Saturday—April 20, 2013
Location—North of Carrizalillo Hills
Two dear friends here in Hachita, New Mexico, Elvira, the Postmistress, and Lucy. Both these dear ladies befriended me, helped me at the end of my Continental Divide trek in 2007. I get to see them both and spend some time again.
And a new friend, Sam. Sam picks up hikers from the airport, train station, wherever, then delivers them to the new southern terminus for the Continental Divide Trail—the Mexican Border, at Crazy Cook Monument. Sam is letting me park my truck in his yard for the near three months I’ll be gone.
It’s also been my pleasure to meet six CDT northbounders while here at Sam’s, Tall Paul, Sycamore, Bear Trouble, Litter Box, Yukon, and Elizabeth. In 2008 I had the pleasure of trekking much of the Pacific Crest Trail with Litter Box and Yukon. They, along with Elizabeth, are also on their Triple Crown hike this year.
Sam is off to deliver hikers to the border, and I’m off to the post office for a picture with Elvira. Then it’s to Lucy’s for pictures and a grand send-off from her flag decorated front gate. I’m headed east on NM-9 a little before ten.
As always, at the beginning of another odyssey, I’m most apprehensive about my legs coming back under me. I’ll turn 75 after the completion of this trek—so for the concern.
The road climbs steady for the first few miles, to where the Continental Divide now crosses NM-9. Sam told me the line for the Divide has been moved. So the need for his support services. To get to Crazy Cook Monument requires a three-hour trip over an incredibly rough high clearance vehicle road. When I ended my southbound trek o’er the CDT in 2007, the trail terminated either at the border south of Columbus, or south of Hachita (past Lucy’s home) at Antelope Wells—both paved roads.
So, as I continue to climb this morning, then level out, I’m at what appears to be the Divide now, at 4,757 feet, according to my GPS. Hey, hey, so it’s all downhill from here folks! At Galveston, I’ll be at sea level.
I’ve a 25-mile day, a tough go of it for the first day out. The wind comes up late morning, and by late evening it’s shoving me along with gusts to thirty.
I make it to Hermanas (a cattle corral) just at sunset, fetch the jug of water I’d cached coming through from El Paso, and pitch behind a gravel pile. It’s been a long first day, and I’m tired, very tired.
Sunday—April 21, 2013
I was bone tired at day’s end yesterday. Sometimes I find it difficult to sleep when exhausted. That’s how the night went. Sleeping on gravel didn’t help things any.
Sunrise I’m out and on my way to Columbus, straight into the rising sun. Not nearly as stiff and stove-up as expected. I’ve doubled up on my Osteo Bi-Flex and enteric aspirin, and I’m also taking GNC Men’s Sports Meds. Ha, nine pills this morning.
NM-9 is a pretty desolate stretch of road. Only traffic, pretty much, is Border Patrol. They’ve already checked me out. “You an American citizen?” All they asked. Didn’t even ID me. Guess I don’t look all that Hispanic!
No wind today, and the Tarmac starts cooking just after noon. Think I liked the wind better. By two I’m in Columbus. Being Sunday, only place open is the gas station. I go for the microwave burger and coke.
John at Pancho Villa State Park befriends me, puts me under one of his picnic table covers for the night. Ah, and a nice soothing shower to boot. Thanks, John!
Monday—April 22, 2013
Trail Mile—25/ 69
A quiet, pleasant stay at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus. One very nice thing about the desert: It cools down at night.
I’m out and moving toward the local cafe a little before seven. They don’t open till nine. Okay, over to the Chevron for some coffee. Wrong! They don’t open till eight. So, it’s sit and wait—on the bench in front of the library (which isn’t open till much later) to see if I can check my email. Hey, they’ve left their WiFi on!
Glad I waited around for breakfast. Just great, and the ladies at The Patio Cafe befriend the old hiker.
I’m finally on the road out of town a little after ten. The wind is back—at my back. Not going to complain about the wind again. Much the better than the Tarmac sizzlin’ heat.
Another long day today, east to some old ruins by the road called Malpais. Fellow at the grocery told me it means “badlands.” Volcanic rock. Black as coal volcanic rock. Jumbles if it. Badlands, that’s Malpais all right.
I manage to finish the day before dark, fetch the gallon of water I cached by some old posts and head on down the road to a smoother location for the night.
The Border Patrol guys and gals have taken me under their wing, stopping often to make sure I’ve got water, that I’m okay. Don’t think they’ve had anyone else out here walking this grinder.
Legs seem to be doing fine—a blessing.
Tuesday—April 23, 2013
Location—South of Harringtons Home Arroyo
I pitched for the night on a ridge above the road. Elevation just over 4,000 feet. No problem with traffic noise. There’s little traffic out here during the day, next to none at night. This state road should be called “Wide Line 9.” Mostly what’s running this straight arrow are the wides and overloads, escorted by the State Police. Last Friday, on my way to Hachita, I came close to getting run over by five new dump truck beds, the ones we’ve all seen on the huge strip mine trucks. The low-boys hauling them straddled the road center line and took up both lanes—entirely. The police escort just ran the oncoming traffic off the road!
Another long day. Gotta hammer this thing to get anywhere. Long, very long straight stretches that reach to a point on the shimmering desert horizon. I know I’m moving ever so slowly east, and I am patient, but time seems totally in suspension as I try reaching the next curve. Many miles between sometimes, and to make things worse—the distant mountains, the mountains retreat faster than I can hike to them.
Another windy day, which makes for difficult going. I do manage to reach my water cache, to finish the day by four-thirty. Ah, and another night in the desert. I must get used to the desert nights.
If the day goes as planned and I manage to get out and moving in the morning, I should hit the outskirts of El Paso tomorrow evening. 111 miles for the first five days. Just keep moving along old man. Best way to handle this grand expanse of desert!
Border Patrol and others passing, they stop to check on me from time-to time, to see if I’m doing okay.
And as to wildlife out here—the only thing I’ve seen so far are a bunch of dead coyotes wired to a fence.
Wednesday—April 24, 2013
Location—Texas State Line (then on to downtown El Paso)
The wind has finally figured me out. Took awhile. It’s been out of the west the last four days, hurrying me along from behind. But last night, instead of settling down, it kept pushing hard, till it had switched completely around, to—oh yes—directly out of the east. Around two, it was shaking my tent so hard that it rousted me—so to find everything in my tent covered with desert dust and sand. Aw, what a mess. I’ll fret over it in the morning.
Seven-thirty, I somehow manage to shake most of the sand, shoulder my pack and go. The wind is still cranking, directly out of the east, and it’s cold, very cold. Hands in my pockets. Sticks under my arms. Head down, and headed into it. I’m trying to haul, but this push-back makes for very slow going.
Border Patrol checks on me first thing. Bad news. A front’s coming through, and the wind is going to intensify. And that’s how it goes all morning and into early afternoon. By the time I pass the Border Patrol Station a bit west of El Paso, I have the mountains to the east providing the least cover. Still have my wind jacket on and my hands in my pockets.
Once I drop off the high desert rim and down into the Rio Grande Valley, the day finally manages to come around. And a McDonald’s right soon doesn’t hurt things any. Big Mac Meal time!
As I trek on into El Paso, I’m well below 4,000 feet now. Good chance I’ll remain below four the remainder of this odyssey. 4,747 at the Continental Divide by Hachita. 3,750 here. The High Plains Desert, 100-miles of it (and New Mexico) are now in my rearview. Crossing the barren stretches of Texas, I’ll try tracking close to I-10. Hopefully I’ll find water now and then, maybe at an exit service station. Anyway, that’s the plan.
By late evening I reach old downtown El Paso, find a reasonable room, shower and scrub off some of the desert dirt—and call it a day.
Thursday—April 25, 2013
Location—San Jose (then on to south of Clint)
Dirt is dirt, but I suppose if there is such a thing as the real thing, then desert dirt takes it. Standing in the shower last, soaking and stomping out my desert-dirty duds, I couldn’t believe the pure mud running out of them. So, what a great benefit to be clean and have reasonably clean clothes again.
A very neat and tidy little Mexican mom-n-pop downtown El Paso catches my eye, so in I go for breakfast, eggs, hash browns, toast—and refried beans, all washed down with plenty of fine coffee. My tank’s topped off and I’m ready to hit the road.
Heading southeast on Texas, then Alameda (TX-20), not long both sides of the street turn into used car city. This continues for better part of three hours, some nine miles. I’ve never seen such a concentration of used car lots. There had to be hundreds, no exaggeration. Thousands of used vehicles, thousands—just remarkable. And the strangest thing: Along the entire strip, there weren’t a half-dozen people looking at any of them.
By the time used car row gives way to the salvage yards, I’ve dropped another couple-hundred feet in elevation. TX-20 is following the Rio Grande Valley as it descends, so no doubt tomorrow will continue down.
I reach San Jose, my destination for today, with plenty of hiking day left, so I trek it on down past Clint, to the first of countless pecan groves, where I pull off and stealth it for the night.
I never have seen so many used car lots. I think they ran out of names is why it ended.
Friday—April 26, 2013
Location—From south of Clint, through Fabens, to Fort Hancock
The pecan grove where I pitched last was near the tracks, so I heard the trains all night. Actually, I only remember hearing the first two. The rest simply added a bit of rumbling to my dreams.
Okay, the daily mileage thing: No, I didn’t hike 42 miles today! It was more like 28 or 29. I’d already hiked down some 13 miles or so of Trail Day—7. So, I only had around six miles left to reach Fabens this morning, which I did by 8:30. It’s just so much easier for me to click off (listed) itinerary miles the day they occur. My math is bad enough as it is without trying to make changes in my head. Taking the miles as they click; it isn’t all that big a deal. The tentative itinerary pretty much sets it all up, tells the story, and is easy enough to follow. Anyway, so much for what appears to be a 42-mile day. NOT!
I remember studying about the desert soil, that it’s fertile—only needs water. Here there’s water, the Rio Grande. And the near-level ground, plus a network of canals handles the desert water problem nicely. Truck farming, mainly onions, plus pecan trees and alfalfa, all grow amazingly well here. Just need the water!
So along today, that’s pretty much what I see, flooded fields of trees, grass—and onions. It turns hot, but with a gentle breeze to my back to help me along, it’s a most pleasant hiking day. Four-lane, and wide shoulders also help a bunch. The land keeps ever-so-gently dropping away (from the high divide). At Fort Hancock, I’m at 3600 feet.
I turn up the main drag (toward Angie’s Restaurant) a little before seven. Her place is right next I-10, and there’s a motel directly across. I beat it to the motel first—kind folks, fair hiker-trash deal. And Angie’s has a good cook!
Been a long but very satisfying day. Hey, isn’t that pretty much true for all days when you give it your best!
Saturday—April 27, 2013
Location—Arroyo Macho, then on to MM-95, I-10
Heading out this morning I look over and give thought to just jumping on the I-10 westbound emergency lane and heading east from Exit-72, rather than backtracking the mile back to TX-20. I need to hit the post office, though, and it’s down on the corner. I-10 would have been a bunch shorter.
In awhile, TX-20 comes beside and merges onto I-10. Here, I’ll be leaving the Rio Grande Valley to climb into the Texas hills. I’d hoped for a frontage road on at least one side of the interstate, but there’s none—either side. The Border Patrol has two-tracks running all over the place, especially along the I-10 fence. I stagger along their sand ruts to the next exit. Doesn’t take long to realize I’ll never get across Texas plodding like this. Time to find out. Will the State Police give me a hard time if I hike the interstate?
And why follow the interstate? It’s my only decent hope of finding water, at least at manageable intervals. It’s one heck of a long way between places out here. Upwards of a hundred miles at times, along the US and TX highways. It’s all desert; not a drop of water. My best shot at getting through, of pulling this cross-Texas trek off is staying the interstate.
A couple of Lone-Star State folks wrote me recently expressing dismay as to my chosen route, that I would be missing certain places. All I can say is here are my priorities for Texas—and in this order: To cross without dying of thirst or getting run over. Then to meet a few folks and take some pictures. No big expectations for Texas. Just want to live to tell about it.
The absence of service roads either side continues. So it’s decision time—I take to the interstate! I’ve trekked the interstate before, in California, and I did get hassled. Walking the wide shoulder facing traffic isn’t unsafe, just scary. The speed limit out here is 80, and everyone, including the truckers, they’re all flying low. Eighteen Wheelers whizzing by right next make an incredible racket at 80-plus!
I get the day in fine, and a trucker by an exit ramp gives me water. Many interstate miles and no hassle. A concrete box culvert under I-10 near MM-95 provides a comfortable home for the night.
Sunday—April 28, 2013
Location—Sierra Blanca, then on to MM-124, I-10
Since leaving the Rio Grande Valley yesterday, the highway has been steadily climbing. I spent the night last at a place called Hilltop, elevation 4,400 feet. So, from the valley, at around 3,000 feet, I’m back up to near where I started at the Continental Divide, elevation-wise.
The old highway has been left intact as a frontage road next the interstate, so it’s easy and pleasant hiking into Sierra Blanca. The interstate has done a job on Sierra Blanca. It was once a thriving community, serving the needs of folks passing through. The interstate changed all that. There’s a modern motel and a jiffy at the exit to town. In town there’s a cafe, a few businesses, everything else is boarded up, flanked in tumbleweed. Folks are doing their best to keep the place going. To me, walking through and really getting a good look—very depressing. They call this progress, I guess.
The old highway continues on out of Sierra Blanca, with I-10 hugging it as it goes. Pancake flat desert. Stark brown knobs, naked spires and hills either side, separated by nothing but miles and miles of camo-color desolation. I can see the pavement moving beneath my feet but I’m really not getting anywhere. I can look ahead, then turn and look back. Same picture—ribbons of highway disappearing to a suspended pinpoint on either horizon. And I am suspended with them. I can see the mile markers along the interstate right next, and they are passing. However, I must look at each one to convince myself that the numbers are actually changing. Patience old man. Keep on keepin’ on. The real eternity will be different than this one.
Reaching Sierra Blanca, that was an itinerary click. After dinner at the restaurant there, around noon, I continued hammering the Tarmac east, another 17 miles, for a 29-mile day, all in order to set up my arrival in Van Horn tomorrow, hopefully by noon. There are many motels with reasonable (hiker trash) rates in Van Horn. I want to rest there a couple of days and hopefully get my strength (and good attitude) back.
Border Patrol fellows coming out of Diamond Eagle Ranch with their horse trailers stopped to give me much needed water late afternoon. I pitch for the night under an interstate (dry gulch) bridge at MM-124. Leaves me with a 14 on into Van Horn.
Monday—April 29, 2013
Location—Past Guest Ranch Road, to Van Horn
I’ve already hiked most of the distance to Guest Ranch Road, so I pass there early morning. Hitting the Tarmac before sunrise, sure enough I’ll make Van Horn around noon—got 10 ounces of water left.
At a place called Crusher, near Carrizo Peak, the old highway disappears under I-10, so it’s back to the westbound emergency lane. From here it’s downhill all the way to Van Horn.
The hiker trash motel room does exist in Van Horn, and I’m in, feet up, a bit after twelve. I dearly need this rest…
Tuesday—April 30, 2013
Since entering the Rio Grande Valley days ago, and until late afternoon yesterday, when I entered the Central Time Zone, I’d been trekking through Hudspeth County, Texas. Hudspeth encompasses over 4,500 square miles, one of the largest counties in Texas—one of the largest anywhere for that matter. Three days ago, while I was still hiking along the Rio Grande, Deputy Sheriff Sanchez (Alec), Hudspeth County, stopped to see if I was okay, if I needed anything. “Just dial 911, and I’ll be right out.” said Alec. Two days later (yesterday) Deputy Alec walks up to me while I was having dinner at Michael’s Restaurant in Sierra Blanca. “My goodness!” I said. “What are you doing way over here, Alec?” He explained that Sierra Blanca was the county seat for Hudspeth County, and that I was about halfway across. “Takes two tanks of gas a day, most every day, to patrol around.” says Alec. He can’t help but grin when he sees the expression of disbelief on my face. “And you know all the farmers and ranchers in the 4,500 square miles, I suppose?” I ask. “Sure, first name basis—all very good friends.” replies Alec. Amazing, just amazing! I always figured Texas talk was big. But now I know it’s sure not as big as Texas!
A couple more interesting things to fill in this entry. First, you’ll recall me talking about how the southern terminus for the Continental Divide Trail has changed since I hiked it. That the trail now begins/ends on the Mexican Border by a monument in honor of a fellow name of Crazy Cook. While in Hachita, I heard about Crazy Cook, so I asked Sam to tell me about him. “Well,” says Sam, “seems nobody knows or can find out much of anything about Crazy Cook. Folks have researched the guy, searched the Internet for Crazy Cook—nothing!” Anyway, explains Sam—and so the story goes—Cook was not the fellow’s name. He was supposedly a cook, ran the chuckwagon for a line crew, cattle crew, some kind of crew. “Legend” has it that one of the hands didn’t like the grub dished up by Crazy Cook, and made the fatal mistake one day of telling him so. And what did Crazy Cook do? Why, this is the old west, folks. Crazy Cook took out his six-shooter and shot the guy—dead! “Now how do you like it?” said Crazy Cook. (I made that last part up.) So much for the Crazy Cook Monument—seems there’s always a good reason for a monument, don’t you know!
The past number of days I’ve been picking up coins. Nothing great, a penny here, a dime there. But yesterday, my goodness, what a day for fortune hunting—for coins that is. I wasn’t on the old highway ten minutes till I stopped dead in my tracks. Looking down, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Lying there in the gravel on the road shoulder, an old JFK half-dollar! I couldn’t believe it, stared and stared the longest time. Fifty-cent pieces have been out of circulation for years and years. And this old JFK’s been laying out here just as long. I’ve picked up a whole bunch of coins during my travels, two quart mason jars full. But I don’t have a single coin as mangled or beat up as this one. This old John F., sure enough has had a really hard life. And that find was just the start of a run for the day. Four old dimes, four pennies, ninety-four cents all total. Arranged them on the table in my room here, and took a picture. Quite unusual and very neat. Give a look when we get this odyssey’s album started.
Won’t have to get out of here real early tomorrow, or carry much. An unusual day for trekking Texas. It’s only 19 miles across the desert to the next oasis, Greg’s Exxon and Restaurant, I-10, Exit 159.
Ah, this has been a much needed day of rest, and I am thankful for it.
Wednesday—May 1, 2013
Location—Moon Road by I-10, Exxon Truck Stop
Getting out of Van Horn, not an easy task. But by ten, after a stop at the post office, then to the little coffee shop downtown, I’m finally moving east again on the frontage road next I-10.
This should be a reasonably easy day, 19 miles to Exit 159, the truck stop/restaurant there. And that destination will have to be it for today. No way I want to hike out of there carrying enough water for tonight and all day tomorrow. Plus, believe it or not, winds are going to pick up out of the northeast to 35, gusting to 50 late tonight, then through tomorrow, with temperatures predicted to drop below freezing. Is this not crazy! A wind advisory is out for truckers to take extra precautions due to high winds and low visibility (flying sand).
I make the truck stop/restaurant in good order a little before five—to immediately start draining their fountain. Great burger and fries at the restaurant.
I’ve found a spot out back, in the desert, to pitch for tonight, but, as I sit here in this comfortable oasis (the truck stop is open 24/7), I’m trying to decide what to do. Sure enough, if I pitch, the weather will turn like predicted—and I’ll be right back in here pronto.
Also, looks of it, I may end up burning a day here tomorrow, should weather conditions turn as bad as they say. If I ain’t out in it to start with, I’m sticking with warm and inside—much better choice! Let you know…
Well, I did try setting camp, and I did get my tent secured in the desert sand. But in short order the intense wind began blowing sad/dirt under my fly and into my tent, and it became difficult to breathe. So, just as predicted—back to the shelter of the truck stop, to sit at one of their booths for the night.
Thursday—May 2, 2013
Trail Day— 13
A very rough night last, but not near what it could have been. I thought I’d found a sheltered spot behind the truck stop, and no sooner had I pitched than the wind came up. Even with my fly lashed down tight, the desert got in, quickly covering me and everything in my tent. An ordeal breaking camp in the swirling cloud of dust and dirt. Back in the truck stop I managed a couple hours sleep slumped over one of their booth tables.
A little before eight, not wanting to wear out my welcome, I head out and into it, a cold, hard-cutting nor’easter. And so the day goes, a very hard time of it, leaning into a steady 30, then stopping and bracing in order to hold my advance against gusts of 40 to 50. The wind continues, unabated the whole day. I retreat numerous times to the shelter of the box culverts under the interstate in order to get out of it. No frontage road here, the old highway being the westbound I-10 lane. So, the rush and roar of the continuing convoy of 18-wheelers just aggravates the wind as I stagger east against the onslaught. 12 hours to do 18 miles into Kent. I arrive just after sunset—the sun a faint yellow spot on the dust choked horizon.
And so, now to fight off the demoralizing effects of yet another I-10 casualty—Kent. At one time, Kent had to be a thriving little community. But alas, no more. The interstate took care of Kent. The place is a ghost town now. The old Kent General Store, the full-service Chevron, both closed, home now to piled up heaps of tumbleweed. And the homes here, all empty and abandoned. Everyone has given up on Kent. An Internet search of Kent produces a picture of the old Kent School—what’s left of the walls.
One of the abandoned houses has had the front door kicked in. No “Keep Out” sign, so in I go, cautiously. One of the back bedrooms somehow escaped having all its windows broken out, and has retained a bit of what little warmth there’s been this day. I shut myself in, pitch my tent, plus full fly, and prepare for a very cold night. Forecast is for sub-freezing temperatures, which I’ll have to suffer through with my dink summer bag—and my (meager) clothes.
I’m settled in fine, my sticks-for-fingers finally beginning to function again—when my lightweight Therm-a-Rest mattress springs a leak. I’m flat on the floor in no time. Broken glass all around. Didn’t see it in my haste to settle in and get warm. Now for a really tough night. Oh, my arthritic, bony old body, I’ll be listening to it complain, for sure.
A brutal day on I-10, just a brutal day.
Friday—May 3, 2013
Location—Past Sotol Hill, to MM-201, I-10, near Balmorhea
The day dawns calm but cold. I’m hunched over, hood up, hands in my pockets. Prevailing winds are usually out of the west out here, but with the strength of this last nor’easter, it’s still blowing steady out of the east/northeast. Pushing into it is tiring, like steady uphill.
There’s a family owned/run convenience about five miles into the day. Rationing what little water I had left from the truck stop last night and this morning—am I ever glad to reach the station.
I was hoping, and pleased that Blake, the lad running the station, had some super glue. He helped patch my leaky air mattress. Sure hope it holds.
From the station it’s a short distance to the I-10, I-20 split. I’d been concerned about getting through. Decision is to hike the I-10 eastbound emergency lane. That way I wouldn’t have to cross both lanes of I-20. Traffic isn’t terribly heavy and I’m able to get I-20 behind me without incident. Just a bit unnerving having 18-wheelers coming at me from behind.
Reaching Sotol Hill in good order, my destination for the day, and wanting to get into Balmorhea early tomorrow, I push on to MM-201. Doing a 25 today leaves me with seven on in to Balmorhea tomorrow morning. I pitch in the thorns on a ridge above the interstate. Oh yes, I carefully clear a spot. Hey, hey, the super glue fix is holding
Saturday—May 4, 2013
Balmorhea, then on to MM-229, Hovey Road
My air mattress held all night, providing the most comfortable rest.
I reach Balmorhea before ten, to not such good news. The motel I was looking to stay at is booked. Ditto for the other one I could have afforded on the northeast end of town.
Just as well. I’ve got a 53 from Balmorhea to Fort Stockton, with only a rest area (with water) between—about halfway. I need to hike the 50+ with only one overnight. No way can I cover that distance in that time with a cumbersome pack. And the least bit of food and water is cumbersome. Decision is to carry only 40-oz of water and some hot dogs, hike till dark, and get as close to the rest area as I can before calling it a day.
With the side trip down to Balmorhea adding a couple more miles, makes for a very long 30-mile day to MM-229, Hovey Road. I’ve consumed 25-oz of my water, leaving 15 for the night (and early morning). Home is a box culvert under westbound I-10.
Sunday—May 5, 2013
Location—Kennedy Road, then on to Fort Stockton, (west end)
The concrete box culverts tend to hold a good bit of warmth of the day. Good thing. Being unable to drive tent stakes in the concrete put me at the mercy of the night air, and it really chilled down during the night.
More straight-arrow highway. Trying to judge distances out here is futile. Between horizons can amount to an entire day of walking. Being content with it all requires a couple things. Being able to get along on little water is one. Next up is patience—having great quantities of patience sure helps.
Hood up, head down, hands in pockets again this morning. Only look up at intervals, to make sure the 18-wheelers are giving me room, then to search the horizon for the rest area. I know it’s not that far out there. It finally comes into view—and I hastily down the little bit of my remaining water carried from Balmorhea yesterday. Ah, and what a grand oasis, the MM-233 Rest Area.
Another hammer-it-out day, around 29. I’m again carrying only 40-oz of water, and I sure don’t want to have to stretch it beyond this evening. So, anything oasis-like, west side of Fort Stockton, here I come.
The wind has had me figured out for days now. No such thing as prevailing wind when this old intrepid’s out here. Five-per to start with this morning, then steadily increasing all day to 25-per—yup, out of the east. All day, it wears on you. Slows you down physically, not to mention how it pushes you around mentally. Uphill and into it the final three miles into (west) Fort Stockton. Dollar menu (and a remarkable dint in their fountain), at McDonald’s. Second best oasis today! Pitched in the desert behind.
Monday—May 6, 2013
Location—Fort Stockton (east end)
Making it into Fort Stockton and McDonald’s, west end, a great blessing; well worth the hard day endured to get there.
The Comanche Motel, with a room I can afford, is on the easternmost edge of town, less than a four-mile day. In the process, I’ll pass the Fort Stockton itinerary click, so it’ll show in the stats for today.
Another pass at McDonald’s and I’m pack up and quickly through Fort Stockton. I’d called Carrie at Comanche yesterday, and she said there’d be a room ready for me at ten. Ten, I’m right there—and in for this very short hiking day. Clean clothes and body. Feet up. A wonderful day of rest.
Back on the desert grinder again in the morning. It’s over 30 miles to the next services along I-10. Likely, I’ll be overnight and rationing water again. Patience with this desert crossing, old man—patience…
Tuesday—May 7, 2013
Location—FM-2023, then on to Exit/MM-294, by Bakersfield
I make it out from Fort Stockton at 7:30, and am soon on the frontage road beside I-10. The day starts calm and cool, but the ever-present wind comes up by eleven, to push me around the remainder of the day. Next the semis I’m the tallest thing out here—in the free-blowing wind.
The desert is slowly changing, greening up the least bit, with a much larger variety of desert plants. And I’m seeing and hearing birds for the first time since Balmorhea. Mourning Doves, anytime you hear them cooing, there’s got to be water around somewhere. And I’m starting to see some roadkill now, two mule deer; they’re the first.
I’ve the great benefit of having frontage roads all day. Was told there’d be water at 14-Mile Park, but there is none. I find an old windmill, a tank, and piping down to the park, but from the looks of it, the whole setup’s been out of service for years. No big green tree, no water waitin’ for me, not out here.
My lucky day, though. I meet a couple, Dieter and Karin, who’ve parked their fifth wheel at the park pull-off and are sitting at one of the picnic tables. They give me water, enough to get me on to the service stations at MM-294. Thanks kind travelers!
Mesas, pretty much the view all around, the whole day. The tower of a wildcat oil rig interrupts the otherwise uniform landscape. And today I see my first oil well/pump.
I’d hoped to reach Exit-294 long before dark, but it’s 9:30 before I get there, in the dark. Both little stations are closed, their hours, 7-7. Thankfully, Chevron has an outside spigot—water; I’m completely out of water. I find a clear spot (no thorns) out behind the station, then to have much trouble pitching in the incessant wind.
“Dan, can’t you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waitin’ there for me and you (water)
Cool, clear, water (water)…”
[Bob Nolan, 1936 – Sons of the Pioneers, 1947]
Wednesday—May 8, 2013
Location—Past Perry Ranch, then on to Sheffield Exit-325
Far enough away from the interstate, by the shed, so I enjoyed a reasonably quiet night for a change.
Emily (I was right in there for coffee) opens the station a bit after seven. I look over the assortment of food items then pick up enough for two days—plus. In the process, I clean out her cooler of burritos!
Another note about the mileage thing. No, I didn’t hike 38 miles yesterday, or 37 today. Mileage miscalculations for sure. Plus, now that I know I can hike the interstate here in Texas and not get hassled, that’s where I’ve been trekking, either a frontage road if there is one, or directly on the westbound emergency lane, I-10, if not. Much shorter. So, yesterday, I hiked closer to a 33, from MM-161 east end of Fort Stockton, to MM-194 below Bakersfield. And even with the 33 yesterday, I still have 71 to go to reach Ozona. It’s a no-man’s land out here. I think that’s one reason the authorities leaving me alone. Many have passes me. There have been some folks on bikes out here, too. The law is quite clear about walking and biking limited access highways. Problem is: I-10 is not truly limited access. The frontage roads, which provide ranchers and farmers access to their lands, are not fenced off from the interstate. The fences are between the frontage roads and the rangeland, with nothing more separating them from the highway than shallow swales. So, nothing to stop folks from driving back and forth—and there are many places along where it appears the unauthorized crossovers have even been improved. Anyway, the interstate is easier and much shorter, so I’m trekking I-10!
The post office in Ozona is only open till four during the week and not at all on Saturday. So, unless I plan on hanging around Ozona all weekend, I need to keep hauling—two more thirties to set up Ozona for Friday morning.
There’s a rest area at MM-309. Emily said for me to see Wayne there for information on what I’d have to deal with east of there. Wayne was there to give me the bad news—no chance of water again until Ozona, MM-365. What Wayne suggested (Thank you, Lord!): let him cache some water for me at Exit-325, his turnoff on his way home to Sheffield. He also said he’d go up and leave water for me at Exit-343, enough to hopefully get me on through to Ozona.
Damos, Pecos County, Unit 3, stops to check on me. And what a surprise seeing David again. He was on his way home to San Antonio and pulled off when he saw me trekking along. I’d met him at Sam’s place in Hachita!
Wayne has left water for me at Exit-225, just as promised. Many rides offered. Much wind again. A very long 31 for the day. After finding the water I don’t hike another 50-yds and I’m down for the count. Ah, water. Cool, clear water!
“All day I face the barren waste
Without the taste of water (water, cool water)…”
[Bob Nolan, 1936 – Sons of the Pioneers, 1947]
Thursday—May 9, 2013
Location—MM-325, past Bachelor Hill, to MM-355, I-10
Cloudy morning, rain threatens but there is none. There’s a frontage road down to the Pecos River, and that’s it for frontage roads for the day. I expected to see a bit of water in the Pecos. There is, but it’s running very little, very slow.
The climb up and out of the Pecos River Valley is steady and long. The semi traffic is running heavy. I must lean against their push, which is added to the westbound push of the wind.
A bit after three, Wayne pulls to the shoulder ahead of me. He’s returning from Exit-343, where he’d cached more water for me. He also has an extra bottle of cool, clear water in his car. What a truly amazing thing, meeting Wayne—an absolute blessing.
After collecting the water left by Wayne at Exit-343, I hike on till MM-255. This leaves me with a ten on into Ozona in the morning. Another very long day on the I-10 grinder.
It had rained on me late this afternoon (a remarkable thing to witness in the desert), wonderfully cool. I just let it pound down on me!
Much thunder and lightning as I pull to the fence to pitch. I take time to fully rig my fly. Good thing as the rain returns. Lulls me to a most contented sleep…
“Keep a movin’ Dan
Don’t you listen to him Dan,
He’s a devil not a man
And he spreads the burnin’ sand with water (water, cool water)…”
[Bob Nolan, 1936 – Sons of the Pioneers, 1947]
Friday—May 10, 2013
Location—Ozona, then on to Exit-372, I-10
Rain came back last night, hard for half an hour.
What a glorious mess this morning. Desert dirt makes the most amazing mix of mud, like chocolate pudding (didn’t try it). It covers my tent, four inches up, all the way around. There’s no shaking it. Roll the whole mess up and shove it in your stuff sack old man. Nothing else to do. Try and dry it out later.
I’m set up for hitting Ozona before noon. Anxious to get this stretch of desert behind me. The crossing from Fort Stockton to Ozona, 104 miles, will remain one of the most confidence destroying and mentally shredding experiences in all my years of lugging a pack. The horizons were beyond any horizon I’ve ever gazed upon—and trekked toward. I tried Tuesday, 33 miles, Wednesday, 31 miles, and yesterday, 30 miles. And yet, after those 94 miles, all remained, everything still the same, the boundless desert—and that ribbon of highway dancing and shimmering to a point beyond the hazy blue. A challenge to test the will, the very soul of any man.
I’m hoping the intensity of this desert experience might ease up some now. Junction is less than 100 miles east of me. The desert is changing, slowly, grudgingly, and it is less daunting.
The morning flies by and I’m in Ozona (and the post office) a bit after noon. I made it Wayne; four ounces left of the precious, cool water you so kindly provided me. Thanks for your help, your kindness!
The library is directly across the street from the post office—hey, it’s open. In I go with plenty of time to sort my bounce box, then beat it back to the post office to bounce it on down the trail (road). A stop for lunch at a local cafe (Mexican, what else), and I’m back on the interstate headed for the Exxon Truck Stop (Circle Bar Truck Corral) six miles on east.
Circle Bar, a neat place; very good chicken dinner. Fills me up—paid for by some kind soul, I know not who.
I’d cased out the back of the place earlier, where the truckers park for the night, and found a spot for my dink tent. I head back there at sunset. A short day, but still managed a 17.
“And way up there He’ll hear our prayer
And show us where there’s water (water, cool water)…”
[Bob Nolan, 1936 – Sons of the Pioneers, 1947]
Saturday—May 11, 2013
Location—Exit-388, I-10, south of Buckhorn Draw
The spot I picked to pitch behind the truckstop was wet. My tent was already wet, so didn’t matter. Time was, I had difficulty sleeping next to semis idling all night—no longer.
I’m right back into Circle Bar Truck Corral for coffee and breakfast first thing.
Monique, who works the trucker’s side, befriends me when I ask about a shower. She hands me soap, towels, and a key, “Shower #2, no charge.” Warm, friendly smile. From my pack I take my clothes and tent, and give them all a good stomping and sudsing. Then it’s out to the fence behind, dripping as I go, to dry everything out. Back to the cafe, a fine lunch, compliments of waitress, Lindsey.
I finally manage to get back hiking the grinder at 2:30, to make 15 miles to MM-388, there to pitch (believe it or not) in some soft, tender grass under a sprawling oak tree!
Sunday—May 12, 2013
Location—Sonora, then on to near TX-306 (away from) I-10
The eighteen-wheelers ran hard all night, but I slept through the constant rumble.
I’ve just enough water from Circle Bar to make it to the rest area at MM-394 (water). It’s an easy hike from there (westbound emergency lane I-10) on in to Sonora. I hit their business exit at 12:30.
The desert is actually starting to give it up. Late yesterday afternoon I saw the first real trees (nature’s own) since departing Hachita, scrub oak, also some willow and cedar. And there’s actually traces of water in the draws and what has been dry ponds. Still have to watch out for the cactus though, it’s everywhere.
Saw two large (live) mule deer today. Actually, I think they’re called axis deer, but they resemble the mule deer in a number of ways. And lots of birds, including vultures.
I didn’t go downtown Sonora, rather, stayed I-10 and hit the local (very popular with the church folks) Sutton County Restaurant. Tapped their WiFi to check email and send current journal entries.
As I follow the frontage road east out of Sonora, it moves away from the interstate, so I’ll have a quiet night’s rest for a change.
The highway has been steadily dropping for quite a few days. In Van Horn I hiked above 4,000 feet for the last time this journey. Just before Fort Stockton, I was above 3,000 for the last time. And near Harper (past Junction) I’ll drop, then stay below 2,000 feet. And by the time I reach Austin, I’ll be below 500 feet. Headin’ for the Gulf, folks!
I find a thorn-free spot along Ranch Road 3130, across from the J Bar L Ranch, and this day’s done. Oh my, it’s quiet, noticeably quiet.
Monday—May 13, 2013
Location—From near MM-415, past TX-306 and Roosevelt, to Copperas Creek, MM-443, I-10
Well folks, I’m a third of the way along this GAL trek now, but I’m still not halfway across Texas! Thanks for coming along—we’ll make it through Texas, sure enough we’ll make it!
A very unsettling situation most the entire day today (Tell me if you wouldn’t feel the least bit uneasy yourself!). Vultures, I talked about seeing vultures in my journal entry yesterday. Well, here they are in the sky above me today, ‘round and ‘round they circle, always one, sometimes more. They’ll be gone awhile, then here they are again. Their shadows move full around me, and at times, when at the right angle, they block the sun as their shadow moves over me. Just a scary ordeal, wouldn’t you say? Never had to deal with anything like this before. What do these vultures know that I don’t? Very unsettling—very!
Water, again, water is a problem (what’s new). I carried 40 ounces out of Sonora. That’s really about all I can lug any given time and not expect trouble—with my back, hips, especially my knees. So, I’m down to ten ounces, and it’s just now late morning. Isn’t my style, but I’m very thirsty—so I gesture to a oilfield worker passing on the frontage road, by holding up my nearly empty water bottle and pointing to it. He sees me, slows, then stops. The kind fellow has a full gallon of water in the truck with him. I down the ten ounces I’d been holding onto, then he fills my bottle for me. What a relief to have enough water now to make it to Roosevelt. Thanks, thanks, thanks!
Along today I see an actual mailbox—and a house! Goat farmer—goats everywhere. And there are more and more oak trees. They’re bigger and much healthier looking than those yesterday. But the ubiquitous cactus, still ever-present.
I make it to Simon Brothers Mercantile in Roosevelt a little after five. My luck, figured they closed at five. But this is my day; they’re open till seven. I’m right in, then to down three 20-ounce Sprites—chugga, chugga, chugga. Fellows sitting and talking, all locals, want to know—What the heck! All the usual questions. One of them gives me a large bag of beef jerky. This stuff is not cheap. I hit the case of frozen ice cream bars in no time, too.
I’m told there’s a very lovely campsite by Copperas Creek, just below the interstate bridge, on east, another five miles. Perfect!
I reach it with plenty of time to pitch, then to enjoy the babbling brook, and at sunset, the chirpers. This ain’t desert no more!
A long, hard and hot day, but even with the vultures (they guessed wrong) I am most content with how it played.
Tuesday—May 14, 2013
Putting the desert in my rearview, moving away from the arid climate, the low humidity, I must now pay close attention to where I pitch my tent. With the humidity as it is, and if I’m unable to get under a tree, my tent will become totally soaked from the dew. Oh yes, I pitched under the trees last evening. No wet tent this morning. No extra, unnecessary weight. Learned that lesson a long time ago.
This is an especially happy day. Been looking forward to reaching Junction for the longest time. And I’ll be there today around noon.
The hike goes well. Mostly along little used frontage roads. I get low on water again, but not a problem. There are big green trees now, with water running free. But I don’t have to resort to the river water, as there are homes along. Hubert is outside, and when he sees me waving my water bottle, he motions me over. Thanks, Hubert, and thanks for your service—career man in the United States Air Force!
The village of Junction is a friendly place. First stop is Lum’s BBQ. The brisket plate is about the best ever (but they’re not world famous).
There’s a Family Dollar where I’m able to get another tube of sunscreen. The sun out here is brutal. I’ve already shed two layers of skin. From here east, ‘haps it won’t be as bad. At least the reflection off the sand is gone. Green things now. Ah yes, green, a much preferred color!
There are a bunch of mom-n-pop motels along the main drag and I’m able to work a hiker trash deal at one of them. What a blessing to be clean again, have (pretty much) clean clothes. Trekking the interstate, the eighteen wheelers, one after the other flying by right next, mix my sweat with the constant fog of dirt and grime blasting me, and after a few days of it, you’ve got yourself one remarkable and glorious mess. The tub water was black—twice. Once from me, once from my clothes.
Tomorrow I’ll trek the last of I-10, nine miles on past Junction to the Segovia Truck Stop at MM-465. From there I’ll head east along county and state highways to Austin. Folks tell me the Texas State Capitol is a most impressive structure. Don’t want to miss it.
Wednesday—May 15, 2013
A very restful night in Junction. It rained sometime during the night, but I knew nothing of it, not till I hit the street this morning to find water everywhere.
This day, another day I’ve been so looking forward to. Today I log my last mile trekking the service/frontage roads and the westbound emergency lane of I-10. For the past 465 miles, from just east of El Paso, I’ve been hugging I-10. But today I leave it—at Segovia. No more I-10.
A bit more westbound emergency lane and I’m at Segovia Truck Stop. On my way through the restaurant a bicyclist approaches me. I give him a nod, but before I can move on he says, “Nimblewill.” Big grin from ear to ear. Dang, Bocephus, longest time now I been sayin’ we gotta get some bigger shades! The fellow’s bicycling across the continent, from California to Florida, to raise awareness for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. His name is Michael. He and his wife, Bonnie, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, in 2011, as Y-Knot and Balance. Turns out he’s read my book Ten Million Steps, and he’s been following my journal entries for this trek. Somehow, today, our paths cross. He joins me at my booth and we share much enjoyable conversation.
A hot roast beef sandwich gets me going again, across the interstate overpass out of Segovia—and away from I-10. From Segovia, I’m headed for Harper. Won’t make it there today, but I still have time to cover a good bit of the distance before dark. I’d like to make it to the Longhorn Cafe there tomorrow, before they close at two.
I see many white tail deer today, two jackrabbits, and a couple dozen turkey—but no turkey vultures!
Thursday—May 16, 2013
Location—Harper, then on toward Fredericksburg
I found a spot to pitch last along the road right-of-way, away from the highway, but not away from the wind. Even though I’d only partially rigged my tent fly, I finally gave up and removed it completely, to stop the incessant racket it was making in the wind.
I’m out early, but the wind is out ahead of me. Lots more pushing around again today. A very hot day. Decide I best settle for the cooling wind, and quit complaining.
I’m back on the road only a short time until Michael catches up with me. He’d stayed at the truck stop last night. Thinking I might need water, he purchased a liter for me. He also has pop tarts to share. Thoughtful, kind gestures—thanks, Michael! Picture time. Then comes that sad good-bye time. I pray for continued wide, safe passage for you, a joy-filled journey, Michael—stay safe!
I’m in Texas Hill Country now. This region is one of transition, between the desert desolation to the west, and the fertile farm lands to the east. It has its own distinct character. All along, ranchers have double stacked their fences in order to keep the white tail deer in (for dude hunters, I guess), and I see many more white tail today. Also adding to the beauty of the ever-present oak, now much larger and most predominant along the rolling countryside—wildflowers. Bright orange and yellow wildflowers, they totally cover the ground full about between the oak (and cactus).
I’m in Harper a bit after one. First stop, the jiffy, where I proceed to drain their fountain. A fill-me-up meal at the Longhorn, compliments (again) of some unknown, kind soul. Then it’s back to the jiffy for a pint of their good local ice cream (not that freezer burned, insanely priced stuff from the upper northeast).
On the way out of town, I stop at the library to check my email. What good fortune. I receive an urgent message from my Webmaster, CyWiz.
And as to the urgency? Okay, here’s the story: Tuesday, while hiking through Junction, I chanced to meet Dana. Her lunch break was being used to get in her routine cardio workout. She was fascinated, apparently, seeing me clickety-clacking along with my trekking poles, and stopped. Had to show her how they worked. Wow, off she goes, down the street, clickety-clacking herself, like she’d been using them her entire life! Then to follow, just great conversation. Both she and her husband are Ironman finishers—more than once. Anyway, I gave her my card, and today, she’s signed my guestbook, with an invitation to stay the night with her and her family.
Ah, and how strange it is—how circumstances can wind, how they can play out their magic at times. So, back to me passing the library on my way out of Harper. Some reason, don’t know why, I head over. Hey, the place is open. They have WiFi. I fire up my little iTouch, then to get the urgent message. Outside now (got plenty of bars on my cell phone), I call Dana. She answers. Decision is for her to pick me up at seven, ten miles east of Harper. This all goes down in a matter of minutes. A most fascinating series of events!
Going on seven, I’m clicking along US-290, here comes Dana. She loads me up, and we’re off to Kerville, her home.
Once there, I meet her husband, Eric, and their daughter, Cari (and her friend, Jordan).
A wonderful evening, just a special time. Clean body. Clean clothes (Run through a washing machine—what’s that?). They have a spacious guest room, all mine for the night.
I have to explain the workings of trail magic—by trail angels.
An amazing series of events, simply amazing!
Friday—May 17, 2013
Location—Fredericksburg, then on toward Luckenbach
Such kind and generous folks, Dana and Eric. They took me into their home last evening just as they would dear family. They fed me, clothed me (loaner clothes from Eric, while Dana laundered mine), then made sure I was comfortable for the night. During the evening conversation we touch on the fascinating topic, trail magic. All these years of shouldering a pack I’ve tried to solve the riddle—the magic that invariably (and in my case, continually) occurs when one ventures forth with a backpack on. Something happens (all good). The way folks greet you. The kindness and generosity extended you. It’s a total mystery, but does it not always bring (anew) deep satisfaction, knowing that goodness exists in the hearts of all mankind, at least in the hearts off all the folks I chance to meet. Trail Angels, I explain to Dana and Eric their new titles!
Dana has me back on the road and headed east a bit before eight. They have invited me to stay another night. But it is just such a great distance for them, to come pick me up, then return me to the road—again.
A bit before noon, slows this pickup, and stops. It’s Eric. He’s come to check on me. He again extends the invitation for me to stay another night with them. Dear new friends, Dana, Eric, Cami, I will truly miss you…
A little before two I’m in downtown Fredericksburg. It’s a very lovely town. And Luckenbach, Eric and Dana had told me a bit about Luckenbach, and about a restaurant named Hondo’s—in downtown Fredericksburg. John Russell (Hondo) Crouch, along with friends, bought the little village of Luckenbach in 1971. Crouch immediately appointed himself honorary mayor. And as they say, the rest is history. Hondo’s daughter, Cris, owns and runs Hondo’s. So, of course, it’s lunch at Hondo’s!
Late evening now, and east of Fredericksburg, I find a spot to pitch above a draw. Though I’m by the highway, there’s little traffic, and I enjoy a very restful night’s sleep.
Saturday—May 18, 2013
Location—Past Stonewall and Luckenbach, and on to Hye
I’ve a short hike to the turnoff to Luckenbach. There’s a station on the corner so in I go for my coffee fix. I’m in Luckenbach before ten.
I’ve heard all sorts of stories about Luckenbach, so I have no idea what to expect. Being the weekend, the Harley folks are already beginning to show up. By one, they’re wall-to-wall.
An incredibly popular place, Luckenbach. A number of interesting things have happened to/in Luckenbach. The fact that a group of locals got together and actually bought an entire town is perhaps the least of it. The village consists of a fairly respectable dance hall, a bar, an old general store/post office, and a bunch of run down outbuildings. What actually launched Luckenbach into world prominence was a song written in 1977 by Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman, and recorded by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Folks have been heading for Luckenbach ever since—except for Willie and Waylon, that is. Willie used to celebrate the 4th in Luckenbach, but the latest poster I could find promoting the event was dated 1999. I was told by one of the locals that Waylon stopped by once, a long time ago, and that was it for Waylon.
Anyhow, way too much confusion for me, so after lunch, I hit the road out of Luckenbach, back to the highway, to continue my trek on east. Glad I did the side trip, though. It was certainly worth the time. And as for Willie and Waylon and the boys—today, I was one of the boys!
Late evening I find myself in a little burg called Hye. The general/liquor store is open. Thirsty for a cold pop, in I go. An old codger, Bob, is running the place. Not much going on in Hye, so we strike up a conversation. Soon comes a young lady, Misty. She joins in—then to express much interest in my trek across Texas. I give her one of my cards—easier than trying to explain what’s going on with this journey.
Back on the road, half-hour or so, I begin looking for a place to pull off for the night. In the process, I pass up two perfectly good spots. Don’t know, something’s going on. “Stay the road awhile longer, old man.” my inner voice tells me. Sure enough, in just minutes comes this dually Dodge—whips a U-ey, and comes alongside. “Would you like a place to stay for the night, a hot meal? Misty, my daughter-in-law, sent me out here to get you!” Well now, how’s that for intuition?
No time we’re at Patrick’s ranch. A whirlwind of introductions. First, Paul, Patrick’s son (Misty’s husband). And I see Misty again (shiny-faced grin). Then Philip. Philip’s mother, Margie (Patrick’s wife). Then more members of Margie’s family, David and Michael. Margie prepares supper, and I dine with Patrick.
During supper, and continuing into the evening, I learn about Patrick’s family, and the ranch/homestead that has been in the family four (going on five) generations now. Hiram “Hye” Brown moved to Texas in the mid 1800s. He founded Hye, and became the town’s first postmaster. Hye Brown was Patrick’s great grandfather. He started the ranch in 1907.
What a fascinating story. Few people, very few in this day and age at least, have been blessed with such a long-lasting heritage, with such deep and lasting roots. Patrick’s voice lifts as he tells of the past, his gaze fixed past a point—back in time.
Patrick and Margie set me up for the night in the little (lovingly restored) cabin—in which Patrick’s father was born in 1924. Remarkable, just remarkable. Kind, caring, hard-working Texas folks! For sure, they’ve all left an indelible mark on this old man’s life…
I’ll put a shadow in your door again someday, Patrick. You just watch!
“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
With Waylon and Willie and the boys.
This successful life we’re livin’ got us feudin’
Like the Hatfield and McCoys.
Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and
Newberry’s train songs and Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,
Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain.”
[Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman]
Sunday—May 19, 2013
Location—Past Johnson City, then on toward Dripping Springs
This morning, John (who lives and works at Patrick’s ranch), shows me his sticks and stones. He keeps busy rounding up large chunks of mottled limestone and cedar stumps, to be used in aquariums. Twenty-nine semi truck loads so far. Proud look on John’s face.
Margie prepares coffee and a full breakfast while Patrick and I philosophize. After breakfast, though I’ve taken a good number of pictures here at the ranch, I take a few more. Patrick builds rustic furnature and mantles. All the furnature here (reminds me of the ranch house in the old western series, Ponderosa) has been handmade by Patrick. Wait till you see the pictures of some of his work!
Aw, does that time not always come? And are the good-byes not always sad? A firm handshake, then to shoulder my pack—and turn away, toward Patrick’s ranch road, and to the highway ever east. What a very special time it’s been. Dear friends, I will truly miss you all…
On the highway today I encounter lots of roadkill, many varieties of snakes, a raccoon, an armadillo, many deer, and surprisingly, numerous birds.
This Texas hill country, which I’ve been trekking these past number of days, is yielding to (and quickly becoming) wine country. There are a good number of vineyards all along now, each with its little retail store—and tasting room. They’ve even got a couple of limos chauffering folks from one vineyard to the next.
A kind lady, Janie, who lives nearby and has been following this adventure through my journal entries, tried tracking me down yesterday, with no luck. Being persistent, she came right back out again today. Our paths finally cross just west of Johnson City (and within a minute or two of a convenience store where she’d have missed me again). At the store she treats me to a fountain drink, and buys me new, badly needed batteries for my GPS. Janie’s also brought bananas, apples and other fruit for me. She wants to become a long-distance hiker—perhaps even hiker trash—someday. Thanks for your kindness, Janie. I wish you many great hiking adventures!
A very hot day. The afternoons are really starting to cook recently. I’ve continually complained about the wind (which is out of the east at 25 again today) but it would be absolutely unbearable out here without it. Late evening, I’m more than happy to close this day out, by climbing a fence (not posted), then to pitch in a pasture under the cedar.
Monday—May 20, 2013
Location—Dripping Springs, then on to west Austin
Didn’t think I’d ever reach Dripping Springs. No sooner here and I’m past the place. Really been busy today, picking up change, over a buck for Dripping Springs.
Although the town seems strung out, folks living here have shortened the name—to Drippin’. Ha, reminds me of trekking through ‘Bama a number of years ago, the funny and amusing names of the villages along. A conversation might go something like this: “I be from Two Egg. You?” “Well, I’m from Drippin’, but my family’s mostly over in Bottle now.”
Dee, kind lady, has seen me on the road past couple of days. She stops with cold water, an apple, and some peanut butter crackers.
Fellow from Austin’s been wanting to meet me. Name’s Jeremy. We exchange emails, but timing isn’t right.
As I’m getting closer and closer to Austin, the highway keeps dropping, the traffic becomes heavier, and the shoulder narrower. Today I’ll be down to less than 600 ft. Entering west Austin, I soon pass two McDonald’s—and two Wendy’s! A ways back, I was really wanting some ice cream. But no way I’d pay five bucks for a pint of a wanna-be brand. Ah, but at Wendy’s now, no problem. I go for the large Frosty. Way more than a pint, and less than two bucks!
It’s turning dark, and I’m now in the business district of Austin, people, vehicles, everywhere. Okay, smart guy, where you figure you’ll camp in all this hustle and confusion? Patience and faith. Keep the faith, and keep looking, old man. That’ll work—and it does. Soon comes Faith Church, with lovely gardens and grounds. I find a secluded spot set back from the street, with just enough light to see to pitch for the night. Faith does it!
A tour of Austin tomorrow, then a couple days of much needed rest at the HI Austin Hostel.
Tuesday—May 21, 2013
Location—Texas State Capitol, Austin, then on to near Garfield
I tucked myself way back under the low-lying trees at Faith Church in Austin. A comfortable night. No hassle.
I’d indeed enjoy a full breakfast this morning, eggs, bacon, hash browns, and lots of coffee. But in the three miles on down to the Colorado River, not one mom-n-pop cafe. Tattoo parlor after tattoo parlor, but no mom-n-pop. Hey, didn’t dawn on me—probably could have gotten a tattoo of bacon and eggs! End up at (yet another) McDonald’s. That’s fine. I’ll check my email and work some on journal entries—and save the breakfast tattoo for another day.
My route through Austin works great. The ped bridge across the Colorado, the Lance Armstrong and Lady Bird Lake Trails. I’m at the Governor’s Mansion before ten—to be abruptly greeted by a full-dress security guard with his AK-47 at the ready. Apparently you can be on the wrong side of the (public) street next the Governor’s Mansion. “Move to the other side of the street, NOW, MOVE!” I move!
This startling welcome swiftly carries me right along to the Capitol. Different deal here. I’m greeted by kind, courteous security/screeners at the Capitol door. I’m even permitted to put my pack back on and carry my sticks around the building. Bus loads of school kids everywhere. I conduct my own tour. Pictures of the rotunda, Sam Houston, Davey Crockett, and George W. Texas House and Senate are just now going into session. I climb the stairs to the gallery entrances, and am permitted to take pictures. A kind young attendant approaches me in the Senate Gallery. Blushing the least—”Please take your hat off, sir”. Oh my, now who’s blushing! What a stupid, thoughtless blunder. I always try to be respectful. Huge lapse here—so very embarrassing.
The Governor’s Mansion, the Texas State Capitol, the gardens and grounds about, all grand and most majestic—but nothing to compare to my Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri. Perhaps I’m the least biased—you think? Permit me to make my case:
Both Capitols are in beautiful cities, through which major rivers flow. For Jefferson City, it’s the mighty Missouri. For Austin, the rolling Colorado. However, Missouri has taken full advantage of the great natural features, by the river in Jefferson City. Missouri’s Capitol commands a high hill directly fronting the river. It can be seen for miles. The Capitol in Austin is on a hill, too—but downtown! Texas has a history second only to Missouri. Certainly, this statement can be refuted. However, Missouri, my Capitol, has done a much better job of keeping the heritage (of our fledgling nation) alive for future generations. Texas—Sam Houston, Davey Crockett, and more. Missouri—Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark, Gateway to the West (including Texas). Murals, lunettes, sculptures, bronzes—Missouri’s Capitol captures it all. And finally (please don’t get upset with me, Texans), Missouri’s Capitol is bigger!
I follow Congress back down to the Colorado River (elevation, 420 feet) and again to the Lady Bird Lake Trail.
At the HI Austin Hostel now—it just doesn’t pan out. Mother told me when I was just a child—”If you can’t say something kind, Sunny, just be quiet.” Anyway, the hoped for (and looked forward to) stay at the hostel just didn’t work out. As a result, and I regret, I’ll miss meeting Carolina Cruser’s sister and family, the Gossamer Gear folks, Thirsty Planet Brewery, and fellow intrepid, Jeremy. Perhaps next time.
I’m set on getting Austin in my rearview now as I hoof it on out of town. There’s a new limited access freeway crossing TX-71 that’s not on my old maps, and I have one devil of a time getting it behind me. In the process, I lose my footing on a scree-like gravel slope and take a wicked header. No blood or broken bones. Thank you, Lord!
Just northwest of Garfield I turn down a dirt road to the local gravel pit, climb the fence (not posted—and I’m not spotted) to pitch under the sprawling oak. At dusk it starts to rain, then decides not.
What a day, what a day! I was politely reminded about proper manners—and reminded, too, of my deep pride in being a (no apologies) Show-Me Missourian…
Wednesday—May 22, 2013
Location—Past Garfield, to Bastrop
I arrived HI Austin Hostel at noon yesterday, but would not have been permitted into the bunk room or shower until two. Hey, two more hours of filthy, sweaty, stinking dirty, why not another whole day! And that was the decision. Pack up, and I was truckin’ out of Austin. Passed two more McDonald’s, two more Wendy’s. I hit them all.
I’m out and on the road this morning, ever east, by seven-thirty. A work (commute) day for everyone but me. Everybody, and I do mean everybody is headed for Austin. Not since Spaghetti Junction, bypass around Atlanta, have I seen so much pure jam-up congestion. Both lanes, solid for miles. Bumper-to-bumper, and literally flying—not three paces from my right shoulder. Scary doesn’t begin to describe what’s going on. This crushing train of hurry continues till near nine o’clock. Pure crazy. How in God’s name do people live like this? This evening they’ll be pushing and shoving each other the other direction. Crazy, just pure, insane, crazy.
I hit the little village of Garfield a few minutes before nine. Well, looky here—Garfield’s got a library, and it’s open. Gotta be. To get to Hit the Spot Restaurant, you have to enter (and pass through) the library—if you want to get to the eggs, bacon, toast—and coffee. Most everybody in Garfield visits the library sometime during the day—if just passin’ through!
A mighty fine breakfast. I finally get my bacon and eggs. Well worth the wait. Library’s got WiFi, and I pick it up fine right here in Hit the Spot. I linger (and drain their coffee pot) while working journals, email, things I’d planned on doing during my hostel stay. Hour or so now and not wanting to wear out my welcome, I move to the library. Next room over. Camped here now, and still working journal entries, comes this fellow to stand directly before me. I recognize him right away. It’s Jeremy. Saw a picture of him on his blog. Persistent fellow. Finally tracked me down. I invite him to sit. Engaging conversation, about the trail, wanderlust—and life. A fine young man. Keep preparing (and paring) your “One of These Days” list, Jeremy. Stay healthy. Keep the passion. And the time will come!
I’m back on the grinder a bit after twelve. The heat is starting to crank. And the traffic, all four lanes, both directions, is still running hard. The constant engine roar and tire scream tend to wear. Can’t block it out, though. Becoming hypnotized, not the best state of mind out here for long-term survival. So, it’s constant attention to the noise, no other choice, especially when the right-next rumble strip starts rumbling. Head (like lickety split) for the fence old man!
Now comes a long section of disorganized construction that must be dealt with. Absolutely no thought by the state, or the contractor, to anyone ever walking through here. And rightly so. I use the traffic cones for shields, best I can. Everybody’s still flying low.
An hour of this and I’m totally exhausted, washed out, physically and mentally. Hammer to the head tends to dent after awhile.
The remaining miles to Garfield, plus the additional 16 to Bastrop, makes for a long day. I’m finally through the construction and into Bastrop a bit after six. A hiker trash deal at the mom-n-pop motel, wings from Pizza Hut, two-liter bottle of Sprite (plus two pints of Blue Bell ice cream for four bucks) from the jiffy right next, and I’m in, scrubbed, laundered, and feet up by seven.
Desert and desolation, or lots of people. Make up your mind—which do you want old man!
Thursday—May 23, 2013
A very pleasant stay in Bastrop. After downing the two pints of ice cream (Great Divide—chocolate and vanilla split down the middle) I had trouble staying awake working journal entries. Finally gave up, and in a blink was gone to slumberland.
So, this morning I’m back to writing with all diligence. I manage to get caught up, get packed up, and get out of the room by eleven.
Itinerary shows a 23-mile day to West Point, so gotta stay the road and haul. I manage the exit to Smithville by four—to stay the highway rather than going through town. Saves me a mile (and yippee!) there’s a Subway on the bypass. Well sure, in I go for the fountain and a cold cut combo, half for now, half later.
I’m trekking the Colorado River Valley now. This is Texas farm country, fields of corn and hay, pasture all along. And the first pine, huge southern yellow and Ponderosa. But sadly, the great forest that once existed here has been destroyed by a wildfire. Jeremy tried preparing me for what I’d see, the devastation, homes burned, completely wiped out, great expanses of nothing but blackened char—for miles. Must have been an inferno.
I’ve crossed the Colorado River three times now. I’ll be trekking the valley awhile longer, and somewhere on down (at 360 feet elevation now) I’ll cross it one more time. We’re both headed for the Gulf of Mexico, a bit west for the river, more east for me.
I gain West Point, my destination, just before sunset. The little general store “downtown” is closed for the day. But on east, where the town street again meets the highway, there’s a jiffy, and it’s open. Time for another fountain, plus a pint of Blue Bell (homemade vanilla this time—super-fine stuff, and way less than three bucks). The other half of my sub is great, too!
It’s been a cool, overcast day for a change, with the wind out of the southeast, steady at twenty. Combine it all—just a mighty fine hiking day!
Going on dark-thirty now, I pass through a farmer’s field gate, find a grassy area under a magnificent century-old live oak, and pitch for the night in the silken grass.
Friday—May 24, 2013
The further south and east I go, the higher the humidity goes. In the low humidity desert, the least bit of sweat, and nature’s refrigeration unit kicked in—instant evaporation and cooling. Here, with the high humidity, little evaporation, air conditioners broke down!. Sticky (and stinking) sopping wet sweaty in my tent last evening. Finally a cool breeze came by to provide the least bit of relief.
The straightaway wide shoulder trek to La Grange goes quickly this morning. First stop, the bakery/grill. Eggs, ham, potatoes, and a huge roll, hot coffee (switched right away to iced fountain Coke) and I’m good. They have WiFi, so I linger, working yesterday’s journal entry. Alan and Jim, a couple of old(er) codgers stop to chat. Real easy killing an hour.
I’m low on cash (I’m out!), so I hit the first bank on the way in to get a cash advance using my debit card. (advances are free, a banking courtesy). Then I hit the second bank, then the third, then fourth, and finally the last. Not a single bank will give me an advance. Just trying to save the ATM fee. Anymore it amounts to a McDouble, fries, and a drink from McDonald’s. I’ve learned to judge a town by the way their bank(s) treat me. Also, really friendly towns will even put up the little blue sign to at least point me in the direction of their library.
In the Texas hill country, through Austin, then southeast toward Galveston, I’ve been tracking the Colorado River. This is the Texas Colorado, not the Colorado we know that flows from Colorado, through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California. The Texas Colorado originates in Dawson County, Texas, elevation 3,000 feet, and runs 862 miles, to empty into the Gulf of Mexico at Matagorda Bay. Our paths cross again today, and I cross it again today in La Grange.
Road kill for this day—two black cats and two large owls.
This being the start of Memorial Day weekend, traffic on TX-71 is crushing. It comes at me in wave after wave. Fifty vehicles in one cluster, sixty in the next, then a not-so-strung-out, steady, near bumper to bumper 70-per flow that lasts for minutes. The rush is incessant, the grinding noise, more than my nerves sure want to bear. The racket and rush continue all day, with no let up. Wind report—out of the southeast, steady at 25-per. Yup, I’m headed southeast.
There’s a fine BBQ joint in Ellinger; get there at six. Billboard back a ways advertised their $1.99 sandwich. I go for it. Fills me up, you believe that! Two helpings of their soft ice cream helped. Young lady cleaning tables came over and whispered to me that it was free. Never pass up free ice cream!
By seven I’m back on the grinder, to immediately walk into a deluge. Saw vehicle after vehicle coming at me with their wipers on. Didn’t register—duh. I go digging for my Dollar General poncho. By the time I find it and get in it, everything Is soaked, including my sleeping bag. I no sooner get the poncho on than the rain stops. I trek on, right up to dark, letting the wind dry me. Over another fence and into the woods for a very soggy night.
Saturday—May 25, 2013
The past few days have been overcast, with a drop of rain now and then (not counting the wave that whipped through—and whipped me—last evening), so the days have been tolerable, the Tarmac not cookin’ for a change. All blessings.
I’m out again, a few minutes to eight, to another overcast day. I’ve a short haul, the final one on down the TX-71 grinder. Me, the frantic wind, and the drizzle, we all reach Columbus about the same time, a little after eleven. Mixed signal on Columbus. Cashier at the bank won’t do a cash advance, but there’s a sign on the main drag pointing me to the library. A fine fill-my-tank lunch at the side street mom-n-pop. And the library is right next. The drizzle has turned to steady light rain, so I head for the library. Hey, they’re open, till four. My lucky day for sure! Re-evaluation for Columbus: It’s hiker trash friendly, but the ATM ends up costing me a meal at McDonald’s (or Wendy’s, they have a great dollar menu, too).
I sit the rain out, and dry my cruddy gear out, at the Columbus Library. Laid back librarian; she just smiles when she sees all my stuff hanging the reading desk chair backs.
Excitement for this day: The road shoulders everywhere are littered with thrown semi tire retreads. The hard rubber and wire (steel belts) lay literally in piles some places. Seeing this constant tire rubble, one of my great fears while trekking the highways has become—sooner or later, I’ll end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, right in the middle of one of these truck tire retread slingfests. I know I’m pressing my luck with the odds. Many the time I’ve quickly moved from the shoulder to the ditch when hearing the thumping drumbeat of a semi tire about to blow. Well, today, this morning, this was the day. Thumpety thumpety, here he comes. Instinct moves me to the ditch. He’s right beside me when—KA-BLAMM, one of his trailer left rear tandem duals blows. Smoke and rubber flies, under, behind, and clear across the other lane. It happens in a flash; scares me half to death. Thankfully, the explosion happens on the side away from me and slightly behind. Also, thankfully, there was nobody directly behind him. Surprisingly, the truck driver doesn’t even slow down. I can hear what’s left of the blown casing hammering the pavement for a good minute. My, oh my, the angels are certainly with me today!
The sun tries making a show as I hike out of Columbus, but by the time I reach the truck stop out by I-10, the rain returns. So in I go, to camp in the truck stop. Forecast is for the rain to continue into the night. Looks of it, might be keeping the folks here company awhile. My pack, my gear, me—all dry. Prefer to keep it that way. Sure could use a shower. That’s it, go for the shower, and sit the rain out. Truck stop’s open 24/7. They won’t mind me hanging around.
Already have a couple three of the miles done, of a short-mile day into Eagle Lake tomorrow. Chill, old man!
Sunday—May 26, 2013
Location—Eagle Lake, then on to near East Bernard
I’d walked around the truck stop before dark (in the rain), and cased the grounds for a place to pitch for the night. Back inside to wait out the rain, I did the shower, then “dined” at Taco Bell. They let me hang around till the rain stopped—around nine. Semis idleing all night really no longer bother me. I pitched nearby.
Seven-thirty this morning I’m right back in for my coffee fix and a breakfast burrito, compliments of Sam, the owner. I’m out and hiking toward Eagle Lake a little after eight.
First stop, Greak’s little store in Alleyton. Neat place. Greak is a hunter. Picture of a bobcat, and Greak, on the wall. A big cat, really BIG!
What a great blessing to be away from the crushing traffic. TX-102, a few vehicles this morning, but nothing like I’ve been dealing with. Oh, and the shoulders and ditches, there’s a noticeable lack of the usual roadside trash. Texas roadways have been basically free of litter. They’ve a stiff fine for littering, but I think it’s more the message on their signs: “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
The day has started out overcast and cool, but neither lasts long. The frying pan (actually, more a pressure cooker with the humidity) get cranking a little before noon. Friends early on had advised me not to try hiking Texas in June. They were certainly right. I’m out of the desert, past the unbearably hot part of Texas, should be better here, but the afternoons are really heating up, and June isn’t even here yet!
It’s pretty much a straight shot on down to Eagle Lake, and I’m there before two. Fine local mom-n-pop cafe. Super burger and fries—again compliments of some kind, unknown soul. Folks not used to seeing hikers probably figure I’m a vagrant, or more likely, a bum. I know I’m not dressed the best, and a single day on the highway shoulder is all it takes to cake me with the most unpleasant grunge. Hint: The Chisholm Trail is gone; there are no more cattle drives. However, the cattle are still driven. Get the idea—as to the B.S. that comes my way!
All along today I hear the steady drone of water pumps. The fields are being flooded in order to grow rice. Even pass a very large grain (rice) elevator.
Late afternoon a kind lady, Teresa, stops to find out what I’m doing and where I’m headed. Others stop, or pull off to offer me a ride. Always fun watching the different expressions when I tell folks I’m hiking—thanks, anyway!
Not a lot of choices for my camp tonight. A bare spot in a cornfield across the railroad tracks will have to do. Don’t trample the guy’s corn old man! Freight trains running all night; they don’t bother me anymore, either.
Monday—May 27, 2013
Location—Past East Bernard, then on to Needville
No choice, really, my campsite last. Right out in the open, a bare spot by the edge of a cornfield. Everything is soaked this morning, covered with dew from the cool night. A real mess. Hate to start the day this way. Okay, old fellow, wad the thing up and shove it in your stuff sack. Quit griping, there’ll be a fence somewhere along today to hang everything on, and you know the wind will be more than happy to help dry things!
It’s less than five miles on into East Bernard. I’m there by nine-thirty. Hey, there’s a McDonald’s in the Shell. Sure, Mickey will do for breakfast. They’ve a buck breakfast menu, too. And senior coffee. Tank’s topped off for less than four bucks. Sure can’t beat that.
An old codger, Lionel, he’s sitting across. “You hiking?” he asks. Half-hour later I’m pretty much up on Lionel’s life. He’s closer to the back of the bus than me. He 85. Fascinating old fellow. Wealthy. Tells about finding oil on their land when he was a youngster. Not bragging, just matter-of-fact about it. Been buying land ever since. Helped his mom get land years ago—fifteen bucks an acre. He just picked up 9,000 acres in Idaho. One of the many deals he tells me about. Anxious to go up there this summer and see what he bought. Has a girlfriend in Pocatello. Will want to see her, too! Great talking with you, Lionel. Thanks for your kindness and encouragement.
The landscape has really flattened out. But I’m still dropping. Elevation in East Bernard is 100 ft. More rice fields. Much corn and hay. Rich farmland all along now. I manage to move on through East Bernard a tad before eleven. Want to get in a 25+ today, on down to Needville.
Near Beasley (don’t go into Beasley) I have to hike the section roads, three sides around the box, the side I need, missing—to get to the other box corner. The highway is right across. I can see it, a cornfield and a rancher’s pasture, that’s it. Sure, I cut the short side of the box, saves me two miles! A couple of field gates, a dry canal, and I’m through. No hassle.
Lionel had warned me about the highway into Needville, no shoulders, and heavy traffic. I shrugged it off, but tell you what, I’m sure glad to get that death trap behind me. I’m in Needville by sixish. First priority, drain the fountain at the Chevron (had to stop earlier at a kind fellow’s place for water—another hot, humid day). Then to TX-Burger/Subway on downtown. Dillon recommends the chicken bits basket. The gravy sells me on it. Put a big dent in their fountain. Whole thing filled me right up.
Dillon is from New Hampshire, so he knows of (and has hiked some on) the Appalachian Trail. Much interest in my trekking about. Gave him one of my cards. Hey Dillon, sign my guestbook!
Sunset comes around eight-thirty now. Got about forty-five minutes to get stealthed. On down the highway, a copse of oak. This’ll work. A soft carpet of leaves for my bed. This is sure enough the life, don’t -ya-know!
Tuesday—May 28, 2013
Hope y’all have had a super Memorial Day Weekend. To all who’ve sacrificed to make this nation of ours ever great—Thanks!
Where I stopped, the farm where I was given water yesterday, I strung all my stuff along his fence (didn’t take long, my dink tent and other meager gear). The angry wind whipped it dry as soon as I had it hung out. Under the trees last night, everything remained dry. So, I’m out and haulin’ this morning—two pounds lighter than yesterday morning.
Towns are much closer together now. Haven’t needed to carry food for nearly a week. Lots more major crossroads, with at least one jiffy most every intersections. An absolute blessing being able to water up and chow down at regular intervals. All the stations have fountains, Shell, Exxon, Chevron, Valero. Last jiffy I stopped at was a Shell. Two cashiers, one on break sitting a table. Took a seat next with my fountain Sprite. Friendly lady, Suzy. The usual questions. When I tell her where I began this trek, she cuts right to it. “Used to live out west, in Arizona—in a cave.” she comments, big grin. “I wrote about it, about living in a cave. Need to print some copies up sometime.”
Goodness, goodness, this has got to be interesting! Tell you what, Suzy, send a copy of your cavewoman story (See Webmaster’s address at bottom of any site page here) and we’ll make it available with a link from today’s journal entry. Got to be interesting!
Road kill today, a bobcat, coral snake, opossum, two whitetail, a half dozen and a tiny tweety-bird. And along today—if there was a market for used cooler lids, I wouldn’t need to win the lottery!
Not as hot a day. Cloudy afternoon, then a couple of cool, refreshing showers. I trek right through them. The soaking feels great. Wind tears into me again, no mercy. I’m hiking pretty much straight south now, to the Gulf of Mexico. Yup, wind’s out of the south, 25-30 per.
Reach my destination for today, West Columbia, around five. Dollar menu at McDonald’s. Work email and journals.
A fellow hiker/writer, Rob, from the Big Apple, wants to come down and trek the Tarmac a bit with me. We try narrowing the workable time bracket. Hope it works. Pretty lonely out here, hammerin’ the highway all day—alone.
Wednesday—May 29, 2013
Location—TX-288/322 near Velasco Heights, then on to Oyster Bay Turnoff (FM-523)
Dark descending, and hiking in farm country south of West Columbia a couple of miles, pasture one side of the highway, enormous oaks the other. I choose the wooded side for the night—back a ways from the highway noise.
I’ve a relatively short trek on down to my turn at Old Brazoria. Get my morning coffee fix there.
I’m in Texas low country now. Palm and magnolia trees coming in, cactus thinning out. Elevation, less than 40-feet.
Some makeup days down here, apparently, school buses still running morning and evening. Poor kids. This has got to be the final week of school before summer break. Ah, what wonderful memories, Memorial Day, synonymous with no more school! Three whole months (an eternity for a young boy) to run and climb, to go swimming and fishing, and to explore! Home from school that last day, shoes came off and stayed off till fall! Ah yes, summer vacation, in a sleepy little village in the Ozark Highlands of Missouri, those were the days, wonderful memories.
Lake Jackson, definitely a metro area. McDonald’s both ends of town. I hit them both, buck menu dinner, buck menu supper, as I work email, journals, and recharge my cell and little iTouch.
Another fun day for the wind. Shoves me around the whole time. I’ll turn northeast tomorrow, when I reach the Gulf of Mexico. Anxious to see what it decides to do then.
I hike on south out of Lake Jackson for another four miles, heavy industrial, all Dow Chemical (or support for Dow). Chain link topped with angle-braced three-wire barb all along. Finally, an open area by one of the many canals. Mosquitoes, zip up the No-See-Um netting tonight!
Thursday—May 30, 2013
Location—San Luis Pass, Gulf of Mexico, then on to south of Jamaica Beach
The canal bank seemed an okay place to pitch last night. The grass and weeds were tall, but the ground felt smooth enough, I just couldn’t see it. Well, what I didn’t know, nor had I given any thought to—ants, hundreds of ants. Not since Odyssey ‘98, have I had to deal with anything like the ant invasion last night. I was sleeping soundly until my right calf caught on fire. The little bugger was letting me have it. That’s when the signal must have gone out, because within seconds I was on fire all over. They were small reds, not the large fire ants I had to deal with in Florida. But their bite hurt and burned every bit as bad. Finally got them under control and was no sooner back to sleep than reinforcements arrived. This went on better part of the night. And as to my tent. It does have a floor pan, No-See-Um netting full around, with a zip-shut door. Problem is, I have never used a ground cloth, and over the years, the pan has sprung a few leaks. But even with the ants to deal with, I actually did get a decent night’s sleep—broke camp at first light, though!
An early start proves all the better for the day. By staying the Tarmac and hammering, I’ll be set to arrive Galveston at a respectable time tomorrow.
And that’s just how the day goes. A fun and exciting time reaching the Gulf of Mexico, seeing it for the first time this trek. I could smell the sea air yesterday afternoon, and the telltale sign, seagulls, have been around the past three days.
Lots of pictures and videos today. A cool shower blows through in the afternoon. Otherwise a windy, overcast day, so not the pressure cooker for a change. The wind started quartering me from the right rear as soon as I turned the corner at the Gulf. Sure a different pushing around than I’ve become accustomed to this journey.
Stopped for a cold pop and to rest a bit before crossing San Luis Pass—at a little bait/convenience store run by Tim. He’d seen me walking the highway shoulder a day or so ago. “Where are you walking from, anyway?” his greeting as I pay for my Sprite (and an inexpensive pint of good old Blue Bell ice cream).
A real problem finding a place to pitch. Beach homes the Gulf side, condos the Intercoastal side. I finally pass an old shed in a pasture (between the condos) and pull off, a little south of Jamaica Beach. In great shape for Galveston tomorrow.
Friday—May 31, 2013
Location—Galveston, then (I take a ride) the ferry to Bolivar Peninsula
Been breaking camp and getting on the road a little earlier these past few days. The coolness of the morning, to get some miles in before sauna time, a much better deal. I still keep going during the heat, but there’s not the urgency, especially if I’m pushing a long-mile day.
There’s a Subway in Jamaica Beach. A fine ham, eggs, and melted cheese sub. Also get my coffee fix before switching to Coke.
As I climb the hill to Galveston (elevation in Jamaica Beach is four feet, in Galveston, closer to forty) the road shoulder narrows (always does) and the buildings begin coming down off their stilts. I reach the downtown McDonald’s at one.
The route I’ve chosen through town follows right next the beach the entire way. It’s the commercial route, but a pleasant hike in every respect. Lots of famiilies enjoying the beach today, and I’m caught up in the excitement of it. Plenty of pictures and videos.
Late afternoon I’m at the ferry dock on the north end of town. No wait; I’m right on, headed for the Bolivar Peninsula. More pictures; just an excitement-filled day.
At the jiffy, south end of the peninsula, a kind local, Laurie, fills me in on what services I can expect along for the next day or so.
Not the least problem finding a place to pitch the night. Up a ways I move to the grass in the marsh. No fence, no “Keep Out” signs, just the cool, soft, comforting grass.
Saturday—June 1, 2013
Location—Bolivar Peninsula, Yates Cove, then on to Rollover Pass
A quiet, restful night in the Bolivar marsh. Traffic across (Bolivar Ferry) to Galveston slows way down after dark. Lots of skeeters and horseflies, though, but not a problem. They’re out and I’m in!
The wind has remained out of the SSE, even though I’ve changed direction. Can’t seem to get used to the wind helping. Another beautiful hiking day in the making—with a little help from my kin—the wayward wind!
Some six miles north of the ferry landing comes a little jiffy. Perfect for my coffee fix, so in I go. Kind cashier, Becky, “Laurie said you’d probably be stopping in; how’s your hike going?” her friendly greeting. “I’ll make another pot of coffee.” And so, nearly an hour later, as customers come and go, and sitting a stool next her counter—great conversation. Another local, Brenda, shows much interest in my hike (what is this I’m doing at my age). She’s had both knees replaced. She and Becky befriend me with gifts, plus much encouragement. With their positive energy boost, I head on up the road.
The Gulf Coast of Texas (like Texas) is an incredible expanse. I’ve hiked a bit of it south of Galveston. And now, here on the Bolivar Peninsula, the highway stays the beach. Thousands of vacation homes, all lined up on stilts, up and down the coast, both directions as far as the eye can see—to the hazy blue. School is out some areas now, and the summer vacation surge has begun. Much traffic, this being a Saturday.
Laurie had told me about all the places I’d pass as I trekked the peninsula. “Don’t miss Fanta Sea BBQ and Grill at Rollover Pass.” she’d told me. “Dear friends, Warren and Pam, it’s their place—great food.” So, at Rollover (a narrow channel between the Gulf and Intercoastal—where the tide rolls over, one way or t’other pretty much all the time) I pull off at Fanta Sea. A neat, casual place, all screened in, picnic tables under, a stage, and a bar. “You must be Sunny!” the glad greeting to my ear as I open the screen door and enter. Before I can get my pack off, I meet Pam—the most welcome smile. Pam then introduces me to her son-in-law, Frank, her daughter, Trina—and Frank and Trina’s son, Ashton. In a short while comes Warren, Pam’s husband. As Warren and Gayle (a Fanta Sea patron) get the Karaoke cranked up, Pam sets their special BBQ plate in front of me. Oh my, what a feast!
Pam then presents me with a Fanta Sea BBQ and Grill T-Shirt and a “I Helped Save Rollover Pass” ball cap. Get my picture with them out front. Then to turn 180 for another picture, their home in the background—across the highway, the only dwelling that remained standing after Hurricane Ike.
Later in the evening, kind new friends Warren and Pam, invite me to stay the night with them.
Oh, and the BBQ? You’re right, Laurie, just great!
“Oh, the wayward wind is a restless wind
A restless wind that yearns to wander
And I was born the next of kin
The next of kin to the wayward wind “
[Herb Newman and Stan Lebowski]
Sunday—June 2, 2013
Warren and Pam have a party/meeting room above their BBQ Grill, and they’d offered it to me for the night, last. The day had not been a particularly long one for me (and the fun was just cranking up for the evening at Fanta Sea), but I was tired and wore out, so I’d asked Pam to show me the way up. As I bedded down, and while revisiting events of the day, the generosity, the many gestures of kindness extended me, I became overwhelmed emotionally. I’ve never been to the Bolivar Peninsula before, nor will I likely ever return again, but I shall never, ever, forget the many gentle and kind folks I’ve met while here. I’m sure the music played on at Fanta Sea, that Warren and Gayle sang their hearts out, and that the good times rolled on well into the night—but I do not remember.
I’m on the road north from Rollover Pass a bit before eight this morning, a mild morning with a gentle, wayward breeze at my back. But in short order, that all changes. I hear this unmistakable rumble coming from behind—to turn and see a pitch black wall of clouds rushing directly toward me. Ahead, on up the road, just the open beach for miles, and the straight-away highway disappearing to a shimmering point on the horizon.
Do something, old man—fast!
Directly across the road, on the beach, a model beachfront home/real estate office. This being Sunday morning, no one’s about. I make a mad dash for it, arriving just as the storm hits. Luckily, I’m able to take shelter on the upper deck, in the lee of the storm.
The wind soon begins pushing a wall of rain sideways against the structure, and I can feel the building bracing against its fury. As the storm intensifies, visibility shuts down, vehicles pull off the road. The storm lasts nearly an hour, with no letup. What a blessing to be protected from it. Another ten-, fifteen-minutes and I’d have been caught out in it, with nowhere to go, with nothing to protect me except my fragile Dollar General plastic poncho. Thank you, Lord, thank you!
The storm passes, the day once again brightens, and I continue on north. Near the end of the peninsula, and by the turn to High Island, stops this vehicle across from me. It’s Trina, Warren and Pam’s daughter. She waves and calls to me. She’s come out to bring me a sandwich, and the bottle water from Robby and Carol, previous-evening patrons at Fanta Sea—and to check on me. Trina is excited and happy to see I’m okay. I become emotionally overwhelmed again, and must fight back the tears. Thank you, Trina! And thank you all dear new friends on the Bolivar Peninsula. Your gentle kindness and generosity have captured a place in this old man’s heart, and will forever remain in my memory.
There are a bunch of things I like to have along on my odysseys but don’t need every day, and don’t want to carry (next-up route maps, trip data, nail clippers, etc.). I keep them in what is known in the hiking community as a “bounce box.” I send it on up (bounce it along) to places I’ll be passing through, usually in two weeks, give or take. My bounce box is waiting for me now at the High Island post office. I’ll be able to get it in the morning, take out what I need—and “bounce” it on up the trail (road). So, here I’ll stay tonight, at the little mom-n-pop motel/restaurant (run by Becky, the innkeeper and chef) in High Island. I’ll miss the next itinerary click in the process, but just as well. I’m way ahead of schedule—and could sure use the rest.
So, here in my comfy room now, clean and cool, my feet up, I’m finishing this day’s journal entry. How can it be—one whose personal possessions total what’s carried on his back can be envied by so many others who have nearly all the worldly things? Ah, what a life, what a life!
Monday—June 3, 2013
Location—TX-124/FM-1985 by Whites Ranch, then on to Winnie
The kindness and generosity extended me up and through the Bolivar Peninsula continued on to High Island. Becky, at the motel in High Island, not only gave me a hiker trash room rate, but also provided me supper. Thanks Becky!
My bounce box is waiting for me at the post office, and I’m right there first thing this morning. Ah, and this is my lucky day, a package from Dwinda. It contains my much-needed GNC Men’s Sports Meds.
Back to my room just across the street I take out my final bundle of maps, replenish the OTC meds that I’ll need to reach the Florida Panhandle, seal the box and bounce it back to Sam in Hachita.
Gotta hustle the remainder of this day if I want to reach Winnie (I’m not back on the road till noon). From High Island to the McDonald’s up by I-10 north of Winnie, it’s about 20 miles.
Across the Intercoastal Waterway, I’ve a climb to Winnie (from near sea level to around 40 feet). Another fine hiking day, moderate traffic, wide shoulders the entire way. Roadkill today, a five foot alligator.
Fellows pass me in their ATV, spraying weeds. They get my telepathic message—I’m running low on the water given me by Robby and Carol. Right away they turn, come to the shoulder, and hand me a bottle from their cooler!
Around seven I’m standing the line at McDonald’s in Winnie, waiting to order my dollar-menu supper.
Left side of my face and left leg—sunburned (road led north all afternoon). Used to being rotisseried front to back, but not side to side!
Tuesday—June 4, 2013
Location—Alligator Hole Marsh, then on to West Port Arthur
At dusk last, I hastened, then to pitch in an open field behind McDonald’s. Well sure, my tent’s soaked with dew this morning—will be hauling two more pounds again today. And to reach West Port Arthur, it’ll be a very long-mile day.
Plans are for Rob to join me somewhere along. He flew into Houston yesterday and stayed with his sister, Lindsay. She’ll bring him east today on I-10 to Winnie, then onto TX-73, the highway to West Port Arthur. Plan is for them to catch up with me somewhere along the way.
Ah, and it works. Mid-afternoon comes this car toward me along the shoulder/emergency lane. It’s Rob and Lindsay, with a cooler full of ice, plus ice cold water (and an ice cream) for me!
An exciting time finally meeting the young lad. And, yippee, I‘ll have company out here on this grinder for a couple of days!
By five were in West Port Arthur, and a half-hour and a mile later, we’re at the only convenience store on this side of town. A bean and green chili burrito, plus a pint of Blue Bell and I’m good.
Back by the highway we find a place by a pipeline to pitch for the night. A very long, hot day, but Rob has jumped right into it. The early-on ice water recharge saved me. Thanks, Rob!
Here in West Port Arthur I’m two-thirds on the way through this odyssey. I’ll trek across all or parts of six states before I’m done, and I’m still not finished with the second one—Texas. 930 mile I’ll trek across Texas. 918 behind me, 12 to go to reach the Louisiana line. I’ll be there tomorrow. Another yippee!
Wednesday—June 5, 1013
Location—Louisiana State Line, then on to Ocean View Beach, Louisiana
All along the highway through West Port Arthur we expected to find at least a convenience store, but nearing the half-mile long elevated bridge over the wide Port Arthur Canal—nothing, just oil refineries and heavy industrial. A police officer parked along gave us the last bit of good news, “Turn at the next light, four blocks over you’ll find a modern convenience store. That’s it until you get clear across the bridge.” Rush hour traffic, refineries letting out, no way we’re crossing that bridge tonight. We beat it for the store. I crash their fountain, get a bite, then (right at sunset) we manage to stealth in the grass behind an elevated pipeline bank. Hey, Rob was even able to hang his hammock between a power pole and the chain link fence! Only sound all night, the low-pitched rumble of the refineries. Humid and hot, but we were home, no hassle, an okay night.
We’re both up, break camp a bit after six, and head into an exciting new day—packs shouldered and climbing the bridge to the Louisiana State Line. At the top, Rob takes my picture, me standing in the middle of the road, the state of Texas in my rearview.
What an emotional moment, I’ve made it across Texas, 930 miles, a long time, a very long distance. For such wide, safe passage—thank you, Lord!
There’s a fine store just across the bridge on the Louisiana side. Sure—right in for my coffee fix, and a couple breakfast burritos. Our gear is soaking wet (again) from the dew. Kind lady, Irma (at Treasure Island Store) lets us hang our things to dry, all around outside.
Locals tell us there’s another convenience on up at seven miles and another at twelve. Our lucky day!
Much dump truck traffic and no shoulder has us off and on, and we trip and trek along. A cool day, nice breeze, much enjoyable conversation. We’re done with the seven (closer to nine) in what seems like no time.
Rob is doing remarkably well considering he’s just jumped on with me. He’s an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, so he knows the ropes. Today will be a 22, up to and a bit past the second convenience, “Bayou Country.” We’re there with an hour to spare, before sunset. A fine deli—we split a big order of wings and fries.
Moments before sunset we find a delightful spot under some live oaks, me to pitch, Rob to hang his hammock.
An absolutely delightful day, having company along, just delightful!
Thursday—June 6, 2013
Location—Holly Beach, then on to Cameron
Rob spotted a five-star campsite last, our stealth under the oaks. Back from the highway, no “Keep Out” signs, so we jumped the fence to get there. A soft bed of leaves to cradle me. Rob, a state-of-the-art Hennessey hammock for his cradle. (slung between two oaks). Blessed, energy-restoring sleep. A gentle, cool breeze, the humming of skeeters right outside my No-See-Um to lull me right off. A delightful night.
A young lad just cranking up his life, an old curmudgeon into the final throes of his—what could they possibly have (even the slightest) in common to talk about? Ah, but the young and old can cross paths, though those paths be the least narrow, through the Malpais (bad country). And so we trekked together, spent time together, and shared more than a few delightful moments together.
Oh yes, and inevitably, that unhappy moment must come, time for the sad goodbye. For these two intrepid, it was a sun-washed intersection in “downtown” Holly Beach. Rob, to hitch back to Houston, then his return flight to New York City, and for this old wanderer—to wander on.
Rob, the three days we’ve spent together have been so fleeting. Goodness, what happened to them! Dear friend, I wish you great success with your book about “trails.” And I wish for you a wonderful life. It’s been a joy, certainly my good fortune, to have met you…
As I turn away, to journey on up the road, the day clouds and darkens, adding to the darkening funk now descending over me.
Excitement for the day is the Cameron Ferry crossing. By hastening my steps the least I’m able to arrive the landing just as the last eighteen-wheeler oil tanker loads. I’m in Cameron in time for supper at the (ought to be called) “Metal Shed Cafe.”
At dusk the cloud-over turns to a no-nonsense thunder-buster. Another mad dash. This time to take shelter under the (on stilts) school administration building. Wind-driven rain in buckets, sideways pitched buckets. I hunker down in a corner niche away from the side-pour. A blessing for sure (yet another one) to have found shelter. After the storm moves out to sea, I pitch in the grass behind the building. A memorable day…
Friday—June 7, 2013
Location—Oak Grove, then on to Grand Chenier
The storm that swept through yesterday evening was intense. Speaking to locals about it this morning, though, they all just shrug it off. There are different degrees for most everything, certainly for storms. I guess after your whole town has been flattened by a hurricane, twice, a storm like last night’s wouldn’t concern you the least.
There’s a picnic table behind the library. The librarian had told me about it yesterday, that their Wi-Fi was always on, and I was welcome to spend time there if I liked. The post office doesn’t open till eight-thirty. Same time for the library. So while I’m waiting for both to open I sit the table, enjoy my second cup of coffee from the jiffy, and get caught up on my email.
It’s almost noon before I leave Cameron, and I’ve a 22 into Grand Chanier. Another fine hiking day. Along the gulf side marsh I see many red-winged blackbirds and the first Anhinga since Florida years ago.
As the day progresses, I’m offered many rides by the folks of Louisiana. All give me water, same as Paul, Bridgett, and Tammy, yesterday. Going to have a very enjoyable trek through Louisiana.
The store in Grand Chenier is much further than I expected, and when I finally get there, at eight, it’s closed. With dark descending, and no food in my pack, I decided to pitch by the store for the night, then hit it first thing in the morning. The kind young lady, Lauren, who runs the store—and lives behind—apparently sees me (stealth doesn’t always work) and sends her uncle to investigate. I was prepared to move on, but when I explained, they weren’t the least upset. Lauren even put a bag of food and water together to help me through the night! Thanks, kind and understanding new friends, for the happy ending to this day!
Saturday—June 8, 2013
Location—North Island, then on toward Pecan Island
The store in Grand Chenier opens at 5:30. I hasten to break camp and am right in. Coffee fix in hand, I join the locals at the table. After answering the usual questions, I ask about the many old foundations and concrete slabs I’ve seen since leaving Cameron. Joe, a couple of years my senior, who was born and raised on Grand Chenier (Chenier is French for ridge. So, Grand Chenier includes not only the village, but also the elevated oak-covered ridge, which runs some 12 to 14 miles east and west), tells how Audrey (1957), THE hurricane of last century, destroyed not only Cameron, but all of Grand Chenier. Joe was 21 then. His father was a rancher. They raised cattle.
Joe remembers that as the storm approached, everyone was told to seek higher ground. To them, that meant Grand Chenier. When the storm surge struck, many dear friends and neighbors drowned and were swept away—as were all their cattle. The windows and doors were all blown out of their house, which was dislodged from its foundation. All that remained were a few things in the attic. Thankfully, Joe and his family all survived Audrey.
Cashier this morning is Tammy. As I go to pay, she befriends me (won’t accept my money) and buys my breakfast!
A slow start, but I do manage to hit the road by eight. Another fine hiking day along the beautiful oak-lined highway through Grand Chenier. The azaleas are beginning to bloom, as are numerous other plants. More rides offered, more water. I accept the water!
By a little after eleven I reach Booth’s, the store on the east end of Grand Chenier. I get to meet Tmae, the sweet old lady who runs the store—and (some members of) her family. Specialties are a flavored sausage, and a Cajun mixture of beans and rice called Boudin. I go for both! Tmae and Booth’s (comma to da top) are well known far and side. WVUE-8, recently featured Tmae and her store in their documentary “Heart of Louisiana.” Get my picture with Tmae out front. Just a mighty fine dose of good old southern hospitality!
I no more depart Booth’s than this vehicle across slows and stops. A shout out to me, so I turn—to see many happy smiles. It’s Lauren and her family. “Libby [her daughter] wants her picture with you. Come to the next drive.” I hasten to the next drive. Seems everyone knows everyone on Grand Chenier. Next drive—one of Lauren’s former school teachers! Libby gets her picture with me. And I get a few of my own. Lauren, you’ve been so kind and generous to this old intrepid. I’ve seen you twice. You’ve given me generous gifts—twice. Thanks!
Final excitement for the day is finding a place (in the marsh) to pitch before the onrushing thunder-buster overtakes me. I win! Well, sorta…
Sunday—June 9, 2013
Location—Past Pecan Island to Forked Island
Yesterday I made it deep into the Louisiana marshes, to about four miles west of a place called Rollover Camp. I’ve around eight miles to go to reach Pecan Island, then another 20 if I want to make Forked Island today—and I want to make Forked Island (and Stelly’s Grocery).
I set a personal record this morning—for the shortest time ever in breaking camp. Out here in the marsh there are lots of bugs, skeeters, biting flies, and ants. I was plagued by them all, all last night. There are no holes in my No-See-Um netting, at least none that have not been repaired. Didn’t matter, didn’t stop them. What an absolutely fretful night. And this morning, same thing. I break camp as far as I can inside my tent before unzipping the tent door and getting out. The instant I’m out, the mosquitoes and deer flies descend on me in a fog. Never before have I ever suffered an insect attack this vicious. I collapse my tent, stuff-sack it, secure my pack, shoulder it (three minutes max), and try to get moving. But it’s impossible. I’ve got to take my glasses off and put them in my pocket in order to wipe the flies and mosquitoes from my face and neck. My legs are covered with them. I finally manage to get moving, but I can’t outrun them. I’ve three hours of this agony, all the way to Pecan Island.
I linger at the Pecan Island Food Store until the sun makes a show and there’s a breeze (I just want a chance). Out of Pecan Island I’m right back in the marsh, and the flies return with a vengeance. I’ve no repellent, didn’t get any at the store. Was told the stuff is useless against the flies.
I’m offered many rides again today, and water. No shortage on water! The kind Louisiana folks remain perplexed, my not accepting rides. No time to explain standing in the middle of the road, so I keep trading one of my Odyssey 2013 cards for the water.
Rain cells, dark, tall (and noisy), full around me the whole day. Somehow I manage to dodge all of them but one.
By six I’m at Stelly’s Food Store in Forked Island. A fine selection (things I like) to choose from for supper. Top it off with a pint of Blue Bell’s best!
At sunset I pitch for the night under the Intercoastal Canal Bridge on a dry spot out of the (finally catches up with me) rain. Nice roof, a little eighteen-wheel clatter above, but not a problem; I’m out of it, dry, and bug free!
Monday—June 10, 2013
A neat mom-n-pop food store (Stelly’s) just before the Intercoastal Canal Bridge at Forked Island. Sandwich, chips, pop, and ice cream, and I was in pretty good shape. A dry spot under the bridge, and set me for the night. Dark-thirty, comes this fellow to roust me—with food, food, and more food. The old gent, Rodney, had seen me earlier in the day, “We were coming back from Pecan Island when we saw you on the road. Heard you were down here under the bridge.” He hands me a gallon ice cream bucket full of stuff, sliced beef, bread, mayonnaise, chips, milk, pop, chocolate pudding, fig bars, and candy. I was at a loss for words. Finally manages to blurt out, “Thank You!” A gentle smile from the old gent and he was gone.
A few mosquitoes this morning but nothing near like yesterday, and no biting flies. As I’m stuffing my tent, here comes Rodney to check on me. He lives just across the road at the base of the bridge. I sit the passenger seat of his car as I eat one of his sandwiches and drink the milk. Rodney is Creole, lived here his entire 71 years. Everyone down here has a hurricane story. Rodney’s isn’t as bad as Joe’s back on Grand Chenier. I return his ice cream bucket, he wishes me a safe journey, and with that broad Creole grin he’s down the road.
Ten minutes, I’m back on the highway and near the top of the Intercoastal Canal Bridge. Little traffic this morning, but one of the first vehicles stops. Comes that unmistakable Creole smile. “Saw you walking the road last two days.” The fellow hands me three packs of peanut butter crackers—and money.
Traffic picks up and the Tarmac really starts cooking. There’s a little store at the intersection where I’d planned on leaving SR-82, but locals there tell me to stick with the highway on into Abbeville.
I’m halfway when here comes the first thunderstorm for the day. I manage to sit out most of it while having a burger at a house-turned-cafe. I’m back out as the storm passes—and no more get moving than comes another thunder buster. No dodging this one. Tough going on into Abbeville; no shoulder, heavy truck traffic, constant lightning, and wave after wave of downpour driven by the semis.
Only 17 miles today, but it’s taken me from seven this morning till six this evening to reach Abbeville. I can tell I’m getting real close as the shoulder narrows from ten inches to five.
Kind lady innkeep cuts me a hiker trash deal at her little motel other side of town. Two more of Rodney’s sandwiches, pop and ice cream from the Dollar General right across and this day’s a done deal.
Tuesday—June 11, 2013
Wow, another black-water suds and rinse, me and my clothes, first for both since back in High Island, Texas. It’s amazing how quickly the road grime accumulates, and sticks. A blessing to get a room, to bathe, and to rid my hat, shirt, shorts, and socks of the filth.
I’m out to a clear, cool(er) morning, only 20% chance of rain today. Trekking along and just east of Abbeville comes a Super Wal-Mart. Just super for me! I’m out of Osteo Bi-Flex and my shoes are totally shot. So in I go.
Both New Balance and Nature’s Bounty (Osteo Bi-Flex) have been steadfast sponsors and have supported me with product for years—but not this year. The Osteo I must have, it’s readily available, and I can afford it. New Balance, another matter—a sad one too. They’ve provided me shoes for all my treks, which, when combined, make up the Great American Loop. I had an old pair of 814s I thought would make this final 1555, but the soles have now worn through and the tops are coming apart, causing my ankles and feet to suffer.
So this morning, at Wal-Mart in Abbeville, Louisiana, I bid farewell to my faithful old 814s, and to New Balance. Over the years I’ve sold a boatload of shoes for New Balance. My family, friends, hikers and backpackers all over—I’ve sold them on New Balance. Just the very best trekking shoe made. Don’t know what happened—sure a sad deal. 18,000 miles around the Great American Loop. New Balance carried me all the way—save for less than 400 of them. Yup, just a sad deal.
A fine hike into Erath, wide, divided highway, full emergency lane, and my feet and ankles are liking the beefed-up support.
Close to New Iberia (I can tell I’m close) the traffic picks up two-fold, and the wide, fully paved emergency land disappears. I stumble my way, right elbow directly next the onrush for the final two miles on in.
Been shooting for McDonald’s, and there it is. Hey, and right next, a not so fancy (hiker trash) mom-n-pop motel. “Why not give ‘em a try, old man!” I whisper to myself. And so, over I go. In a moment I explain (to the kind, attentive inkeep, Mona) what I can afford. No smile, but no frown either. “Gotta check with John.” John is in the back. I can hear them talking. John—”That’s what he can afford?” Mona—”That’s what he told me he can afford.” John—Where can we put him?” Mona—”The double above the office is clean and ready.” John—”Okay, then put him up there.” Amazing, just amazing, their kindness and understanding—what I offered (and they accepted) is what I can truly afford, no less. You’ve heard the song lyrics, about the end of the money coming before the end of the month. That pretty much sums up my financial condition. But hey, living constantly on the run (on the walk, rather) really isn’t all that expensive. Just can’t be checking into the Ritz every night!
Wednesday—June 12, 2013
Stopped by the motel office on my way out this morning. Wanted to thank John for his kindness. He was in and we talked for quite awhile, about how God continually directs our path. It was my good fortune and certainly a pleasure to have met you, John. Thanks for the room. And thanks, especially, for your gift to help me along! Your generosity to this old traveler will long be remembered.
Each and every day spent trekking with a backpack on is special, separate in its own right, distinct in its own way. Today, this day, will be remembered for the extraordinary outpouring of generosity and kindness from folks along. We are all familiar with Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” All well and good. Problem is—when we give, someone’s got to be on the receiving end. If you’ve followed my adventures along for the least while, you’ve read what my thoughts are about giving and receiving. The following quote—when I read the words, did there come an open sky revelation, true understanding.
“Charity never humiliated him who profited from it, nor ever bound him by the chains of gratitude, since it was not to him but to God that the gift was made.”
[Antoine de Saint-Exupery]
Charity (giving) can come in many forms. The gifts I speak of today are in the form of money. First there was John. His gift to me, one of remarkable generosity. Then, from Gingerbreadman, a fellow intrepid I’ve never met. He’d planned on coming out and trekking some with me, but was unable to make it. In a general delivery package sent to the New Iberia post office (just stopped by there), he enclosed a postal money order—for the amount it would have cost him had he been able to make the trip. Then (I’m no more than out of town), a lady pulls off and stops. She offers me food, a full breakfast-in-a-bag from McDonald’s. When I explain that I’ve already had breakfast, down goes the bag, up comes her hand—with “the gift.”
I will not reveal the total amount, the gifts given this day, but it is substantial. And I’d been fretting how I’d make it through to the end of this month. Oh yes, John, does the Lord not daily direct our path!
The day manages to crank the pressure cooker again. Temperature, high nineties. Humidity, high eighties. A late afternoon shower cools both me and the asphalt. I walk into it, fully enjoying the welcome change.
Somehow Day 61 has turned up missing in the list of days in my tentative itinerary. But the road to Baldwin (and the distance—21 miles) was still there, so I’ve had to hike it. Fully paved emergency lane most of the day. Many more offers of rides, and water. Louisiana folks, so thoughtful and kind.
It’s certainly been another grand, memorable day trekking this final leg of the Great American Loop.
Thursday—June 13, 2013
The kindness and generosity extended me by the folks of Louisiana yesterday continues today. At the McDonald’s in Franklin a couple befriend me. The lady, Loretta, gives a gift of breakfast. Many more rides offered, and water. Fascinating how the water shows up just when needed.
At Garden City I move from SR-182 to US-90. Here, US-90 is limited access. So I’m once again trekking the westbound emergency lane. Heavy, heavy traffic, but I move along safely. I’ll be on and off US-90 from here on through to the Florida Panhandle, to end this trek where the Florida Trail passes on US-90, east of Milton.
I’m now trekking the Atchafalaya River bottoms—to reach the wide, rolling river, then to cross it near Calumet.
Another brutally hot, humid day. Trekking through such adversity saps me physically, but my tired old heart is handling it okay. The mental thing. Ah, haven’t mentioned that since staggering across the desert southwest. For many thousands of miles I’ve believed I had total control of the day-to-day mental challenge. Having second thoughts now, however. Making each new day truly a new day, that’s the way to tackle it, that’s the way to go. Not always so easy, though!
The predictable afternoon shower arrives right on schedule. Again, I trek right through it, not bothering to dig for my poncho. I’m already completely soaked with perspiration, so what the hey?
My road trek takes me from McDonald’s to McDonald’s today, from the one in Franklin to the one just east of Idlewild.
A vacant field with tree shelter to conceal my stealth camp behind McDonald’s and in front of Dollar General works great. I pitch just at dark.
Another great day along the Great American Loop in Louisiana. Two weeks, 300 miles, and three more states remain to complete this grand odyssey.
Friday—June 14, 2013
About as close to McDonald’s as I’ve ever set camp. Worked out just great. I waited until near dark to move under the trees right behind. Perfect concealment; a quiet night.
I manage to break camp at six, then to head back into McDonald’s for my senior coffee. No senior coffee—what’s this? Oh well, there was no charge for the campsite!
Sipping my coffee, comes this fellow, Chip. He sees my pack, my trekking poles, and is drawn over. Chip is a semi-retired emergency room physician. He’s been exercising to lose weight, with the goal of hiking the Grand Canyon. Definitely has his mind set—he’ll do fine. Asks about my sticks. Told him to get a pair of Lekis, that he wouldn’t regret it. We spend an hour in enjoyable conversation. Chip then gives me a McDonald’s gift card that will provide much more than a “happy meal.”
Walking the streets of Morgan City I’m constantly stooping to pick up money, over two dollars in change. The day continues, bringing me wide, safe shoulders. Late evening, comes yet another strong thunderstorm. I get soaked one more time. Reaching Gibson’s General Store in Chacachoula, I order my meal for the day, a super burger. Then I find—a kind couple dining across have paid for more food for me, which the cook brings after they leave. Additionally, the cook and cashier also befriend me with a bag full of food. My pack is loaded down as I depart Gibson’s!
I’ve little choice for camp this night, as the highway slopes both sides, dropping immediately to the marsh. I pitch between the crash rails, between the lanes, under the US-90 overpass, on a lumpy bed of oyster shells. A very noisy night, the clackety-clack of semi tires hitting the road joints above, but no matter.
Saturday—June 15, 2013
The US-90 racket gets me up. I’m pack-shouldered and out before seven. Hey, my lucky night, a dry spot to pitch, and the broken, jagged shells haven’t punctured my air mattress! I’ve a quick hike to the next jiffy. Their coffee, and the gift food of last, a fill-me-up breakfast.
During the day I become dehydrated—the intense heat. I’m unable to get enough water. Not good. Like running your car engine four quarts low. Along, another post office. Two in a row, both places open. That’s amazing!
My chosen route today takes me down country roads north of US-90. I’m trekking along fine and making good time—until the road I’m on turns private. Sure, there’s a way around, way around. More brutally crushing heat, only to be followed abruptly by another thunderstorm. I luck out, and am able to wait it out on the front porch of an unoccupied dwelling. I must have been close to heat exhaustion, for as soon as I drop my pack and lean back against the wall, I fall into deep, very sound sleep. When I awake, the storm has passed, and I trek on.
In Raceland, across the drawbridge at the jiffy there, Jason befriends me. Fountain, ice water, and food.
Another problem evening, finding a suitable campsite. The marsh leads on to marsh. And beyond that—more marsh (a polite term for swamp). Tracks parallel the road north of Raceland, and by a railcar siding, in the bed of rock ballast, I’m able to find a less sloping spot. The skeeters help me pitch, then accompany me in. It’s well after dark as I hastily compose a few notes for this day’s journal entry.
Sunday—June 16, 2013
The rail siding turned campsite was so-so. Good size rocks, on a slope, you know what along the tracks looks like. Kept my Therm-a-Rest fully inflated. That took care of the big lumps. Elbows and knees against the rocks—tried to get in one position and stay there. These old bones don’t take well to the rattle and bang anymore. Freight trains passed during the night. Used to that rumble. Also, the monotonous drone from the fog of skeeters, no problem.
I’m really looking forward to reaching New Orleans. Should get in there sometime tomorrow. There’s a hostel there. No great hopes or expectations but sure could use a couple days of rest before the final stretch of this trek—a shade over 200 miles.
I’m on the road just after six. The heat is tolerable until ten or so. From then till noon it’s like a sledge coming down. Trekking along completely soaked with sweat, head to toe, not fun. The Tarmac throws the heat right back up. No escaping it. These days are agonizingly long. I’ll be relieved and most thankful to reach the end of this journey. Never thought I’d be saying that.
Lady at Chevron Deli befriends me, buys my lunch, then puts together a sack of nourishing snacks to take me into the afternoon. I’m soon in Paradis, just west of Ellington, my destination for today. I take a break and try to cool down and dry off at McDonald’s. When the sun moves on a bit, I’ll move on.
The afternoon proves tolerable, mostly cloudy. I’m in and out of every jiffy along, practicing my yogi skills. My styrofoam cup; their ice and water. “Aw, you can have it.” the usual response when I place my cracked and soiled cup on their counter.
Gene, a fellow biking from Houston to Orlando, catches up with me. Tracking along behind, he’d heard about me. Another minute and I’d have been in (another) McDonald’s and our paths would not have crossed. Great meeting you, Gene; be safe on down to Orlando. Thanks for your kind encouragement!
The cloudy afternoon finally turns to a thunderstorm show. I’m able to pull off at a jiffy, where I remain under their overhang better part of an hour.
East of Ellington, and just at dusk, I find a dry spot under a bridge and pitch for the night. No skeeters. Can’t figure that!
Monday—June 17, 2013
My journal entries are almost always written, such, to flow with the day, from morning to evening. This day, however, will prove the exception.
You see, during all my years of wandering about, I’ve never had what you might consider a true run-in with the law. Today has changed all that.
First order: “Give me those sticks.” I hand over my trekking poles. Second order (accompanied by a firm hand on my shoulder): “Get in the car.” I get in the car.
The wrong with what came down today, which I caused, started yesterday, when I found out that the Gretna to Canal Street Ferry (across the Mississippi) was shut down. I’d planned on taking that ferry over to New Orleans. Looking at my map then, I quickly realized I had only two other options (that I knew of), the Huey P. Long Bridge, or the US-90 high-span, limited access bridge. Neither good. And I’d been told not to even think about trying to cross the Long Bridge (as recently as today, by Tmae’s daughter, who saw me on the road and stopped a moment).
Since I didn’t want the continuity of my Great American Loop trek broken, I made the decision to cross the Long Bridge. A dumb idea for sure, one I’m certainly not proud of. I didn’t know, but have since been informed (by two Causeway Police officers) that walking either of the bridges was against the law.
Okay, so up the bridge I go. I’m barely into the approach, nowhere near the main center span, when here they come, two squad cars, lights flashing, sirens cranked full blast. Both vehicles angle directly toward me then stop abruptly, blocking the emergency and inside lane(s). The officers come straight at me, all business. I cling to the concrete rail and slump over. Indeed, a bad day for me. Certainly not a great day for the officers.
Across the bridge and away from traffic by a gravel pull-off, I answer their questions. Both are obviously preturbed at the potentially compromising situation I’ve caused them—in their jurisdiction, on their watch. Keeping the bridge safe for everyone is their prime responsibility. Having shown no respect, I’ve obviously (and literally) walked all over that.
Ah, but this day did there come to me more (undeserved) gentle kindness—from two of Louisiana’s finest. No arrest. No fine. I was informed that another ferry (on down) was running—then to be driven back to the Long Bridge turnoff, from there to continue on to the Algiers to Canal Street Ferry, across the Mighty Mississippi to New Orleans—my Great American Loop trek uninterrupted.
At least I did one thing right today (Oh well). I had the good sense to thank them both for their tolerance and kindness, and to ask forgiveness for the trouble caused.
Tuesday—June 18, 2013
Location—New Orleans, then on toward Fort Macomb (next itinerary click)
I stumbled along in a daze the remainder of the day yesterday. Rain came off and on. Steam roller Tarmac in between.
I hadn’t researched the route on down through Gretna, to the ferry in Algiers. Along, there’s a wide, deep, commercial/industrial canal coming to the river. The highway passes under it through a tunnel. I gazed down and into the dark, narrow passage in disbelief. Either side, between the white line and the tunnel wall, an elevated ledge, maybe a foot-and-a-half in width. That was it. Looking at my map, I could see no way around for a great distance. Still in a daze, I inched my way down the ledge and along the tunnel wall. Came then a rush of traffic only inches away. Drivers frantically honked. Passengers frantically waved. Just a few feet ahead, the ledge narrowed even more. That was it. No way through without getting completely pulverized. I had to wait for a break in the onrush to even turn about—save my pack being ripped off. Back out, and above the tunnel, I continued to the parallel canal road—to immediately discover a stairway leading down to a wide, safe, pedestrian tunnel!
At seven I arrived the Algiers to Canal Street Ferry—without further incident. By then I’d managed to collect my wits enough to take a few pictures and a couple videos.
Once across, and on Canal Street, more pictures, the beautifully palm-lined boulevard that’s Canal, then a few shots down Bourbon, Basin, and N. Rampart Street(s). Another mile or so on up Canal, and just at dusk, I arrived the hostel on Lopez, and called it a (unbelievably wild and bewildering) day.
There, at the front desk I registered for the night and tried to reserve the same bunk in their common room for tomorrow night. I had cash laying on the counter for two nights. I was told by the hostel-keep that I couldn’t get the room for tomorrow night until tomorrow. Unbelievable. I’m standing there, I.D. in hand, cash on the counter, and the keep wouldn’t take it!
Back first thing this morning, I.D. and cash in hand, I’m told I can’t sign up for the room till noon, till after they check with online booking. Again, at noon, I’m standing before the counter, I.D. and cash in hand. Hostel-keep: “What room are you in?” I hand the tattooed-and-pierced-everywhere (that I can see) woman my room key. Hostel-keep: “Let me check reservations. [rummage, rummage] Sir, that bunk room is full. In fact, we’re completely full. I have no more bunks available for tonight.” I’m dumbstruck. Words (thankfully) simply won’t come out. Finally, gaining a bit of composure, I ask for my key deposit back.
At my bunk, as quickly as I can (I’m shaking all over—getting old can do that to you at times) I stuff my pack, shoulder it, and get shed of the place.
I’d long planned and looked forward to visiting New Orleans and seeing the sights. That’s what I’d set this day aside for. But alas, I’m in deep downtown New Orleans with no (affordable) place to stay, and it’s now well past noon. It will take me till dark to reach the outskirts of town. Reluctantly, I headed that way.
Oh well, maybe next time. I keep saying that. But likely, next time won’t ever come for this old man pushing 75. I did see New Orleans, kinda. The famous streets. I hiked Canal, and looked down most of the rest. So, been there, done that, got that T-shirt—New Orleans!
Second hostel this odyssey. Second bummer experience with hostels this odyssey. Oh, and yes, mother, I know, be kind or be quiet. But danged if that India House wasn’t an absolute dump. There’s a distinct and unmistakable difference between patina and dirt, sorta like the difference between braids and dreadlocks, the universal hairstyle at India House.
By seven-thirty I’m in the eastern outskirts of New Orleans, trekking along Bus. US-90. Old, old motels either side. I sashay back and forth, trying to Yogi a room. The places are all the same. Near fortresses, iron bars and gates everywhere. Buzzer buttons and a little hole in the (looks to be bullet-proof) window under the outside overhang. Sticker on one motel-keep’s van: “Less than $20.00 cash value in bullets on hand at any given time.” One place, an old woman comes around when she sees me. We talk out front in the dirt and garbage. Her take on me (as I turn and walk away): “Worked hard all my life. Don’t got much—but I ain’t homeless!”
Eighth or tenth place, lost count, Betty (as in Jack and Betty Mom-n-Pop Motel) accepts my hiker trash offer. I get three Cokes and some ice from the bar right next, barricade myself in my room and end this memorable day.
Wednesday—June 19, 2013
Location—Fort Macomb, then on to Lake Catherine
Made it to the far northeast side of New Orleans yesterday evening. Old businesses along US-90, numerous motels. I was finally able to make a good hiker trash deal at one of them, and much relieved to get off the highway and into a room. There were just no safe places to stealth.
This morning I work entries and correspondence until nine-thirty. Finally out and hiking, I’m pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a cool morning with overcast skies. By eleven I’m pretty much clear of New Orleans. A few scattered businesses along. A slew of abandoned buildings. The new US-90 limited access drew nearly all the traffic away from here. That’s called progress. The folks who had been making a decent living before the new highway (then were forced to close down) may look at it differently.
One of the last businesses still open, just past the Viet/Thai village, a fine little mom-n-pop restaurant. When I read “Welcome Dear Friend” on the door, I knew I was in the right place. Ah yes, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, boiled carrots, a roll, and sweet tea. Just the perfect lunch special. Great conversation with other folks that were in. Oh yes, one of them buys my lunch.
Of all the states I’ve trekked, Louisiana, the folks here, are right up there when it comes to possessing gentle kindness. Undergird that almost universal trait with the most-base feeling of pity, and I think that explains what’s going on—all the giving. It’s coming from the perception that I’m homeless. Folks down here just haven’t seen that many long-distance backpackers, who can often appear to be homeless!
The day remains overcast. The least breeze helps with the mugginess.
By two I’ve reached Fort Macomb and the bar and grill there. Get a cold pop and enough water to help me on up the road. In the evening, the barkeep at Crazy Al’s fixes me a hamburger, and I’m good for the night—a spot under a huge Southern Pine, where I set my tent in the last light.
An easy day, what with the overcast skies. Thank you, Lord.
Thursday—June 20, 2013
Location—Pearl River (Mississippi State Line), then on to near Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi
Fort Macomb is in the Louisiana marsh. Skeeters and biting flies are in the Louisiana marsh. What a time finding a place (reasonably) above water. Then, to endure the troublesome task of setting camp. Once in my tent, it took better part of twenty minutes to track down all the intruders and exterminate them.
Same problem breaking camp this morning. Finally manage to get my pack up, flailing at the give-no-quarter devils the entire time. Perhaps, soon, I’ll find higher, drier ground and be shed of them. Sure hope so.
The big event for this day is putting another state behind me—Louisiana. I reach Pearl River (Mississippi State Line) a little before eleven, to take some pictures and videos before moving on. Three of the six states I’ll trek all or part of, the three longest ones, are behind me now—New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle remain, less than 200 miles, all total.
By late evening, and in the middle of yet another thunderstorm, I reach Waveland (just west of Bay Saint Louis). To get out of the downpour, and for the night, I hit the theatre in Waveland, Star Cinema 3. I’m in for the night, and I’m dry. And the admission is free. Actually the place is closed down, abandoned, for a very long time. I gain entry through one of the side emergency exits. The place has been totally ran-sacked. Debris and trash scattered everywhere. And the roof leaks, which has left the most unpleasant, musty smell. But hey, there are plenty of flat, dry spots. I choose the one in the far corner. Sure it’s spooky! But beggars can’t be choosers, so they say. And sleeping on the concrete? Adapted to that thousands of miles back. My air mattress does the trick. My old bones still shake and rattle. They just don’t roll as well anymore, but I manage!
The rain continues unabated, well past dark. And the leaky roof continues dripping, plink, plank, plunk. But no problem for this tired, old wanderer—who drifts off, midst the musty mess.
Friday—June 21, 2013
Location—Bay Saint Louis, then on to Gulfport
Here we go—McDonald’s first thing this morning. The gift card Chip gave me is such a great benefit. I go for two sausage burritos and hash browns—and of course, my senior coffee. Getting to where I need my breakfast burrito fix now, too—dang!
Going to be a great hiking day, low heat, low humidity. First up is the magnificent Leo W. Seal, Jr. Memorial Bridge, across Saint Louis Bay. Runs for two miles. There’s a wide pedestrian walkway. Just the very finest! Manage some neat pictures—and videos.
The day clouds up. Rain threatens the whole time, but just a sprinkle or three, that’s it. The backed-off heat holds.
Over the bay bridge I hit the spectacular (appropriately named) Long Beach. Glistening sand, uninterrupted to the crescent-arched horizon. And running with the boulevard (US-90) all afternoon, sidewalks. A quite remarkable stretch of unspoiled beach. And across the highway, beachfront, estate homes set back among century-old live oak. I’ve captured some really fine shots and video here, too—coffee table glossy book stuff.
I’ve been in touch with dear friends Ed and Emily, who (used to) live near Pensacola. They’re working on support for me when I complete this trek—in (probably) less than a week now.
McDonald’s to McDonald’s today, from Bay Saint Louis to Gulfport.
Not a single skeeter or biting fly. Just a really fine hiking day.
Saturday—June 22, 2013
Location—Mississippi City, then on to Biloxi/Ocean Springs
Became the least anxious last evening while searching for a place to stealth. I was passing directly through downtown Gulfport. Finally decided to relax, keep moving, and wait for dark, when places I might have passed by earlier start to look better in the waning light. Ah, patience, old fellow, do you not pray for renewed patience every single day! And did that bit more patience not pay off! Everyone has their headlights on now. Say, looka here, a three-foot high picket fence is coming to the sidewalk along a vacant lot, one that had been graced by a dwelling, before Katrina—right next to where the mayor of Gulfport had lived, before Katrina (historic marker). By the fence, 100 feet or so back, an old oak, surrounded by a group of cabbage palms. It proved ideal. And even then, in the cool of the evening, there were no skeeters or biting flies!
Another reasonably cool morning. It’s raining out over the Gulf, but all along the beach, clear here. The sidewalk continues both sides of the boulevard. Along the beach the wider paved ways are called boardwalks.
East of Gulfport, for miles, to and through much of Biloxi, nearly all the beachfront homes and businesses are gone. Vacant land, nothing remaining but slabs, foundations, and driveways. “Land for Sale” signs, that’s the landscape scene before me and all along. Hurricane Katrina, the devastating storm that swept through here in August 2005 created a 28-foot-high storm surge that caused six to nine miles of inland flooding. It lasted for 17 hours—the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. I can remember seeing news coverage of the storm destruction in Gulfport and Biloxi. Today, as I pass, descends over me a feeling of sadness. In 17 hours, thousands of people lost their homes, their businesses—their very lives. As I pass (though eight years have passed since Katrina), still, the forlorn clouds of despair, of grief and sorrow, pervade the calm here today—so intense, as to be palpable.
“A McDonald’s on every corner.” We’ve all heard that expression. But, tell you what: Folks down here in Mississippi sho-nuf like their Waffle House. Between the McDonald’s in Gulfport and the one in Biloxi, there are no less than FIVE Waffle House(s)! I pass ‘em all up for the Biloxi McDonald’s. Thanks again, Chip, for your gift of the card!
Another bay to cross, another amazing bit of engineering—Memorial Bridge spanning Beloxi Bay. This bay bridge also runs two miles and it too, has a wide, safe pedestrian lane. Before crossing, I wait out a short rain squall beneath an enormous live oak. Not a drop on me! Yesterday, I had the Saint Louis Bay Bridge to myself. Today, I’ve a few bikers and walkers crossing with me.
The overcast brings a gentle, occasional shower, so the heat index remains tolerable. What a blessing not having the blast furnace to deal with, a true blessing.
By evening I reach Ocean Springs and the fine, local bar and grill, Woody’s. Forgot what a genuine Angus beef burger tastes like.
Dry camp again tonight, as a threatening squall skirts to the southwest. Forty-eight miles to Mobile. This trek is winding down.
Sunday—June 23, 2013
Location—Gautier, then on to near Grand Bay, Alabama
The ditches along the highway both sides (full with rainwater runoff) kept me on the straight and narrow till dusk last evening. Then, finally, after nearly three miles, a culvert and a two-track leading to a mature crown of longleaf—on my side. No gate or fence. No “No Trespassing” signs. So in I go. Under the tall pine, a wide open understory, with a soft (reasonably dry) bed of pine needles. A few annoying skeeters helped me set my tent, but otherwise, a perfect campsite.
First stop today, the first Waffle House in Pascagoula (that didn’t take long). I haven’t been in one of these places in years. And I soon remember why. Yes mother, I’ll be quiet!
Another bay/river bridge to cross today. This one spans the Singing River. It’s an older bridge, built in 2003. So it survived Katrina. Not as elaborate or impressive as the two previous. No separate lane for pedestrians. But it’s a calm, cool morning, so the high-span climb is enjoyable.
Lots of McDonald’s today. I stop at the second one. As I’m leaving, a man pulls beside me. “My son and I saw you inside. We’re not going to church today, so I want you to have this.” Out the driver’s window comes his hand with a (substantial) gift. I thank him for the kindness. I should be getting used to this, but I’m not.
In the afternoon I meet Leah. She’s biking from San Diego to St. Augustine. A very enjoyable time shared at Burger King, where she gives me a pint of freshly picked blueberries she’d discovered along the road. A couple of hours later, on the shoulder directly in front of me, a bottle of water left by Leah. Inscribed on it, “For Sunny – Have a great day!”
It’s been overcast with the threat of rain. It finally comes late afternoon—just as I reach Pappa Rocks Oaks, a little family-owned store. Waiting the rain out I have a BBQ sandwich and one of their famous hotdogs—compliments of the owner, who then gives me an additional gift.
The highlight of the day—entering Alabama. The wide, divided four-lane immediately goes away, as does the emergency lane, and I’m greeted by abandoned buildings either side. The sign reads, “Welcome to beautiful Alabama!”
By late evening I reach the west end of Grand Bay, where a man comes from his yard—and hands me a gift. “Get something to eat!” his only words. I manage a “Thank You.”
Stopping point for this day is a dense grove of oak, flat, with a soft bed of leaves. Freight trains running on schedule.
Monday—June 24, 2013
Location—Grand Bay, then on to western outskirts of Mobile
Chip has finally found time to come and hike a bit with me, his trip bringing him a fair distance from Morgan City, Louisiana. We meet at the convenience store near the light in downtown Grand Bay.
Another overcast, backed-off-humidity day. We’re dodging traffic as I continue ever east a little after seven.
It’s such a joy having company out here on this grinder for a change, for awhile. The narrow shoulder prevents us from walking side-by-side, but I stay close enough behind to enjoy conversation. Chip is into his grandfather adventure now and he shares some funny (and touching) stories with me—in between answering his phone. He’s been exercising to lose weight, so the exertion of trekking the highway is no problem. By ten we’ve done ten miles to the big chicken on a truck in a place called Theodore.
After lunch at the chicken truck deli, a cabby comes for him, and he’s gone. A memorable time, Chip. Thanks for coming out. Thanks for the company—and for your kind gift. Shed a few more pounds and you’ll be ready for the Grand Canyon again. I know you’ll do just fine!
The overcast holds till just west of Mobile, where a gentle shower comes just before the pressure cooker returns. I manage to reach the western outskirts of Mobile, and the McDonald’s there, where I cash in some more of Chip’s gift card. A clean, neat, hiker trash motel (an oxymoron for sure) right up the road and I’m in.
Climbed to 125 feet above sea level today at Sky Ranch! Looking forward to “touring” Mobile tomorrow.
Tuesday—June 25, 2013
Location—Mobile, then on to near Loxley
First mom-n-pop motel coming into Mobile last night; last mom-n-pop motel coming into Mobile. A lucky break, for sure.
As I trek on east this morning, the beautiful, century-old live oak sheltered boulevard begins, glorious plantation style mansions set back, both sides. Where there’s a traffic light, and for a block or so, a few businesses. Then the grand tree-lined boulevard resumes. Through the business area I’m hoping for anything but a Waffle House, but the odds are against me—it’s a Waffle House. I pass it by, to be rewarded with a McDonald’s as I near downtown. Breakfast, compliments of Chip—again.
At the post office, Lamont, one of the postal clerks, looks my tour route over, then makes a couple of suggestions that greatly enhance my walk through. And it proves most interesting and enjoyable. Lots of great pictures and videos.
One problem I hadn’t anticipated, but should have (just poor planning), the highways that cross the Mobile River, US-90/98 and I-10, they pass by tunnels under the river, and neither of them permit pedestrians. Gordon had given me a heads up about this tunnel problem, but somehow it got by me. To bypass the tunnels I’d have to detour north quite a distance to a bridge, then come all the way back down the other side to the tunnels—again.
The old Bankhead Tunnel (US-90/98) is 3,389 feet long. Add 75 yards to both ends (the distance to the entrance from where I was picked up, then dropped off—hitching through the tunnel). Thanks, Mike, for the ride! That’s less than three-quarters of a mile. But no matter, it still causes a gap, which interrupts the continuity of this GAL. So, in 18,000+ miles of totally connected trail, and less than 60 miles from the end, the loop is broken. It’s a sad deal, I know. Never thought I’d take a ride along my trek route, for any reason, but I’m just not interested in adding another whole day in this brutal heat in order to tie in a three-quarter-mile bit of it. Bad attitude, sure, but the horse can see the barn…
Across the river the highway climbs, to over 150 feet above sea level, first time at this height since Austin, way back in central Texas.
Another sledge-to-head (and body) hot, humid, day, which later brings the scheduled afternoon gullywasher.
Late evening now, and where the highway turns to enter Loxley, across is the Cozumel Mexican Restaurant. A young lad, Elliot, waits on me, brings me a huge platter of food—then invites me to pitch in his back yard for the night.
Wednesday—June 26, 2013
Location—Loxley, then on to Beulah
At Elliot’s, where I pitched for the night in his yard, I was less than a mile from downtown Loxley, my itinerary click for today. Up at five-thirty, my camp mostly struck, comes Elliot to see me off and bid me farewell. Thanks, son, for your kindness!
So, by six I’m through Loxley and on my way to Beulah, some 25-miles to the east. I make good time, and by a little short of noon I reach Elsanor—just in time to get under the canopy at the jiffy there. Hard rain, in buckets, for better part of an hour. Then another long wait as the deluge trails off and the skies clear.
Late afternoon I’m offered rides, and handed gifts by passing motorists. One lady stops, motions me over, then tells me to “Get a cold drink at the next station.” as she hands me a gift before hurrying on.
In Seminole, at the convenience deli, John buys me supper, then comes to the bridge at the state line to pray with me and to wish me well.
The highlight for this day is entering Florida. Five of the six states behind me, with just a few short miles remaining to successfully conclude this odyssey—the Great American Loop.
I reach Beulah just before sunset, make a stop at the jiffy for my Blue Bell ice cream fix, then hike another mile or so to pitch with the skeeters behind a telephone sub-station just east of Beulah.
Thursday—June 27, 2013
Last night—last camp to pitch this trek. And this morning, last camp to strike (I’ll be staying in a motel in Milton tonight). Both tasks are methodical and routine, one’s I’ve become so perfectly accustomed to over the years. But as I take down my tent, collect my meager belongings, then organize my pack to shoulder it this morning, a barrage of emotions, different than the lighthearted thoughts of countless previous mornings, descend over me—as this may truly be my final time to set and break camp, ever.
Family and friends have often asked me what’s next. At the conclusion of one odyssey, I’ve usually got at least preliminary plans in the works for the next. But not this time. As I turn to face the busy highway this morning, do I realize—this could well be my last long journey.
As I head on down the road there’s a lightness (yet a catch) in my step. This adventure is all but over, and I’m relieved at that thought. But at the same time there’s an uneasiness, an unsettled feeling about this being the end.
As I get cranking, loosen up my arms and shoulders, stretch my legs, then to set my stride, comes that hollowness in my stomach only a senior coffee and a couple of one-buck burritos can satisfy. Ah, and just up ahead, those familiar arches—a McDonald’s right where needed!
Into the day and some distance along, I meet up with I-10 for the final time this journey. Off and on, we’ve been almost constant companions, since El Paso, over 1,400 miles back. And so, dear friend I-10, you’ve sustained me, directed and supported my way. Your west-bound emergency lane provided me wide, safe passage for over 400 miles. In your protective corridor (care) and by your way, especially through the barren, high-plains desert of southwest Texas, you provided me nearby access to precious water—and food. So now, as we part ways this final time (a video and a few pictures), thanks, my journey friend, my faithful side-by companion, Interstate 10, thanks!
Ed and Emily, longtime friends from Montgomery, they’re coming down to be here at the end for me, to share in the excitement and joy that will be the final ending to perhaps my final odyssey. I’ve tried calling Ed today but am unable to reach him. No problem though, as they manage to track me down some three miles from Milton. What a delight seeing these dear, kind folks again. They befriended me, supported me for days during my southbound ECT trek in 2000. They lifted me from the trail (road), housed and fed me. Ed even came out and walked many a mile with me, a true companion, as I passed through their beautiful Montgomery countryside. Pure, down-home southern hospitality at its very finest! Ah, and here today, in this unmercifully heat (first thing after a firm hug from each) Ed hands me an iced-down Gatorade straight from their cooler.
They’ve found a clean and neat mom-n-pop motel a couple of miles on up and I hasten there to find they’ve already worked a hiker trash deal, and gifted it to me. After sudsing off the road grime and sloshing the crud from my clothes, I’m treated to a grand seafood feast at one of the locals’ finest seafood houses.
Back in my room now—tonight I will rest this tired, weary body for the final time this trek. As I’m off toward contented sleep, the kind that often accompanies fatigue and exhaustion, I ponder this being my lasts 25-mile day, the final one along a very difficult and long journey. Then, as I drift away, descends a mist of dreams about the magic of meeting folks when I’ve backpack shouldered, in search of that elusive pot of gold at rainbow’s end. And the reward for enduring—as I’ve wended my way into that hazy blue, toward the quietude, the solitude, the perfect silence—there serenade the pipes (of Pan). When folks along meet me, when we break the busyness of the day for just a moment, to share the pleasures of life—do they, almost to the person, sense what’s going on in the life of this old intrepid. Ah, and oh yes, how could they not be envious!
Oh dear friends, have these brief sojourns this odyssey been so very special—all the gracious, gentle, kind and caring folks met along this Great American Loop, thank you, thank you!
Friday—June 28, 2013
Location—US-90/FL-87 Florida National Scenic Trail
I had become dead tired by the time I neared Milton yesterday afternoon. An uninterrupted 25-mile day (no afternoon storm) brought incredibly crushing heat and humidity. I was so relieved when I saw Ed and Emily pull to the shoulder ahead of me. What a joy seeing them both again. Ed took one look at me and reached for an iced down Gatorade from his cooler. The motel just up the road, we decided, would be it for me for the day. Those last two miles seemed unbearably long.
By seven this morning I’m pack shouldered and trekking through Milton. In short order comes McDonald’s. Oh yes, time for my senior coffee and buck-burrito fix. In no time I’m in and out, and on my way east again.
Perfect timing, for just as the Tarmac begins bouncing the intolerable heat, comes the “Old Brick Road.” It runs beside but a short distance away from the highway, offering merciful shade. Not long, the brick also begins heating up, but I’ve less than an hour to go now, and this stagger through the shimmering mirage of heat will come to an end. Soon come Ed and Emily. I’d invited Ed to hike with me toward the finish this morning and he’s here. Emily drops him off, then heads on up to the junction of US-90 and FL-87, to await our arrival. Moments later, another vehicle pulls to the shoulder across. Comes now another dear friend. He and his wife, Annette, also took me in, sheltered and fed me during my ECT southbound odyssey in 2000-2001. Tall, lanky fellow. I recognize him immediately. “George, is that you?” Ah, and it is George from Gulf Breeze. What an absolute joy having both these dear friends here with me at the finish.
By nine-thirty we’re nearing the intersection of FL-87 and US-90, when another long-time friend from the Alabama Hiking Trail Society comes walking toward me. Though it’s been a very long time, I recognize Eric immediately. A short distance from the intersection I move ahead alone. Everything’s changed since I turned south at this same junction that rainy day in December 2000. I kneel by the light pole, give a prayer of thanks, and this odyssey is finished.
This trek of 1,555.5 miles was entirely a roadwalk, a very difficult go at times. I’m relieved and very thankful that it’s behind me now. And save for a three-quarter-mile section, the tunnel under the Mobile River, the Great American Loop is now also finished—let’s call it finished!
Dear family and friends, all who followed along, who gave me support and encouragement, this trek and all the collective GAL odysseys, true blessings—thanks!
God Bless the USA