Friday, February 27, 2009

Austin IV: A Little Help from My Friends

Miles since last blog: 4.1 (but much further off route for kets and such)
Miles Total: 2316.7

Route

Ahem, sorry about the whiny outburst of yesterblog, I've manned up and it's all good now.

Today, was a good day. I met great people though it had been several days in the making to line up a meet, and I changed couches so I am now surfing close to downtown. The walk was great, it was a hot day and by the time I got to my host's work my shirt was soaked through, it was also white, good thing I'm not a college girl or the hooting would have been merciless as I passed the construction sites. As it was I feel fairly sexy but not objectified, just right. Of course my new host has cats too, I've pretty much resigned myself to the idea that almost everyone in America has cats, which would be fine if I wasn't allergic to them.

Back to the walk though, I got to see new parts of the city which is always a great experience. It would be a lie if, even as a traveler, I said that as I move along I'm not constantly evaluating each new town for . . . livability. It's natural, even if you can't imagine yourself ever coming into circumstances to visit a place again, you always think about living there and what it has to offer, or what it lacks.

Walking down Lamar towards downtown takes you directly through the Pease District Park. If you are in the North of the country, you'll appreciate this, even if you didn't catch the full ramifications of my sweaty heat earlier. There were, at first, great gnarly oaks and grass fields filled with college students, they were playing disc golf, directly on the horizon, not far off at all, was the unique skyline of the city reaching high up into a territory some might say we were never meant to tread in. Just blocks away from these giants, kids were shirtless and frolicking in the sun lie it was summer, there three full bore co-ed beach volleyball games in full swing in sand pits in the grass. It's still February. I could definitely Winter here, Summer . . .

The cafes and bars I've been spending time at are all artistically decorated and novel and homey, all of them have outside patios which are constantly busy and the cafe I spent the most time at was 24 hours and didn't even seem to get really busy until after midnight when it was filled with University kids working on various projects and homework. I almost wanted to scoot up to a table and help them out, I was sure I could help with almost anything they were studying, I'm pretty well informed, for undergrad coursework anyhow. Okay, so school could keep me here in Fall and Spring, but Summer . . . Summer's a good time to travel, let's leave that at good enough, 3 out of 4 seasons isn't bad.

Tonight I found myself tagging along to a Whole Foods Market, actually THE Whole Foods Market, the center for the whole company where the headquarters and attached culinary school is, and most importantly, the buffet/cafeteria. You pick up a recycled paper trough and pile in whatever you want then go to weigh it and pay by the pound. I, being the eater I am and also a slight idiot at times, figured I would just fill up the trough. When one of the CSers I was with saw it she simply burst out laughing and her face turned red and eyes watered, it was the first moment that I realized I had gotten quite a bit of food. 3.6 pounds to be exact when we weighed it. The clerks reactions weren't much different.

"You have the record," the checkout girl said.

"If you eat all that we'll give you free dessert," the manager said.

Well, I am nothing if not idiotically competitive, even if I have no one to compete against and at risk of great personal injury (see my entire life). I set about my work, Pork Soul (which I had thought was intangible, but is apparently not and also quite delicious), Madras Potatoes, Chicken Pasta, Hummus, Beef Curry, and a number of other things all mixed into a heaping orgy of food. It came down to the fistful of rice I had wedged into one corner of the trough. I looked at it pensively, one of the CSers laughed at me when I started talking to it.

"Alright rice, here we go." I'd say. "I'm not gonna like this any more than you will." The CSers were nothing but supportive, even when you are watching something completely disgusting and ridiculous, sometimes you can't help but get wrapped up in it and start rooting, if only because despite all that, it truly is amazing. Forkload by forkload, the rice trickled down my gullet, just as we were readying to go I held up the empty container to the shock of a few at the table.

I think that once I was really full, what pushed me to finish the last few bites was the inherent joke that the prize for eating a ridiculous amount of food, was more food. I had to finish if only for that ridiculousness. We went inside and redeemed my empty trough for an amazing Oreo cake with tons of frosting which I tried to pawn off on several people and even looked for a homeless person to give it to before carting it around the rest of the night and finally eating it around 1 am.

From gluttony I went to culture, a bar/art show where I met a number of interesting people including a few other surfers that I regret not getting to chat with more. The prize of this portion of the evening was a coveted clip of video I recorded and will use in an upcoming video if I can get my act together. Thank you Adam if you are reading this.

From culture went to a house party where some interesting jokes and good conversation popped up sporadically, but as always it is the little things and the connections with people during the day that stick with you and set the tone. The comment you got about something you wrote, a text from a friend, or in one case a tweet from a man who just keeps astounding me with his generosity of spirit and friendship. When he knew I was down, he sent me the link below, enjoy.

SONG

Austin III.V: I Walk Alone

Kodiak and I split directions today, I'm not sure at this point whether I will move on from Austin or not. I was speaking with Kodiak the other morning about the loneliness of the road, how it goes, when it passes, how it was gone for me. This evening at the CS meet up, I met another surfer, a german who is traveling across the entire USA from NYC and back, seeing more of it in these four months than most Americans ever do. He was lonely sometimes too but felt that this might just be the beginning for him. With the freedom of the road come its consequences as well, I thought I was past them, but in just the last hour I've been proven wrong.

I'm toying with the idea that it's sympathy pains for my traveling brethren, but I don't think that's the case. I've learned to survive on a different level of human contact over my time traveling, meeting new people and connecting quickly and deeply in a way that makes them feel like old friends and makes me feel like I am not alone, not homeless and without friends and companionship of a more lasting kind. Here in Austin, a town that is so clearly amazing to me with fantastic hang outs and wild people, how could I have not found that here. I have found people to talk to on occasion, but I'm shy and need a way to start off, but the conversations have been fleeting or don't really connect with me, those that have have ended too quickly leaving me with nothing.

I do realize now that there are these times as well. When swinging from branch to branch in humanity occasionally you reach out your hand for the next vine and there's . . . nothing, except for a long fall to the earth that leaves the wind knocked out of you. It's not that I don't have some options, numbers to call, friends of friends, but everything until now has been so organic and easy, and I'm really surprisingly shy, though you might not know it even if you met me.

Part of it is that even though I have these incredible and intense short relationships, they are all friendships and I like being with someone in life. Though I like my life and am comfortable with it in most ways, all the travelers I meet are men, and just like I know I will never be happy locked into an office, I can't stay happy forever without a deep and meaningful relationship. I miss finding someone more beautiful than anyone else in the world, I miss morning kisses where you have to hold your breath because your breath stinks, the smell of a woman's wet hair while lying in bed. I miss a lot of those stupid things that all come back in a flood when a woman across a coffee shop catches your eye. I miss contact that is more than a handshake or a hug goodbye.

I think this is the main cause of my indecision in leaving tomorrow, I think this pain drives me to move on, I think if it weren't here I would want to stay. Part of me knows it's not time to leave yet, there are great people to meet, things to experience. Part of me wants to push on, closer to where all this ends, closer to where I can have true freedom. While in so many respects I have become free in choosing a path that I love, until the coast, I am bound to that path. True freedom will be at the end, when I can follow or abandon a path as I please, to return to a path when it suits me, or choose something else entirely. Don't get me wrong, I like this walk, but I am looking forward to a day where I can be somewhere for an entire week without getting an itch to move on, or maybe that's the way it'll be now, I don't know and can't, until I finish.

1500 miles. 1500 miles. It's not that far to an uncertain future. What will happen when I get to the pier? Probably nothing really, then I'll just be standing at the end of it all, confused and wondering what to do. When the right song comes on, something slow and with the right lyrics, I imagine that short walk down the pier as I'd film it. I imagine it with no one there, I imagine it with friends and family, I imagine it with a news crew, I imagine kneeling down in the surf and putting my face in it, I imagine it a thousand different ways. All of them bring tears to my eyes.

Sadness and joy, I finally understand crying because you are so happy. It's a joy that you can never have again, and while you love that moment, you are aware that something is changing, everything that was will now be slightly different, you lose that moment and the life you had forever. You can cry for a lost life while being happy for a new one, even if they are the same life to everyone else.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Austin III: Walk Slow

I'd been pushing my pace a bit on the off chance that I might be selected for the 'best job in the world,' but it seems that they don't want the James Bond of Hobos working for them :) That's okay, it'd still be a job I guess . . . in the wake of this I believe I may spend a day or two more in Austin than I was originally planning for. Here's a little vid of my trip here:

H-TOWN TO ATX

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ATX: Deserts and Dumpsters

I knew immediately that I liked Austin when I got here. I saw a girl get off the bus and she was wearing big 60's starlet glasses with a breezy dress and big fuzzy boots, her hair was bleach blonde except on the left side where it had been cut down to a buzz showing her natural light brown hair. It's a free spirited town full of life, individuality, youth and a touch of rebellion - the city slogan for the Austinites, "Keep Austin Weird."

It wasn't long before a man with dreadlocks, a long grown goatee and tribal looking facial tattoos was walking down the block towards me. He had that bull piercing that goes through both nostrils and bandages on the fingers of his left hand which was holding a small white box.

"You're walking across the country?" This is how people always address me at first, they've read the sign on my back and this seems to be the standard greeting.

"Yeah," I said. We talked for a few minutes, he gave me the box which was filled with organic high energy pomegranate juice and told me how he had biked from Seattle to Maine a few years back. We hit the road again separately and it was only then I noticed he had come from a white van which was old and rusted in places. I thought it was nice for him to donate the juice, it seemed clear to me that it was all he had on him and that spirit of giving and helping inspired him to give even that away, life on the road will force you to see how good people are, despite what they say on the news.

Austin is filled with tattoos and piercings and it is bringing out my natural proclivity for them as I consider which of the numerous tattoos I want would be next if I got one today. The more I get the more I realize the necessity for a long term plan to fit them all together or else I'll wind up a hodgepodge of eccentric ink and skin with ugly negative space and no semblance of design.

When my mind turns to body art it turns to the man with facial tattoos and the visible commitment he has made to never returning to the life that so many people think is the only choice, I'm not that brave, and besides, I like my face just like it is. His ride made me think of Jolly Green and this morning I ended up calling him.

Jolly Green had just left Austin as I was coming in. He had made the 200 mile ride to San Angelo, TX just a while ago, or had tried at least. He told me about my future route, 60 miles of nothing to the town of Llano, then 60 more miles of nothing to Brady, nothing but hills and 88 degree heat. It had nearly killed him. He reached a stage of dehydration where your body pours water, you vomit and you simply are starting to lose function. I had seen this before in Survival School, it's not pretty and it would be pretty scary in the middle of the desert nothingness West of Austin. He was 10 minutes from calling an ambulance when a trucker drove up in the night and gave him a ride to San Angelo. The nice thing about dehydration is you can make a very fast recovery, he's fine, the problem wasn't lack of water, but that of electrolytes, his body simply had nothing to hold the water in him. I thanked him for the warning and the description of my route and we talked about CSing and hosts.

In Austin he had stayed with a host that had taken him dumpster diving - this is generally a practice in which you go to a dumpster behind a grocery store and root through all the things they have thrown out. Often entire cases of some product which are fine to eat still but have passed the date by which they are sellable, it's a skill that you learn eventually if you make this a permanent lifestyle or opt for some other alternative life-path. He said they had walked away with probably several thousands of dollars in free groceries, later on I thought of the man with the face tattoos and the box of juice he had give me, was it a dumpster dive? Did I care anymore?

I've never dumpster dove myself, but I can't say that I wouldn't. What once seemed disgusting now seems like a still slightly scary but feasible way to cut out my only major expense: food. I have no rent, no insurance, no transportation, no taxes, no gas, just food. I immediately suggested to Kodiak that he surf with these people before he left Austin, I may not be there yet, but it seems like it might be a wise skill for him to learn. Couch surfing had seemed scary at first too, but now it is one of the great loves of my life, like rock climbers love rock climbing, I love Couch Surfing, could Dumpster diving be too far off?

Like I said, I'm not there yet, I like restaurants way too much, but as you get deeper and deeper into the road, and real freedom, not the cereal box brand name freedom we are fed in the papers, you start to hear rumors not unlike those of a new world where the streets are lined with gold. You find communities with bright lights of leaders that have been traveling and living extraordinary lives for years, no money, no job, just life. You wonder, is this another fountain of youth, an el Dorado? Is it a revolution? Is it a coincidence that all the people I meet are getting filled with wanderlust and the spirit of travel and possibilities, and not just the ones I meet anew, but the old friends that always seemed so stable. A stream of mission statements and manifestos and value changes is running in a wave over the country as I see it. Is it that collective consciousness that we here about so often where an idea suddenly, and out of nowhere, is everywhere, like when two people simultaneously came up with calculus. Are these leaders the non-militant generals of a new age of subculture freedom fighters that fight by simply living and inspiring others? Could I be one of them? A ball of Tim Leary and Kerouac and Johnny Appleseed and Che all rolled into one with no fight except the one to find a full life and it spread like a rumor.

Could it be Kodiak? He's ready to fly on his own already to Dallas from Austin while I head West to San Angelo. Are we all standing on the precipice of a great but quiet change that will lead many of us down a new and novel road. Who else will walk into this precipice, do you feel anything inside you that says, "I'd like it to be me?" Do you hear another part that is afraid it is? I implore you to listen to the desire to do absolutely whatever you want without fear if only for one day. See what it is like and join us.

Austin, TX: R & R

Miles since last blog: 33.3
Miles Total: 2312.6

Route

Only 1500 miles to go! Well, it doesn't sound that small on paper, but believe me, from where I'm standing, that's looking pretty good. Once I finish this I can go on with my life of being homeless and unemployed, but much much faster. Speaking of where I'm standing, that is in a CS host's place in ATX, or Austin to you who are not in the loop, seriously, what's with you, get in here already, THE LOOP ROCKS!

Austin seems like a pretty cool place, actually it seems like a Seattle if someone stuck Seattle under a heat lamp. The day started with my new friends in Bastrop though. I got a ride to where I had left off, and on the way i bought myself a new cowboy hat at the gas station to keep me from looking so much like a lobster all the time. On my walk into Austin my friends drove by again and delivered some much needed sustenance in the form of candy and sports drinks and hugs, good group of people they be. Then the forever trip to Austin, the problem with why I am having such a hard time moving I figured out, is that I am already in break mode. I knew I was taking a few days off when I got to Austin and my mind was already there waiting for my poor wretched body to catch up. Either that our the terrible allergies that have now followed me halfway across Texas. If it's the allergies, I understand it'll stop when I leave Austin, ding dong the nose is dead, I'll sing it all the way to San Angelo.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bastrop II: The Legend of Zkipo

MIles since last blog: 5.5 (more like 10, but who's counting)
Miles Total: 2279.3

Route

Earlier my mind was busting at the seems with thought, now, two beers later, it has mostly abandoned me. But damn if it didn't feel like it was all very important at the time.

Anyhoo, the day started slow, not out of the house until noon slow. I had 38.4 miles to my CS host's in Austin and two days to get there which maybe felt like not enough of a challenge for a walker of my caliber, not to be conceded, but seriously, it's walking, how cocky can you seem about that?

I wouldn't call it faith, but I am starting to believe in something. Things, the way they happen, it's just too much to be completely random. Most of me, when I stop and think, still believes that there are rational, logical explanations for this, but the soft travel and wanderlust side wants it to be something more like fate, a beautiful feminine spirit which guides us all and moves us towards our lives purposes. In actuality, if it is something ethereal, it's probably an ethereal being that wears coke-bottle-glasses, stays up all night watching sci-fi marathons of Battlestar Galactica and programs hyped up on cola until the wee hours of the morning.

Lately, life, which I enjoy, has started feeling life a video game, which I don't really care for either way. I haven't been dodging fireballs or fighting dragons to get over bridges or anything; I haven't been saving any princesses or anything either (unfortunately, but I guess that usually comes at the end of the game right?). No, my life is more like one of those old (it has to be old because I remember it and I haven't played video games in decades) role play games where you're an elf that has to walk a huge frustrating world to look for some trinket that you need to proceed further into the game. Have I mentioned this elf character is exceedingly slow? Remind you of anyone? Except normally I don't need to meet anyone or do anything or find anything to move on.

Today however, I constantly felt drag. I set out and quickly lost Kodiak who hitched a ride into Austin and had his own adventures. I stopped at a gas station, an apartment complex, and four hotels, I couldn't pick up any traction as I moved only 7.5 miles during the time before 4 pm. Something was keeping me, for some reason I just didn't feel like I was ready to make the trek or leave Bastrop. After being turned down by every hotel in town I went and sat down in a McDonald's to stall again.

My phone rang. It was the reception woman at the last hotel I went to, she had been looking over my website and called to have me stay with her and her boyfriend. I had stopped at the McD's on the corner of where my path would have diverged from the route to her apartment, my dorky spirit guide had struck again. I've been spending the evening with some great people, drinking, laughing, listening to music both recorded and live, I can't say what it was here that was special or necessary, but I needed it whatever it was. I had to walk East for two miles to get to her flat, it was my first time heading East on the walk, and the first time walking had felt right all day.

Kodiak fared well too. He originally joined me because he wanted to travel and be out adventuring but was too nervous to head out on his own. After a day and two nights he's already on his own living it up in a new city. I think this bird is ready to fly already, I hope he sticks around for a little while at least, probably not right next to me in the way that we originally thought, but somewhere in my vicinity and route.

The good thing in all of this is that I feel like i am helping people. Even if it isn't in the way I originally intended. I didn't really do anything at all for Kodiak, just existed and did my thing, I was just a springboard, training wheels to be quickly set aside. For the people I'm staying with, it would be presumptuous for me to guess what I give them, but I feel like I help them in some way, like I give them something.

So . . . do I get to go to the next level or do I need to find a magic stick or something?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bastrop, TX: Bears, Sharifs, Olympians and Rockstars, oh my!


Miles since last blog: 27.5
Miles Total: 2273.8

Route

What do all these things have in common, nothing really, except that they blasted through my day somehow.

1. The Bear - Kodiak, this is my new traveling companion. He is a bear, imagine a bear in a felt hat and a dark hawaiian shirt, viola, my new buddy. Nice young kid that I'm helping to ruin with road fever and ever deepening wanderlust. He traveled with me for the first time today, about 9 miles, the farthest he had ever walked in his life. Lets just say that bears aren't necessarily built to walk, but he tried admirably and stubbornly, two important qualities out here. I'm suggesting a bike to him, but either way he'll be fine in a few weeks, always happy to have company. That's a picture of him that you see there.

2. Sharifs - This is for my fellow lovers of the 80's.

Rocking the Casbah - Directions

Step One: Find a Casbah

Step Two: Rock thoroughly

Warning: The Sharif may not like it.

3. Olympians - "After about six weeks," my friend Jolly Green says. "Your body gets into what they call olympic conditioning. It turns into a furnace and burns calories and gives you tons of energy." I just recently passed the 6 week mark after my holiday break and it's true. Unless of course you have just walked 42.6 miles that day, then you feel like a zombie olympian.

It also means that I am losing weight even though I eat like that Phelps kid. It does not however mean that I look like Phelps, unless he was stretched horizontally and wearing a skin-toned inner tube.

4. Time Travel - Today while I was walking a nice couple drove up in a pick up and handed me an energy drink called a 'Rockstar.' Having never really drank energy drinks but having a few miles left of my 130 mile trek in the last 4 days, I opened it up. This is what happened:

video

After that everything turned purple for a minute and I woke up face down in a ditch twelve miles down the road with little flaming trails still smoldering behind Cherry's wheels. It's a good thing I disabled the flux capacitor or I might be in 1955 right now. Then again at least I'd be way ahead of schedule and I could probably sell all my technological do-dads to various companies or governments for millions. Note to self, enable flux capacitor.

But for now, I'm Back to the Future.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

La Grange, TX: The Boogie Boogie Bugle Boy, or, Company B

Miles since last blog: 42.6
Miles Total: 2246.3

Route

Midday blog, skip lower to get the full effect.

Only noon and I had already hit 15 miles, I'm sitting in a gas station in the city of Industry, TX, which at population 304 is less than half the size of my high school class. I'm feeling good. Today, it's raining. A guy on the road asked me if I wanted a ride up to the next town just before it started raining but I declined. A few miles and a bit of rain later, he drove by again asking if I wanted a ride now.

"How far is it?" I inquired.javascript:void(0)

"About two miles," He said. I declined again and for the first time in maybe the whole journey, I felt slightly heroic. It probably didn't hurt that I was in a cap and green poncho which make me look more than a little bit like Bruce Willis in 'Unbreakable' or that said poncho's back was flapping behind me in the wind in a fashion that looked more than a little like a cape.

It would have been very easy to take the ride, to ignore the pittance that is two miles in the grand scheme, but what a slippery slope. Just think: What Would Superman Do? Yeah, that's my dork coming out, but he's pretty hardcore and does the right thing generally.

The guy gave me some info on where there was food up ahead and that's why y'all are getting a nooner today. Admittedly, I feel a little less superhero-esque sitting in a gas station and resting, but to my credit, I'm getting a new sidekick tonight.

Stay Tuned!

Thanks for staying tuned!

Yeah, a while back I had a companion along for a bit named Free. Sadly, he left, as his name said he would, but now I have a new travel buddy named Cody, hopefully he'll be around for a bit too. His plan is to accompany me all the way to the coast. For the next few days, except tomorrow where I will play the part of Ivan Drago (See 'Rocky IV' and 'I will break you'), I'll be taking it a bit slower for his sake.

Our chosen destination to meet up was the Bugle Boy, a music club in La Grange where I was lucky enough to show up early and catch a great little blues show. If you have the chance to visit this place don't hesitate. After getting over my aching legs (see today's mileage) I was actually able to focus on the music and enjoyed it quite a bit. Over the last few years I've been getting more and more into blues and the one man acoustic show was a nice taste at the end of the long day.

Kodiak showed up a bit later, he's a big guy, quite a bit taller than me, those extra inches on his legs will serve him well I hope. I'm interested in how this will go with a partner, but we'll see in the future and I'm sure you'll here a lot more about him then so I won't bore you with the details now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bellville, TX: The Good, The Bad and The Funky

Miles since last blog: 35.0
Miles Total: 2203.7

Route

Reverse order shall we? Why not, it's my blog after all.

I know from my experience at Survival School that there comes a point where the fact that you haven't had a shower becomes inconsequential. This does not happen in the first few days. Consequently on the second day of any venture out into the bold world of camping after 30+ mile walks you sometimes catch a whiff of some element of odor that you are sad that you have any part in. What's worse is it's probably largely created by you and not anything you stepped in so it's not going away. This is compounded by the fact that I am in a used sleeping bag, a sleeping bag which I only use after log sweaty walks with no shower. It has never been cleaned, I don't know if it ever will get cleaned, but there is definitely something magical inside it. Not the good kind of magic, dark magic, like the shadows that take bad guys away after they die in the movie 'Ghost,' that kind of magic. Yes. my life is glamourous.

Also, I have 70 miles to cover in the next two days (and tomorrow is supposed to be rainy) in order to reach my next couchsurf/opportunity for a shower on time, long days, I really shouldn't even be blogging, need my rest you know.

People continue to be surprising and kind. I was approached in a unique way tonight while I was dining at the fine Texan cuisine of the DQ (Dairy Queen). I man came up with his little girl and she was wide eyed and shy. He told me that she wanted to know what I was doing. It was adorable the way she was so interested and the way her eyes got wider when I told her I was walking across the country. I wondered if she had ever imagined something so big or if it was the first time she was encountering it, it's a great light to see in someone for the first time. The parents were very kind and asked questions and then they even gave me a new bright headlamp which will come in handy pretty soon here. It was probably the highlight of my day.

Now I am off to bed, behind a church as per my normal M.O., but this time I scored the trifecta: church, power outlet, under a covering, that's just about as good as it gets out here people. Alas, I have a 40 mile walk tomorrow and a Saturday night, which means no Church camping due to Sunday morning service. I'll find something, always do.

Oh yeah, and my luck holds, this power outlet is the only reason I'm not covered in water thanks to a sprinkler right now.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cypress, TX: Why did the Skip cross the country?

Miles since last blog: 23.2
Miles Total: 2168.7

Route

I know, I know. After three days off I made it a mere 23.2 miles, but give me a break I think I might be sick or something. Just real tired most of the day and I found a church to camp behind so I'm letting myself 'get better,' or whatever semblance of that you can get on the road.

Earlier today I was relaxing in a restaurant (as I am tending to relax more and more and take breaks when leaving a city I like) and I was wondering: What is left for me?

I love my journey still, I realize it often, as I started today I felt lucky to be doing what I was doing. I love helping people and making what I think is starting to be a real difference both within the charity and in the day to day world with the people I meet. Still, the first part of this pilgrimage was fraught with personal realizations and growth, I'm not saying by any means I'm perfect mind you, but I have achieved the changes in my life and myself that I dreamed of at the outset. By continuing, do I grow further? I couldn't imagine which way that would go whereas earlier I knew exactly where I was deficient, I see ways to grow, I do, but walking perhaps has brought me what it can for now.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase, "If you want to change the world, change yourself." My biking buddy says, "be selfishly selfless." The point in both of these trusts right to the core of the goodness in humanity, if you become the person you want, that will likely lead you to do good in the world around you. One part of me that has always been true and there through all my changes and lives has been the teacher, like a friend of mine, I am innately a teacher, if nothing else.

I've been lucky enough to lead a life composed largely of thought over the past 2200 miles and I have learned a lot. Perhaps the meaning for me lies in, not teaching, but helping others discover the people they can be. A good teacher never leads, only guides. In Austin I have one, maybe two people joining me in my walk, maybe they are coming along right at this time because we need each other, all three teachers in our own right, all three students. I've said before, changing the world isn't about a tidal wave, it's about ripples, perhaps this is the beginning of that.

I also realized that a benefit of continuing on is the time for reflection and understanding, a change is nothing if it does not sustain itself. Understanding the process that got me here is as valuable as the process itself. I realized that for so long I was trying to relax and be the person that I wanted to be, but as long as I was trying, I was forcing something that wasn't genuine. I had to make the person I am now autonomic, a part of me that is the natural reaction to the world, not an effort. I like this person, the person who is good and free not because he desires to be, but just because he is.

And thought about the external world is on the rise for me, which is interesting. I find myself continually drawn to religions of different sorts to learn more and take from them what I will, to interpret them as I might and move on. I've found some very interesting things and I'm starting to think that when I go back to school it might be for religious studies or philosophy. It's such a deep part of so many lives and a part I have never had but there are certain things that seem to be universally believed and it's these parts that interest me the most.

All in all, by one o'clock it had already been a great day if only because the reason that I am continuing isn't just "to get to the other side."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Houston IV: Here comes the Sun

The hardest part about staying in a city for more than a night is leaving behind a new home with new friends, neither of which feel all that new but more like an already slightly warn in shirt that still has years to go and is on the verge of becoming a favorite.

I've met some great people here, like I do everywhere, but here was special in the sense that the community I met, largely due to my host and his friend J.R., rallied so heartily behind this cause and I. Yes, it is a fast paced world of networking that I left behind long ago for my own reasons, but it is well suited to this place and community and it was nice to see how comforting and welcoming even a virtual community could be when it materialized in reality. I'll be leaving behind this fast paced life sadly, but returning to my walk which is always a place I find joy and peace now.

Before I go though, someone else will leave, Sun. Sun is my fellow couchsurfer here in Houston, he stays on the big sofa and I on the love seat. Sun is a South Korean here for school but now touring the USA a bit before heading home in 10 days, in less than an hour he'll be heading off to Fort Worth by train. There are a lot of people I have met here, but there is sort of a special bond while surfing and especially since he speaks somewhat broken English which brings out all the EFL teacher (English as a foreign language) joy in me. He is polite and kind and finds himself amidst large groups of yelling Americans more frequently than he probably would have guessed at the outset of this leg of his journey.

I like that english teacher bit a lot, I don't know why, maybe because for once I feel a little like a host instead of a guest, maybe it is because I can help him or even more likely because I can understand him and communicate better than anyone else around him after years of teaching. I like being able to pick out the exact words or phrases people use in conversations that he is least likely to understand, explain them quickly and keep him in on the whole experience. I remember being around another language I was not totally fluent in, it can be exhausting, frustrating and even isolating, particularly because the people around you assume you can understand because you do speak the language.

Maybe the real reason I like him and want to help him so much is because I admire what he is doing greatly. As much as people give me credit for what I am doing, Sun is in a foreign country, staying with people he has never met and relying on strangers just for the sake of experiencing something and somewhere new. I made him his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich last night after we got back from heading out on the town, it was pretty cool. He didn't think he was going to like, but he did. He also liked Hostess Cupcakes, so I know he's a good person, right?

Ah, I'll be leaving behind lots of new friends here and that will be sad, but it is one of the first times that someone is leaving me, well not me, but the place I am staying at. I wonder if it will be at all different seeing someone go, instead of doing the going myself, I wonder if in him I see my left behind life in Prague and teaching English and if that will be going too. Life takes on strange shapes out here in the world of professional hoboism, do-gooding and existential voyaging. Could a small Korean guy be my past riding away on a train?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Houston III: Insanity

My last day in Houston, TX and the whole visit has been a whirlwind.

As a walker, I am accustomed to a lot of time alone, and at a very slow pace, 3-3.7 mph to be exact. When my CS host introduced me to roughly a billion people all talking in technical jargon and internetese, well, while wonderful, it was also overwhelming. It's a kind of culture shock on LSD.

The whole scene I've been in here is a lot of net savvy individuals with gadgets and toys and an incredibly fast paced networking world that while I am thankful it exists, is one of the things I that I thought I was leaving behind me what with being unemployed and homeless and all. Wasn't it just this last summer I was wandering the high deserts with only a knife as a tool?

We've been doing video and setting me up on various sites like twitter.com and they are even trying to get me sponsors. Tonight is a happy hour where a portion of the proceeds go to the charity, they are trying to get me set to speak to classes while on the road via the internet so that I can do more with schools and keep moving on my journey, a welcoming party is being planned in Austin. All this in the last four hours. Fast paced. Suddenly I have 50 people following me on a internet site I hadn't even used before yesterday, it's very good, and a lot to take in during a few hour stretch for my now slow moving cranium.

If you are in Houston, come on down to Coffee Groundz tonight @ 7 for the happy hour or to meet me and call me Forest Gump, yeah, everybody does that but it's okay, you can too. Let the insanity continue!

INTERVIEW @ COFFEE GROUNDZ

B-YEEHAW!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Houston II: 3, 2, 1 . . .

No miles walked today, except to delicious Jack in the Box and back. The Jack I went to was filled almost entirely with crazy people, homeless, or, like me, crazy homeless people. It's probably a pretty good town for it, weather considered and all.

Armies of homeless and crazies is something that you expect in a large city but sometimes forget about when you are other places, small places, for so long. And Houston is big. I didn't realize how big Houston was before I walked in during the first hour of night and saw the enormous skyline so indicative of our big city horizons. It suddenly occurred to me that this was the first really big city I had been in since probably Atlanta, GA. And that was months ago.

Talking on the phone with a close friend of mine who had taken a friend out of the county to Pittsburgh for the first time and saw the wonder on her face, I realized I had succumbed a bit to it myself even though I had been in many large cities. It was as if the skyscrapers snuck up on me, I was struck with awe, and for a time I stood on an overpass and just gazed at it. We are pretty industrious little creatures, us humans. It's hard to believe anything so giant and nearly epic really came from our soft fleshy little hands.

On the way home from Jack I wondered slowly through the city, the barrios, the ghettos, the worn out edge of town that is ragged like a flag left out in a storm. It's hard to take that this too is America, that we could let any place in our land wear and fray like this, that we would leave our fellow countrymen to wallow in squalor. It's not Houston, it's everywhere. For all the amazing people in our country there are still many problems which, like our cities, seem epic, but we know how to build something, there's a system, to fix a society . . . it's a task which seems beyond epic, like sifting the sand on a beach to find pebble. I can't help thinking that it wouldn't be all that hard though, if people wouldn't break bottles or leave trash everywhere, if the city would fix the broken sidewalks that are symptomatic of poor neighborhoods, if the rest of us would just do anything to let the people who have found themselves on the lower rungs of society know that they are important and there are possibilities beyond the world they may have been born into. But, I am like the rest of you, I don't know what to do or where to start, I'm trying something, but I can't say I am helping the people who need it most, I just hope I am.

I have about 1650 miles left, which is roughly 3 months, and a countdown of days is in my mind. I would like to think that when I finish there will be a way to continue to help people, that I can live a life worth living and with it inspire and help others, but I also realize that when I am done I may end up in hard times with many of the people I wish i could help. In debt, no work or home, though the future is far and approaching slowly, it is nowhere near as sneaky as a skyline, and I am as weary of its approach as I am excited for it.

Houston, TX: Might as well face it, your allergic to . . . ?

Miles since last blog: 33.5
Miles Total: 2145.5

Route

It's been made clear to me that I am staying here until at least Tuesday. Tomorrow's docket: foot massage and fixing my video problems.

In other news, I may be allergic to sitting still. Seriously, I'm fine all day but when I lay down towards the end of the day my nose starts running and I need to sneeze. I've been in different places and different clothes, so what's this all about?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dayton II: Ouch

Took the day off today because I woke up with a ceased muscle in my calf, any of you who have seen one of my calves can imagine a fraction of the painful problem this could be. I'll be heading out tomorrow with a poor, but recovering leg and a newly duct taped Cherry's hip. I had hoped to get some miles in today to lessen the load tomorrow but it wasn't to be. 33.5 tomorrow, I'll be leaving early and taking plenty of breaks, or at least that's the plan. Wish me luck, I have a 7 day straight haul through Houston and into Austin with mostly 30 mile days ahead.

oh yeah, and until I get my "rugged external hard-drive" replaced (it seems 'rugged' doesn't cover normal usage, the port broke but the drive is fine) no more videos, bummed but undeterred. Over and out.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dayton, TX: When messing with Texas . . .

Miles since last blog: 56.4
Miles Total: 2112 (Ooooh, a palindrome! Yes, I'm a dork)

Route

For the short version, skip to the bottom.

Delusions of grandeur, or at least a moderately overestimated stamina assessment, led to a hard few days. In the last 4 days I've traversed over 115 miles, which truthfully I have done in 3 days before, but this time I was a bit overzealous in my downtime affairs and I may simply be worn down to a nub of the man I formerly was. I need a sharpening, I believe sharpening might take place over 6 months of restful recuperation with exercise that does not involve being on your feet 12+ hours daily, but anyhoo . . . In any case, taking on Texas was inevitable, but with the gusto I took it on, it may have been a bad idea. I've piled on 30+ days back to back before, but usually this involves doing nothing but, and certainly no drinking.

A beer or two might not effect me in any serious way during normal life, but it slows me down just a bit, and two days ago that left me dragging my heels through the beginning of the day and not truly starting to move until almost two o'clock. I spent the rest of the day trying to catch up. I was moving pretty good and dreaming of an epic crossing of the state in record time, I was getting my heart set on it in fact. A fast trip across the vast expanses of Texas and I could really cool my heels when I got into towns with more than 8000 people. By ten I had made it my 30 miles into the small town of Devers where I rested sleeplessly for a few hours. I had another 30 to my CS hosts tonight and I usually like to hit over 35 the first day to make the second day easy, short and to have social time when I arrive. Power naps have worked in the past, but they were also midday naps after just a few miles. I laid down for three hours thinking that when I got up I would be ready to sprint the rest of the way to Huffman. I did get up, and was ready to sprint, for about 100 yards. I quickly pooped out and regretted leaving such a perfect sleeping spot on a night that promised rain.

I only made it about 5 miles before I fell asleep in a field and didn't wake up until the 11 am. When you walk too far, the next day, your body punishes you by not wanting to move at all. Three extra miles one night can mean losing 15 then next day. I struggled to push out a measly 20 miles before my hosts picked me up in their car leaving me to return to my spot tomorrow and do my now backlogged walking. Yeah, I'm breaking in new shoes, yeah, I've been sick, no, I haven't been getting enough sleep, but mostly, I think it was the hubris of believing I could "Mess with Texas" by minimalizing its size with a too quick crossing.

When messing with Texas:

Expect pain,
Don't expect sleep,
Expect physical manifestations of pain, like blisters
Expect things to breakdown (poor Cherry broke her hip again, and my feet aren't so hot either-duct tape for both)
Expect to be put in your place, and your place is under the massive thumb of Texas, in fact Texas is one giant deformed thumb of a forgotten Greek god put here just to be on top of you should you mess with it
Expect pouring rain that will leave you soaked on the side of the highway (Thanks to the girl who gave me an umbrella during the end of the day, I must have looked pitiful)
Expect hunger
Expect thirst
Expect people to look at you as if you should have known better, because you should have
Don't expect relief, it's a big thumb and it has more stamina than you
Expect to burn
Expect to freeze
Expect delays

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beaumont, TX: Mrs. Beaumont

Miles since last blog: 26.6
Miles Total: 2055.6

Route

Wow, I find at the end of each day that I must be so selective with what I write or I'll end up jabbering on for days, and you don't have the time and I'm tired. Should I tell you at length about entering Texas, the boy at the gas station with the Lynyrd Skynyrd/Rebel Flag tattoo and the sleeveless camo shirt, rain, 2000 miles, crossing a bridge on the interstate, etc, etc? Really, the list goes on and what I don't write will only come back in fleeting memories if I am lucky enough to be revisited by it at all. My note taking skills are waning in the new video world I have entered, although with my technical problems the footage is going nowhere so . . . I guess no one wins there.

No, before I go off on some tangent for too long I have decided what I will take from today; the reason I love couchsurfing. There are many great things, showers, free beds and new friends, but probably the most important thing is the way you see a city. If I stayed in a hotel, that's exactly what I would do, stay IN a hotel. With surfers, the town is open, they are compelled to show you things and entertain you, they want to host you. Again, this alone would be worth my time, but what really makes it amazing is how incredibly intimate the experience is, not with the person necessarily either, but the relationship the person has with the city. We each live in our own small worlds, each distinct and crossing over constantly into each others, but they are our own and we experience them differently. When I couchsurf, I don't just see New Orleans, or Richmond, I see M's New Orleans, I see B's Richmond. I'm privy to experiences that I could never have had even I had lived there for some time, the private world of a person and their city, an intimate delving into one persons niche and the block it's been carved from.

It occurred to me tonight. I always knew I experienced more with CSing, but as I was on the roof of a closed art gallery looking out over the port and up at the moon, sitting with a local beer in my hand and a Czech beer in my host's, I found it was something much deeper. We bring something to each other in these experiences, something far more than tourists and guides or accommodations and showers, we bring each other lives we cannot have. We bring goodness of hearts and hope and something to dream about and work towards. While the rest of our life settles into a routine, a chance couchurf comes along and rocks our boat reminding us that there are things beyond our little ship, even beyond our seas, things worth seeing and feeling. And it can be something fantastic and life long like a tattoo, a proverb that follows you, an experience which haunts you or a friendship that burns short but intensely, but it can also be something benign like a shared love of a banished menu item at Jack in the Box, either way it is something that forever brands your mind. A city becomes a person, a life, a feeling to you and not simply a place on a map. I have a relationship with the places I have couchsurfed, they are not just places I slept.

There are days, or minutes, or miles when I step outside myself and see this all from another persons perspective and ask myself, "Why would anyone do this?" and "How did I end up here?" and then I laugh out loud because I realize how ridiculous it is. Nights like this always bring me back though, I don't really know anymore how I ever thought this was a good idea. It's not, it's a terrible idea, I must have been a very special kind of idiot to dream this up and then commit to it, but I do know now why it's worth doing and the answer is so much more than just these experiences. Now I think that I was very fortunate to be that special idiot.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Deweyville, TEXAS: The sleeping giant wakes

Miles since last blog: 32.9
Miles Total: 2029.0

Route

My internet reception is really poor tonight so I'll be brief and do more some time tomorrow.

Big Day! Texas, new shoes, 2000 miles, rain! This is like a whole months worth of action in just one day.

Any guesses as to how long it will take me to cross this bad boy? Closest guess wins a personally delivered memento from my trip at some point in the future. . . unless you live somewhere I don't want to go ever, but what are the odds of that?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Westlake, LA: Into the West

Miles walked since last blog: 3.7
Miles Total: 1996.1

Route

So there's this bridge on the interstate that cuts 30 miles off my route . . . sound familiar? Well this time it's different I swear! For one, the bridge is a scant 1.5 miles long and has a beautiful wide shoulder upon which I may slather my big fat feet all over the place. Still technically against the law, yes, but so short how could I resist? Surely any officer would understand in the unlikely event that I am stopped on the shoulder in that short distance, right?

Speaking of illegally crossing bridges, that was what that tiny little walk today was about. It was another bridge, another 30 miles and the same interstate as always, I-10, my nemesis. We crossed it yesterday in the car and I noticed a small walkway on the side, how could I resist? Not big enough for Cherry, but I walked it today on foot so if I can get dropped off there in the morning viola! It's smooth sailing for the remainder of my Louisiana trip which is short.

Yes my kiddies and kiddettes, tomorrow is a day packed full of excitement and wonder for yours truly barring some unfortunate circumstance. Milestones abound. I will pass the 2000 mile mark on the way into the looming behemoth of Texas border which is slated for the evening, what more could little old footsies ask for? I'll try to do a video, but no promises promises, in the words of the 80's band Naked Eyes.

Texas has loomed. Loomed like a whole boat load of weavers. And rain looms in the forecast as well. In over 1700 miles now I haven't been hit by a drop of real rain, a bit of sprinkle here, a mist there, but not a drop since I came into New York City way back in mid-September. Storms swirled all around me on the East Coast, they flew North over me, South under me, pushed up the coast and never materialized, I've been lucky. The future looks wet though. I'm starting to think it'll be welcome, I haven't seen rain in so long I might like it, certainly during some of those 150+ miles stretches in Texas I'll be craving a nice warm shower, sky, bathroom, it's all good.

Check back in a few hours, I'm gonna try to get a bit of video up for those of you who like to use there eyes for things other than words, if your eyes happen to love words, I'll throw some of them in the video too.

Might be a bit longer, I'm having technical difficulties that scare me.

*********** Update****************

Okay, well, I'm having problems with the external hard drive which holds all of my video so editing is a bit slow. My last night in Louisiana has been great and as a sum of the state it was fittingly about good food and good people. If there's a story in Louisiana, it is food. I've tried a lot of new things here including a spice mix called Tony Chachere's (pronounced Sash-er-ees) which, the first time I tried it, made me think the man who made me eggs was a culinary genius. On the menu in Louisiana are unique foods of excellent quality, some of which have included beignets, crawfish etouffee, boudin, seafood gumbo, ribs, poboys and red beans and rice.

Tonight our feast took place at a local eatery fondly referred to by a few as the Hungry Heffer (though this is not it's name) where the waitress wore a swamp-camo dress shirt, the focus of the night, Crawfish, the single solitaire food that I had been hearing I needed to try for the entire 300+ miles of the state. When you order crawfish, you order by the pound, three or five and it comes on a gigantic platter with the boiled whole crawfish in a pile and a piece of corn and two red potatoes. They give you a bucket for the heads and shells. But this was only the beginning of our culinary experience. We also had Boudin (which is a kind of sausage with rice in it), frogs legs, hushpuppies, cajun balls, fried seafood (oysters, catfish, etc.), pistoles, chicken fried steak, and on, and on. It was amazing.

My cajun friend, the roommate of my host, talked with me for hours about zombies and comics, and served as my personal guide to cuisine while on our venture for the night, apparently this was something quite special since the hosts girlfriend had never seen him out of the house for something other than work before. It seems to me, that Louisiana holds the last bastion of truly unique culture I have found in the USA with the cajuns, or acadians. Other places there are regional differences and dishes and traditions, but here, it's something else completely. Cities have memories that go back a few decades, but the culture of a people has a memory that goes back a century or more. Talk to a normal Louisiana citizen and you here about Katrina, Rita, Ivan, Gustav, but talk to a cajun and you here the names of storms and hurricanes going back decades, into the pre-WWII era back when, if you were alive, someone you loved wasn't after an event like this. I feel very fortunate on my final days to have gotten a small glimpse into this culture through more than it's food alone, although the food is VERY important.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lake Charles, LA: We're not in Philly anymore Cherry

MIles since last blog: 14.5
Miles Total: 1992.4

Route

For the last several days things have been different. Part of it is that I am sick, which makes me tired and makes me sore and walking becomes significantly less fun than normal. While I usually walk almost without break for the entire day, the last few days I've stopped several times during the course of the day. That's not the difference I was thinking of though.

No, this is something . . . Texas-y, hmmmm . . . Texesque (ooh yes, I like that better). The bayous of the deep south have given a begrudging way to big open flat plains of crop and fenced in cattle and horses. Yesterday morning I even saw a young boy in a flannel shirt and cowboy hat climbing into a giant tractor to get to work on the family farm, his cows were acting weird as they followed me down the fence. They would line up about 15 yards from the fence and then charge towards me, then swoop back 15 yards while catching up to me so that the could do their mock charge again.

It's hot too, in February. It's 77 degrees and humid so that when the wind stops blowing the sweat starts running. Everything feels very much like I remember Texas except for the occasional swamp hold over. And it comes to my attention that, in this sense, I am in a new region, the West or at least it's beginnings, and it seems food only travels one region. What I mean by this is that I had a Philly Cheesesteak yesterday, sort of; it had mustard and mayo, both of which I find abhorrent, and tomatoes and lettuce, I didn't see any onions or peppers.

The bright point of yesterday was not the few people who recognized me from my TV interview, but instead four camo-laden kids who took time out of their busy schedule (when I passed them they were sitting on the edge of the railroad track synchronizing rock throws, via countdowns, at a pile of plastic bottles in a culvert) to ask me for autographs. I thought this was very funny, they hadn't seen me on TV, but apparently walking across the country is a form of celebrity to a kid.

"How do you walk across the country?" One kid asked after his friends had ran off with an autographed business card.

"It's just like walking," I said. "Only you just don't stop."

In other kid fun from the back roads of Southwestern Louisiana I took this video, and yes, that thing was once a wheelbarrow.

BIG FUN
video

Seriously, it looked fun and I secretly cursed my adult body which would no doubt keep this game from working and from having me invited to play.

On any other day, my favorite time is the hour of dusk if I am walking. I rarely am. I frequently walk at night, but dusk is the most dangerous hour to walk, so I usually have dinner then. On nights when I am walking though, it is also the most beautiful hour of the day. Since I am heading west now, the sunsets in my sight each night. The leafless trees of winter reach up into the sky in dark silhouettes like black fire grasping at the sky for the color it has lost. The sky itself is a long rainbow, red at the horizon changing quickly until it is a dark blue overhead. Ever building takes on an epic monolithic feeling and I feel lucky to be out there with nothing over my head so that I can take it in in all its splendor. It's just not the same as looking out a window or driving in a car.

So that was yesterday, simple, I slept in a field and was feasted upon by mosquitos in the morning while I tore down camp. Now I am couch surfing and trying to think about the future, not too much, not too little, but just right baby bear.

Iowa, LA: Yeah, Iowa, Louisiana

Miles since last blog: 38.7
Miles Total: 1977.9

Route

Tired, will blog tomorrow in Lake Charles.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Crowley, LA: Rice Capitol of the USA!!!

Miles since last blog: 23.9
Miles Total: 1939.2

Route

Yes, here I am in the Rice Capitol, are you as excited as I am? Don't even pretend you're not, it's futile, we're both a twitter. Really, it seems like an alright place. I certainly like the name, it sounds like it should be the last name of a rugged mountain man or something, "Big Jack Crowley chops wood with his bare hands," that type of thing.

I found out that it was the rice wonder of the western world from a lady on a bike while walking to my couchsurfers, immediately after what may have been the laziest attempted mugging ever, or it could have been a joke. Three young men in a black car rolled up on me.

"You walking across America?" One of the boys in the front seat asked.

"Yes," I said.

"How much money you got in your pocket?" said the guy in the back seat.

"About five dollars."

"How 'bout I be gettin' that?"

I laughed, "no, I don't think so" the guy in the front resumed questioning me about the walk while the guy in the back just smiled. They drove off and then a woman on a bike rode up and told me where I was and why it was special. I appreciated the unsolicited information and was able to use it to impress my host with my new knowledge.

My host is young, the whole house is 18 and 19 year olds that grew up in Crowley. She signed up because she found it randomly on the internet and maybe, just maybe, because she dreams of visiting Japan. I can't help but wonder what would have become of me if I were born in a small town like this one, I have always considered myself fortunate to have led the life I have, would I feel the same way if I lived in Crowley or Taipei? I doubt I would ever have moved to Prague had I started here, where would I be working, what would I be doing? I have my ideas but I'll keep them to myself for the moment but it's an interesting exercise, the next time you're driving through a small town or a big town, whatever is foreign to you, take a mental moment to live there.

Oh yeah, and speaking of fantasies, here's my video app for 'the best job in the world" you should think about applying too, you never know . . . And thanks to my new friend who brought me 1.5 pounds of whopper awesomeness!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lafayette II: Waking up is hard to do

As often happens when I stay somewhere with electricity and internet I stayed up until the wee hours of the morn, this would hardly be a problem if I hadn't been getting up to do "Good Morning Acadiana" at 4 a.m. As it is, I got an hour of sleep before the show and immediately when we arrived at the station, where my buddy works as a cameraman, I set out to find a suitable place to catch a few winks before my segment. There was little to be had and I ended up wandering about a bit after a brief stint lying on the floor in the corner of their conference room. In my wandering I overheard the anchor introducing himself to the mirror in the bathroom in a deep baritone voice, "With . . . as himself" and then for fun "With . . . as Inspector Clouseau" I chuckled to himself and waited for him to leave before I went in, I didn't want to startle him while he was in the 'pre-broadcast' zone.

The segment was short and informal and then I retired to the small food service area. One of the crew members gave me some Mardi Gras beads and a donation. I did my best to be productive but managed little more than perusing the internet for an hour until the show was over and my buddy could run me back to his place during a break in work. Caught a few Z's and headed down to a diner to get away from the constant sea of cats which seems to barrage my trip and my allergies with it. I'm just glad I'm not walking today, I'm beat, besides, there's a small concert in the back room of my buddy's place tonight so that should be fun . . . no rest for the weary.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lafayette, LA: Forget about it

Miles since last blog: 13.5
Miles Total: 1915.3

Route

I made my short way to Lafayette after having a strangely comfortable camping experience behind a hedge at the Henderson McDonald's. I woke up feeling rested which was enough but what was strange was that I felt really comfortable, if only every night I could find such a good place to sleep . . . or maybe it was the two dinners I had at the Waffle House trying to cope with my car ride. The people at the Waffle House were incredibly nice and even bought me both meals, my disappointment about yesterday's failure is fading and the wise words of some good people from my past are no small part of that.

Strangely, I find thoughts of the future creeping into my head and milling about no matter what I do. With moving ever closer towards my end goal, it seems that new possibilities are floating out ahead. There's a few things that look pretty tantalizing, and a lot of traveling I feel necessary, but some things are simply out of my control. Things will fall how they may and I suppose I'll just deal with them then, at least I have my position at the Survival School nearly locked up. One thing that this trip is excellent for, learning to let go of things, out here very little is under your control, basically while you walk you're limited to 'stop' or 'keep going.' With no other real choices on the road, letting go of things is a survival skill, and it's pretty relaxing too once you get the hang of it.

Not much to report about the walk today, had the best hot chocolate I've ever had at a place called 'the coffee break' in the quaint little town of Breaux Bridge. I'm staying with a friend from Prague for the next two nights here in Lafayette and then its off to Lake Charles and the ominous Texas Border where I will hopefully become even more

FLEET OF FEET

By the way, for those of you who follow the blog, I have already spotted a book by Elie Weisel, a banjo, and two copies of 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.'

INTO BATON ROUGE

Henderson, LA: And then there are the other days

Miles Since last blog: 28.2
Miles Total: 1901.8

Route
Cheat

All the good karma and luck in the world couldn't get me across Louisiana today. The first major event of the day was crossing the Mississippi River, I took a video that I'll get done soon, but my battery won't last long enough so just a blog this evening, sorry. Though I was supposed to cross the bridge on US-190, I soon found out that didn't necessarily mean there was a sidewalk, or even a shoulder. It was a high adrenaline dash, well okay, it started as a dash and sort of faded into the creeping jog of a terrified and wheezing 30-year-old man. It was no the religious experience I had hoped for with my first crossing of the river, but I suppose I'll remember the feeling of cars whizzing by me a lot longer anyway.

The rest of the day was a long anticipation if an upcoming bridge, a bridge people had been talking about since NOLA, a bridge I couldn't cross. The bridges description ranged from 17 to 23 miles depending on who was telling it and although there was one other bridge, it added another 60 miles to my course and was equally uncrossable.

I arrived an hour after dark having not eaten since 10:30 or so, I had been pushing myself to get as far as possible during the daylight hours then there had just been nowhere to stop. Where I arrived was a closed down trailer/market a scant 200 feet from the interstate highway. I'd never walked on an interstate except for an accidental wander on that ended quickly once, but this time I was prepared to go at it mentally. I sat down and pulled my old smushed bread out of the back of Cherry, I unloaded my jelly and peanut butter and a plastic knife, even my laptop which I finished watching Ben-Hur on over the hour and a half I was pre-interstate. First I tried a last ditch effort at finding a way across somewhere else, then I walked around a bit, while I had been eating I had gotten cold, really cold and my body was shuddering.

All day long I had been talking to police officers who had told me the bridge north had no shoulder and was 4 miles long and that it was illegal to walk on the interstate. The prospect of getting arrested was what lead me to the events following.

I walked cautiously up the on ramp shoulder for I-10, on the divide, immediately after the on ramp was to end, was a Sheriff. I jogged across the three lanes of Westbound traffic and came up to his window, I explained my plight and he radioed for a car to take me across the bridge. I felt lost. I felt like I had lost something, it was much worse than being hit by a car.

While I waited my eyes teared up a few times, the one real solid principle I had had about this journey was that my steps across the country, my ultimate path would be unbroken. I felt like I was breaking a contract with everyone who had ever cared about this journey and mostly myself. The point of the whole thing seemed muddled and dirty now.

Before too long, but long enough for me to start shivering and pacing to keep warm, an officer came. I took Cherry apart and loaded my things into the back seat and Cherry into the trunk which had to be shut using bungee chords. It was my first time in a police cruiser and certainly my first time in the back seat. I sort of want to just stare longingly at the small shoulder of the road that we were driving past. I watched it, I knew, I could walk this. Cherry might not be able to go because she was too bad, but there was a time, when my buddy Free was with me, I would have pawned Cherry off on his VW and made my way across at night as stealthily as possible. But there was no use with ifs. I knew I could walk this given the chance, but I'd never get the chance, the road was filled with police and it was illegal.

The officer and I started talking and I tried my best to ignore my feeling that somehow I had failed and everything was suddenly terribly wrong. I was still trying to think of ways to fix it. We talked about education, his kids, the bridges of which he said, "I don't relish the thought of a pedestrian on here. We have a hard enough time keeping the drivers alive."

I liked the conversation, and it helped. He told me about the starfish.

"Two men were walking along the beach," he said, "and one friend picked up a starfish lying on the beach and threw it back into the ocean. His friend said, 'do you really think that that makes any difference? One or two starfish don't make any kind of difference in the entire marine ecosystem.' He nodded and replied, 'explain that to the starfish.'"

He told me about why we do what we do.

"You get over the idea that you're gonna save the world pretty quickly. You come in 10 feet tall and bulletproof, all googly eyed. A gambler gambles for that once in a while that he hits a big score, a band for that one gold record, and us, police, most of the guys I know that keep doing this do it because every once in a while, you get to really help someone."

It still felt like a loss, sitting in a police cruiser being ferried across the bridge, even despite the officers words, "I don't see it as a loss, I see it as survival." Still, he was right even if the message was that sometimes you win, with everything having gone so well for so long, I nearly forgot, sometimes you lose, and that's okay too.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Baton Rouge IV: The 100 Blogs Score


I had been contemplating leaving Baton Rouge today, right up until I had a conversation with my host that decided for me.

Kismet, for those of you who don't know, is something like fate. Literally, it means "the will of Allah" but we have adopted it to the common usage of fate or fortune.

Kismet, she's my constant companion. She warms my days with coincidences that once strange are now commonplace, though only by frequency. Though I am no longer surprised by her, I am continually delighted. There are certain things, like books, continually appear in my life through suggestion or as the possessions of my hosts.

One such book is 'Flowers for Algernon' which in sum is about a retarded adult who, thanks to an experiment, gains great intelligence and then loses it just as quickly. Hopefully Kismet isn't trying to tell me anything with this one. This is actually due to the propensity for a certain type of person to host Couch Surfers. It's virtually a kit that people get some random smattering of. One copy 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,' one copy of a book by Elie Wiesel, one copy of a book by Bill Bryson, something from either Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, a banjo, one copy 'Three cups of tea,' 'Flowers for Algernon.'

Even knowing this, some things are just too unlikely to be true. I've been thinking for a while now that I wanted to get tattoos of little wings on my feet. Hermes, the Greek God of Travel, Sportsman and Border Crossings, wears sandals with wings and it seemed a fitting offering to an icon of what has given me so much. I tried twice while I was in New Orleans but was unsuccessful both times due to various reasons.

Although I was getting ready mentally to leave this morning, something in me nagged to ask, "Are there any good tattoo shops around?"

"Umm, yeah, one or two I think. What were you thinking of getting?" asked Sarah one of my hosts. I told her the plan. Sarah and A, her boyfriend, exchanged a glance.

"That's weird, tell him," A said to Sarah.

"I wanted the same thing." She said. She had just finished her first half-marathon and had been thinking about it for some time as had I. If we hadn't met I may have gone all the way to California never stopping to get my desired tattoo and she may have gone on months or years as well. First I think you'd have to understand how unlikely this was. If you google search some image as a tattoo, you'll find tons of images, of this, I found two. It's extremely uncommon.

None of the tattoo artists seemed to have heard of anything like it and they would sometimes come over to look and see how it was turning out. T, my artist, said that he thought it was a pretty cool idea and also mentioned, in relation to the walk, that he thought the world needed more people doing things like me. Some other patrons gave me a donation.

Honestly, when I woke up this morning I was thinking, "IIIIIIIIIIt's Grooooundhog's Day!" from that old Bill Murray flick where the day repeats over and over again and there's nothing he can do about it. Groundhog's Day has other somber implications as well that I won't go into but needless to say it isn't something I was looking forward to. I was thinking that with heading West into the desserts of Texas and the Southwest, "IIIIIIIIIIt's Grooooundhog's Day!" was exactly what I was going to be thinking many a camped morning in the middle, to slightly left, of nowhere, but Kismet, she's whispering sweet nothings and telling me it isn't to be so. It seems like there's a lot more up her ancient sleeve than even I expected.

2/2 Tat2

Afterwards we went and watched 'The Wrestler' and so the day turned into a long festival of ritualized self destruction capped off nicely by fried chicken and pizza. Tomorrow I do head west towards Lafayette on my newly christened ankles and singing Paul Simon the whole way, "Well Imma standin' on a corner in Lafayette, State of Louisiana, wonderin' what a city boy could do . . . "

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Baton Rouge III: The Month in Math


Miles since last blog: 2.0
Miles Total: 1873.6

Route

Miles in January: 423.1
Average Daily Mileage: 13.65
Average Walking Day Mileage: 22.27
Mileage left: 1967.5 (give or take a few hundred miles :))
Countries reading my blog: 23 (I know, I'm stunned too)
States this Month: 3
Amazing people and experiences: Countless

Yes, this month I have been taking it a bit slow, but I have a feeling that's all going to change soon here. I've been stunned and gratified by all the emails and comments, and in case you were wondering, if you have suggested a song or movie I've watched and enjoyed it. Thanks for the suggestions all.

Today I watched the Super Bowl, there is only know one person that cares about football whom I actually know what team they were routing for, so I chose that team and they won. Hooray, I guess, but I had to watch right? Walking across America and snubbing the Quintessential USA sports event would be sacrilegious. I must say, commercials, not so interesting, where were my Superhero movie previews. Oh well, life goes on.

Probably here in BR for one more day, then it's off like a shot and into the West. Texas, I'm a comin' fer ya.

And here's a random video from the good old days with Free

HUNGRY HUNGRY SKIPPO