humming last weekend as we climbed in and out of the chasms, “Thank you, Lord, for the level ground; oh, thank you, Lord, for the level ground; yes, thank you, Lord, for the level ground–’cause everythin’ else is up ‘n down.” It’s another blistering hot day, high humidity, temperatures hovering near one-hundred, little breeze, no shade, weird, fantasy-like mirages pulsing and lifting above the bubbling tarmac. It’s hard to work up an appetite in this kind of heat, but I do stop for supper at the Overlook Restaurant in Leavenworth. A baked potato and a dish of applesauce is all I can manage. I’m having a real problem with the air conditioning when I go in anywhere–become chilled immediately.
Leavenworth is the little town right next to the Ohio River’s grand horeshoe bend. There’s also a pricey B&B right on the bluff, with a spectacular view of the Ohio in both directions–with spectacular room prices to reflect the view. I settle for the view and head on west.
The country store in Sulphur is closed for the day when I arrive late evening, but the pop machines are working just fine out front, so I feed them all a good dose of one dollar bills. A fellow rides in on his Harley–on reserve, and tries getting a few drops of gas from the closed-down pumps. A little further west is Sulphur’s Volunteer Fire Department. Dark’s a-comin’ fast, so I pull off to pitch behind on their neatly manicured lawn.
A hot, hard day. My stomach, thankfully however, is feeling much better. A sweat-soaked grind it was, ahh, but there’s no sweat sleeping!
Thursday–June 20, 2002
Location–SR162, Santa Clause, Indiana, Santa Clause Hotel
I’m up and out, and into the beginning frying-pan of it by eight. There’s very little traffic on this section of SR62, thankfully, ’cause there’s scarcely little shoulder, the roadway pitching off to the gulches below. As I move away from the Ohio, the cut-up plateau is less cut up, the valleys running wider, the ascents and descents less steep.
It’s another pressure-cooker day, little shade, only the slightest breeze. I’ve just got to start carrying more water–20oz. no longer cuts it over a 10-15 mile stretch. Problem is: hot water’s never been one of my favorite drinks. I should be using Conquest, the thirst-quencher invented and produced for ultra-marathon runners by my dear friend, Gary Buffington, MD. But the amount of powder I’d have to carry for the two-plus weeks between mail drops is prohibitive. I just keep gulping down the Sprite and Mountain Dew at every little roadside oasis I come to.
I push hard today to put in thirty, and by late evening I’m in Santa Clause. But Santa Clause isn’t here. Smart fellow, because this griddle is no where near the North Pole–the thermometer again punching at one-hundred.
I’m a bedraggled, wasted (and smelly) mess as I enter the lobby at Santa Clause’s Hotel. Bobby, the evening clerk, takes pity on the old Nomad, giving me their rate for the likes of bums, and I’m in for the night. What a blessing, a good tub-soaking for my tired, creaking old bones, followed by dinner in their fine restaurant. I’m not feeling nearly so sorry for myself now.
Back in my room, I string a line, hand wash my clothes, then collapse for the night. What a day–gotta get acclimated to this heat, I just gotta, or I’ll never make it across Kansas and the desert southwest.
Friday–June 21, 2002
Location–SR62, Boonville, Indiana, pitched on lawn behind tire store
There’ll be a break in the hike today, a stopover at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial located about five miles west of Santa Claus. As I hike west this morning, it isn’t even ten before the tarmac starts cooking, so I stop off at the little gift shop and grill run by Kathleen Crews. Cool lemonade in hand, we chat. Kathleen sets me up on how to tour the Memorial, then gives me a short introduction to the animals she’s raising, woodland buffalo, herds of which roamed the area during Abe Lincoln’s time.
At the Memorial, I find the museum to be most interesting. It’s a “U”-shaped building constructed of locally-cut stone with many carvings and inscriptions–featuring the likeness and words of Lincoln. Outside, I meet Sam, a ranger with the park service. He speaks with enthusiasm about this place, his work. Then he becomes intrigued by my pack, the little I’m carrying. Before I’ve finished answering his questions–Sam’s ready to pack up and come along!
Walking the manicured grounds along the “Lincoln boyhood trail,” then past Nancy Hank’s grave to the Lincoln family home site, brings a feeling of pride and connectedness, pride in what America’s become since Lincoln’s time, and connected with life in his time as a result of my presence here.
Kathleen has informed me that at Gentry, I’ll have my last opportunity to get anything to eat or drink before Boonville, nearly twenty miles away, so in Gentry I stop at the food mart for some orange sherbet and lots of fountain fizz.
I’m carrying two 20oz pop bottles of water now, good thing, as the road is long and hot. In Boonville, I manage some fish and a small baked potato at the local mom-n-pop, then move on to pitch behind a tire store for the night. I fall asleep in a sweat. Dang if it ain’t hot!
Saturday–June 22, 2002
Location–SR62, Evansville, Indiana, Baymont Inn
I do a little better this morning, two cups of coffee and an egg biscuit at Arby’s. I start out with two pop bottles of water again. Good thing, as there’s no more until the eastern outskirts of Evansville, and it’s another hot, humid day, the sun making the tarmac ooze, and turning my skin to leather. SR60 isn’t quite so friendly today, narrow shoulders, much traffic with heavy trucks. I become covered with grit from the gooey mixture of my own sweat and the dust-storm being hurled at me by oncoming traffic. The last five miles, all the way into Evansville, is four-lane, sort of, certainly a poor excuse for it, being no more than a slot created by changing the solid white lines to dashes, opening up the emergency lanes to traffic clear out to the curb and gutter. What’s left is the two-foot gutter to walk in, with two solid lanes of traffic bearing down. The motorists are courteous, however, and I manage okay, but it’s sure a welcome relief to finally reach some sidewalk.
Evansville isn’t much to brag about, at least the part I see. The west end is pretty much train tracks mixed with industrial buildings–and a pub crawl. I hit ’em all, mingling with the locals. I dearly need a shower tonight, but there isn’t a single old mom-n-pop motel clear across Evansville, at least that I can find, only the ritzy large chain operations on out, I’m told.
I manage a healthy helping of spaghetti at Fazoli’s, then check into the Baymont Inn just off the four lane. Not a real long day–but still a long day. You know what I mean.
Sunday–June 23, 2002
Location–SR141, New Haven, Illinois, pitched in abandoned house at blinker west of town
SR62 and I have kept each other company for many a mile. It’s done a great job in moving me on west and has generally treated me kindly. I’ll follow it to the state line today, where it changes to Illinois 141.
I had planned to spend the night in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, but as I pass through early afternoon, I find there’s only one motel on the west side, which doesn’t appeal to me. There’s still many hours of (hot) daylight left, and I really do need to get on into New Haven, Illinois, where Kent and Terry have left maps and data for the River to River Trail for me. Yes, Kent and Terry drove 400 miles round trip from Indianapolis just to leave the RtoR info for me, under a rock by the side of the New Haven post office, so I really need to get there before someone else finds it.
SR62 is long and straight, with good, wide shoulders, the traffic heavy, but not a problem. It’s just so blaming hot. I stopped at the Subway in Mt. Vernon and all but drain their soda fountain. Just west of town, what I’ve feared for years finally happens. I had hemorrhoid surgery years ago, a very successful procedure, but ever since, I’ve had to tend more urgently–to the urge to go. Well, I don’t know, perhaps it was the heat, the constant exertion, hydration imbalance, a combination of all three, I don’t know, but suddenly, out of the blue, with no warning whatsoever–comes the URGE. I’m on a five-mile stretch of elevated straightaway, not a tree or bush in sight, the traffic whizzing. I bail off the side, down into the tallest weeds I can find, slinging my pack off as I go. I grope frantically at my shorts–too late. Aww cripe, Nomad, why are you telling this? Don’t you have any privacy–at all? Well, life sure ain’t all honeysuckles and happiness, and as long as you’re along for the joy of this journey, you might as well have to put up with the other side–and today, the other side ain’t pretty. Oh, what a disgusting mess. With curious motorists flying by, I try bathing myself with the one, precious, 20oz bottle of water I have left. If you could see me, you wouldn’t be laughing, you would feel sorry for me! Oh my, I’m a frightful mess as I shoulder my pack and head on down the road. In awhile, comes some trees and a drainage canal. Here I’m able to bathe and wash my clothing. What an improvement!
So now, I’m out of water. It’s got to be a hundred degrees, not a breath of air, the traffic coming from and disappearing to a pinpoint on the horizon. It’s late evening by the time I finally reach the Wabash River and the Illinois state line. At the toll booth, I stumble to the building just beside. The lady gives me some bottle water. We sit and talk. I must not smell too bad.
It’s dark when I finally reach New Haven. There’s no store, only one pop machine in the whole town. I keep feeding it dollar bills and slogging down the Sun Drop until the machine quits. I retrieve the maps from under the rock at the post office, then head back out of town, passing the same fellow tending his burn barrel as I passed coming in. “Looking for a store, weren’t you?” he asks. I stop to chat and he gives me some snacks and water.
In the pitch dark, and by the blinker west of town, I happen upon an old abandoned house. Here I pull off and call it a day. I’ll sure remember this one for awhile.
Monday–June 24, 2002
Location–US45, Harrisburg, Illinois, Super 8 Motel
It’s nine miles into a little place called Omaha, and my head and the little bit of water I have left are both boiling by the time I get there. On the way, I pass more and more oil wells, their pump arms lifting and falling as they continue their perpetual pushups. Some of the pumps still have the old Waukesau single cylinder engines running them. These old external crank engines have huge twin flywheels, which keep them turning and chugging…pucka, pucka–pock, pock–pucka, pucka–pocka, pocka, pocka–puck, puck, puck. One fellow has his rig painted up real nice. It’s right in his front yard where he can sit on his porch and keep guard on his own little bank.
At the store in Omaha, I strike up a conversation with Bill, one of the locals. Bill is a horseman and likes to ride in the Shawnee National Forest–on the River to River Trail. Oh no, not another horse trail! He says he sees hikers there some, but mostly horses.
Okay, time to make some adjustments. I’d planned on hiking down SR1 and intersecting the River to River Trail near its eastern terminus at Garden of the Gods. From there, I could have hiked all but a few miles of the entire 160 mile RtoR Trail. Change in plans. Decision now is to hike on over to US45 and head southwest to intersect the trail near Tunnel Hill. From there, I’ll be able to hike the western half of the RtoR on into Grand Tower. With the horses, I figure that’ll be enough. Thanks, Bill, for the timely info.
So over and down US45 I go, to the town of Eldorado. Two little motels. At the first, the lady doesn’t like my looks; at the second, the place is full. Okay, time to separate the hikers from the pikers. Here’s what: we can slink out of town and pitch in the bushes and eat some cold pop tarts; that’s one alternative. After all, it’s already four-thirty and we’ve got in over twenty for the day. Or, we can bust it another seven miles on down to the next town and get a cool room, a baked potato and some medium-well prime rib. I can smell the prime rib from here. Oh yeah, Nomad’s hikin’ on!
Doo Dah, jackpot! Super 8 Motel first thing, with hiker trash rates. And get this–right next, a Ponderosa Steak House! And their special for the evening? Oh yes, prime rib! Go ahead, feel sorry for me!
Tuesday–June 25, 2002
Location–Tunnel Hill State Trail, Tunnel Hill Road, Tunnel Hill, Illinois, pitched trailside
The hike today takes me southwest along busy, shoulder-less US45. Funny thing, US45 is cutting an almost perfect forty-five across Illinois!
In the little town of Carriers Mills, I figure I’d better pick up provisions for three or four days on the trail. Looks like this is the last place to stock up before hitting the River to River Trail just south of Tunnel Hill. At the little food-mart, the lady asks where I’m headed, then, with a puzzled look, asks why I’m on US45 and not their spiffy rail-trail just beside! Sure enough, a couple of blocks over is this mighty fine rail-trail, going all the way to Tunnel Hill. It’s shaded and there’s no eighteen-wheelers. Duh!
Oh yes, this is worlds better. The miles pass much faster as I’m able to get water from the trailheads along the way. Just at dusk, I arrive at the tunnel in Tunnel Hill, where early tomorrow, I’ll pass through.
June 26, 2002
Location–SR37, Goreville, Illinois, Town and Country Inn and Suites
Tunnel Hill is a sleepy little place passed by, with more abandoned houses (and stores), it seems, than lived in ones. Once upon a time this little berg was front and center, with the railroad passing right through. But that’s gone now, and all that’s left is the tunnel–along with the grand rail-trail that passes through–out in the middle of no place.
I’ve hiked a number of different rail-trail conversions since beginning this odyssey seventy days ago, but none compare to the delightful work that’s been accomplished in bringing this one up. It’s called the Tunnel Hill State Trail, and it runs some forty-five miles in a southwesterly direction, from Harrisburg to Karnak, near the Ohio River here in Illinois. In addition to the 543 foot tunnel, there’s much to see, what with 23 trestles along the way, the longest and highest being Breeden Trestle at 450/90 feet. Yes indeed, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has done a great job developing the Tunnel Hill State Trail.
I bag Tunnel Hill Tunnel first thing this morning (that’s #20), and it’s a dandy, not nearly as long or as big as some, but certainly one of the most picturesque, especially near the southwest entrance, where 300 feet of the tunnel collapsed in 1929. This narrow, semi arch-like section, with vines hanging, is strikingly beautiful–even if haplessly manmade.
I’m looking now with much anticipation for an upcoming trail crossing, where the River to River trail intersects the Tunnel Hill Trail. Just south of the sky-perched Breeden Trestle, I find it.
Bill, the equestrian I met in Omaha, had told me about horses on the River to River Trail, and about the stables at both ends. I’d hoped that by coming on at the midway point, that I’d avoid dealing with the degraded tread way I know horses can cause–but I was wrong. Don’t know if any of you have ever tried walking plowed ground. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you can certainly imagine what I’m talking about. Walking wet plowed ground is an absolute mess. Walking dry plowed ground is even worse, if that’s possible. Horses plow up trail, especially where there’ve been lots of horses on the trail. Hiking where they’ve passed can be very arduous and unpleasant, and at times, downright dangerous, especially after the whole thing dries out.
To my dismay, what I encounter here today on the River to River Trail is what I’d feared, degraded tread way caused by heavy horse traffic. To me, it seems what’s left, what the hiker must deal with, is little more than the devil’s work. After only ten miles of this, I’ve had enough, especially after two, too-close-for-comfort calls with turned ankles, the result of stepping on dry, clodded-up tread way concealed beneath hip-high grass.
Reluctantly, at Ferne Clyffe State Park, I pull off–to head out again for Whitman’s “open road.”
Thursday–June 27, 2002
Location–SR13, Murphysboro, Illinois, Super 8 Motel
I start the day in a funk, hike the day in a funk, end the day in a funk.
I know the hills of southern Illinois have a beauty all their own, and I missed almost all of it. I’m so disappointed with the River to River Trail–but mostly, I’m disappointed with the way I reacted. I’ve got such an absolute intolerance for the damage horses make.
Dear Lord, please help me work harder on the virtues of patience and tolerance–but dang, I just absolutely hate hiking with horses.
Long day, short entry.
Friday–June 28, 2002
Location–SR3/SR150, Chester, Illinois, Best Western Motel
An intense storm came through just as I arrived Super 8 last evening. I could see it coming up behind me from just west of Carbondale. I hastened my pace, just beating it, as the full light show entertained me all the way to Murphysboro.
Today, the sun comes up in a blaze again, and it sure doesn’t take long for the tarmac to start bubbling. I’m rolling through the last of the Illinois hills now as I near the Mississippi River. At a place east of Chester, I pull in to camel up on water. It’s a little mom-n-pop cafe pinned to a straightaway on the narrow farm-to-market road I’m trekking–in what seems like the middle of no place. From a distance, I can see a bunch of cars parked out front; the place looks busy. On arriving, however, it’s evident that what’s now a cafe, was sometime past, a used car establishment, with a number of the poor, rejected orphans still awaiting adoption as the spreading weeds and crabgrass keep them company. Grasping the door knob, I’m half expecting it not to turn, but the place is open. I enter, to be greeted by Doris, proud owner, and chief cook and bottle-washer. It’s way too hot to eat; there’s no way a body can work up an appetite in this kind of weather, even after walking half a day. I settle for two iced-down Pepsi’s as I while the time with Doris. “Folks come by on bikes once in awhile,” she says, “but no hikers–you’re the first hiker.” I ask her how much further it is to Chester and if there’s a motel. She says she doesn’t know how far it is for sure or if there’s any place to stay in Chester. Moving around the counter, she returns with the phone book. “There’s a Best Western,” says Doris, as she flips through the Yellow Pages. Back on the road now, and not a hundred yards west of the cafe, there’s a full-sized billboard that reads: “Best Western Motel, Chester, Illinois, 18 miles!
I get in just before dark. The motel’s on the other side of town, on a different highway, a mile east. I need to take a shower, make some phone calls and get my feet up, so I tromp the mile.
I raid their pop machine, then Tia, the hostess, fixes me a couple hot dogs, compliments of the motel. After getting cleaned up, I call “The Family” (AT GAME ’98), for they live in Festus, Missouri, just a little north of where I’ll be crossing the Mississippi in the morning. I get Curtis on the phone. They’ve been expecting me and are excited about coming to fetch me from the trail tomorrow evening somewhere west of Ste Genevieve.
Saturday–June 29, 2002
Location–SR32, New Offenburg, Missouri, thence to home of Curtis and Suzy Allen, Festus, Missouri
I retrace the mile back, to pass through Chester and past the “Popeye the Sailor Man” statue–for Chester, Illinois is where the cartoon character, Popeye, was “born.” I reach a real milestone this morning on my trek “From Sea to Shining Sea,” as I cross the grand, expansive Mississippi River, to enter the state of Missouri. There are two gas stations just across the bridge, but neither one has a map of Missouri–okay for Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, you name it, but not a single map of Missouri. A kind man overhears my pleading with the attendant, goes to his truck, and brings me back his map of Missouri, which he gives me, then shows me a back roads shortcut to St. Marys.
The shortcut works, and by mid-afternoon I’m in Ste Genevieve, where I call the Allen family again, and make plans to meet them this evening somewhere along the road to Farmington. The Allens are a great bunch. I met them while on my northbound transcontinental hike in ’98. They were on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail at the time. We became immediate and forever friends. “The Family,” as they’re known on the trail, consists of: mother, Suzy (Suches ’75); daughters, Sarah (Rosey), Martha (Artist), Anne (Appy Anne); sons, Jesse (Sport), Casey (4×4); and husband, Curtis, who keeps them supplied and shuttles them from time to time.
They pick me up at six-thirty near New Offenburg, only a short drive from their home. Suzy has prepared a great dinner, from produce grown on their farm; new potatoes, green beans, squash, fresh corn. Also at the table with us is Matthew, a young lad, a friend of the family, who is staying with them for a week or so.
We share a wonderful evening together, “The Family”–and me.
Sunday–June 30, 2002
Location–SR8/21, Potosi, Missouri, thence to home of Curtis and Suzy Allen
The Allen farm is a quiet, peaceful place located in the hill country just west of the Mississippi, back a long, private drive, away from the main road. Their home, in a nicely shaded coppice of oak, was built with their own hands. And what a spacious and comfortable home it is. I’ve certainly received the royal treatment, as they’ve insisted I use the master suite while their guest. What a cool, quiet night; I slept well.
Curtis makes sure the coffee is ready before rousting me at six. We drain the pot, then he and Suzy drive me back to New Offenburg. I’m hiking by seven.
I’ve got a thirteen mile hike along an abandoned rail bed today, which I reach by nine. There are some neat cuts and fills as the old grade makes its way along and through the undulating Missouri countryside. If you’ve ever walked the tracks, you’ve probably noticed that when the crossties aren’t filled level with gravel, it makes for slow, awkward plodding. Three hours, and the old train tracks (and the heat and humidity) have put a whoopin’ on me. Working my way through the village of Park Hills, I arrive at US67 and the local petro/food mart. Enquiring of the kind, young lady attendant–as to the cost of a medium fountain drink, and three refills–she (having taken but a casual look at this drooping old Nomad) replies, “Just give me seventy-five cents, and help yourself.” I thank her kindly, then promptly proceed to drain all the Mountain Dew and Cherry Coke.
My thirst slaked, I enquire as to directions to CR8. The sweet young lady responds by offering to call her boyfriend and have him come to drive me the two miles to CR8 on the outskirts of town! She seems puzzled when I decline the offer.
Out of Park Hills, the road turns to winding curves, twisting up, down and around. Passing a home tucked back in the trees, I nod to a man sitting peacefully in the shade reading, his two dogs by his side. As soon as the dogs spot me, ends the “peacefully,” as all hell breaks loose. Both dogs go bonkers, barking and racing across the yard and into the roadway after me–just as an eighteen-wheeler comes careening around the bend. The man jumps up, screaming at his dogs. The dogs continue barking as they charge straight at me–until they see the semi, all eighteen locked up, skidding toward them. The dogs go skidding. I dive for the ditch. Somehow the truck driver avoids hitting them–and a car coming the opposite direction. It all happens in a flash. What a miracle. The truck gets back straight and continues on, the dogs, tails tucked, retreat to their yard, I go back to the road–but the fellow reading peacefully in the shade doesn’t return to his reading!
It’s less than five miles to Leadwood. The tarmac is really cooking, and by the time I arrive, I’ve drained all but a few ounces of the two 20 oz. bottles of water toted from the food mart. The map shows Leadwood to be of respectable size. There should be a store here, but there’s none, not a building or a single dwelling to be found, only a westbound lane sign that reads, “Welcome to Leadwood,”–and a mile later, an eastbound lane sign (as I turn and look back), that reads, “Welcome to Leadwood.” The new road bypasses Leadwood! Oh my, the rest of this day is going to be one long, tough pull. Potosi, my destination, is still nearly fourteen miles to the west.
Two more hours of grinding and I’m totally out of water. As luck would have it, and just as I’m telling myself how sorry I am for me, I round a bend and pop a rise to find a little mom-n-pop cafe–and they’re open. After chugging two tall cups of water, followed by two iced-down Dews, I’m back chugging out the last seven miles to Potosi. I arrive at the main light right at eight. Not a minute later, as I’m dropping my pack, Curtis and Suzy arrive.
From Potosi, it’s a tad further back to the Allen home, and it’s dark when we arrive. The kids are all on the porch waiting for us, except for Martha, who is away at school in Denver. Miss you, “Artist.” Suzy prepares another hiker feast. I stuff myself. After dinner, their eldest daughter, Sara, and her husband, Phil, stop by.
Before bedtime, Suzy calls Honey and Bear, trail angels from “The Cabin” in East Andover, Maine. Their home is always open to weary hikers passing by on the Appalachian Trail. They’ve befriended both me and “The Family,” dispensing much trail magic over the years. We’re all great friends. You’ll recall Honey and Bear came and tracked me down on the back roads in Ohio. Suzy comments as to how she and her family are running a “The Cabin” way out here in Missouri–dispensing trail magic to weary transcontinental hikers!
It’s another memorable evening with “The (Allen) Family.” I’ve been truly blessed this day.
Monday–July 1, 2002
Location–SR8, Steelville, Missouri, Meramec Inn
It’s not six, but everyone’s up at the Allen house. Curtis makes great coffee, and Anne’s made scrumptious sugar cookies for me. Many pictures–along with sad good-byes. Suzy and Curt drive me back to Potosi, and I’m hiking again by seven-thirty. Thanks, Curtis, Suzy, Sara, Martha, Anne, Jesse and Casey, thanks so much for all your kindness to me over the years.
Most all the hike today is through the Ozarks in the Mark Twain National Forest. It’s beautiful country, but it’s also a long, tough, hot day. I dodge MODOT mowers and maintenance trucks painting road lines.
It’s dark when I arrive Steelville–baseball under the lights. Four sugar cookies and three Cokes for supper.
Tuesday–July 2, 2002
Location–US63, north of Vichy, Missouri, abandoned hunter’s lodge, pitched on porch
Though a long mileage day, the hike proves interesting, the time passing quickly.
First comes the beautiful Meramec River with its countless canoe liveries. There’s one spot right on the river that has more stacked up canoe trailers than I’ve ever seen in one place before. Each trailer rig is equipped to hold twenty canoes, and I count over forty rigs at this one place alone. The Meramec is a popular spot!
Next comes the Missouri wine country near St. James, a rolling, but lush and fertile region. I was raised not so far from here but never knew this place existed. I’ll definitely return to tour some of these wineries–someday.
By late afternoon the rising heat has generated some wicked storm cells. They chase and soon catch me from the south. First comes the distant thunder, then the wind, followed by the ominous curtain of carbon-black clouds–then the lightning and the driving rain. It chooses to greet me on the open road. Ahead, I can see a farmstead with accompanying out-buildings half a mile distant, but they’re ten minutes away–and I don’t have ten minutes. Starts the splat of quarter-sized raindrops, soon followed by the thunder-and-lightning-driven waves of rain. I bail off to take refuge in a fencerow of low trees and brush. I drop on my pack while covering us both with my poncho. The torrent continues howling, then pausing, for over half an hour, as the traffic also continues, crawling and splashing its way through.
The storm passes almost as quickly as it sets, though, and I’m soon able to return to the steaming tarmac, which cooks itself dry within the hour.
At ten-till-eight, I reach a little mom-n-pop cafe just fixing to close. But the waitress and the cook take pity on the water soaked old Nomad, welcoming and fixing a fine fish dinner for me. They then send me off with a fish sandwich for the morning. Just across the highway there’s an old abandoned hunter’s lodge, complete with a tin-roofed shed porch, which somehow has stayed dry. From the pop machine by the cafe, I extract two twenty oz. Dews, then hasten to the cabin porch where I pitch in the lingering light of dusk. The sight of a million flickering fireflies, accompanied by the continuous grinding sound of rumbling eighteen-wheelers passing, and the tired, bedraggled Nomad’s not long for this old world.
Wednesday–July 3, 2002
Location–CRB, St. Thomas, Missouri, thence to sister Salle’s home, Russellville, Missouri
I slept well, am up early, but to my amusement, I become immediately confronted with the most bizarre situation. All during the night (not fully awake, yet conscious of), I kept brushing off crawly-bugs. Not biters, not those kind of troublemakers, just crawly-bugs. As I reach for my hiking shorts hanging on the old porch railing this morning, everyting moves! Apparently, and unwittingly, I’ve pitched in roly-poly central city! Roly-polys are everywhere. As I lift my shorts off the railing, a hundred roly-polys fall free–and roll every which way. This is a hoot; I’ve never seen so many bugs in one place. My tent, which I’d laid out on the porch decking as a ground cloth, is covered with them. My sleeping bag and everything in my pack, which was leaning against the old lodge wall, are covered with roly-polys. I try not stepping on them as I shake everything out. I’d need a shovel to completely clean this up. After considerable effort, I manage to get shed of the bugs and get back on the road. It’s 7:00 a.m.
I’ve another long and hard grind-it-out day, as I continue closing the gap, a breach of many miles, to make it to Russellville–my childhood home and my sister’s place–by the 4th of July. If I can get this 35 behind me today, I know I’ll be able to make it in by tomorrow afternoon.
I’ve been dreading the twelve mile hike into Vienna on US63. US63 is a heavily traveled, winding and dangerous road. I know, I’ve driven it many times while attending professional school in Memphis. It was the shortest route I could take to visit my family in Russellville. But to my surprise and good fortune today, I find the going to be pleasant and not a problem at all.
I’m in Maries County, Missouri now, a beautiful place. Out of Vienna, I take a series of state and county roads to the little village of Meta. Along the way, on CR218, another afternoon thunderstorm catches me. This time, I’ve heeded the early warning sign of thunder and have pulled off the gravel to seek shelter in an old hay barn. It’s really quite amazing how rapidly these storms make their way. I’m no more in the old barn than the heavens open, emitting an absolute deluge. I climb atop one of the round bales just as the dust and loose hay on the barn floor become whipped into a frenzy. Again, I seek protection under my poncho as the dirt flies and the rain beats through the old barn boards.
The storm lasts a good hour. I’m concerned now about reaching St. Thomas by eight. Don and Berniece Jungmeyer, dear old childhood friends, are coming for me at St. Thomas at eight. I must be there, for they will be waiting to shuttle me to Russellville for the evening, where I’ll see my sister and her family for the first time in many months.
The storm finally moves off to the north and I’m able to resume. In places, the gravel road has been turned into 4WD territory, with deep washouts and ruts, but I’ve no problem making my way. By seven, I’m in Meta, home to the Keebler cookie elves. I’ve got another five miles yet remaining to reach St. Thomas. Time to put it in overdrive and haul. I make remarkable time, reaching St. Thomas a little after eight. Don and Berniece are waiting patiently for me. What a joy seeing these dear friends again. In the evening, I’m reunited with my dear sister and her family.
It’s been quite a day, but I’m home. Tomorrow morning, Salle will drive me back to St. Thomas, so I can hike the remaining 23 miles to Russellville.
It truly a joy being home again.
Thursday–July 4, 2002
Location–CR”C”, Russellville, Missouri, home of sister, Salle Anne Vanderfeltz
I had a great evening last with family and friends. Thanks, Don and Berniece, for coming to St. Thomas to fetch me.
The afternoon thunderstorms are setting themselves to a pretty predictable pattern. Now what I’ve found, is, they’re not only no fun to be in, but they’re downright dangerous. Having been struck by lightning–and still around to tell, I’ve come to gain a healthy respect for it. Take my word, the open road is no place to be during an electric storm! So, we’re up and out early, as sis drives me back to St. Thomas, where I’ll resume my hike to Russellville. I’m on the road by seven. Hopefully, I’ll have time to complete my hike today before the storms hit.
The Ozark Highlands around are characterized by lesser hills and ridges, with lush, fertile farmland between. The secondary roadways I’m hiking today wind and weave over and through these ridges and valleys. First comes Upper Bottom Road, then Lower Bottom Road, just before the Osage River crossing at Osage Bend. Then it’s a climb to Osage Bluff before descending again to cross Honey Creek. Up another pop and I’ve a short zigzag along US54 before descending again to cross Moreau Creek. Comes then the final pull from Millbrook to the ridge at Highway “C” and the last four miles on west to Russellville.
It would have been another rationing and “sippin’-hot-water” day, save for a refueling (cold lemonade) brought to me by niece, Becky, near Millbrook, followed by unlimited trips to the soda fountain at Whoa-n-Go, compliments of the Amos sisters, Dwynda and Lylis.
Friends are waving and honking now as I close on the last three miles: Jim Campbell, on his way home from work, and Bill and Linda (another Amos sister) Smittle, on their way to help celebrate the old Nomad’s arrival in Russellville.
Shortly before three, and with the sky darkening to an ominous shade of mud-bottom-green, I crest the last short hill below old Tambke Station–and the city limits of Russellville. What a trip it’s been, but I’m here–back to my childhood home; it’s the 4th of July and I’m again with dear family and friends. Thank you, Lord, for such a wide, safe path.
It’s time now to pause and rest. This odyssey, “From Sea to Shining Sea” will take a break, to resume, along with accompanying journal entries, in a week or so. Please check back, I’m sure more adventures await.
Thanks so much for coming along!
Thursday–July 18, 2002
Location–CR”O” Pisgah, Missouri, pitched behind Pisgah Baptist Church
Well, I’m rested and ready to go–at 5:30 this morning! The hike resumes by the road where my sister lives. Here, many dear friends have come to hike the first 2.2 miles with me, out to Rockhouse Bridge, the site I wrote about in the book, Ten Million Steps, where the old, steel, box-frame bridge once stood, that would “shake and rattle and make a joyful sound.” That old bridge is long gone, but my family and many dear friends are still here! Hiking along with me this morning are my sister, Salle Anne, Josh (grandson to my dear childhood friend, Donnie), Dwinda and Lylis (of the Amos sisters), Darrell and wife, Joyce, their friend, Margie, and Jim and wife, Norma Jean. At the bridge, Darrell has brought “refreshments,” and we drink a toast to our many years of friendship–and to a safe and joy-filled journey as Nomad continues on to San Diego. Time now to bid that inevitable, sad farewell to all–except Josh, Dwinda and Joyce, who will hike on to California, Missouri with me.
And now, I must tell you about the restful (but excitement-filled) time I had, the two weeks spent at my sister’s place in Russellville. It really started off with a bang, literally with a bang! As you recall, I reached Russellville the afternoon of the 4th. Well, my niece, Becky, absolutely lives and loves fireworks, she being a mortar fireworks and roman candle nut! Even before dark-thirty the show began and was in full swing. Niece, Kim, and her husband, Bob, and children, Rachel and Ashley, live on a farm situated on a little rise just out from Russellville, with spacious fields below and around; oh yes, the perfect spot for a grand fireworks show! And that show, my friends, took a backseat to none I’ve seen. With flashing bursts, she kept the sky lit for the better part of an hour. The heavens turned red, white and blue, in the most patriotic “rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” report after grand report. The kids jumped and shouted with glee to every exploding spray, especially Becky’s daughter, Grace. It was a wonderful, happy occasion.
I finally took the time to finish a project for Salle, which I’d been putting off, replacing the landscape timbers around her many and colorful flowerbeds. Becky and friend, Dean, helped. On the final day working the project, an afternoon storm, like those I’d gotten caught in down in southern Missouri, came roaring through, packing tornado-like winds. Dean and I had no more finished hauling the old rotted timbers away than the storm hit. It blew leaves (and limbs) everywhere. Across town, at Donnie’s house the winds were driving so hard that they launched a boat from two houses up and behind his place, and crashed it through the side of his house! Grandson, Josh, and granddaughter, Lee Ann, were there at the time. They retreated to the basement. Josh said when the boat hit the house, that “It made a loud bang.” A loud bang, I guess! Thank God no one was hurt. Donnie’s street was completely closed down, parts of nearly-whole trees everywhere. Friends from surrounding states later called Donnie and wife, Berniece, to check on them. They’d seen the reports on TV!
Once you leave home, you can never truly return. But it’s nice when some things remain pretty much the same. And so, for the old tavern downtown, which was run by the Amos sisters’ dad, Halcy–where my dad and his buddies used to while the time shooting pool. Halcy, dad, and all his buddies have long passed, and returning, I’ve found the old place closed from time to time, but it was open, so I whiled a couple of afternoons there, reminiscing.
Friday–July 18, 2002
Location–CR”B”/I-70, Boonville, Missouri, QT Inn, Raj Patel, proprietor
The hard, cool rain of last evening has left its mark on this morning. Everything is refreshingly clean, and the day dawns cool and clear.
The hike today is along little-used county paved roads and lesser-used gravel roads. These gravel roads don’t show up anywhere, except on county maps–and my DeLorme 3.0 software program. While at my sister’s I availed myself of niece, Becky’s, computer to print out 55 8 1/2 x 11 detailed maps that will get me from Russellville, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. So far, they’re working great. I really enjoy hiking these little-used byways; there’s usually some shade! That’s just one benefit. Another is the many miles I save by hiking these back roads. Oh, and an additional benefit today: I pass a house where the family dog just lays in the yard and looks at me. Well, he (or she) raises its ears and bangs its tail on the grass a couple of times, but not a growl, not a single bark. That’s major amazing! And the dog? It was a black lab.
Along the second gravel road for the day now, I have the pleasure of crossing a ford. Frankly, I’m surprised by the number of people who’ve never heard of a ford! In case you’re one, I’ll explain. Traditionally, there are two ways to cross a stream, one is over, the other, through. The “over” way is to bridge the stream with, well, a bridge! The “through” way is the way of the pioneers, like those who traveled the old Santa Fe Trail. Those little-improved stream crossings along were called “fords.” This stream I ford today has been fudged on a little. It’s made up of a three-foot high concrete slab with a bunch of culvert pipes run under it. Setups like this one are really nifty, since 98% of the time the stream isn’t running enough volume to overwhelm the drainage pipes. And the remaining 2% of the time? Well, for half that 2%, the waters running up and over the slab, but with the way passable. For the final 1%, heed need be given to the signs located on higher ground to either side that read: “Impassable during high water.” Today, the odds are in my favor–I don’t even get my feet wet!
As I proceed slowly west, the searing heat isn’t dropping, but the heat index certainly is, because slowly but surely, the humidity is dropping. With this lower humidity, an interesting phenomenon is developing, one I haven’t experienced while hiking before. That is: my sweat is actually cooling me off! But even more interesting, I’m finding that my sweat-laden water bottle pouch, hanging by my groin–that, as my sweat evaporates, is actually cooling down my water bottle! It’s 5-10 degrees cooler than the ambient air. What a surprisingly delightful discovery!
I’m having to manage a few hot spots, minor rubs here and there, as I break in a new pair of New Balance 804s. It’s been two days now and they’re settling in just fine.
I make Boonville early evening. It’s been a perfect day.
Saturday–July 18, 2002
Location–US65, Marshall, Missouri, Marshall Inn
No afternoon storm to cool things off last, so the sun and me aren’t the only thing up at seven this morning. The heat is also up–the temperature rising. Raj, the motel owner, tells me it’s supposed to break one-hundred today. Odds seem good it’ll make it.
There’s a large truck stop/restaurant just across from the motel, so over I go for breakfast. Bad idea. The place must seat nearly a hundred people, and it’s packed. All fifteen or twenty stools at the counter are taken. I back out and go next door to the gas station, grab a styro of coffee and hit the road.
Starting out this morning, on my way to SR41, I’m following a service road west along I-70. This is working fine–until the service road dead ends. Oh, this is great. “Why didn’t you read your maps, dummy? You can see right there, there’s a three-quarter-mile gap in the paralleling service road,” so I scold myself. As I look at my options, I’m thinking, “Don’t even think it.” But I am thinking it, as there’s no way, save five miles around. So, up on the shoulder of the eastbound lane of I-70 I go, to scramble it to the next exit and the continuing service road. I’m hiking a fully-paved emergency lane, slap against the crash rail, but the eighteen-wheelers are charging hard and heavy; they’re nearly flying. I’m no sooner set to this stupidity than an unmarked patrol car goes whizzing by. I don’t look back–just keep on hammering. It seems to take forever to reach the exit. I could see it right away, but distances in wide-open spaces like this are so deceiving. I make it safely, but what a loony thing.
Realizing now that it’s a good idea to study my maps a little more closely, and in the process, I also discover that I’ve miscalculated the mileage to Marshall, my destination for today. I’d figured around 29 miles up SR41, but what I failed to do was add the five miles along the I-70 service roads. So now I’ve got a 34 to knock out, as the tarmac ahead retreats and continually submerges into its shimmering, mirage-like sea.
During my hiking “career” I’ve had to tackle some pretty tough obstacles, in both weather and terrain, but today has got to go down as the most difficult day I’ve ever spent with a backpack on, ever.
Nearing the SR41 exit, and hiking the service road toward there, I find to my dismay that there’s no gas station/food mart. I’d planned on at least grabbing a sandwich to fuel me for the day. Passing through little villages or past the mom-n-pops as I do, I’ve pretty much quit carrying any food. It’s heavy and a burden to haul, especially for long-haul days. In the little berg of Lamine there’s a small store, but it’s closed, and the pop machine out front won’t take my dollar bill. There’s no faucet; I’m already nearly out of water. I hoof it on, toward the little town of Arrow Rock. Along the way, I’m able to get some precious water from a farmer. He isn’t working today. He can’t believe I’m walking the road. It isn’t yet one, but he tells me the latest report he’d heard has the temperature at 102 and the heat index at 115 (the humidity, somehow, is definitely back up). At the little store in Arrow Rock I gulp down a pitcher of unsweetened raspberry tea. And at the gas station in Hardeman, I nearly drain their fountain machine.
It’s pretty amazing, how we’ve managed to encapsulate ourselves in cocoons of comfort. Out of Arrow Rock, I see the old wagon ruts that were once the Santa Fe Trail, where the pioneers certainly struggled along in the stifling heat, as am I. But along go the motorists today, in total comfort, care freely rolling the highway, right next the old Nomad, right next the ruts, totally oblivious, windows up, air on, cell phones to their ears, as they effortlessly ply the miles. Indeed, the way I’ve chosen, and of necessity, did those brave souls who toiled west over 150 years ago, choose–It’s truly a different way. Please take a moment now and click on “Poetry” in the content bar, then “Life/Inspiration,” then “How the West was Won.” Here, you can test the flavor and get a taste “…for the days of the dust-blown haze, when the West was an infant child, when the brave, the few, joined lots and threw, their cares to the wind and the wild.”
It’s five-thirty, and the sun is final-turning me on its slowly rotating rotisserie. I’m facing it straight on, not the least breeze, as it hastens to beat me west. The last five miles into Marshall are brutal. Fresh, coal-black asphalt has just been laid along the emergency lane, and although it’s rolled down, there’s a molten, liquid-like, ooze as it yields to my unsteady footsteps.
At Gene’s Motel in Marshall, I get the bad news, “just rented my last room twenty minutes ago,” says the proprietor. Oh my, looks like it’s tent time in the corn and soybean fields tonight.
The Chuckwagon Restaurant right next is still open. I’ve had nothing to eat today, so I beat a slow path there. The waitress greets me with: “Looks like you’ve been in the sun today.” (Translated, I’m sure that means, “You look terrible!”) I order a helping of cottage cheese, a serving of corn, and a small baked potato. That’s the best I can manage. The sweet gal returns often, refilling my water glass. Finally, she just leaves the pitcher. She also takes pity on me, for soon a man approaches my table, obviously her friend. He tells me about the motel across town, then offers to take me there. I take the ride.
Well, dear friends, it’s apparently time to recalibrate, the scale that is, for “There are no bad days on the trail, some just better than others.” What a day; what a day. This one has definitely left its mark.
Sunday–July 21, 2002
Location–US65, Waverly, Missouri, Banded Bird Lodge, Wayne Smith, proprietor
The ride I took last night I back hike this morning and I’m soon trekking west again on US65. Before I get ten miles though, I’m totally dehydrated, out of water. Another hothouse day is in the making.
In the little town of Malta Bend, folks are congregating for service at the Methodist Church. By the parking lot, I ask a man for water. He ushers me in, right to the water cooler, which is located by the church entrance. As I’m filling my empty pop bottles, everyone passing invites me to stay. Before I get my second bottle filled, the minister comes over to speak to me–so I stay.
During “Greet your neighbor,” Pastor Payne introduces me, and I must explain why I’m on this journey. There is total silence and all are taken as I recite the words to “A Path by the Side of the Road.” Nearly everyone has to shake my hand. After the service, another line forms, as people come to me again–to hand me money. I depart Malta Bend with not only my water bottles filled, but my heart is filled too, to overflowing, from the goodness and faith of the kind and generous folks from Malta Bend.
Today’s hike is much shorter, less than 20 miles. What a blessing. I’m able to reach Waverly, my destination for the day, by late afternoon. I was told by the kind lady at the fruit stand just out of town that there’s a hotel in Waverly, down by the river, she said. But as I arrive, I find it to be more an apartment rental setup than a hotel. A call to the toll-free number on the sign out front gets me the owner. After talking awhile he decides to rent me a room for the night. Doo-dah!
In just awhile comes Wayne Smith. As he shows me to my room, he explains how he and ten other friends (all duck hunters) went together and bought the place, then renovated it to rent to other duck hunters. Guess that’s why it’s called “Banded Bird Lodge!” Oh, it’s so good to be in out of the heat. Thanks, Wayne!
Saw some more wagon ruts near Grand Pass today–and lots more shimmering tarmac. 104, heat index 118.
Monday–July 22, 2002
Location–US24/SR13, Lexington, Missouri, Lexington Inn
The corn and soybean fields still look green and healthy, but they won’t hold up much longer in this unmerciful heat if there isn’t some rain pretty soon. I’m out this morning to a little cooler start, and the forecast is calling for 60% chance of rain late afternoon.
Where I turn onto US24, I stop in the little store for coffee. Here I meet Russell, a farmer who tends 7,000 acres of crops. As we talk, I’m surprised he isn’t the least down about the drought. In fact, when I tell him where I’m headed, I get the most positive words of encouragement. As to San Diego, my destination, Russell replies, “You’re almost there!” Thanks, Russell! I pray your yield on corn and beans this year is the best, ever.
By late morning clouds are forming, but not rain clouds, more cirrus, which later thicken and haze down the dome a click-stop or two. This keeps the temperature in the low to mid 90s; much more tolerable. The cooler road surface is such a blessing, as my feet have been taking an absolute pounding. I know now what causes blisters. It isn’t the rubbing that everyone has trouble with. Rather, it’s the heat generated by the rubbing. Oh yeah, it’s the heat that gets ya!
I’m entering the plains now and the horizon is really starting to open up. And the sky? The sky seems twice as wide and twice as tall. To the northwest this afternoon I can see the thunderheads rising, forming huge dome-topped mountains to the heavens. I can’t recall seeing clouds so enormous as these. And they’re moving, unfortunately away. But they’ve kept the sun under wraps all afternoon, and the hike has gone quite well for a change. By three I’m in Lexington where I check into the Lexington Inn.
For supper tonight it’s rib eye and baked potato, washed down with a few frosties. Later, I talk with two dear hiking friends who live in Kansas City. I’ll see Dawn “Belcher” Stringer tomorrow, then Wednesday evening I’ll spend time with Jim “Dragon’s Breath” Damico. Jim designed the Eastern Continental Trail map for my book, Ten Million Steps.
I also receive a call from dear friend, Nancy “Magellan” Gowler. Nancy is nearing the end of her Eastern Continental Trail hike. She called from Cap Chat, on the St. Lawrence Sea in Quebec. She’s hiking by herself and having a great time. She’ll enter Parc de la Gaspesie and the magnificent Chic Chocs soon. Godspeed Magellan, I’m so proud of you!
This has been a very good day, and there’s even more excitement just ahead.
Tuesday–July 23, 2002
Location–US24/SR291, Independence, Missouri, Great Western Motel, Hasmlikh R. Patel, proprietor
The hike today continues along US24, a long, straight highway with fully-paved emergency lanes. A narrow gravel road comes to visit and run along beside from time to time and I hike it some. It’s the original path of the old Santa Fe. And the name of the old road? Why, Santa Fe Trail, of course!
The temperatures remain moderate, in the mid to low 90s, and I’m able to stay reasonably well hydrated, peeing only day-glow yellow instead of the usual neon orange for a change!
I arrive in Independence around four, check in, and call my dear friend, Dawn “Belcher” Stringer. I met Dawn during “Odyssey 2000-01.” She was on her northbound Appalachian Trail hike at the time and our paths crossed near Killington, Vermont.
In the evening, Dawn comes for me. We dine at her favorite pizza parlor, then spend the evening with her friends.
A fine day. I even have some energy left for a change.
Wednesday–July 24, 2002
Location–75th Street and State Line Road, (Missouri/Kansas), Kansas City, Missouri, thence to home of Jim “Dragon’s Breath” Damico, Kansas City, Missouri
What an interesting gentleman, Has, the motel owner. When I checked in last evening, I could hardly get away from him, especially after he found out about my journey. He said, “You should read a book that I distribute, about a woman who walked across the United States five or six times.” I replied, “Are you speaking of Peace Pilgrim and the book about her life?” His face literally lit up! “You know about her,” he asked. “Yes” I said, “And I know her name, her true identity, although it is not revealed anywhere in all her writings!” Indeed, it is a delightful book about the life of Mildred Lamb, one of the first women to have hiked the Appalachian Trail. The connection between Mildred and the woman known only as Peace Pilgrim was finally made a few months ago by a gentleman with the American Hiking Society, an historian and my dear hiking friend, Ed “Tric” Talone. From 1973, and until her untimely death in 1981, Mildred Lamb walked the United States, crisscrossing back and forth–as the Peace Pilgrim. “If you give your life as a prayer, you intensify the prayer beyond all measure” [Mildred “Peace Pilgrim” Lamb 1908-1981]. For more information about the life of Peace Pilgrim, click on <www.peacepilgrim.com>.
I’ve a short hike this morning on into Independence and The National Frontier Trails Center. Here I’m able to relive the adventures of those thousands of men, women and children, who sought “the promised land” of the west–and forever changed our history. There’s an award-winning film, trail diaries, authentic covered wagons and period artifacts. And just south of the Center, I’m able to walk in the first of what I hope prove to be many of the old, remaining wagon ruts.
As I hike out of Independence and into Kansas City, I’m following a route laid out for me by Jim Damico. And what a great route it is. Kansas City is the greenest big city, with more fountains than any city I’ve ever been in, and Jim has me pass along the greenways and wide boulevards. One of the little parks has a striking bronze statue of Jim Bridger, a true western hero. He pretty much opened the west, for it was Bridger who discovered South Pass and the Great Salt Lake.
On south of Broadway and the historic district of Westport, I follow the Trolly Track Trail, another delightful greenways. Soon I reach the state line between Missouri and Kansas at–State Line Road! Here, Jim comes for me. I get to meet Jim’s mom, Shirlene, and in the evening we go for the great spaghetti dinner at Minsk’s. Back at Jim’s, I answer a few emails, then it’s ZZZ for me.
Thursday–July 25, 2002
Location–I-35/119th St., Olathe Kansas, Comfort Suites
Jim has me back to State Line Road by seven-thirty and I’m soon on my way to Olathe, Kansas. Thanks, Jim and Shirlene, for your kindness and hospitality. I had a grand stay in KC!
The route I’m following today is another one prepared by Jim. Instead of walking the busy streets, he has me hiking the Indian Creek Greenway Bike Path. Many folks are out today, walking, biking and rollerblading. I stop and talk, then hike a ways with Herb and Norm, a couple of old gents out for their daily stroll. They get me straightened out when I make a wrong turn. I also meet and talk with Spencer. As I tell him about my journey, he asks, “Didn’t Backpacker Magazine do a write-up about you?” Neat, eh, folks!
Following Indian Creek Greenway as it continues southwest, I’m soon at 119th Street, where a wide sidewalk takes me all the way to the I-35 interchange in Olathe. Here, I check into the Comfort Suites and call it a day. Another state behind me now, Missouri–that one took awhile!
Friday–July 26, 2002
Location–US 56, Gardner, Kansas, Super 8 Motel
I’m looking forward with much excitement to the conclusion of today’s hike, for I’ll be spending the evening with my dear friend, Dwinda (of the Amos sisters), and her daughter and family, Julie, Mark, Jennifer and Jamie, who live in Olathe. Weeks ago Dwinda told me about her daughter, and she gave me Julie’s address and phone number. “When you get to Olathe, make sure you call her and make arrangements to spend some time,” I remember Dwinda saying. When I expressed some hesitancy, barging in on folks I didn’t know, she said, “Well, I’ll just come and get you. It’s time I visit them anyway.” So, looks like I’ll be with Dwinda and her family here in Olathe tonight!
The hike today hooks me up with US56. As I make its acquaintance it looks like we’ll be friends. That’s good, because we’ll be together clear across Kansas, through the Oklahoma Panhandle and down into New Mexico.
Today is another relatively short day as I pull up in Gardner. Thank goodness–hot, hot, hot, lots of traffic. Dwinda comes for me and we head for Julie’s. I’ve found that she’s a great golfer–kinda runs in the family, because her daughter, Julie and son-in-law, Mark, are also great golfers. For the evening, Julie and Mark take us to Freddie Ts for steaks, where they redeem seven tournament-winning coupons given out by Freddy Ts (just the right number, as Jennifer’s friend, Lisa has come along).
Saturday–July 27, 2002
Location–US56, Baldwin City, Kansas, thence to Super 8 Motel, Gardner, Kansas
Still no rain. The corn is beginning to look bad, wilted brown and stunted. The soybeans are fairing some better; not much. The sun is blazing hot–again; the tarmac mushy.
I’ll be trekking right on the historic old Santa Fe Trail most all day, for US56 has been paved right over it. Reaching Black Jack Creek crossing, a virgin prairie preserve, I leave the highway to walk the tall grass prairie–along the old wagon ruts cut deep in the sod over a century and a half ago.
Friends, there’s just no way I can put into words the shudder of emotions flooding over me here, now. The incredible energy those courageous pioneers brought to the frontier, to this old trail–that energy was never truly spent, for here it remains, in a legacy nearly as timeless as time itself; so powerful is the presence of those who passed this way so very long ago. As I look through the dust-blown haze of time, I can see the weary travelers. They are full around me, and I become momentarily whirled and swept up, to abide in their presence–a bright-eyed youngster astride the seat on father’s wagon. It’s 1824, and we are but one wagon in a train of 25 wagons bound for Santa Fe. Col. Meredith M. Marmaduke is our wagon master. To our fore, the Mahaffey wagon lurches along, and just behind, the Sibleys. In awhile, the Colonel rides by, telling us we’ll be circling the wagons for the day, just below Black Jack Creek. Comes now also, the loud, rasping commotion from an eighteen-wheeler jake-braking US56, and I am abruptly jolted back, to be left standing here in these timeless old ruts, looking across this glorious prairie of time. In the fading glow of evening light, I hear the wagon master’s call, and can see faint shadows as the wagon train passes, moving ever west.
I was invited last, to spend another evening with the Rectors in Olathe, and Dwinda promised to come for me at Baldwin City, the end of my hike today. That was a no brainer!
Comes Dwinda right at 4:30 to fetch me and whisk me back to her daughter’s place. Oh–and indeed–it is another grand time spent with these kind, generous people.
Tomorrow’s journal: HOW THE WEST WAS WON, a ditty by N. Nomad.
Sunday–July 28, 2002
Location–US56, west of Overbrook, Kansas, pitched in abandoned house
Dwinda drops me off at Baldwin City a little before ten, and like the wagon trains of days long ago, I’m once again headed west–but not before more sad good-byes. Thanks, Dwinda, and thanks Julie and the Rectors, all. The goodness, your kindness and friendship, will keep my heart filled with joy for a long, long time.
Today, US56 is a straight arrow. Shoot a gun down this thing and the bullets will bounce along for miles, eventually coming to rest right on the highway centerline!
The day starts–and remains (glory be!)–overcast, with temperatures staying below 90. This is grand! Finally, I’m suffering no foot pain–for the first time in over two weeks.
Out of film (again), and just east of Overbrook, I miss a great shot, the beautiful, life-sized silhouette of a wagon train running the prairie ridgeline, moving west. Oh well, what better excuse to come back again some day? And in the little village of Overbrook, a funny situation. I get the bum’s rush from the lady at the (empty) cafe there. To say that she wasn’t nice is a stretch. Ha, maybe that’s why the place was empty!
In the evening, and just as a most-welcome thunderstorm comes driving through, I find an old abandoned house just off the highway and pitch in one of the upstairs rooms. All the windows busted out, the raging wind whips a fine, swirling mist clear through. Guess the gal at the cafe had me pegged–lives like a bum, looks like a bum, acts like a bum, must be a bum!
The place cools right down–for a delightful bum’s night’s sleep.
*HOW THE WEST WAS WON
I yearn for the days of the dust-blown haze,
When the West was an infant child.
When the brave, the few, joined lots and threw
Their cares to the wind and the wild.
Thru bone-weary pain, thru mud and rain,
They traveled, a-trustin’ God,
As their dear-loved kin and many a friend
Were set to rest in the sod.
On the Oregon Trail, o’er the Santa Fe,
Thru ruts worn weary and long,
‘Cross rivers deep, scant rest or sleep,
Passed this destined, fateful throng.
On mules, in prairie schooners,
On buckboards ‘n walkin’ tall,
Thru Indian lands, their fate in the hands
Of the wagonmaster’s call;
Thru prairie grass, up mountain pass,
They journ’d to’rd “The Promised Land.”
‘n along the way, set adrift they lay,
Their past, in the shifting sand.
No turning back, thru rut and track,
The wagon trains moved on,
To’rd the western sky, with dream-filled eye,
On the trail to a brand new dawn.
And to this day, do the brave there stay!
Born new from the pioneer age.
A dream fulfilled, as God had willed,
In the land of the purple sage.
Oh, what I’d give to have journ’d…’n lived,
On that trail with those brave and strong.
Now history, times wild and free,
For those days do I yearn and long.
Ahh! Those were the days, ere time-dim’d haze,
When the West was an infant child,
When the brave, the few, joined lots and threw
Their cares to the wind and the wild.
[N. Nomad 12-99]
*I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks, near that grand old muddy river. A spur, one of many beginning spurs to the overland trails, passed by our place. I can remember dad oft showing me, with a far away glint in his eye, an old rock post, once part of a hitching rail along the track to Santa Fe.
Ahh! When he would talk about those bygone days, would I long for them. That was as a child, and in the mind’s eye of a child. That childhood memory still resides and is alive and well in the mind’s eye of this old man. And here, finally, after all these years, the humbling result of it.
Monday–July 29, 2002
Location–US56, Burlingame, Kansas, Prairie Maiden B&B, Susan DeMars, proprietor
The rain of last evening cooled things nicely. Everything looks fresh and clean this morning. The corn even looks better.
I’m offered a number of rides today by the kind Kansas people. They’re just not used to seeing folks walking along their highways. The long, straight stretches with nothing but corn and soybeans, and more corn and soybeans, make for not-so-exciting hiking. One fellow the other day said, “Man, it seems to take forever just driving to town, I can’t imagine trying to walk it.” On one stretch today, I can see the road ahead for over four miles. From the time I spot an eighteen-wheeler, a shimmer on the pinpoint horizon, until he comes blasting by, takes nearly five minutes. That translates to over an hour and a half of walking. Times like these, where there’s nothing but long, straight road, can seem interminable–and with the heat and little or no water, it can seem even longer.
I’ve a break part way today at the little prairie village of Scranton. Here I camel water, then bottle more for the hike on into Burlingame.
The remainder of the hike today passes quickly and I’m soon at the Burlingame post office to retrieve my bounce box.
Sharyl, the kind postmistress smiles as soon as I open the door. “You’re the hiker, aren’t you? Your box came a week ago,” she says, with an even wider smile. I’d been told there’s no place to stay in Burlingame, but Sharyl says there’s a B&B. “Susan at the Prairie Maiden shop downtown rents out a room in her home–want me to give her a call?” Doo Dah! “Sure,” I say–saved from pitching in the cornfields again! Sharyl returns in a moment and directs me to Susan’s shop. “Stop by, she’s expecting you; she’ll give you the key,” says Sharyl.
Nice friendly town, Burlingame, lovely, spacious room at Susan’s–thanks, Sharyl, thanks, Susan!
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Location–US56, Council Grove, Kansas, Cottage House Hotel
I break camp and am going before seven. With the short mileage day to Council Grove, hopefully, I’ll avoid the unmerciful afternoon sun.
Every day, more and more people are stopping to check on me, to offer me assistance or a ride. Even folks going the opposite direction offer to turn around and take me wherever I want to go. Kansas folks know this awful heat.
I’m now in the land “…where the buffalo roam, and the skies are not cloudy all day.” This is cowboy country. Today, there’s no buffalo to be seen, but there’s sure lots of cattle, miles and miles of cattle. I’ve never been around such a curious bunch. From across the prairie, and from great distances, over they come to the fence. First, one or two, then the whole herd–to stand at the wire and gawk. After awhile, and as I continue to pass, one of them will break, lunge back and take off. This sets the rest in an immediate and total tizzy. Soon the entire herd is stampeding. They’ll rumble away at a forty-five, shaking the ground, the dust and dirt flying. Then, finally, way out in the field, they’ll turn and come right back to the fence right next to me a little further along. By this time they’re all in a lather, belching or farting, or both. What a hilarious bunch of deadpans (Moo); it’s a pure hoot as they just stand there gawking–and belching and farting at me. Depending on how far it is to the next cross fence, this ridiculously funny act can be repeated five or six times. Obviously, these guys are not used to seeing somebody “hoofing” the road!
Council Grove, my destination for today, enjoyed its heyday during the days of the Santa Fe Trail. It received its name in 1825 when council was held here under an old oak tree, between government agents and the Osage tribe. This treaty marked the beginning of the end for the plains (Kansas) Indians–and opened another segment of the western frontier to friendly passage.
Early afternoon now, I pull into the Cottage House, an old, restored Victorian prairie hotel built over a century ago. In the evening, I dine at the elegant Hays House, the oldest restaurant west of the Mississippi.
I’m in the west now–“Where seldom is heard a discouraging word…” and there sure ain’t no cloudy skies!
Thursday–August 1, 2002
Location–US56, Herington, Kansas, Sleep Inn
I’m up and on the road by six this morning. There’s no other way. I’ve got to get the miles in early or take another unmerciful lickin’ from ol’ Sol. I’m sure there are hombres that can stand up and take it all day in this heat, but I ain’t one–and so far, I hain’t seen anybody. The tractors and other farm machinery here abouts most all have air conditioned cabs; them what don’t, by noon, are sittin’ under a shade tree.
At the edge of town, I pass the “Last Chance Store.” During the 1850s, this was the last opportunity for those bound for Santa Fe to get supplies for their journey–the last chance for “bacon, beans and whiskey.” Five miles west of town there are more old Santa Fe Trail ruts, but it’s nearly two miles round trip from US56 to see them, so I keep hammerin’ on west. There’ll be lots more ruts to see on out.
The hike is going well today, more like earlier in the summer when it wasn’t getting so hot every day. However, there’s no water anywhere along today, so I ration the two twenty ounce bottles I have with me. At mile 25, and just at the edge of Herington, I sip my last three ounces.
Near the Dairy Queen, I meet Rick, a local lad who’s gone away to New York City to make his mark as a playwright. He’s come back home to Herington to visit his father for a few days. He asks to walk along, so I invite him to join me at Dairy Queen. He watches with amusement as I toss down two thirty oz. cups of water–chased by two of the same cherry Pepsis.
A short walk across to the sleepy side of town and I’m at the Sleep Inn Motel. Rick stops by later with his dad and friends. We have a good time.
Friday–August 2, 2002
Location–US56, Lincolnville, Kansas, thence to Sleep Inn, Herington
I was going to take a day off today, but there came a cooling rain last night and it’s overcast this morning, so at ten, I decide to head on west. Well, actually I’m headed south, as US56 takes a twenty-mile bend straight south; the old Santa Fe Trail is headed southwest–so here we go.
By late afternoon the sun breaks through to fire up the oven again. Near Lincolnville, an approaching motorist offers me a ride. I take the ride–back to Sleep Inn for another quiet night in Herington.
Saturday–August 3, 2002
Location–US56, Hillsboro, Kansas, Hillcrest Motel
I’m up early, manage a ride to Lincolnville, and am hiking again shortly after six.
For the past number of days the road has been steadily climbing. In an automobile, one would probably never notice, but on foot the change is evident. I’m sure those weary travelers laboring along the old trail in their wagons 150 years ago noticed. The climb is subtle, but what’s happening, as the road rolls along, up and down over the little knolls, is there’s the occasional up that doesn’t go back down–just stays up, to begin another, higher level along the ever-heightening plains. And as the prairie climbs, the climate becomes more arid, with fewer fields, more grasslands–and the little towns are fewer and farther between.
To hike from oasis to oasis, where’s there’s water and a place to stay, I’m having to bang out longer and longer mileage days, and it seems no matter how early I start out in the morning, I still end up hiking into the heat of the day. Not good. I do manage better today, reaching Hillsboro before one.
Sunday–August 4, 2002
Location–US56/I-135, McPherson, Kansas, Red Roof Inn
I’m up and on the road again by six. The decline in corn has been taken up by crops of Milo and sunflower–and lots of oil wells. Don’t know why, but the pumps on the oil wells out here in Kansas are enormous compared to those in Indiana and Illinois–still got the pucka-pucka flywheel engines on them, though, big pucka-pucka flywheel engines!
I’m blessed with two watering holes along the way today: Canton and Galva. So I can pull off for cold water and fountain drinks. In Canton, two neat things. One, the grain elevator looks just like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz–two windows (eyes) way up high, perfectly positioned below the (kinda funnel-shaped) roof. It’s a good enough likeness that, as I hike along, I can close my eyes and picture him strolling along with Alice. Didn’t that whole marvelous dream take place out here in Kansas someplace? Oh, and the second thing is just as neat. Canton’s got two identical water towers, one’s marked “hot,” the other, “cold!”
I also pass many road kill today. You probably wouldn’t notice it driving along, but I’ve got to step over these poor, flattened creatures. Mostly, there’s an interesting variety of non-poisonous snakes–along with little birds, lots of yellow, orange, blue and brown little birds. It’s not just our crushing wheels that bring nature’s own to their final resting place here on the highway, our windshields and grills take out their share, too.
The sun, and the heat radiating from the tarmac, absolutely fry my feet and brains, again, for the final two hours into McPherson. I’ve just got to start getting out earlier in the morning.
Monday–August 5, 2002
Location–US56, Lyons, Kansas, Lyons Inn
Another day hammering the long, straight highway. I’m out by five-thirty, but it’s still not early enough. By one, there’s four miles remaining to reach McPherson. The temperature literally rockets, busting 100, and I’m out in it again.
Kansas is over half behind me now, so too, the Santa Fe Trail–and the continent itself. I’ve just got to keep going.
On these difficult days, with the endless stretches of highway that can try a man’s soul, I seem to lose focus on what this journey is truly about. Perhaps it’d be good to sharpen up that focus a little. So, let’s do that–let me share a poem with you, written for me, about this odyssey, by my dear friend, Larry Amos:
He carries his pack up high on his back
As he walks through the land of the free.
And he hikes right along like a happy old song
Cause there’s places that he’d like to see.
Each day’s a new verse that he cannot rehearse
But the melody stays right on key.
Cause there’s joy in his heart and he lets it impart
To all that he happens to see.
And those of us that are tied to the land
Sit and wonder just how it can be,
That the Nomad is doing what we’d like to do,
Yes he’s hiking for you and for me.
For he surely is blest as he walks toard the West
Seeing things that we’d like to see.
Exploring the land that was made by God’s hand
From Sea to Shining Sea!
[Larry Amos 5-25-02]
Tuesday–August 6, 2002
Location–US56, Great Bend, Kansas, Best Western Angus Inn
I’ve got a 32 staring at me today and there appears no way to avoid hiking into the heat of the afternoon, but I’m going to give it my best shot–I’m out and on the road hiking west at 4:00 AM. If I can keep moving smartly all morning, I can get in before two, avoiding the worst of it.
I’m into pitch black, no traffic, save an occasional tanker or cattle truck. With little ground light, the stars are right there to pluck. Constellations are aglow and the milky way is a splash from horizon to horizon. And the moon–what an amazing compliment, a perfect signet to seal this spell of early morning wonder. And to cap the mood, a shooting star streaks by, illuminating and blazing the sky. I make a special wish for a loving friend. The air is cool and fresh, only the slightest breeze comes to dip and touch the high-rolling prairie. What a grand reward for getting up and going. I am lighthearted, this is a happy day.
There are two watering holes along this morning–guess I’ll be looking for true oases soon enough. These are the little towns of Chase and Ellinwood. Both have a petro/food mart where I’m able to camel up on water and ice down my innards with fountain drink. The gentle climb toward the continental divide continues. Ellinwood is standing at 1,800 feet–the old Nomad’s a high plains drifter for sure now! By eleven, the (dis)gusting wind has come up out of the southwest again, shoving me toward oncoming traffic, a nuisance the past three days, but it keeps the unmerciful heat from bouncing off the tarmac. Time to dig down for needed patience, to take what little pleasure there is in it. As in my little ditty “Why Go?” there is always “…the pain and the trials.”–always. But I have good stamina and strength and am up to the task today. Days like these provide the seasoning, the mix that comes from life’s verve and vitality that stir in, to give a delectable flavor to such a remarkable adventure. Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful, challenging day.
By noon, I’ve knocked out twenty-six miles–incredible. I can recall those days long past on the Appalachian Trail when I considered achieving a 10×12 (ten miles by noon) a grand accomplishment. But twenty-six–never in my wildest dreams!
This oven, that is Kansas in the afternoon, hasn’t had the broiler on as high today, the temperatures not as intense, the heat index down. By one-thirty, and still in good shape, I’m cruising downtown Great Bend. I hit the local apothecary for more enteric coated aspirin, then check into the Angus Inn on the western edge of town.
In the evening, I call “Rascal,” a hiking friend who lives here in Great Bend, and we make arrangements to spend some time together–I’ll burn a day tomorrow. Oh, are my feet expressing their gratitude!
Wednesday–August 7, 2002
Location–US56, Great Bend, Kansas, home of Robert “Rascal” and Ruth “Babyruther” Behrens
I’ve been invited to spend a day with the Behrens here in Great Bend. This is an easy one–I’ve been hammering hard lately, my feet are tired, I haven’t taken a break in quite awhile–I accept the invitation.
Rascal has hiked the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail. We have much in common, many mutual friends. It will be a great day.
Rascal comes for me at Angus Inn and we’re soon to his home. Here I meet his wife, Ruth, and their son, Jason. We talk trail, Ruth fixes lunch, then we’re off to see the local museum and other sites.
In the evening, Bob cranks up to grill and Ruth bakes pies. What a feast!
We all have a great time; I needed the break.
Thursday–August 8, 2002
Location–US56, Larned, Kansas, Best Western Townsman Inn
A great day and night, the guest of the Behrens in Great Bend. Thanks, dear friends!
Ruth has me up and back on the road by five. It’s a cool morning as I set out for Larned. US56 turns southwest now, passing Pawnee Rock as it bends toward the lower corner of Kansas.
I make great time, reaching Larned before noon. In awhile, Bob and Ruth come to fetch me, to take me to the Santa Fe Trail headquarters and museum west of town. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time, and I am not disappointed. There is so much to see, to read about, and to absorb.
Later in the afternoon we drive on west to Fort Larned, located on the Pawnee River. The old fort, once the westernmost outpost along the trail, has been painstakingly restored, making it possible to return to those romantic and excitement-filled days on the frontier. Both Bob and Ruth are from western Kansas, and they delight in reminiscing the outings here when they were youngsters. It was great–but as always, that inevitable time comes, time to say good-bye. Bob and Ruth head back to Great Bend and I hit the sack–four-thirty comes early.
Friday–August 9, 2002
Location–US56/US50, Kinsley, Kansas, Midway Inn
I’ll climb Mount Katahdin today! Well, I won’t actually climb Katahdin, but I’ve sure done the miles to get me there.
I’ve found there isn’t much going on in these little Kansas towns at five in the morning. Most are too small to interest Wal-Mart or any of the other large chain stores, so the old downtowns have managed to survive, and the residents and business people take pride in that. Here in Larned, the main drag is pretty much like it must have been fifty years ago, the storefronts clean and neat. It’s still dark as I near downtown. A watering truck is parked by an intersections, the city works employee busy watering the trees and flowers. He greets me with a “good morning” as I pass.
When the iron horse finally made it to Santa Fe, running mostly beside and along, its presence spelled the end to the Santa Fe Trail. Modern roads have since been built right over the old trail in many places–as along from Larned to Kinsley today, so the tracks and the road run pretty much side by side. As I hike along, I pass miles of container cars parked by the siding, waiting their turn at the large grain elevators marking the prairie horizon for as far as the eye can see. And as I trudge along, looking at the remarkable graffiti so neatly and painstakingly painted on them, I’m wondering–what is this “Zorro-looking” language, what does it mean, and where is the school all the artists go to, to learn it? It’s sure a mystery to me!
The current drought in western Kansas is worse even than the dust bowl of the 30s. But today, for the first time in weeks, the clouds finally come, bringing much-needed rain–and with it, blessed cooler temperatures.
In Kinsley I get some cards off to family and friends, then stop in at the downtown pub for a couple cold, tall ones. I meet Charles and Maxine at the museum next the VFW and the little motel. Folks in these parts take pride in their heritage, in their past, and it shows in the grand museums gracing most every little berg. After settling in at Jim’s neatly renovated Midway Motel, I walk around the corner to the VFW for a mighty fine rib eye. It’s beef in Kansas, folks–gotta have the good old local grown beef.
Saturday–August 10, 2002
Location–US50, Dodge City, Kansas, Best Western Silver Spur Inn
I’ve got a long, hard, highway hammer ahead today, so I’m up and gone by five. It’s 37 miles to Dodge City, and I’m bound to be there by late afternoon.
This long mileage day is just one of my options. Another, and the one most would probably choose under similar circumstances, would be to hike the twenty miles to Spearville and pitch in their park or by the propane tank behind the food mart, and cook some mac and cheese for supper. Me, I’m going the extra 17 for a shower, a bed with linen, and a rib eye steak with a baked potato–my momma didn’t raise no dummy! Oh yes, I’ve taken a fair amount of ribbing about “roughing it” this time around. But I like my conveniences like everyone else, and I like traveling light, doing high mileage days. So maybe a 37 wouldn’t be an option for you–but I love it!
It’s been a blessed cool day (below 95) with a light tailwind to boot. By late afternoon I reach Dodge, do the old downtown and Boot Hill, then head on west for the bed with linen–and the rib eye steak!
Sunday–August 11, 2002
Location–US56, Montezuma, Kansas, pitched in the cottonwoods
Well, I’ve often used the old cliche, “…time to get out of Dodge.” But this morning it’s for real! I’m up and gone by five-thirty.
From Dodge City, I’ll be following the Cimarron Cutoff, a Santa Fe Trail shortcut that leads across the arid, high plains of southwest Kansas. Hiking south, and within the first mile, I cross the Arkansas River. But there is no river, not a trickle, not even a puddle; hard to believe, but true. These folks need rain, lots of rain–bad.
I’m into the climb right away again. Maybe only half a percent incline, but it’s steady on. When the next pop tops out, there’s no down, perhaps flat for a mile or two, then up she goes again.
The shoulder is wide, little traffic. Late morning the wind starts kicking out of the southwest, shoving me around good. The plains wouldn’t be the plains without the relentless wind. Today, along, I pass 170 wind-powered generators, like Cap Chat in Quebec, but not nearly as big. By mid afternoon I’m in Montezuma. I pull into the Conoco food mart to work my journal entries and to kill some time. Folks here say we’re at 2,800 feet elevation. I knew I was going up!
No motel here, so it’s off to the cottonwoods tonight.
Monday–August 12, 2002
Location–US56, Sublette, Kansas, Golden Prairie Motel
I was sure I’d gotten pitched just in time last night. I rolled in as the wind began whipping in a rage and the sky turned black as midnight. But just when it seemed the heavens were about to collapse, came this eerie calm that pervaded–no rain, not one single drop. I’ve never seen anything like it. The storm simply evaporated before my very eyes.
It was really good to be on the ground last night, snug in my Nomad tent for a change. I slept right through and didn’t wiggle until almost six this morning. No problem though. The days have been somewhat cooler, and I haven’t been hiking so far into the heat of the afternoon. I’ve only got a 25 to knock out today. That’ll get me into Sublette, where I’m told there’s a fine little motel with a mom-n-pop restaurant right beside–so, I’m off to Sublette.
Right away, and for over a mile this morning, I’m passing cattle “feed lots.” I would never have believed it possible to jam so many animals into one place. As I walk, I pass pen after pen full of cattle, as many as 50-75 cows per pen. Each pen is numbered. The last number I recall was 478. Lots of cows–lots and lots of cows!
The skies of Kansas are incomparable–like no other skies, anywhere. Like the prairie I’m hiking, which seems to have no bounds, no limit, the sky today is so amazingly high and wide. I can see two anvil-topped thunderheads flashing and punctuating the earth, each perhaps covering over a hundred square miles; yet they are nowhere near each other. One is to the northwest, one to the northeast. I must pivot nearly around to look from one to the other. Either of these storms alone would dominate the entire expanse of any other sky I can recall.
Kansas is huge, it’s huge. If you’ve ever driven across it, then you know what I mean. Walking it is another matter entirely. As I look across these endless plains, my gaze is drawn up to the boundless sky, and I can actually feel the curvature of the earth beneath my feet.
Well, it’s been brought to my attention that the Tin Man didn’t walk through Kansas with Alice, he walked with Dorothy–wrong dream! Also, a terse email recently from my good friend and hiking buddy, Ed “Tric” Talone, pointed up a number of errors concerning Peace Pilgrim. It’s only reasonable that folks like to be quoted correctly. Historians, especially, pride themselves in keeping things straight–like names and dates. I screwed up both as to Peace Pilgrim. Her name wasn’t Lamb. It was Norman, Mildred Norman. Don’t know where I came up with Lamb. I think she may have hiked with him, perhaps was married to him–oops, here I go again! To correct the date thing, I’ll just cut and paste the note from Ed. That way I won’t screw it up worse: “…she walked from 1953 until her death in 1981, not 1973. She counted miles until she reached 25,000 in 1966, then stopped counting.” My apologies, Ed, hope I’ve got it straight now!
I reach Sublette before two, a fine wind lifting and propelling me along. I stop by the Dollar General, the post office and the library before checking into Vic Yumol’s fine little Golden Prairie Motel out on the edge of town.
Tuesday–August 13, 2002
Location–US56, Hugoton, Kansas, Jackson Motel
I was planning on hitting the road by four this morning, as I’ve a 37 mile day to reach Hugoton. But as I roll out at three-thirty, I hear the repeating thunder and can see the lightning flashing through the curtains. Stumbling to the door, I look out just as the deluge hits.
I believe the drought is coming to an end. I’m happy for the farmers, they’ve really suffered. I pray some of this year’s crop can be saved. As for me, I trundle back to bed for a couple more hours sleep, or until this storm blows on through.
I awake again at six to find the storm has passed. I’ve a long, long hike today, time to hit the road.
The day begins remarkably cool. I thrust my hands in my pockets to warm them. What a change from the brutal heat. A gentle breeze comes up at my back that helps propel me along. By noon I’ve got twenty knocked out.
The day warms up, but it remains pleasant throughout the afternoon. A number of motorists stop to offer me rides. One is real tempting as I’m passing one of many cattle feeding yards along. When the wind is carrying across, it can make for very unpleasant hiking.
By five-thirty I’ve made the miles and am walking the main drag through Hugoton. Another neat Kansas town with a thriving downtown district. I pull off at Dominoes’ Bar and Grille for a tall frosty, then follow directions given me to Jackson’s Motel down a side streets.
At Jackson’s, I’m in luck. Neat place, kind people–I decide to spend a couple of nights.
Thursday–August 15, 2002
Location–US56, Hugoton, KS, Jackson Motel
I’m feeling much better this morning, my spirits lifted by the great friendship and good humor showered upon me by all the dear new friends here at Club Jackson. And so, I’ve decided to spend another day, another evening with them, to enjoy their hospitality and kindness.
The day begins fresh, cool–and early, five o’clock, to be exact. Bob “Hoe” Passmore, one of the regulars at Club Jackson, has offered to fly me over his spread and out to Wagonbed (Middle Cimarron) Spring, on the Santa Fe Trail at the northern end of his place. Last evening he said “…meet me at the coffee shop at five, and if it’s calm and clear, we’ll head out from there.” So, I’m up, to hoof it downtown before dawn, filled with excitement in anticipation for this day, for it is calm, the skies filled with stars.
The whole crew is here this morning. In between leaving Club Jackson and showing up at the coffee shop, I guess they all passed by their homes to catch a few winks!
Bob is filled with excitement, too, as he tells me about his little ’52 Piper Cub. “It’s the only way to to keep an eye on the whole spread, especially tending the cattle,” says Bob. He’s still a traditional cowboy, for sure, horse, hat, spurs and all, but he’s modern day, too, with his other business–and his little airplane. At his office this morning, on our way to the Hugoton Municipal Airport, Bob hands me one of his cards. It reads, “Passmore Bros., Inc., Trucking, Forklift, Trenching and Backhoe Service [–and] Roustabouts.” I haven’t picked up much on the trucking and heavy equipment end of his business, but I’m sure getting a feel for the “Roustabouts!”
At the airport now, Bob rolls the hanger doors open and wheels out the little Cub. His arm over the cowl and through the hatch opening to jiggle the controls, a couple flips at the prop, and he urges the little bread-basket engine to life. A short stop at the pumps to take on a couple gallons of gas, and we’re soon down the runway. The little Cub pops right up and into the sky. It’s now the perfect dawn to what is going to be a perfect day, as we hop the occasional updraft along–to Wagonbed Spring.
“Look down there,” says Bob, only moments into our flight. He’s pointing out a pack of coyotes by their den in the side of a dry gulch. “Want a picture of them,” he shouts, above the hum of the busy little four-banger. “Sure,” I reply, as he banks hard, cutting a three-sixty to drop us right in. Whew, what a ride!
Greg Morris, Bob’s best friend since childhood, had told me what a great pilot Bob is. “I taught him how to fly years ago,” I remember Greg saying. “In just a couple weeks, he was flying circles around me, it just came natural; Bob’s at home in the air.” So I’m not feeling the least bit uneasy, wedged in this narrow, cramped little seat behind him. That maneuver was just a surprise!
Out here in the arid plains, it takes acres and acres of prairie to support just one cow. We’re flying over them, scattered all around. Ranchers out here also grow wheat and corn, but these crops require almost constant irrigation. The many circles of green to the horizon strike accented contrast to the brown, barren earth. Some of the systems are a half-mile long, arching a full mile circle, the huge diesel-driven pumps supplying over three thousand gallons of water per minute. There’s no water on the ground around here, but there’s sure plenty under it.
The quilt work of green is behind us now, and out of the side window, Bob points to the winding ribbon, a different shade of green, on the horizon. “That’s the Cimarron River, the Santa Fe Trail follows it,” he says. Flying along the river now (a misnomer, for the whole thing is dry, not a puddle anywhere), and spotting numerous antelope, deer–and more coyotes, we soon arrive at Wagonbed Spring (also a misnomer, no spring here anymore, either). “Want to land,” Bob asks. “Yes, but where?” I reply. “I can put her down on that short stretch of two-track over there,” he says. With some hesitation, I muster a confident-sounding “Sure!” “Tighten your seatbelt,” shouts Bob. Oh great, I’m thinking. If we have to walk back from here, I hope we’ll both be able to walk!
Well, Bob makes a bumpy but otherwise perfect landing, along the narrow, bumpy two-track. We explore all around Wagonbed Spring. Here was the first reliable water source for all those weary travelers since departing Dodge City on the Cimarron Cutoff. Near here, Jedidiah Smith lost his life. He was ambushed and killed by Indians as he searched for water. And by this place, also, passed the Mormons on their journey west. I take many pictures of the old wagon parts scattered about, and of the many wagon ruts that converge from everywhere.
Oh my, was the time spent here so very special. It was an emotional time for me, for sure–as I continue making my way along this historic old Santa Fe Trail.
Bob grabs the handle fixed to the tail of the little Cub, lifts it easily, and turns her around. A short taxi, the engine humming, prop whirring, and we’re up and in the air again, to glide along and above the winding Cimarron–the remarkable wagon ruts beside. Bob flies us all the way to Point of Rock, a familiar landmark to the weary intrepids of nearly two centuries ago.
In the evening, and back at Club Jackson again, I am the guest of the Morris family, as they host me to a delightful time. Many of their friends are present to hear me recite the ditty, “How the West was Won.” Ah yes, a perfect ending to a most-memorable and perfect day!
Friday–August 16, 2002
Location–US56, Elkhart, KS, Elkhart Motel
I’ve found it so easy to linger and so very difficult to leave–these delightful high prairie communities with their happy, kind, and friendly people, but the time has come, indeed, the time has passed for me to depart Hugoton, Kansas. So, with much reluctance and a heavy heart, I’m off to a very unsteady start at five this morning.
The hike today (if I don’t want to pull up dry in a dry gulch) will be a thirty-five mile tramp into Elkhart, Kansas, the next watering hole. This vast, magnificent, high plains prairie just keeps stretching and climbing, and the further and higher I venture ever west onto it, the drier it keeps getting. The pioneers of nearly two centuries ago most assuredly had to muster great faith–to continue believing there could truly be anything worthwhile anywhere out here at the end of all this. I know there’s beautiful, lush and fertile lands ahead, but I know the desert’s also waiting. Ah yes, the desert is waiting.
Well, you can see I’m feeling sorry for myself, a funky day for sure is in store. But what great timing, for I am now at one of the few intersecting roads to cross US56 today, by the grain elevator in Feterita. And here waiting for me is my friend, Greg Morris, big smile, grand handshake, as he extends to me his well-wishes and encouragement. Greg was the first to greet me and to welcome me as I entered Club Jackson. And now, he is the last to see me off as I continue my trek across this vast continent. Greg, Ray, Hermie, Bob, Jack, and all dear friends at Club Jackson, there’s just no way you could ever know this blessing–your kindness, generosity, and friendship.
By ten, the wind comes up once more, steady out of the southwest, and I must lean and push hard into it. By late afternoon, it’s a blast furnace of heat. The town of Elkhart has long been looming on the horizon, but as I approach, it seems only to retreat. I must look down at my feet, there for the reassurance that I am actually moving. Finally, in Elkhart, and at the El Rancho Motel, I get the bum’s rush. The place sets a fairly extensive row of rooms facing the road. There’s not a vehicle parked by any of them. But as I enquire of the proprietor, a room for the night, I get: “We’re full-up.” Across town, at the Elkhart Motel, the lady greets me kindly and takes me right in.
I am greatly relieved to find a place of rest, for this has been a very long, trying, and tiring day.
Saturday–August 17, 2002
Location–US56, Keyes, Oklahoma, pitched in roadside park
I’m finally through Kansas, from Kansas City at the eastern boundary with Missouri, to the southwest corner at Elkhart. It’s been a long, hard pull, one of the toughest hikes I’ve done. I’m entering the Oklahoma Panhandle now, to cross at eleven-thirty for the relatively short twenty-five mile hike into Keyes. I’m into open range now, an occasional strand of electric wire the only limitation to free travel. There are no more grain elevators. Today, the wind is much less troublesome, which lets the sun cook. The climb continues, slow but sure, as I begin looking for a break on the horizon, the first sure sign the Rockies are coming, but no luck.
At the gas station/food mart in Keyes, I drain their pop fountain and down a pint of the local dairy’s finest. At my asking, the station owner calls the local constable, who comes shortly to check me out, then to grant my wish to pitch in their little roadside park for the night. It’s right next the gas station, and there’s a water faucet. Okay, this’ll work!
Sunday–August 18, 2002
Location–US56, Felt, Oklahoma, pitched by highway west of Felt
The wind comes up early, out of the southwest again, 20-30 mph, with gusts that push and shove. The heat, driven by the wind, hangs me out to dry, and by day’s end, a thirty-five miler, I’m dehydrated and totally exhausted.
There are a couple of short side streets in Felt, and I stumble down the second one. Here I see a lady in her yard, watering the little bit of grass she has somehow managed to keep green. I wave to her and she greets me with a kind “Hello.” As I hold my empty water bottle upside down and shake it, she motions me over, then to watches in total bewilderment as I fill it, then down it three times in rapid succession. As I lift the hose to let the fountain of water shower over me, she moves away toward the door where her mother is standing. In a moment she returns with a small paper bag. “Here are some burritos for you. We’ve just eaten and they’re leftovers. I want you to take them,” she says. I thank her as her mother waves and nods approval from the porch.
Out of the little village now and moving ever west, and as the sun bounces a few last radiating waves from the blistered tarmac–with my tummy full and lots of water to burn, I pull off beside the road and pitch for the evening.
Monday–August 19, 2002
Location–US56, Clayton, New Mexico, Allen Motel
I downed another liter of water during the night, and this morning, I’m fortunate to find a windmill pumping away near the road. Here, I gulp another two liters, then fill my bottles for the day.
At eleven, I put another state behind me, Oklahoma, as I enter the northeast corner of New Mexico. Here, the highway dips and winds its way to the northwest corner of Texas, where, by simply stepping off the highway and onto the east/west boundary road–I’m able to bag another state, yeehaw, Texas! It’s taken me less than a minute to get through the largest state in the lower forty-eight. This is a hootin’ high. Outfly that, astronauts!
Another very significant milestone behind me now (apparently I was getting somewhere when it seemed I was getting nowhere in Kansas), I’m in the Rocky Mountain Time zone– still looking for the Rockies!
I reach Clayton, New Mexico early, after only a twenty-five miler today. The heat was really lifting bubbles from the tarmac, though. I can’t recall ever being so happy to have an iced-down cup of Mountain Dew in my hands!
I’m very tired and need to rest, as tomorrow I head out across the 83 mile no-man’s land between Clayton and Springer, New Mexico.
Tuesday–August 20, 2002
Location–US56, Gladstone, New Mexico, pitched in dry gulch below highway
The highway lifts and rolls today, climbing ever upward, appearing no more than a narrow ribbon across this unbelievable vastness. I can see for miles in every direction. The sky just keeps opening up, higher and higher it reaches, as the horizon stretches wider, to move ever distant. All this is taking place before my very eyes as I watch in total disbelief. It all seems so mysterious, so strange, as if there is not, nor will there ever truly be, an end–yet I know that I must cross. I will cross.
This is turning to be one amazing day. I was up and out of Clayton at three this morning. I hadn’t gone two blocks till the police illuminated the entire neighborhood with their convulsively eerie lights. It usually takes less than two or three minutes to run a make on me. I was becoming very edgy after five. “What is taking so long? I need to get moving,” were my thoughts. Turned out, the guy just wanted to kill some time, and was looking for someone to talk to. I quickly related my story, then moved on.
Late morning, the whole gang from Club Jackson came screeching to a halt in front of me. They were returning from a four day golf outing in Taos. They loaded me down with cold pop. It was great seeing them again.
And the antelope–at first, I tried counting the number of animals in each herd, but after seeing herds and herds of them, I gave up. There were literally hundreds. They mix right in with the cattle, taking water from the windmill watering tanks. And the wind came whipping at me again, the windmills cranking, but, oh joy, there was plenty of water!
There aren’t too many ways to get across this part of the country, and US56, though not considered a major US highway, is one of the few ways. So, the truckers really roll here, and there are many. The crude oil tankers appear first as little more than dots on the ribbon of road. I’m able to see them coming well over five minutes before they go grinding by. They’re running a rut, back and forth from the oilfields to the refineries, and I recognize many of the drivers, as they have passed time and time again. Many give me a wave and a WONK, WONK, as they fly by. I have been offered many rides.
My plans today are to hike to a little crossroads oasis called Gladstone. I knew it was a fair distance, so, reason for my starting early. But somewhere along, I miscalculated. It’s late afternoon now, and I’m nowhere near Gladstone, but I keep my head down, stubbornly plodding away. At dusk, I finally come dragging into Gladstone, to find the little store closed. Luckily, I’m able to get water from a faucet behind.
In the last lingering light of day, I finally pitch for the night in a dry gulch, down from the highway.
After settling in, I recalculate my mileage. Then in disbelief, I add up the miles again and again. Forty-eight is the number that keeps coming up. I have walked forty-eight miles through this barren space. Oh my, this has, indeed, been one amazing day!
Thursday–August 22, 2002
Location–I-25, Wagon Mound, New Mexico, LJM’s Travel Center Motel
From the remarkable vantage of yesterday, the road began dropping for the first time in many weeks, and it continued dropping all the way to Springer. There, I bid farewell to US56, my kind, wide-shouldered friend who set my path across all the Great Plains, from eastern Kansas, through the Oklahoma Panhandle, clear to Springer, New Mexico. My path turns more southerly now, as I continue following the old Santa Fe Trail, which winds its way around the southern Rockies, through Glorieta Pass, and into Santa Fe.
The elevation lost yesterday, into Springer, is quickly regained this morning, as I climb, climb, climb again. I am now at the western extent of the Great Plains, the end of the Short grass (Buffalo Grass) Prairie. Here, the prairie gives way to the grand punctuation of buttes and mesas that mark the juncture with the Rockies. I’m soon back to over 6,300 feet, to look out and across Gonzalitos Mesa, which loomed so tall and massive above Springer only a few short hours ago.
There are a few more cattle along today, but all around are many more antelope, one heard numbering in excess of twenty-five. They move so swiftly, so gracefully. One minute they’re right there, the next minute, gone.
I am hiking the service roads paralleling I-25 now, and just south of Levy, coming in and crossing from the northeast, appear the most remarkable series of wagon ruts. Here, in these untilled, arid lands, the ruts have been little disturbed for nearly 200 years. Once I finally learned to distinguish between breaks in the earth made by natural erosion and the wagon ruts eroded through time, their presence has become so remarkable.
As the climb continues, and gaining a fair vantage now, on the horizon before me rises such an impressive sight, that of the most famous of landmarks all along the Santa Fe Trail–Wagon Mound! This butte, which can be seen while approaching it for an entire day (for the wagon trains of yore–and for me!), strikes such a remarkable resemblance to a prairie schooner being pulled by a team of oxen. The silhouette of the covered wagon stands out so amazingly sharp, so too, the team of oxen pulling it. It’s really quite uncanny. The early pioneers must certainly have pondered what its presence would foretell.
The time interval between first spotting one of the countless grain elevators in Kansas, then finally getting there, has turned out to be a preparatory exercise in patience, great patience–the kind of patience needed to deal with the moment of first sighting these natural landmarks on the horizon, and the time lapse of actually getting there.
Case in point: I was thinking this morning about what a sort day this would certainly be, my destination, the little village of Wagon Mound, because there it was right before me! But little did I know how incredibly far, how distant it was, nor did I know the slow, seemingly endless hours (say miles) it would take to get there. This was only a twenty-seven mile day, but it seemed so much further. Wagon Mound, to my dismay, is deceivingly huge.
I am offered many rides today by the kind New Mexican people. Upon declining Steven Garcia’s offer, he just thrusts his hand out, giving me his ice cold “Blue” pop.
At the little village of Wagon Mound, I stop at the gas station. Around the side, by the toilets, they’ve got two motel rooms. I’m in luck, they’re only half full!
Friday–August 23, 2002
Location–I-25, Las Vegas, New Mexico, Inn of Las Vegas
Wagon Mound is just as impressive going as it is coming, its presence dominating the horizon to the rear all of this day. Here’s another long, desolate stretch of highway with nothing much between, so I’ve set my sights on the town of Las Vegas, although it lies some forty-four miles distant. I’m following the service roads now, which follow I-25, which follows the ruts of the old Santa Fe Trail that wander and meander southwest, back and forth across the highway. At times, where the ruts parallel the road and are nearby, I sneak over the fence to walk in them. All along here, and into Watrous, where the Mountain Route and the Cimarron Cutoff rejoin, are the ruts so remarkably intact and continuous. Through eastern New Mexico, the barren landscape rolls and undulates. Looking across, toward the next gentle rise, along that incline I am able to see the ruts diverge and rejoin time and again. This historic part of our national heritage, this old trail, it’s now part of me, and I it. The intensity, the sheer emotion of being with those wagon trains of times long past, though separated by captor time–somehow I have finally breached that uncharted chasm of time, to journey along with those brave souls, to agonize and triumph with them–for I am a slow and wayward traveler as were they.
The low-hanging sun is setting now, yet as I trudge on, into dusk, the earth and tarmac continue pulsing and radiating their store of energy from this day. I see the skyline of Las Vegas, but I know it will be hours before my arrival. Where the service road ends or is interrupted, I must move over to the eastbound shoulder of I-25. I stay down from the emergency lane, in the grass, away from the glaring headlights, where I am not easily seen.
At nine o’clock, set against the mountains, in the valley below, I’m finally looking down on the lights of Las Vegas, yet it will be another hour before I enter there.
The first motel on the eastern strip is the Inn of Las Vegas. This has been such a long, long day. I am very tired, but contentedly so.
Saturday–August 24, 2002
Location–I-25 service road west of San Jose, New Mexico, pitched in Pinon Pine
Mesas and buttes rising to over 7,000 feet, and box canyons–the Great Plains are far behind me now. Finally, today, I cross a “stream” with running water, though it is no more than a trickle. Here’s Tecolate Creek, which originates from Bear Mountain in the Santa Fe National Forest some twenty miles to the northwest. Along its course runs a narrow ribbon of green, which contrasts sharpely with the otherwise arid desolation. By late morning the heat comes on, and laboriously, I journey on. In the evening I cross another stream, this one running like a stream should run, the first since well back in Kansas. Here is a grand oasis, the little village of San Jose on the grand Pecos, a river whose headwaters originate high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Pecos Wilderness.
Tomorrow I will climb to Glorieta Pass, and Monday I’ll walk into the Plaza at the Palace of Governors in Santa Fe, the end of the Santa Fe Trail. My sights are set on that destination for now. It is there that I am bound, and I am content with that thought.
Sunday–August 25, 2002
Location–Glorieta Pass, Glorieta New Mexico, pitched behind post office (old Glorieta railroad station)
The Santa Fe Trail, the railroad, the old highway (Route 66 towards Pecos), and I-25 all squeeze together to climb and twist their way toward Glorieta Pass. It’s another scorcher, but I have been turned and thoroughly browned on all sides by this blazing southwest sun. Though not a native, I’m certainly beginning to look and feel like one.
Near the little village of Rowe, I come upon the largest road kill I’ve ever seen, a 250-300 pound brown bear. He had been hit by a late model Toyota traveling along the service road, perhaps as recently as early this morning. The car’s insignia, half the grille and the entire right parking/directional signal housing were laying in the road. The bear managed to make it about fifteen yards, down the road and off the shoulder by a Pinon tree. There he stretched his front legs forward and his hind legs back, then rolled over on his side. I hastened to the post office in Rowe where the kind postmistress called the folks at DNR.
Just below the pass stands a monument marking the Glorieta Battlefield site. The first Union losses in the Civil War occurred here. Though indecisive, this battle marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in the west.
By late afternoon I have suffered my way to Glorieta–yes suffered. Somehow, I know not why or how, but perhaps the heat, I’ve developed blisters by the great toes and balls of both my feet. I did stop to care for them and to tape them, which brought little relief.
Tomorrow, I will descend this pass to enter the grand old city of Santa Fe. There I must surely interrupt this journey for awhile before continuing on, across the Mojave to California.
Monday–August 26, 2002
Location–Santa Fe Trail terminus, the Plaza, Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico
There is no service road below the pass, so I move over to the railroad tracks. I’ve walked many a rail for many a mile, but none like these tracks here through Glorieta Pass. For, as the tracks reach the pass from the east, they pitch right off the other side, to begin the steepest descent I’ve ever seen. Quite strange, going downhill along a railroad. Helper engines called “pushers” are kept at the pass to help the trains through.
As I wind my way, and before me now, is Santa Fe. I enter the city, as did countless travelers from centuries past–along streets now named Old Pecos Trail and Old Santa Fe Trail, which lead past the old mission to the Plaza and the Palace of the Governors.
In the Plaza, I nod to the fair-skinned tourists and exchange greetings with the natives displaying their wares. But by the corners of the Plaza, where are enclosed the far away corners of time–I join and am once more with the old wagon masters, and those brave and noble pioneers of yesteryear. Here, we share the joys, the sorrows and the triumph of enduring.
I will be away for awhile now, to rest my tired, weary body, and to await another season, the less harsh days of fall. I’ll return then, to the Plaza here, to continue, then conclude this transcontinental quest. Please check back often, then come along. More adventures surely await.
Monday–September 30, 2002
Location–I-25 service/frontage road, pitched in mesquite by Tom Payne Gulch, Santo Domingo Indian Reservation, north of Albuquerque
I’m back again to the the Plaza, Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, rearin’ and ready! Folks who know me well couldn’t believe I’d actually interrupted my hike; it’s not my usual way, but to the person, they all agreed that I’d done the right thing–to wait it out till things cooled down just the least bit. Oh, and was it the right decision, for I was daily getting my head and feet fried. I watched the local weather closely last night, and the daily highs now are in the upper eighties, much more manageable.
I came back out here in my old pickup. Having it means I’ll only be stuck with a bus ride from San Diego to Santa Fe, not all the way back to Georgia. And I’ve made friends with members of the Trail’s End Chapter, Santa Fe Trail Association here in Santa Fe. Joan Sudborough, secretary, is letting me park my truck at her place for the six weeks or so that it’ll take me to reach San Diego. She dropped me off at the Plaza a little after nine this morning. Thanks, Joan!
After taking my bounce box to the post office, to bounce it on to Springerville, Arizona, where I should be in a couple of weeks, I’m back to the Plaza to resume my hike.
From here, I’ll follow Santa Fe Trail (street) for a short ways, then it’s along Cerrillos Avenue, which leads southwest to I-25. By two I’m at the interstate. Here, I’ll hike the frontage roads along to the Rio Grande River in Albuquerque, then it’s down the river to Socorro before turning west again.
By dusk, I have 24 miles in, so I pull off to pitch for the night at Tom Payne Gulch.
Ahh, it’s so good to be back on the trail (road) again!
Tuesday–October 1, 2002
Location–intersection SR313/44, Bernalillo, New Mexico, Days Inn
It was dark by the time I got pitched and in last, so I didn’t bother with the fly, just relaxed, watching the stars through the no-seeum netting in my little Nomad tent. “It never rains in New Mexico,” I was thinking. Oh yes, by three, the rain had come. Up and out I went, the little Photon Light between my teeth, dodging the cactus, hastily rigging my tent fly! No problem, though, as the soft rain quickly put me right back to sleep.
First thing this morning I pull a doozie. It’s punishment, I suppose, for trespassing on Indian lands. Crossing the fence to return to the service/frontage road, and at a sagging spot in the barbed wire, I push the top strand down and straddle it. Just then, it breaks! Oh yes, the tension, followed by the recoil, sends it raking, right between my legs–not good! Perhaps you’ve never been bit by the razor-sharp barbs that make barbed wire fencing the notorious menace it is. If not, believe me, you don’t want to be. The cuts inside both my legs are superficial, but nevertheless, I had to mop them for some time before the bleeding stopped. No doubt I clot slower, because of the high dosage coated aspirin I’m on.
In no more than a mile, the frontage road peters out, so over to the northbound shoulder of I-25 I go. I’m concerned about the state police, but as the second patrol car goes whizzing by, the officers paying me not the least heed, I’m able to heave a sigh. The noise from the heavy commercial traffic quickly becomes monotonous, and looking at my maps, I’ll be out here on this grinder for the better part of the day.
As the roadway climbs and climbs, and as the jake breaks growl, by late afternoon I’ve had enough. So, at the village of Bernalillo I call it a day.
Wednesday–October 2, 2002
Location–SR314, Near Isleta, New Mexico, pitched in alfalfa field by the Rio Grande
I’m out and heading to Albuquerque on a clear, cool day, following old US Route 66 along a narrow busy state highway. The traffic is running hard and fast in both directions, and less than a mile into this eight mile section, I quickly realize that this is going to be the long-feared road walk from Hell. The white line is painted on the very edge of the pavement, no room to walk here, so, with the unrelenting traffic, I’m forced to hike the shoulder. Here, the thick, brush-like vegetation has been mowed, leaving 8-10 inches of stubble, which is almost impossible to walk in. I stumble along for nearly four hours before the road widens to give a paved emergency lane. What a joy to get this behind me and move out again.
Things don’t much rust around here. It’s neat seeing all the old cars and trucks still lined up in the junk yards. Relics from the thirties through the fifties are common. I’ve even seen old Studebakers and Willys’ trucks still on the road. The sun has sure baked the paint off everything, but the sheet metal on these old jalopies is still good.
By mid afternoon I reach downtown Albuquerque. I walk right through. The center-city–maybe a ten block square area with mostly government buildings–looks modern and clean, but the rest of the place you can have. Don’t know when the city actually incorporated, but I’m willing to bet that the streets haven’t seen a street sweeper since that very day. Nuff said for Albuquerque. I’m glad to cross the Rio Grande and head on out of town.
The wind’s been beating up on me again today, hammering hard out of the south, but it isn’t the blast furnace I had to endure a month ago, and I manage the day just fine. By dusk, the traffic and narrow streets have given way to a quieter setting with irrigated alfalfa fields along. I turn down a dirt road between two of them and pitch by the banks of the grand old Rio Grande.
Thursday–October 3, 2002
Location–SR314, Belen, New Mexico, Freeway Inn
The Rio Grande is running a fair amount of water, but I really don’t believe it would be difficult to ford. There are many places where the river is very wide with gravel bars breaking it into numerous smaller runs that could be crossed easily. The course of the river is very impressive, however, and the Rio Grande Valley, which the river has created, is wide, lush, and fertile. For the next two days I’ll be hiking beside the river in this grande (Rio) valley.
Most of the business and billboard signs I see now appear in Spanish, and most all the people are of Spanish descent. So–but for the exception of one very noteworthy characteristic, would it be difficult for me to tell I was not in old rather than New Mexico! And that characteristic? Well, the people of New Mexico are patriotic, very patriotic–if not more so, I believe, than any other state I’ve journeyed through on this odyssey. And they show their devotion to this country by flying the colors–the good old red, white, and blue! There are flags and freedom signs everywhere. Ahh, we are a strange mix, are we not, with the countless nationalities that have joined together to make up this glorious U.S. of A. But we are all Americans. Indeed, first, last, and always, we are Americans!
The wind has come up again, out of the southwest, as if I should be surprised, and it hassles me all afternoon. Folks at the Chevron in Isleta this morning, told me I’d find no place to stay in Belen. So I’d pretty much set myself to pitching by the propane tank behind the local petro/food mart. But upon entering the city this evening, I’m surprised to find it a grand strip, with motels all along. Here, I pull into the Freeway Inn and call it a day.
Friday–October 4, 2002
Location–BLM lands near Thieves Mountain, northwest of Socorro, New Mexico
Green chili, red chili, everybody and his cousin is selling chili peppers. You don’t see or hear the word “peppers,” though, they just call them “chili.” Local establishments put them in everything they cook. My breakfast yesterday morning was the local tradition. And, oh no, it wasn’t an egg and sausage biscuit. Rather, breakfast around here for everyone (and me, if I want breakfast) is the “breakfast burrito,” and I bet you can’t guess what’s in it. Oh yes, green and red chili! The nice lady said, “It isn’t hot at all, you’ll like it, you’ll see.” Well folks, if it ain’t hot, it just ain’t food around these parts!
I’m still hiking south, by the Rio Grande, but today I’ll leave it to trek on west. By three, I’m in the little gas-stop of Bernardo. Here, I leave I-25 behind.
I’ve copied maps from my 3.0 DeLorme software, showing a shortcut southwest to Magdalena, bypassing Socorro, but as I turn west on the gravel road out, there’s no road leading to the right. I’ve already gone through a BLM gate which said, “Keep Out!” in so many words, but I climbed the gate and entered anyway. My maps didn’t show me what I was getting into. The roads don’t go where they’re supposed to. The farther I go, the worse it gets–no roads, anywhere, like shown on my maps. The two right angle sides I’m trying to cut across are both 25 miles in length. That leaves the cut-across at no less than 33 miles. What a way to start out! I can see two sets of high tension lines, and they’re both shown correctly on my maps. One is leading off in the general direction I want to go, so it’s over and down. I follow it until dark, then pitch on a high point giving me a 360.
The Milky Way is very close, plus bright, shooting stars. These wonders take my mind off the problem at hand. Hopefully, I’ll get on track tomorrow.
Saturday–October 5, 2002
Location–US60, Magdalena, New Mexico, High Country Lodge
The nights are getting cold, the temperature dropping at dusk. I was glad to be in my little Nomad Tent, on my Therm-a-Rest, snug in my Feathered Friends Bag. This morning, my fingers turn stick-like before I manage to break camp and get going. The day is another blue one, from horizon to horizon, the brown, barren mountains standing in bold relief and contrast against the powder blue.
It’s great to be off the highway and back in the mountains again for a change. The thought of that, however, doesn’t lighten my fear nor ease my apprehension, for, just what I was afraid would happen, has happened. The power line I’ve been following, through dry gulches and everything between, makes a turn, even further away from the direction I want to go. So, reluctantly, I leave it behind, to strike out southwest, cross-country. By nine, I reach the last rise, to look out across a vast valley, wherein should be US60 and Magdalena, but I see neither. I scan in every direction, and to the mountain range across, but there is no town, no highway. All I see is the high, open land and a small number of dots that I assume are houses. There’s a gap in the far mountain wall, and I decide to continue on my southwest course toward it. Three hours later, I’m still “continuing.” Finally, still far across the valley and in the bright sun, I see what must be the reflection from an auto windshield, and the spot is moving. “The highway must be there,” I’m thinking, although it’s still nowhere in sight. Another hour of stumbling through dry grass clumps and around the cactus, I finally see what looks to be an eighteen wheeler. It’s so deceiving, how far and distant everything appears out here. The highway was right where it should have been, I just couldn’t see it from so far away.
By two, I finally reach US60, only four miles from Magdalena. I’ve crossed the mountain and made the shortcut successfully.
It has been a very memorable and rewarding day. My legs and back got a good workout, what with climbing in and out the dry gulches. What a surprise to find, by one of the sheer gulch walls, a spring flowing the coolest, clearest water. The little stream run flowed no more than ten feet before disappearing in the sand, leaving not a trace. Nature’s own had found it long before me, and they’ve treated it with utmost respect, leaving it untrampled and pristine.
It’s antelope hunting season now, and at the motel where I’m staying here in Magdalena, there’s plenty of bragging about who shot what. I didn’t want to tell the hunters about the docile, curious animals that played with me all day. Don’t know how may I could have taken out with a rock–but, of course, I didn’t.
Congratulations to Jolene “Jojosmiley” Coby from Alaska, who’s just completed a thru-hike of the AMT/ECT, a journey of over 5,000 miles, from Key West, Florida to Belle Isle at the northern tip of Newfoundland. And to Camo, Nomad98 and Tennessee, who accompanied her throughout Canada. Jojo has accomplished what is probably the single most test of endurance for any woman, ever!
Sunday–October 6, 2002
Location–US60, Datil, New Mexico, pitched in wooded area behind post office
Richard at High Country Motel had mentioned that he’d seen another hiker pass through a few months ago. “That was probably my friend, Dan,” I replied. “Yeah, Dan, that was his name; you guys know each other?” he asked. He found it hard to believe, that Dan “Sheltowee” Rogers and I have been friends for a number of years. Truth is, there just aren’t that many nuts out here that walk the roads, so we stick together. It’s difficult to explain when folks ask, “Why?” No matter the answer, they never seem convinced. I’ve just found a neat parallel, a group of folks that find enjoyment in an activity nobody can understand–the guys that engage in mudboggin. I saw a big jacked up 4WD rig covered with mud the other day–you know, the kind you need a stepladder to get up into. Across the top of the windshield was stenciled, “It’s a mud thing, you wouldn’t understand.” So, I told Richard that story and he seemed satisfied!
I’ve got a tough hike ahead of me today, 36 miles into Datil. That’s the next place I’ll find water. There’s a gas station/restaurant there, but the place is closed on Sunday, so I must carry a day’s worth of food besides four 20oz. bottles of water, so my pack is noticeably heavier than usual.
I’m out and going to another bright, cool day. Two hours into the hike, and on cresting a rise, I can see across the most expansive valley, the road stretching down and away like a ribbon, to a point on the far side. In the valley are 24 large antenna dishes aimed toward the sky. It takes me over three hours to reach them. They are the largest flexible array of astronomical radio antenna in the world. Hereabouts, they’re known simply as a “Very Large Array” (VLA). Another four hours and I turn around to see where I’ve been hiking all day. It’s taken me nearly eight hours to cross this valley, and I could see the road stretching before me the entire time–a true test of patience. Along the Appalachian Trail, there are vantages where one might see a day or two ahead…or behind. But then, it’s duck back in “the green tunnel,” and put thought of distance out of mind. But today, I can see where I’m going almost all day, and what a day it turns to be. I see countless antelope–and my first roadrunner!
Just at dusk I reach Datil. The gas station/restaurant is closed all right, but there’s a faucet by the pumps, so I’m able to camel up and replenish my water supply. I find a spot in the trees behind the post office, fix a couple cheese sandwiches and call it a day.
Monday–October 7, 2002
Location–US60, Pie Town, New Mexico, pitched at Pie-O-Neer Restaurant.
The Datil Cafe is open this morning and I treat myself to a full breakfast and plenty of coffee. I piddle in Datil (say daddle), not getting out and moving till after nine, but not to worry, this will be a relatively short hiking day of only twenty miles into Pie Town.
It’s climb, climb, climb again as I near the continental divide just this side of Pie Town. I’m standing on the divide a little after three–at nearly 8,000 feet. From here to the coast now it should be all downhill!
At the Pie-O-Neer Restaurant in Pie Town, I meet Chris Bennett. Chris is from New Zealand. He’s biking the Continental Divide Trail and has stopped to work his journal entries and to have some–pie! While we’re chatting, the rain that had been threatening all day, finally comes in. Chris laments about the incessant wind, and about how on days when it’s steady coming at him, he can make no more than six miles per hour. It brings a smile to his face when I comment to him, “That’s still twice as fast as I’m ever moving!”
We both tarry at the Pie-O-Neer till seven, closing time. The rain has finally let up. Chris bikes to the campground, the little red tail light on his back blinking away. I sneak over to the shadowy corner of the Pie-O-Neer front porch and roll out my sleeping bag for the night. The restaurant is closed tomorrow, and I’ll be out of here at daybreak. Anyway, I just don’t feel like pitching on the cold, wet ground tonight.
Tuesday–October 8, 2002
Location–US60, Quemado, New Mexico, Allison Motel
The hunters are out and moving before daybreak. It’s black powder season out here on elk and antelope, and there are lots of folks–many are families–heading for the mountains (elk) and the open range (antelope). Some of their rigs are hilarious. Old, beat up 4WD pickups dragging two trailers behind full of gear and ORVs are common. For most, I suspect, the hunt is more an excuse to just get away from the daily hum-drum and enjoy nature and the great outdoors–more that than the actual hunt.
I’m up and off the restaurant porch at first light. It’s a crispy-cold morning. First time for my winter gear: gloves, headband, and fleece jacket–feels good.
Folks run up and down the highway out here, constantly. I don’t have the foggiest idea where they’re going; it’s fifty miles from here to anywhere (nowhere). Many who have come to recognize me stop to offer assistance and to enquire as to my walkabout.
Two interesting distinctions about the Pie Town area (every place has got to be famous for something): This county is the second largest but has the least population of any county in the US. Here, also, stands the tallest mountain in the lower forty-eight that’s still in private ownership (it’s over 11,000 feet tall). Well, like I said, “every place has got to be famous for something (even if it’s just good pie)!” So much for the continental divide, and Pie Town.
On the twenty-two mile stretch today from Pie Town to Quemado, there’s a little dot on the map called Omega. This metropolis consists of a fallen-down, boarded up gas station, a burned out house trailer, a junkyard (a guy’s house with lots of cars and trucks on blocks for spare parts), and a kennel (same guy’s house–lots and lots of dogs).
Quemado is fifty miles from no place. Quemado could also be called “no place,” too. From Quemado, it’s fifty miles to Springerville–the next place that’s fifty miles from no place. Folks, hiking this far-off, no-man’s land is starting to get to me. Out here is just “no place” to be walking around. Certainly you’ve heard the old saying, “You can’t get there from here.” Well, this is “there!” Say, maybe the folks that are constantly driving up and down the highway out here are just trying to get–“there.”
I pull into Quemado at two-thirty–to: two cafes (one closed), one bar (closed), and a motel (open), whoo-hee! This is it–I’m in. Sure hope I can keep getting “there” from here in the morning!
Wednesday–October 9, 2002
Location–US60, one mile east of New Mexico/Arizona border, pitched by dry gulch under Pinon Pine.
I gave Quemado a bum rap in my last journal entry–said it “…could be called ‘no place’.” Well, Quemado is really fine, a neat trail town. There are three motels and at least as many cafes. The motel I stayed at was okay. The food at the little cafe, El Sarape, was great, and there’s a grocery, of sorts. In keeping with the “gotta be famous for something” concept out here, Quemado was home many years ago to a grand entourage of rodeo cowboys that roamed about with the western shows. They called a nearby canyon home. Don’t know their names. The word, quemado, is Spanish for burned. That makes sense. Everything around here is brown.
Going out of town this morning, I pass a sign that says Quemado sits on the site of what was an extinct volcano. That sets me wondering, isn’t it still extinct?
The next place for any services–that means water–is fifty miles west, so I’m toting a ton of water, which wasn’t needed. But better safe than sorry. At twenty-four miles comes the crossroads of Red Hill, where there’s a realty office. And although they’re closed, there’s an outside spigot that works. I fill up again and head for the Arizona border some eleven miles west. Dusk beats me though, so I pull off and pitch, just one mile short. This will be my last night in New Mexico.
Getting across this state has taken a very long time, and it has been a long, long walk.
Thursday–October 10, 2002
Location–US60, Springerville, Arizona, White Mountain Motel
As soon as the sun drops behind the mountain, the temperature drops right along with it now. I’d sure rather bury way down in my Feathered Friends bag, though, and have cold nights, than have the sun drilling me like it was through Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. These recent days have been great for hiking, cool and clear, with just the least breeze. I’m out and off to another perfect one today.
Just as the sun comes up, I reach the border between New Mexico and Arizona. Here is the zero mile marker for New Mexico, and mile marker 401 for Arizona. Numbers like 401 don’t deter me anymore though, because I know I’ll get the miles whittled away. And when I cross into California, there’ll be only half that distance, a little over 200 miles remaining.
To my delight, when I reach Springerville, I’ve picket up another hour. Arizona ignores daylight savings time, so they’re in the same time zone as California part of the year. So I’m in at eleven-thirty! And this is a neat trail town. Restaurants and the post office right near White Mountain Motel, a very clean, reasonably priced place. I’ve done 50 miles in the last two days, and I’m in before noon. That’ll work!
Another famous and historic western town, Springerville, Arizona. Coronado passed through here. In 1910, the “Ocean to Ocean” auto tour road was built through here, and to support it–and remaining to this day–the oldest Ford dealership west of the Mississippi!
Friday–October 11, 2002
Location–US60, pitched under Pinon Pine by road west of Vernon, Arizona
Heading out of Springerville this morning, and across from the post office where I bounce my box along to Blythe, California, stands another beautiful statue of “Madonna of the Trail.” This likeness of a pioneer woman with long dress, sun bonnet, and a smiling child on her hip is even larger and more striking than the one in Council Grove, Kansas. I don’t suppose there’ve been many who’ve walked through Springerville from such a far distance since those days depicted by the Madonna. This statue certainly reminds me that many then surely suffered and endured in their passing of these incredibly long, open spaces–as have I.
Also near the west end of town is the old movie theatre. It has been modernized, the old adobe walls plastered over, but it is still the same building where silent movies were first shown in Springerville. The original popcorn machine has survived all the “flicks” since those bygone times, and is still happily popping away!
By quarter to five, I’m at the neat little Midway Store near Vernon. This gives me fifteen minutes to look around, get a couple burritos warmed up in the microwave, and pick up some chips and a pop. There’s a payphone on the wall outside and an old wood stump to sit on while calling family back in Florida.
As the owner walks by with the cash tray, to his home right next, he wishes me well on the remainder of my trek.
I manage three more miles west before the sun sets on me. As dark descends, I clear the scatter of volcanic rock from under a Pinon Pine, set my tent, and call it a day.
Saturday–October 12, 2002
Location–SR260, Linden, Arizona, thence to home of Don and Jeanette Gullett, Pinetop, Arizona
I’m up and on the road early, with childlike anticipation, for this evening I’ve been invited to the home of Don and Jeanette Gullett. Don and I were classmates during our time in professional school in Memphis, Tennessee. The last time we saw each other was on graduation day in 1966. That was thirty-six years ago!
I arrive just before noon at Dr. Gullett’s office. His receptionist looks at me with puzzled amusement when I tell her that Don and I are friends, and that he is expecting me.
Don has done very well in the thirty-six years since I saw him last (put on a little weight, though).
He’s got his own modern office right on the main drag–called “Deuce of Clubs.” The name of the town and many of the streets, well, that’s another story. We spend good time in his lounge before I head back out again to chalk up a few more miles before dark.
Don comes to fetch me at four, then whisks me away to his lovely old home in Pinetop. Here I see Jeanette again. We sit and enjoy a great time–and a great steak dinner! What a great day!
Sunday–October 13, 2002
Location–SR260, Heber, Arizona, Canyon View Motel
I had a great time with my old friends, the Gulletts, in Pinetop. It’s amazing what one can accumulate from day-to-day over thirty-six years. Their house–plus sheds and a garage–are packed with all sorts of it. For example, Don still has his first automobile, a 34 Ford five window coupe. It’s stored in the garage, with lots and lots of other stuff. A 34 Ford, folks, amazing!
Now, let me tell you about Show Low and the origin of this town with the peculiar name. Seems as though, back in the mid to late eighteen-hundreds, there were two families cooperatively ranching 100,000 acres of range in Arizona. They soon realized the land could not support two families, so they decided that one of them needed to go. Problem was, neither wanted to buy the other out. They finally decided to settle the matter over a game of poker known as seven-up. In this card game, seven cards are dealt to each player. Each then turns a card up. The high card takes the point. And so the game goes to the last card. In this game, each of the gentlemen had won three points. So, the winner was to be determined by the turn of the last card. Clark, one of the gentlemen, knew that his odds of winning with a three, his last card were slim to none. So, he said to Cooley, the other gentlemen, “show low” and you win. Cooley turned up the lowly deuce of clubs. By winning the last point, Cooley retained his 50,000 acres, and became the sole owner of the entire ranch, including Clark’s 50,000 acres. The ranch became known as Show Low Ranch. Clark lost the card game–and his land, but managed to keep something much more valuable, his friendship with Cooley. They became partners in land development, creating a town in Arizona now known as Show Low. Oh, and the main drag is called Deuce of Clubs!
Don and Jeanette have me back on the road by six-thirty, on a cool, clear day. I hike it on into Heber for the evening and pull off at Canyon View Motel.
Thanks, Don and Jeanette, for your kindness and hospitality!
Monday–October 14, 2002
Location–SR260, west of Mogollon Rim, thence to Budget Inn, Payson, Arizona
Another day of great excitement and anticipation, for today I’ll see my very dear friend, Dan “Sheltowee” Rogers. Dan’s true “hiker trash” from way back. With thousands of trail miles behind him, he began an incredible hiker’s hiker odyssey in 2001. Coming out of his home in Stubenville, Ohio, he headed southwest, through every state, clear to Arizona. Here, last April, he interrupted his transcontinental hike in Payson, the little town just ahead of me here in Arizona. For the past few weeks, we’ve been in touch and have made plans to link our individual odysseys in Payson, then continue west together to the Pacific Ocean at San Diego. I’ve been hoping on hope that all would work out, that we would be able to get together as planned.
Well, Dan will be picking me up at the end of this day, on SR260, just below the Mogollon Rim, here, east of Payson, thence to shuttle me on into Payson! Tomorrow morning, he’ll bring me back out, to complete the remaining 25 miles or so into Payson, then, Wednesday morning we’ll head for the Pacific together!
The terrain changes drastically today. I see the last of the grand, majestic Ponderosa Pine as I drop down, down, down, off the Mogollon Rim. In the midst of extensive highway construction on SR260, and right on cue, Dan comes to fetch me. Oh, what a great day, seeing my old friend again–out here in what seems the middle of nowhere.
Tuesday–October 15, 2002
Location–SR260, Payson, Arizona, Budget Inn.
Dan and I had a great time last, catching up on everything in our respective lives since we last hiked together way back on the Appalachian Trail.
I’m out again to the dust and dirt at the construction site on SR260 before eight as Dan drops me off, waves and heads back to Payson. This is the day I’ve been waiting for, as I’ll finally catch up with Sheltowee in Payson today.
The nice, fully-paved shoulder gives way and the traffic is heavy and flying. By mid-afternoon, and as I’m hypnotically plodding along, I hear, “Nomad, hey Nomad.” I stop and turn to see Sheltowee standing in front of the local American Legion. Arm and arm, in we go, to laugh and have a few cold ones. Then it’s back to the hike as I hammer the remaining mile to the motel.
In the evening, it’s a great steak and baked potato–in the company of a great friend! Ah yes, life is good!
Wednesday–October 15, 2002
Location–Bull Spring, Mazantzal Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona
This morning Sheltowee and I are out together, heading west into the Mazatzal Wilderness, a vast tract of rugged mountainous terrain that ranges in altitude from 1,300 to over 11,000 feet, smack in the middle of the 3,000,000 acre Tonto National Forest.
The pavement is quickly behind us as we climb the rutted, boulder-strewn road, up, up, up. It’s so good to have company again, to be hiking with a seasoned, veteran hiker, my friend, Sheltowee. Loneliness can become such a daunting, clenching, crushing foe. In awhile we reach a locked gate that controls vehicle access to the wilderness. There are still a couple of sprawling ranches totally within the forest. First comes Doll Baby Ranch, then LF Ranch. Doll Baby seems remote enough, way back at what we thought was the end of the “road.” But, miles beyond, and as we struggle up, down, around and through rocks, deep powder dirt, and yawning washouts that would swallow a tank–and as we near LF Ranch, we hear a vehicle approaching. To our disbelief, comes lumbering an old two-ton stake truck, two cowboys–and a cow, all lurching wildly.
What luck, as we’re already in a quandary as to our location. The happy-go-lucky fellow driving gives us good directions–along with a frowning comment as to what we were about to head into.
Oh yes, throw the mileage measuring gauges out–might as well just throw the maps away, too, for little did we know the weird time warp we were about to enter. Our first trail junction looks to be about two miles out. We climb, climb, and climb some more. We’re above the ranches now, above all the low-lying ridges–one hour, two hours–no junction. Surely we’ve missed our turn, but at the top of the climb, and in this gap, we finally reach our first turn, hours after we should have been here. We had planned on reaching the Verde River by nightfall. As we look at the map, to our dismay, we find we’ve barely covered any of the distance to the river. “It’s closer to forty miles out there; it’ll take you days to reach the river,” echo now the words of the rancher. Not near as smug, the gravity of his words begin to sink in. “He doesn’t know the kind of miles we can cover,” I remember thinking. Now I’m thinking, “We better start covering some miles if we’re gonna get out of here; we’ve got two days of food, that’s all!”
By late evening we’re both out of water. We’re in the true high desert now, for earlier we passed the first saguaro cactus, the tall human-looking cactus with arms. The map shows a spring ahead. It’s ahead all right, way ahead. We’re in luck, the spring has stopped running, but there are tadpoles at home, swimming the water in both tanks. Sheltowee pumps the green haze out of quarts and quarts of it. Our thirst finally slaked, we pitch for the night above the dry gulch next the spring. We’re already rationing food in anticipation of an extended stay, much longer than two days, in these heavenly heaved-up crags of the Mazatzal Wilderness.
Thursday–October 16, 2002
Location–FR18/Verde River, Mazatzal Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona
I pitched last night, tent fly on but rolled back. About three, and with haste, I scurried out to pull it down as a heavy electric storm lumbered through. Okay, so apparently it does rain in the desert.
By seven the storm moves on east and the sky clears, revealing that remarkable haze-free blue that’s typical of the desert, clear, clear to the horizon. We’re out and moving before eight, bound for the Verde River. Hopefully, we’ll get there today–where we’d hoped to be yesterday. Mid-morning, our first stop is Cow Trap Spring, a little trickle next an old line shack. Here, we water-up and have a bite to eat–a cheese sandwich each.
As we venture further into the wilderness, and at seemingly every turn and rise, is revealed more and varyied species of cactus–tall, skinny ones, stumpy, barrel-shaped ones, spindly branched ones, puffy, cuddly-looking ones, each with its unmistakable needles, darts and quills. One particularly natty fellow comes on in unavoidable abundance–as the day also comes on. It’s called “jumping cholla,” for it seems to literally jump to impale with its ball of spikes. We’ve named it “holy jumping hollow-points,” for once the spikes penetrate the skin they seem to literally explode, making them painful and almost impossible to extract, worse than an augered-in tick!
By early afternoon, we finally reach the Verde River, but we’re unable to find the trail crossing. The Verde is a formidable river, wide and rolling. We look upstream, downstream, reluctantly settling on an area of rapids. We both make the ford safely, but the going is slow and scary. Once on the far side, we’re unable to find a trace of trail or the road leading west. Our maps show a forest road within a few-hundred yards of the river, but as we climb a ridge nearest for vantage, there is no road to be found within miles. Something is wrong, badly wrong. Time to keep cool heads, to make right decisions. Flashes through my mind now the rancher’s heedful words of warning, “People have perished in the Mazatzal.” We wisely decide to turn back. Once more, reluctantly, we ford the fast-rushing Verde. By the time we return to the trail junction high on the ridge east of the Verde it’s mid-afternoon. Studying the maps, we decide to continue hiking south, following the trail along the Verde River canyon. At least we’ll have water nearby should our journey here turn even more protracted.
By late evening, the trail leads us once again to the Verde River. Across the river, high on the river bluff is another corral, another line shack. The river here is wide and shallow, so we decide to ford again, to spend the night at the line shack. Thunderheads have been building full around all day, and as the evening settles, they unify their strength, bringing down a crashing crescendo of thunder and lightning. We fill our water bottles, then make haste to the shelter of the rusty tin building. We’re no sooner in than the wind drives through in a rage–but there comes no rain, not a drop. Supper today is another cheese sandwich apiece.
We think we are at Sheep Bridge. We know we are on the Verde River. Tomorrow we will find that we’re half right–but out here half right isn’t good, not good at all.
Friday–October 17, 2002
Location–Horseshoe Dam, Tonto National Forest, Arizona
Thinking we’re at Sheep Bridge and looking at our maps, shows a forest service road leading further south beside the winding Verde, all the way to Horseshoe Reservoir at Humboldt Mountain. So, we ford the Verde once again to search for the road–no road, not a trace of a road anywhere. Decision time again. Again we decide to stick to the Verde and continue south on a rugged bushwhack, in hopes of intersecting the road at some point.
Here, the river goes to meandering, as rivers often do, into incredible oxbows and wide sweeping bends. The canyon is deep, with sheer cliffs towering nearly a thousand feet. The canyon rim becomes interrupted now, much as is the canyon of the far-off Restigouche in Canada. Gulches cut deep, carving out their own canyons, with their individual overhanging bluffs, to reach far inland of the river. Putting these rim gaps behind us is incredibly slow. We must scramble through loose rock, shale and the ubiquitous cactus, for what seems like mile after painfully dangerous mile before returning to the main canyon wall. Time and again we search our maps for some hint of order to this incredible jumble. The mountains, the cliffs, the canyons, they’re so massive, so magnificent and majestic–but there seems no rhyme or reason. We are lost. We’re right next the Verde River alright, but we’re sure as hell lost!
Finally, claiming yet another steep cactus choked ridge, happens a faint trail. We jump on it. Hey, it’s going where we want to go. It’s getting more defined, there’s cairns now. This is a trail! In awhile, we reach a fence, a gate. The sign reads, “Mazatzal Wilderness, Tonto National Forest.” We’re out of the wilderness now, but where are we? Finally, the puzzle pieces together as Sheltowee heaves a sigh of relief, followed by, “Oh, no!”
Well folks, the reason nothing has made sense on the maps is because we’re nowhere near as far along as we thought. Two seasoned backpackers–we should have known, or at least suspected as much. Where we had expected to be on our first night in the wilderness had taken us two full hiking days to reach.
At two in the afternoon we finally reach Sheep Bridge, a beautiful pedestrian (sheep) bridge over the long, sweeping Verde. Here we meet folks out on their quad-tracs for the day, Bob and Bev Wright and Bob Dill. They load us up with all the food they’ve brought for the day. From here, we hike on down the road we were looking for all morning, to the reservoir at Horseshoe Lake. Here we pitch for the night by the dam outfall to hastily down the MRE given us by the Wrights. Tomorrow we’ll finally complete our “two day” hike through the Mazatzal Wildernes.
Saturday–October 18, 2002
Location–Cave Creek Road/Scottsdale Road, Carefree, Arizona, thence to Motel 6, Phoenix
The excitement, the adrenaline-pump of chancing through the wilderness is behind us now. We’re up, break camp and are on our way toward Carefree by eight. Ahead of us today is a road walk, a good bit uphill as we pull away from the Verde River canyon. Beginning the climb at the reservoir, we’re at 2,120 feet, reaching 3,740 feet at the gap by Humboldt Mountain.
Gaining the pass, we turn for one more look back at Squaw Butte, Cactus Ridge, and the grand, towering massif of Mazatzal. Before us and on the southern horizon loom the mysterious Superstitions and Weaver’s Needle.
As we head on down the mountain I’m thinking, much as when the hike was all downhill toward the conclusion of “Odyssey 2000-01”–the excitement of it will add spice to life’s great memories, but at the same time, I’m definitely ready for the ending. We’ll be in California in just another week.
In Carefree, there are few commercial businesses despite a population of nearly 5,000. The place is Ritz beyond description. Even the main power, where usually there’s clutter after clutter of poles, is all underground. There are no signs, even on the municipal buildings. At the main intersection, there’s a lone forty year old Shell station–and it looks like they’ll be pushed out soon.
After three nights and four days in the wilderness, we’re ready for a shower, a good meal and a bed, so we call a cab and head for Phoenix.
Sunday–October 19, 2002
Location–Carefree/Phoenix, Arizona, Motel 6
We have decided to burn a day and rest our bones. I haven’t taken any time from the hike since coming back on at Santa Fe. I get caught up on journal entries and email while Sheltowee enjoys the football game.
In the evening, we are picked up by Sheri “Second Chance” Guida, who I met on the Appalachian Trail during “Odyssey ’98.” Sheri lives nearby in Peoria, Arizona. First, we run by REI to get new Leki tips for Dan’s hiking sticks, then it’s to Sheri’s lovely home for a sensational pasta dinner.
Monday–October 21, 2002
Location–SR74, Lake Pleasant Aqueduct, Arizona
Second Chance comes for us at seven to shuttle us back to Carefree. Along, we stop at a Good Egg, a local breakfast place for some more hiker fuel. It’s great to chat and spend some time with Second Chance again. We met, then said good-bye, by chance, at The Place in Damascus, Virginia, in ’98. Second Chance had used up her “second chance” and was leaving the Appalachian Trail, and I was on my northbound AMT/ECT jaunt at the time. In my book, “Ten Million Steps,” I recall commenting, with much sadness, about the reality–the likelihood of never seeing may of these new friends, ever again, folks that had sought shelter that rainy night under the old tin roof at The Place. So, indeed, it is a joy to see Second Chance again, clear out here in Phoenix, Arizona. Thanks, Second Chance, thanks for your help, for your kindness.
We’ve got just one turn to make today, off Scottsdale Road onto Carefree Highway. Plodding, we walk right past it. Sheltowee says, “I think that’s our turn,” then with heads down, we both walk right through it–for a mile and a half. After awhile, we finally turn around, adding the additional three miles to the twenty-four for the day. “In the morning after blues, with my head down to my shoes–Carefree Highway, let me slip away–slip away on you.” Don’t know if Gordon Lightfoot ever tripped down Carefree Highway, but he sure pegged it for Sheltowee and me, we both had our heads down to our shoes this morning.
It’s another blue-perfect day in the desert, what else! Guess that’s what attracts the hob-nobs and retirees to this barren desolation of boulders, rocks–and cactus and mounds of sand and dirt. Through the bluntly naked starkness of it, there does present a forbidding-yet-seductive sort of raw beauty all about. The jagged horizon for 360 does little to soften the edges, but the wide, powder-blue dome above goes far to tone down and burnish the harsh, hard, brass of it. I could never get used to living out here. Give me a soft, green meadow, back dropped by that warm, purple mountain majesty, a gently rolling river through–and close down this incredible ocean of sky; there’s my place, my home.
It’s a long day of pounding to reach the only water in miles, the Lake Pleasant Aqueduct leading to Phoenix. Sheltowee boosts me up and over the chain-link fence where I pump water for the evening and for all of tomorrow.
What a glorious night under the desert sky, stars and satellites, and a near-full moon–but, oh yes, never far away, the eighteen-wheelers jake-braking the hill down.
Tuesday–October 22, 2002
Location–US60, Wickenburg, Arizona, AmericInn
Dan slept under the stars on his Therm-a-Rest. I had my little Nomad up, without the fly.
It’s full no-seeum, all four panels, just like under the stars. I like being away from the creepy-crawlies, all my things where I can find them next morning.
We’re up and out a little after six as we’ve got a thirty into Wickenburg. That’s the next water source along our route. We no sooner get crankin’ than both of us bail off by the rocks and creosote bushes to tend our daily duty. Dan comes back on the road wild-eyed. Seems that where he squatted was also the home for one of the locals–a sidewinder. A few not-so-friendly rattles had let Dan know he wasn’t welcome.
Only a mile or so further we chance upon our first tarantula. Danged if these aren’t bigspiders! Then, just a little further along, Dan breaks the monotony, the noise of our clicking poles, as he opines that he’ll probably pitch his tent, too, from now on!
The road to Wickenburg is straight and long, clear to the wide, unreachable horizon. We plod toward it, each in our separate hypnotic trance. Distances out here absolutely defy measure. Wheels hack at the miles faster, but roads that lift in a mirage to the sky testeven the most patient. Walking that path, well, that’s another matter entirely. Indeed,
to walk these barren landscapes leads one onto, then down the endless treadmill of time–I
see Sheltowee moving, he can certainly see me moving, but the roadway, the mountainsalong, everything seems to be making the journey with us. Ahh, but it’s just another of those days, I suppose, one more day in the woof and warp that bends and weaves the fabric of everything.
We arrive Wickenburg late evening. Once again the sun has beat us in. We’re both very tired, ready for an oasis. We find it in the form of AmericInn, where we pull off andcall it a day.
Wednesday–October 23, 2002
Location–US60, Wickenburg, Arizona, AmericInn
The road west will be there tomorrow. This is a day for much needed rest.
Thursday–October 24, 2002
Location–US60, Aguila, Arizona, Burro Jim Motel
What a great stay at the AmericInn of Wickenburg, first class all the way. The people,
the service, the best. Thanks Marilu and Bill, and Betty Sheri, Louie, Cheryl, Courtney,
Debbie, Carolyn, Brandon and Anthony.
We’re out a little before seven to hike the remainder of Wickenburg. But first, it’s a stop at McDonalds for breakfast, then to the food mart for a few snacks for the day. Then we’re bound for the little village of Aguilla, some 27 miles to the west on another cool, clear day.
More wide open spaces, and more long, straight highway. The traffic is light, however, and there’s a fully paved shoulder. Conditions just couldn’t be much better. And we break below the 100 mile mark for Arizona today. Less than 100 miles to the last stateline…California!
By late afternoon, we’ve done the miles to pull in to the Burro Jim Motel. It’s been a good hiking day.
Friday–October 25, 2002
Location–US60, Salome, Arizona, Sheffler’s Motel
Great stay at the Burro Jim Motel–and the next door bar with all the gang, Sandra, Sandra, Topaz, Debbie, and Jimmy.
We’re out to another fine day, although a long one, 29 miles, and no water. Dan’s been having some breakin with his feet again, but he’s a trooper, taking off full tilt, pushing all the way through.
It’s another wide and seemingly endless valley-walk on the highlands of Arizona, mountains looming both sides the entire distance. One interesting mountain is named Eagle Eye Peak. Near the summit sits a huge rock, which, with the light reflecting from it, appears the mountain has a hole clear through it, thus the interesting name, as it shines likes an eagle’s eye.
Before sunset, we arrive at the little town of Salome–to a motel and cafe right by. This has been a fine day.
Saturday–October 26, 2002
Location–US60, Brenda, Arizona, Black Rock Motel
A storm has slammed the coast of Mexico, moving across south into Texas leaving the weather very unsettled north and west of us. I’m up at six and head over to the food mart for coffee. On the way back to the motel room the rain begins, so Sheltowee and I sit back and enjoy our coffee before making a dash for the cafe for breakfast.
By the time we’re out and hiking at eight, the skies have cleared to the west, bringing a cool, wind free morning. US60 follows a long, expansive valley with majestic sawtooth mountains looming on both sides. We climbed into this high valley Thursday coming out of Wickenburg and have been in it ever since. Looks like we’ll continue for at least another day. More dust devils to entertain us, high, near-perfect columns of dirt whipped and swirled upward toward the sky for hundreds of feet.
I finally must hike awhile in the rain, as the clouds come across the mountain draped with curtains of gray. We don our foul weather gear for just awhile, until the rain moves on past. This is the first I’ve hiked in the rain since western Missouri.
Lots of quail today–and bigger birds, fighters flying maneuvers up and down the valley.
Fourteen more days to the sea. One more night in Arizona. We’ll cross into California day after tomorrow. It’s great having company; Sheltowee and me, we’re having a grand time.
Sunday–October 27, 2002
Location–I-10, Quartzite, Arizona, pitched in dry wash across from McDonalds
The storm of yesterday is way east of us now, but it’s still visible on the eastern horizon. We’re off to another cool, clear morn as we hike our last full day in Arizona. 401 miles is a very long distance to watch the mile markers slowly tick down.
Four miles into the hike today we run out of US60, a wide-shouldered friend that has treated us very kind. I-10 has buried the western extent of this great highway, as there is no room through the passes for both. At ten we hike down the on ramp to I-10. Within minutes, we see the flashing lights of a patrol car coming toward us. Seems it hasn’t taken long to face the music. But just as it appears we’ve had it, the officer pulls a motorist over right in front of us. As we continue, we must pass the patrolman. He greets us with a hello and a smile. After four or five minutes of conversation, he gets around to explaining that pedestrian traffic is not permitted on the interstate. The lady in the auto gets fidgety. Finally, she comes out of her vehicle and walks back toward us. The officer motions her back, telling her to be patient, that he’ll be with her shortly. Shortly lasts another five minutes as officer Parker becomes intrigued with our respective odysseys. In awhile, he nods his head and motions us on west–along I-10.
The truckers have quite the diversion today, two hikers walking the interstate shoulder. Most all give us the high sign, and many pull the air horn chain. The traffic is rolling hard and steady, but it’s great fun–a diversion for us, too.
In the evening, we take the exit to Quartzite to look for a room for the night. There are two motels within a block of each other. Seems they’re in cahoots. Both are dumps. Both want fifty bucks for a room. Neither one has phones. We opt to pitch for the night, a good decision. The evening is cool, and we find the perfect spot, a dry wash less than a block from McDonalds.
Monday–October 28, 2002
Location–I-10, Blythe, California, Royal Pacific Inn
Another day of excited anticipation. Today, I will cross the final state line on this transcontinental odyssey–California! By seven-fifteen, we’re back to the grind of I-10. There’s seventeen miles of Arizona remaining, all interstate. By twelve-fifteen, we’ve knocked them out. We’re at the Colorado River, the state line between Arizona and California. What a moment for me. North Carolina is behind me, Virginia is behind me, so, too, for DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the northwest corner of Texas, New Mexico and now Arizona, over thirty-two hundred miles. California and the desert is all that lies between me and the Pacific Ocean. This odyssey is within two weeks of becoming history. Yes, this is a special time–standing here on the Colorado River bridge. Getting here’s been a long, long haul.
From the river, it’s a short hike along a little-used road into Blythe. Crossing the Colorado has put us in the Pacific Time zone, so we pick up another hour. First stop is the post office where I retrieve my bounce box. Oh, and lots of mail! Sheltowee has picked up an add booklet with motel coupons. After a little review we beat it to the best deal, Royal Pacific Inn right downtown.
Tuesday–October 29, 2002
Location–SR78, Palo Verde, California, Lagoon Lodge
As we hike out from Blythe, I try to remember, but there is no way I can remember all the great friends I’ve seen along this hike. Like, just this past Sunday entering Quartzite–a car pulled to the curb; the driver waved with much jubilation, passed, then turned and returned. As soon as I saw the guy, I told Sheltowee, “This fellow and me, we’ve met before.” Sure enough, it’s old Billy Goat. We me at the ALDHA Gathering a number of years ago. He was present at my first Gathering presentation that year. Billy Goat has hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, the three trails collectively and commonly known among hiking circles as “The Triple Crown.” Billy Goat is a true hiking veteran. We had a grand time talking trail at a local watering hole in Quartzite.
The hike today zigs and zags along SR78, through the lush hay fields along the Valley of the Colorado. Desert soil is fertile soil. Lack of water is the reason things don’t grow out here, but where there’s water, as here in the valley, the miles and miles of flats can be irrigated. And that’s just what they do. It seems incredible, but it is true that the hay farmers hereabouts get seventeen cuts a year from their irrigated fields, one every three weeks. So, passing through today, we’re thinking it’s harvest time, what with the mowers, rakes, and balers running, and the eighteen wheelers hauling, but what we see is just business as usual. Here, they’ve even got forklifts that are tagged and run the highways at sixty plus!
So along we go, following the irrigation canals, first south, then west, then back south again, along the perfectly squared sections of land. Shortly comes a car and pulls to the shoulder, and we’re joyfully greeted by Cindy, the kind barmaid we’d met yesterday at the American Legion in Blythe. She’s headed to work and stops to wish us well on the remainder of our journey. By two-thirty, we’re in Palo Verde, a short, wide spot in the road. Here’s a post office, two bars, a restaurant and motel (four rooms), a Laundromat and food mart, all within a two block area. Palo Verde is a trail town!
We check into the Lagoon Lodge, then hit the Lagoon Saloon for supper, a few cold ones–and a friendly game of pool. It’s been a fine day, for sure.
Wednesday–October 30, 2002
Location–SR78, pitched behind Border Patrol Station near Buzzards Peak, California
We had a really great stay last at Lagoon Lodge…and a great breakfast this morning at Lagoon Saloon. Dan ordered ham with his eggs and taters. Dang, tell you what, I’ve never seen such a serving of ham! Two half-inch slices from the top of the hock, a full eight inches in diameter. Dan tried, but he just couldn’t put it away. I ordered bacon with my eggs and had the waitress pack the bacon in a Ziploc to stoke me later.
A block down, heading west out of town is a local grocery store. I load up for the next three days we’ll spend crossing (more of) the desert–burritos, plenty of cheese, crackers, and, oh yes, sugar candy. Palo Verde is one great little trail town–add this little place in the southwestern desert to the list of great trail towns! The gals at Lagoon Saloon even remembered Swamp Eagle, my dear hiking friend from Florida, who passed through on his transcontinental horseback trek a few years ago.
Dan heads out ahead of me. The day is another perfect one, cool and wind-free. We just couldn’t have timed our hike across the desert any better. What a wonderful payoff for all we’ve endured–the rain, the cold, the relentless, pressing, blistering heat, the constant wind, and all the dismal days of just grinding the miles along this disappearing road to the endless horizon.
We continue passing square miles of irrigated alfalfa fields, the tractors working their perennial crop. Past the last irrigation canal, we climb away to the west again, toward Palo Verde Peak.
The passing hay trucks, the drivers who’ve come to know us–and who wonk-wonk as they pass, offer some diversion to the desert left and desert right. By late evening, we’ve banged out another 24, to pull into the Border Patrol Station. The place is shut down, has been for awhile. We pitch behind, to spend the evening scanning the crystal clear, star-filled desert sky…a great way to spend the first day of my 64th year on this earth.
Thursday–October 31, 2002
Location–SR78, pitches in desert west of Algodones Dunes, Chocolate Mountains, California
Dan made a sweep through the desert a few weeks ago while waiting for me to catch up with him in Payson, Arizona. Along the way, he cached a few gallons of water at strategic points. What a joy yesterday and again this morning to arrive at the little oasis spots he’d placed for us.
Our hike today takes us further southwest, past old gold mines right and left, remains of the diggings still evident. I just don’t know how the old sourdoughs survived out here, hacking at the dirt and rocks, no water within fifty miles, but it’s apparent they did. There’s commercial mining here now, with piles of tailings that look like mountains themselves–and miles and miles of six-foot high chain link fence with razor wire on top, presumably to “protect” the few turtles that somehow manage to survive in this God-forsaken place. Fences with razor wire to protect turtles. No fences, whatsoever, to protect us, to keep us out of the vast naval aerial gunnery and bombing range all along the road–weird. But then, we are in California now.
By early afternoon, we’ve reached the “beach,” named for the Imperial sand dunes–but there’s no water, a minor oversight. Officially, the 200+ square miles of pure, uninterrupted, undulating waves of sands are known as Imperial Dunes Recreation Area. Dune buggies, quad tracs, motorcycles and cool-looking jeeps are everywhere. The two, big weekends of the year are upcoming. Estimates are for over 100,000 people to show for great fun. The whacko (socialistic) element of the environmental movement, they’ve been here, too, oh yes. Predictably, and true to form, they’ve managed to come up with something labeled “endangered”–a little clump of “rare” grass that supposedly grows nowhere else but here in these dunes. They’ve managed to shut down part of the area. Of course, they could care less about eliminating this multi-billion dollar industry that helps support the southern California economy–that shrouded agenda being their true objective. It’s sad, it really is, because what damage is being done to the dunes, if indeed there is any, will be quickly erased by the next good windstorm that comes driving through–along with the little clumps of rare grass.
Hiking up and over the dunes is near a spiritual experience. The heaped-up mounds, the uninterrupted, undulating waves of sand stretching to and beyond the horizon, it’s baffling. There is no number that man could possibly conceive let alone ever comprehend, to get a handle on the individual and infinite number of grains of sand that make up this little corner God’s vast creation.
Hundreds and hundreds of vehicles towing campers and trailers loaded with ORVs pass us as we hike on west. At dusk we pull off to stealth camp on the road fringe next the bombing range
Friday–November 1, 2002
Location–SR78, Brawley, Califoria, Townhouse Lodge
Yesterday was a great hiking day. Late afternoon, as Sheltowee and I shared the joy of it, and at that very moment did the hike turn even better. A SUV pulled to the shoulder, with both driver and passenger bailing out to greet us with beaming smiles. There we met Kelly and Dick, two weekend sand rats. Lots of questions, but not before the hatch door came open, the cooler lid went up–and Sheltowee and me both had an ice cold Coors shoved in our hands! Yes, it was one fine day.
We hit the road early this morning. No sooner do we get cranking than we arrive at Sheltowee’s last water cache. Perfect planning, Sheltowee! We load, then hook the empty container to my pack. We’re graced with yet another cool, clear day for trekking west. By mid-morning we drop off East Mesa into the lush Imperial Valley. We’ve been hiking the high elevations, with low desert humidity for many, many days, but in less than an hour, we’re dropping below sea level–zero, minus 100, minus 200, and we’re still dropping, as the humidity climbs. I’m not used to this moisture, and my shirt and hiking shorts soon become soaked with perspiration. But no complaints, no complaints at all.
The mountains are behind us for awhile now, the hazy horizon that is characteristic of California before us. No more rugged, sawteeth’s looming, which we’ve become accustomed to seeing at the edge, converging with the blue across the wide, bold Arizona and California expanse of desert. Our destination today is the town of Brawley. As we continue west, does the line of campers and truck-drawn ORV trailers continue east to the “beach.” It’s really quite remarkable, the numbers that pass us. Off-road riding the sand is obviously great sport for both individuals and families.
By late morning we’re in Brawley to check into the Townhouse Lodge. It’s steak and baked potato for supper. Late evening, just as Sheltowee and I try guessing the location of his good friend, Dodger, comes a knock on our door–it’s Dodger! Dennis Ham, trail name, Dodger, has hiked along with Sheltowee off and on since he left his home in Ohio to trek around this grand country. Sheltowee had called him weeks ago and invited him to come west to spend the remaining few days with us and shuttle us around. Dodger and me, we’re friends, too, and it’s great to see him again. Another great day. Got to make the best of these remaining days west, not many left till we reach Old Point Loma Lighthouse, at the ocean, San Diego.
Saturday–November 2, 2002
Location–SR,S80 Seeley, California, thence to Coronado Motel, El Centro
The hike today takes us further south toward El Centro, the road following along the New River with canals feeding the lush valley hay and vegetable fields. Dodger checks on us from time to time. The traffic is light along Austin Road and we’re at El Centro, making the turn west by noon. Another six miles to the little village of Seeley and we call it a day. Dodger shuttles us back to El Centro where I Yogi a hiker trash deal at the Coronado Motel. Prime rib and baked potato. Another tough day!
Sunday–November 3, 2002
Location–Coronado Motel, El Centro, California
Sheltowee and I cranked in some slack as we worked our tentative final-days itinerary a couple of weeks ago. Today being Sunday, and being on schedule as we are, decision is to burn a day. El Centro has all the conveniences–and we got wheels, so we’ll stick here till tomorrow. Stock car racing, football–yup, another tough day!
Monday–November 4, 2002
Location–SR-S80/I-8, Ocotillo, California, Ocotillo Motel
Coffee and glazed donuts, and we’re in the van and heading back to Seeley. Dodger has us trekking west before seven. Oh yes, another blue-perfect day in the California desert. By eight-thirty, we reach the little berg of Dixieland. Just west of the city limits stands this bar, just east of the city limits stands this bar–same bar, the Desert Fox Saloon, owned and operated by Mike DeSoto. The old codger’s got Playboy magazines on the bar, autographed pinups gracing the walls full around. Mike pops us a couple-a frosty longnecks, then tells us all about this desert valley. “We’re at minus sixty feet sealevel here,” he says, “and the New River which runs north from Mexicali, loaded with sewage, insecticide and salt, runs north right through here to evaporate slowly at 380 feet below sea level in the Salton Sea.
Coming into Dixieland, I noticed a number of buildings with little more than tarpaper roofs, some were occupied residences, bare plywood showing. That set me to wondering–and I asked Mike, “When was the last good rain y’all got around here?” Mike thought a moment, then replied, “Nineteen…uh, nineteen-hundred seventy-six, I believe!” Roofs seem to be more important for shade than for protection from wet weather.
Desert hiking is slow and ponderous. The miles are long, and they’re all the same–sand and dirt. What few plants there are that have somehow survived out here are, without exception, various shades of brown–not making for the most exciting or joyful experience.
I’m glad to end this day, and it is a great ending, at Ocotillo. Here’s the Lazy Lizard Bar and the Ocotillo Inn. Dan, Dodger, and me, we’ve lucked into another great trail town!
Tuesday–November 5, 2002
Location–SR94, Manzanita/Boulevard, California, thence to Jacumba, Jacumba Hot Springs Spa and Cabana Club
Dodger blazed us an interesting route out and around to the interstate interchange (I-8) west of Ocotillo yesterday. Following his directions late evening, we hiked a deadend road west, beat our way through a typical, desert rock garden, then, up and over railroad tracks to the off ramp for I-8–where it comes down off Jacumba Mountain.
This morning, Dodger has us out and headed up the mountain before seven. We’re back on yet another interstate, not the sort of place most hikers would prefer to hike–but here we go, for the better part of this day. Thankfully, the traffic is light and the shoulder wide and clear.
We could see the mountain wall that is Jacumba Mountain for the better part of yesterday, and we couldn’t help but wonder where the road would go to get through it, for there appeared no way, the wall being impenetrable. And today we find out, as the road before us climbs and climbs. It takes three hours to break over the top, nearly ten miles, up, up, up. The jumble of rock that forms the face and features of the gulches and lesser knobs totally numbs my visual sense. The desert sun is so incredibly intense, creating a brilliant, reflected blaze of brightness in myriad shades of burnished brown and glazed steel gray. Rocks are balanced on rocks the size of boxcars. Boulders that have not budged from their precarious perches for countless centuries appear to be flowing down above us. And through this all, we run the main gulch that yields a wedge, a chink in the seemingly solid armor of this mountain. Below us, then above, appears the remains of the old highway built over seventy years ago, when the pavement needed be little more than six or eight feet wide. Along this old road, which we climb along for a short distance, are there still the remains of old steel beer cans, their “church key” puncture wounds still evident.
We had been concerned about being stopped along the way today, pedestrian traffic being prohibited on interstates, but the single patrolman we see waves, hits his siren for a short blast, and flies right on by.
The day goes quickly and we’re soon in Manzanita, our destination for the day. Dodger brought us lunch, then cold drinks later–that helped. Tough hike, eh!
Wednesday–November 6, 2002
Location–SR 94, Petrero, California, thence to —Park, Petrero
Cold morning. Hiking along SR 94 built in 1932. Many old live oak, moderate traffic. Lunch at Campo. Southern terminus, PCT. Lots of Border Patrol. Holes in wall. Paths everywhere. Dodger came with cold beer before Petrero. Went to border at Tecate for Subway. Then to Petrero library to write postcards. Less than sixty miles to the sea. Pitched in —- Park.
On Saturday, November 9th, at Old Point Loma Light, overlooking the Pacific at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California, Odyssey 2002, “From Sea to Shining Sea” was successfully concluded–a trek that began 3,524 miles to the east, 159 days earlier, at another old lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Please know that I miss you, all dear friends, and would love to see you again, but it may be awhile. I’m at my sister’s in Missouri for now. I’ve really come down with the post-hike blues after this trek. It’s hard to explain, kinda like the early days following retirement–sorta, but not.
This odyssey was the shortest of all, yet it proved the most difficult and challenging by far. The long, seemingly endless miles of open road in the blistering heat across Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, then the remaining thousand miles of arid desert to the horizon: New Mexico, Arizona and eastern California, those miles were the most trying. But now, strange as it may seem, I miss the dirt, the heat, the grind of those long and endless miles. Getting up day after day in a different place, month after month, thence to walk 20-30 miles each and every day, such a life quickly became very exhilarating, very energizing.
Unquestionably, we each possess that instinctive, deep-down drive called “wanderlust.” Few of us, however, have given in to it, to just go. Ahh, but those of us who have, those of us who seized the moment, who pursued that “fire in our gut,” we’re the truly blessed; we’re the ones bestowed the opportunity to chase our dreams “…into the hazy blue…”
When I’m out and moving, there’s such an incredible feeling of vitality, of strength, of freedom, freedom beyond description, beyond comprehension, most-near nirvana. Consider then, in addition, finding the Lord right there beside, through every hardship, through all the tough times, especially through the frequent, crushing episodes of consuming doubt and despair–consider finding the Lord, always there. What joy, to be lifted and carried along without the least earthly burden. It’s intense, intense. So, I must tell you–such a journey is really not a journey at all, not in the least; it is, indeed, a pilgrimage.
Most assuredly, I’m but a nomad, a gypsy-like will-o-the-wisp, an escapee from life’s normal pathway, searching for who knows what–an old vagabond lost to the ruts along life’s long and bumpy road. Ahh, but you see, life on the move is the ultimate life of freedom; it’s the totally unfettered way–bound only by what’s on one’s back, to fade “… into the hazy blue…” like “…those of us lost to the dust outward blown…,” who head off down that trail, who take to that open road, those of us “…who have gone and have never come back…;” we come the closest to truly taking wing, to flying. Indeed, our lives soar the nearest to heavenly bliss–on this Earth.
Hopefully, this offers a fleeting glimpse into the shadowy mystery of it all.
So here I am, at this moment, perhaps ending such a way of life, a way so perplexing to all who see (and envy). Yes, to interrupt it even for a brief while, to plunk down and just sit, to move no more–ahh, tis not such an easy thing to do. That’s the letdown, that’s the dilemma.
Finally, I want to thank you, dear friends all, for your support and encouragement during Odyssey 2002. Your kindness and caring meant more to me than you could ever know.
God Bless, Eb
From Sea to Shining Sea