Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Globe, AZ: Today's Blog is brought to you by the letter B

MIles since last blog: 20.6
Miles Total: 3277.2


512. As a old mathematician this number immediately feels warm to me. Something about countless nights I have run across it on my way trying to sleep.





2x32= 64




and so on . . .

and so it is an old friend with nice properties, it feels very round despite not having zeros. It feels more like a circle to me then a number with a zero in it even, maybe that's because I associate the numbers with things and characteristics, not physical looks. Numbers have feelings and personalities for me and spend a significant amount of time thinking in terms of them even where it wouldn't naturally make sense for others, like in new models of world governments or spelling of words.

Tonight 512 means two things. 1) it's about how far I have left to go, maybe a few miles further, maybe a few less. Tomorrow I'll jump below 500 miles left for certain. 2) it's the number two just as much as the number two is the number two, and the number two is the letter B. And actually, 512 isn't just two, it's nine twos, or nine B's. So here we go.

2=B=Batman Voice. When you walk up to 35 miles a day you do things to keep yourself busy, no, that's wrong, that implies you have set them in motion, that you decided to do things to pass time. In actuality this is half true, some things just happen. Like the Batman Voice. The Batman Voice is literally MY Batman voice, seeing what I would sound like as Batman as I walk down the road. I say things like, "Your an idiot" to passing cars, and yes, just plain old, "I'm Batman." Of course you have to do a Bruce Wayne as well to differentiate. None of this is really a problem until you walk into a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

"Hello," the cashier says.

"Hello," I reply. Wait a second, oh no, I just said hello in the Bat Voice. Crap, now I'm stuck speaking in the Bat Voice and being a weirdo for the rest of my shopping experience, wonderful. No chance of sticking around here, I thought to myself. The idea to simply clear my throat didn't occur to me until much later.

4=BxB=Bananas. These are good to have. They contain Potassium which is necessary to keep your muscles from cramping. But you know what you can't get in the middle of nowhere? Bananas, such is the leg predicament I have had later. I know, I know I could carry a bunch with me when I leave a town, but seriously, after a few days in the carrier at high temp, there's nothing appetizing about that.

8=BxBxB=Buying Bread. This is just a helpful tip if you are crossing the country by any means and are also, like me, eating sandwiches along the way. Buy bread in town, in a big town. When you buy bread in the middle of nowhere it's often already past the 'sale by date' because no one is there to check and they don't sell bread that often. I recently bought some of this bread, is was frozen when I bought it and I have yet to try a piece but I've had some pretty dry stuff before. Buy your bread in town.

16=BxBxBxB=Baba. Last night a nice old lady on the Apache Reservation, a Baba, bought my groceries for me after reading my sign. She was just waiting at the counter when I got there and it is a gesture that is rare and very nice. The fact that this morning to men were waiting for me on the road to Globe and had brought me a drink and some food just added to what is a very nice memory of crossing the reservation.

32=Bed. I have a hard time sleeping these days. Beds are too flat and the sleeping bag is too confining. I used to be better at this, I wonder how long it'll take to get used to sleeping in a bed again.

64=But I could have been finished already #1. If I had taken the ADT, the American Discovery Trail, to the North, I'd pretty much be done. But I took the long route and I've met people and done things that were amazing. But I could have been finished by now #2. If I hadn't taken so much time off, like a during the holidays at my friends house, I'd be done by now. Then again, the time to write and reflect was as useful as the walking itself.

128=Bah bahhh bah dah da da dahh . . . If you can't recognize that, I understand. But it is the Legend of Zelda theme song (a game in which, I can assure you, you spend a lot of time walking around) and like the Batman Voice, I was powerless to stop singing it for the final hour of my walk today.

256=Buddies. Now is the time if you ever thought about visiting me on my walk, it's getting hard at the end and I could use a visit, an email, a text or a call. It always helps to feel that connection.

512=Blogging. Yes, shortly this blog in the form you have known in for so long will cease to exist with the end of the walk. What happens then? Not even I know that.

Peridot, AZ: He's Alive!!!

Miles since last blog: 34.5
Miles Total: 3256.6


Spotty internet tonight, just checking in from my camping spot off US - 70.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fort Thomas, AZ: Blah

Miles since last blog: 22.1
Miles Total: 3222.1


Short day. Woke up later, started off down the road and was almost immediately stopped by a nice man named Chuck who took me to lunch. Got back on the road but couldn't ever quite regain momentum. Tomorrow I enter the Apache Reservation, I myself am 1/64th Apache which means absolutely nothing, nevertheless it is the case. I'm camped out on the edge of Fort Thomas behind a church and my writing tonight is very dry. My lack of energy, creativity, and the a few other clues lead me to believe I might be fighting something, still, closer and closer to Phoenix every day.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Safford II: Black and White

The Comfort Inn and Suites of Safford, AZ was gracious enough to afford me another night to recover. Most of the day was spent lying in bed watching television and going slowly stir crazy. The highlights of my day were a few phone calls, texts and a walk to a local convenience store where I met a guy biking across the country. That's right, the country is swarming with hobos and our spirit is infectious. Laid off, out of work, have you thought about riding the rails and sleeping on the couches of strangers? Or biking through the mountains and camping in the forest?

Let me tell you a little bit about what might be in store for you, it's a little story I call 'Yesterday.'

Recently I'd been mixing things up as a sort of experiment in keeping things fresh, event the results of the experiment were mixed, it was going alright. It starts with sleeping, Hotels, etc., the previous night I had decided to sleep on top of my sleeping bag and using just my wool blanket which is normally my pad under the bag. I just flipped stuff on the chance that it might be warm enough and that my sleeping bag would be more cushy bedding. It wasn't warm enough and the problem with laying out camp in the dark is that a lot of times you set up in places that aren't really suitable either. I've mostly learned to sleep around and on jagged rocks, but you can't deal with cold other than warming up. So I woke up in a tangle of sleeping bag and blanket and completely unready to take on the day with a half lame calf.

The good news was that I only had 11 miles into town where I was hoping to find a place to stay for the night. You know how that turned out from the first line, but let's pretend there's more to a story than it's end. I was moving slowly, brushing my teeth with a dry brush and toothpaste and letting the sun hit my back and chest alternately before I suited up for the day. When I went to put away my backpack a hundred plus moths flew into my face from the small pouch on the back of my carrier. When I opened up my hat another 20 or so flew out. This continued all the way down the road the eleven miles, me slowly loosing moths upon the world.

Before I got into Safford I walked through the tiny satellite town of Solomon where I stopped to use a gas station toilet, on the wall there was a spot carved out with a swastika and the words 'WHITE POWER' in blocky letters, I tried to imagine it was very old but most of the wall was fresh. When I came out to men with shaven heads were entering the store, another guy with short hair was standing outside by some motorcycles and checking out my cart.

I slowly pulled on the gloves I bought to cushion my hands my second time in Austin. The man with short hair came over to talk to me.

"What is this thing exactly?" He said nodding at Ando, my carrier. Talking about stuff, this is how guys relate if what I remember about regular society still holds true. I note that I am slipping further and further away from that society and that at times I find myself eating with absolutely no manors, shoving things in my mouth and not able to remember the motor functions of civilization. I humor him and play along in the man role.

"This is my cart, it's a baby jogger actually, I carry my stuff in it."

"Why are you walking across the country anyway?" I can't see his eyes because of some mirrored lenses that remind of the nineties Oakley fad. I size him up and go with the basic answer.

"I'm walking for charity, Public Education, trying to help out some of the schools that need it." He shrugs, not so interested in education I guess.

"Public education," he mumbled. "Yeah, I guess most schools are pretty bad shape these days. Hey, let me ask you something, this new president, what do you think about him." I already knew what he thought, it wasn't what was scrawled on the wall, no reason to think that was him, but his language 'this new president,' not Obama, not 'the new president,' but 'this' new president. I don't feel like getting into a debate but I'm not a liar either.

"Well, I tell you one thing, I think he'll be good for education."

"Yeah yeah," he seemed to be searching for something, he wanted to identify with me somehow I could see that, but he wanted to get something from me too. "But what do you think he'll mean for the war on terror?"

Christ, I don't want to get into this, this will go nowhere, what's a neutral response? "Oh, I don't know." The truth is, that like most other things, I just think people are too afraid of this, you're more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a terrorist attack, perhaps we should go after the coconuts. No reason to lend credence to these idiots by being afraid of them. There are far more terrifying monsters lurking out there and attacking the USA, ignorance, economics, tubs without little grippy flower things on the bottoms, you name it.

"I read that loud and clear." He said smiling and nodding. Apparently he took this as my agreement with his obvious position. The two men with shaved heads came out, they were his friends.

"What are you doing?" They asked.

"Nothing," he said. I saw my opportunity to leave.

"Bye," I said and started walking off. Maybe if I was lucky, what would stay with him wouldn't be this false agreement, but instead that I said something positive about the president and education.

The walk was peaceful into town and the Comfort Inn and Suites was the first Hotel I came to. A very nice woman was behind the counter and she called the manager and got me a room donated for the evening. When I asked about a pharmacy to resupply she offered to drive me into town after she got off of work at 3.

I took a shower and ate at the restaurant across the street which was owned by the same people as the hotel, The Manor House, good Philly Cheesesteaks. True to her word, at 3 o'clock she drove me to a pharmacy where I picked up 50 SPF waterproof non-greasy long lasting Sunscreen, new moleskin (pad bandages for blisters), a few gatorades and a snack. When I got to the register she paid and told me in the car on the way back to the hotel, "some days you just have to give yourself over to the needs of others." It was that simple for her, as simple as not liking Obama was for the other man. It takes all kinds, I'm lucky people seem to like the path I travel, I get the best parts of them, the niceties all intact, but the woman seemed only nice to me. There were layers to her of course, but none of them were harsh or mean, just deeper or shallower views of the same woman, it's always nice to meet these people and in my life they are the majority.

The main thing the road offers is experience, time to think, sometimes too much of both, but isn't even a flood of too much experience and thought better than the doldrums? It either is or it isn't and we are a wonderful time in history to decide which one is for us.

I'm trying on different 'road names' or monikers, feel free to suggest one. So far my favorite suggestion was Hobo Hemingway but that would be more than a little presumptuous for me to try on. Thoughts . . .

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Safford, AZ: Thank you Comfort Inn and Suites!!!

Miles since last blog: 11.3
Miles Total: 3200.0


So close, so very close.


San Jose, AZ: Crimps and Cramps

Miles since last blog: 30.0
Miles Total: 3188.7


15 miles into the walk today, my left calf seized. If you've seen my calf, you can begin to imagine how much this is super not cool. When you are 15 miles from the town behind you and 26 miles from the next town, there's simply not much you can do about a problem like this, or any problem really. I sat down and ate some goldfish crackers and tried to walk on favoring el injuro maximo, but when I came to a little dirt pull out I decided that I wasn't going to get a better chance for a rest. I laid there for about an hour which is always fun because inevitably a few people stop by to make sure you aren't dead, which is nice of them.

I got up and walked another 15 miles, a bit carefully. I was still favoring my left leg but I was also enamored with the high mountain desert I was walking through here on the Eastern edge of Arizona. Since my trip to Carlsbad Caverns I always look at craggy awesome mountains with a suspicious eye. Under the smooth rolling hills of red dirt and dried grass which are occasionally interrupted by broken red wisdom teeth of rocks I know something is hiding. I even saw a few caves from the road which I wanted to go explore, alas, my walk wanting to be finished and my calf cramping precluded this possibility even more than the fact that the caves are on private property. I'll be back mountains, when I'm not on route or injured.

The cramp, it's not a big problem, so long as it goes away. If it persists, my tentative date of a May 31st finish will slip slide away like Paul Simon. This is the crimp in the plan, it's always there, even if this cramp goes away and I stay as prepared and preventative as possible, a cramp or other problem could spring up at any time. I'm just outside of the relatively big town of Safford and I plan to walk in tomorrow morning and try to find a room for the night and walk out if I can't, no paying tomorrow. But even this bed rest puts a bit of a crimp in my timeline. This month I have already walked about 480 miles which is often what I do in an entire month and I have 6 more days to go. This month I will break 500 miles for only the second time in my travels, it's possible my body is just getting fussy with me.

I suppose I'll find out one way or another. On the bright side, it was cloudy today so it was cooler during the day and will be warmer tonight. Hooray for Arizona!


Friday, April 24, 2009

Franklin, AZ: Pacific Time

Miles since last blog: 35.0
Miles Total: 3158.7


I had a diatribe in mind for tonight but it was kind of a downer so I booted it. I'm in Arizona! I'm on Pacific Time. Feel the awesomeness.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lordsburg II: Chiming In and Selling Out

"It's almost over." It's a thought that runs through my head a lot. "Less than 40 days until you get to the coast probably."

"Leave me alone," another thought chimes in.

"At 25 miles a day you have only 27 walking days left,"

"I know."

"If you average 30 miles a day, that's what you do, then its only 22 or 23 walking days left."

"I know," that voice, it's irritatingly persistent. I manage to run my thoughts onto something else, but it always jumps back in.

"You're only 240 miles from Phoenix. You'll be in Arizona tomorrow."

"Shut up."

One voice always pushing me on, revving me up, the other voice puts fingers in its ears and goes blah blah blah until the first voice shuts up. It's hard to escape this struggle.

"String Theory says that everything is made up of the same string substance," My iPod goes on, one of the many science podcasts I distract myself with when I need it one or two hours out of a long day. "And the way they appear differently is by vibrating in different ways, so you see -"

"DUDE!!! If you try, you might make it to the coasts by the 24th of May!" Chimes in the first voice.

"I'm trying to learn here, leave me alone, now I have to rewind it."

Sometimes I know exactly what I want, other times it's like this. Monotonous thought, routine, I hate routine. This circularity is the kind of thing I usually walk away from and come back to later with new tools of thought when I can actually make some headway. Normally I walk away, that says something huh? The problem is the further I walk, the louder the voices argue, and if I stop they just go completely insane with fervor.

Break the routine. Break. I need a break. This is the thought as I roll around in another dirt field another cold desert night. I smell, more precisely, my favorite shorts smell after 5 days on but I don't like any other pair. It's 3 am and I'm not falling asleep.

Then it's 8 am and I'm awake again. I need a break, it's funny how a repetitive thought before you sleep can wake you up like a call to war. By 10 am I have new tires and I know I am not going anywhere. Break the routine. There's a few hotels in town but none of them are donating a room tonight, I can see that. I buy in, sell out, break down, get a room somewhere with a pool and laundry and HBO, a place next to a McDonald's. It's not what I should have done, I should have walked to Duncan, AZ today and tried to take a break there, I didn't feel so bad this morning despite the lack of sleep and rough days behind me. it's the first time I've paid for a place to sleep in almost 8 months.

I'm in debt, I'm at peace with that, but it's true. A hotel room, for a homeless and unemployed guy, it's not cheap and doesn't help the cause in anyway, but it does accomplish something, one thing. Break the routine.

There's a crucial step missing somewhere in this whole quest. It's a part of the Heroes journey, not that I am a hero, but there's a reason literary journeys have steps, we need them. The short version is that the Hero 'Refuses to Return' (to the normal world) and then later through a multi-step process, returns anyway. In survival school, the final night we had a 14 mile solo walk in the moonlight back into camp to think, reflect and re-enter society. Something tells me that won't work here.

I don't know what it is, I don't know if there is a way back and I know I don't want to go back. I also know unless something big and unexpected happens, I am going to have to return to that world in some way. I just don't want to go back to the life I had before, dreaming back on the one glorious note that graced the song of my life. I see the longing in others. I've contacted and kept in contact with people who have done this before. BJ Hill, who I called Bizarro, suddenly and happily started calling and texting me as of last week.

"Can I give you some advice." he said, it wasn't a question. "Stay on the road. It's not great out here right now." I've heard the sentiment from others. I think it's because we've all gone the same way at some point, we've all had the same trials and thoughts, we all walked or ran or biked or drove off for the same reason. Break the routine.

Lordsburg, NM: Dust Devils

Miles since last blog: 32.3
Miles Total: 3123.7


You know that road to hell, the one paved with good intentions, guess what, I walked down that road today.

Last night I decided to listen to my navigators and ignore my instincts which told me to brave the illegalities of Interstate trekking, I should always listen to my instincts. I'd say I've learned this lesson before, but obviously I didn't. The farmer, or rancher, whom I never met, was nice. He drove up a little before 6 am and then read my sign and left again without bothering me. I laid there for a long time in and out of sleep.

The day started innocuously enough, walking away from the interstate and into a the desert on a dirt and sand road, sand is my arch nemesis by the way. The road wasn't much of a road but rather two thin dirt paths that are a wheel well's width apart from each other but five miles in it's already to much work to go back. Shortly after I got 5 miles down my path I encountered the first of many gates, private property, both of my Nav. systems had agreed on this path and sent my off emptying my carrier, lifting it atop the gate, holding it in place with one arm while scaling the gate to take it down on the other and then go back again to get my things. It's pretty work intensive and on a hard, hot day it's the last thing you want to add to your trail several times over.

As I set down Ando (the carrier) the first time I noticed a problem. While I had been focused on my left tire which was low, the tread on a spot of the right tire had ripped open exposing the tube. I've barely had these tires for a month, hard roads out here. An hour or two later a bubble of tube started bulging out after a particularly hard hill where the road had eroded into two parallel chasms where wheels would have gone. The bubble caught my eye and I stood back just in time to see it explode, I guess I should have gotten new tires in Las cruces after all, green sealant goo exploded out and left a slimy spot on the dirt. I looked around, nothing, the interstate was miles and miles away with no path to it and town was still 20 more, mostly up these rough roads.

I should have trusted my instincts, I tried to be lawful and avoid the interstate only to break the law destroying my body and cart over private property. It was late when I finally arrived in the town of Lordsburg, I need to find a tire, there doesn't seem to be a bike store or wal-mart or anything I know of that would sell a tire for my cart. Somewhere in this town must exist a tire for me, tomorrow I'll have to find it pushing Ando who now has a limp where the bulbous burst was and I with a limp on the opposite side from the blisters and sore muscles of pushing on a dirt road for so long. The pair of us will hit the city looking for what will heal us both, a tire for Ando and a hotel room for me to have a day off and rest my smelly and dirt caked body.

The heat is getting intense out here and it only promises to get hotter.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Gage, NM: The Adventures of Blizzilla - Queen of the Desert

MIles since last blog: 31.0
Miles Total: 3091.4

Route (Approximate, won't show real route)

If you've never heard of Gage, NM that's probably because you've never stopped there. In fact, you could even have driven by it and you'd never know it was anything big enough to have a name other than the Exxon station on exit 62 of I-10.

For a traveler on foot however it is an oasis of yore. foretold by billboards throughout the day which seems to stretch back several weeks now, my Motel 6 comforts as distant as Boston laid out here on this stretch of nothingness. A billboard says, "Thirsty?" another states, "Souvenirs" they follow each other sometimes in succession and at other times miles apart. One finally shoots across the highway the message, "Dairy Queen." Simple, complete.

Thirsty, sure, I'm thirsty but I have water. Souvenirs I can't carry. A nice dose of peanut butter cup blizzard however at one of the hottest parts of the day, it's a concession I have to make.

My day isn't done and I know it'll soon get dark and then the fast cold that sweeps into the desert will set upon me like zombies on well, also me in a zombie scenario. I still have about ten miles to go before I can rest within a comfortable distance of Lordsburg for tomorrow, my last town in New Mexico.

There's dozens of places like this in the sparse Southwest. Giant gas stations with a fast food place, souvenir shop, and even RV parks out back and nothing else for miles. These dusty mirages for weary travelers are the castles of the desert flats, and despite their cheesy consumerism and ridiculous middle of nowhere souvenirs and fireworks sales, they are a sort of majestic thing out here on their own, somehow thriving in a dead economy and a desolate land.

Coming inside also allows me certain other advantages aside from dairy goodness. On the road if I take a break it is rarely more than 15 minutes including a meal, there's simply nothing to do except think about the heat and how far you are from shelter if you sit still so there's no reason too, inside I sit and relax and give my muscles and feet a real break. I can also feel the heat of my burning skin radiating, I've been using more and more sunblock starting from none a few weeks ago but I want some burn, with how cold it gets at night a burn is a nighttime strategy for comfort.

Finally there is strategy, caffein I can get here will make me more likely to walk into the night. I want to get to Lordsburg early to try to get a room somewhere for the night, you have to do that in the hours the manager of a hotel is there generally so if I can't make it far enough tonight I either have to give up or slow down and take an extra day so that I'll arrive earlier in the day. Extra days aren't my favorite, so I had better get moving soon I've left route and am planning an experimental jaunt onto the interstate this evening or tomorrow morning, we'll see how it goes.

Update: I'm forgoing my venture onto the interstate until after Phoenix now, I was saved by the sudden reasonableness and agreement between my internet directions which I write down, and my cell phones navigator. The latter is the usual problem. For instance this morning when I was only 50 miles from Lordsburg it showed a 105 mile route into nowhere and back, but at 10 pm tonight it suddenly showed a similar path to the one put forth online. I had forsaken such a path because of the numerous roads without names, one of which I was supposed to follow for 38.5 miles, but the agreement and reception of my cell phone lent me the confidence to venture back out away from the interstate and onto the dirt roads which seem to be everywhere.

I've set up camp under a tree off one of these roads and I think I am actually on a farmers property not far from his house. I hope he's nice. (Note: I have come up with a possible strategy to get a 'de facto' day off, I am considering putting this stratagem into effect tomorrow)


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Deming, NM: Thank You Motel 6!!!

Miles since last job: 61.3
Miles Total: 3060.4


Two days ago I sat in a little diner called Pancake Alley and was staring apprehensively at a Betty Boop license plate.

"Are you thinking about your walk?" My aunt asked me.

"Yeah," I said. It had been nice seeing my family, the night before I had stayed up late talking with my cousin and my aunt had been so happy and loving during the whole trip. I was about to head out again on my own, the longest stretch of my walk with out a planned place to stay and nowhere to take days off. Three hundred and fifty plus miles through the desert and mountains, but thanks to my new route there is a town at least every two days where I can get water and food. Twelve to Fourteen days without a break, my longest before was nine days.

It wasn't long before I was on the road and had passed my 3000 mile mark without me even remembering. A fellow mathematician road up on a bike and we chatted for a mile or so, me walking and he on his bike. We talked about education and brushed on politics, the major thing was the state of the country.

"It's been an incredible time to be traveling the USA. I know there's a lot of bad things happening right now but even the people who have always been for the status quo or who didn't vote for Obama it seems are ready for things to change. The feeling I get is one of hope everywhere I go. All the bad things maybe shocked people into waking up and being ready for something different." I said to him in conversation.

"It's good to hear you say that," he said, his head slightly bowed in thought. "I've gotten that feeling, but I'm sequestered in my little town in New Mexico, but you've been out there." He rode off feeling a little better for his stop and I felt good for giving him some peace of mind.

A short time later I was on the dirt roads that have begun to signify this part of the country for me. Hard pressed against the sand and heat I pushed Ando further into the desert and away from the interstate which, if I could walk, would lead me directly to my next destination with no opportunity to get lost. As it was, I was treading through country where signs didn't exist and it was nearly impossible to tell the county roads from the ones forged by four by four pickups and other machines of play. My compass hadn't worked in days, it just spins wildly when held to view, there must be something around this part of the state that is throwing it off, unless compasses can break, I'm not sure. The best way to navigate out in the dirt and dried fields is to keep moving, keep my pace constant as possible and turn down the road I come to at the time that approximates the distance I should have walked at my guessed speed. This can lead you down all kinds of wrong roads if you aren't careful, and if you don't pay attention to the fact that the sun isn't just East or West of you, but also to some degree South and to what degree, you can stay lost.

Almost twenty miles later I'm walking along the side of a set of railway tracks and it is almost sunset. I'm using the tracks to navigate, as a 'handrail' of what not to cross from what I remember of the map I saw while writing my directions down, something I learned in survival school. As I sit down to make myself dinner on the set of rails nearest to me, the sun sets. The tracks seem to head off eternally, lit orange by the fading sky light, but I know they have to end somewhere. It could be the beauty surrounding me, not knowing if I was on track, the newly reclaimed solo path, the science and philosophy crowding my brain from the podcasts and books I'm listening to, it could be anything, but for almost a whole minute I break down and cry. It doesn't feel like sadness, it just feels overwhelming and I don't know what it is about. I collect myself and start walking again down the dirt road beside the tracks.

The sun disappears and is replaced by a string of little pearls of light on the horizon, many are still, you can see a light on the flatlands for a dozen miles or more, things you'd never see during the day, and when daylight comes and reveals nothing for as far a you can see, you might wonder where the invisible midnight cities went. Other pearls of light move along the baseline of the land, they come together, become one and split apart again. It's the cars moving around along the far off interstate, another handrail, it's nice to see I'm heading the right direction. I go as far as I can and track across a brambly field to get to a NM highway that heads towards a distant gas station, even being so close to a place with food and water, electricity and toilets, I can't go any further and I set up my tent in the dirt behind some thorn bushes off the highway just in front of the barbed wire fence that is omnipresent along the roadsides of the Southwest. I know I am 24 miles from Deming near the gas station that constitutes the town of Akela, I know that it was a pretty average day and that I am exhausted and can only hope to get a shower the next.

Of today, there isn't much to say, walking, a few phone calls and an early arrival into Deming and to the gracious arms of the Motel 6, an oasis in the desert. A shower and a good nights sleep and I am off on the rest of what is still over 300 miles to Phoenix where I will hopefully meet some friends for a day or two.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Las Cruces, NM: A Reboot with Family

I've been taking a few days off with family visiting me for the first time on the trek. Life has been good and it adds another dimension to the journey to be able to share some of my experiences from the past by revisiting them with someone.

In a 24 hour period we visited the hot desert of White Sands National Monument, The Space Museum, felt the snow fall on Cloudcroft in the Lincoln Nat'l Forest, hiked about a Sunspot Observatory and even spied a herd of African animals called an Oryx. The first time I ran into an Oryx was on the walk in, I looked out into the White Sands Missile Range and there was a long straight set of horns sticking up out of the grass. Patches of white and black moved slowly through the basin and slowly I made out the beige body which accompanying black and white spots.

Our eyes met. And I like to believe we shared a common thought, "You're not supposed to be there." I had the good sense to take a picture or two, the herd of Oryx was not so clever.

I hit the road again tomorrow, without my banner on Ando as it has finally been ripped to shreds by wind, and with my family as back up for a day into the desert. It's been a good time, a mental rest I needed and I'm ready to head for the coast again.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Organ, NM: Beef Thai Delight or Thanks Quality Inn of Las Cruces!!!

Miles since last blog: 25.6
Miles Total: 2999.1


Update: It's not midday and I have a place to stay tonight thanks to the good people at the Quality Inn. Do them a solid next time you're in the LC, they have a pool and spa. It rocked.

It's midday and I am sitting at the only restaurant in the small satellite city of Organ, NM, Thai Delight. Immediately the fact that this is the restaurant for the outskirts of the city sends me a message, "This place is going to be okay."

My mouth is burning a little from the Beef Thai Delight 'hot' I ordered and my intestines are already thanking me for not getting 'Thai hot' even at the expense of my tongues pleasure. It occurs to me that this has all happened before, my future is already someone's past and it's thoughts like these that pass through me like I through the small mountain range outside of Las cruces which Organ is at the base of.

Tonight, for the first time, I'll see family on my trip. My aunt and cousin are coming from Northern California for a few days to help me through vast and unpopulated areas for a bit. Secretly the help I needed was simply seeing them even more than help with water or food or shelter.

I've been thinking about the problems with linear thought and the illusion of linear time today as I walked. It made me feel very calm. I remember from Mathematics that with a complex problem we often did not try to solve or prove it directly. but instead built skills and tools which may have at the outset seemed without purpose or for some other purpose entirely. When we had assembled enough background tools and problems, we sought after the main problem. This is what I mean with the problem with linear thought, that too often we try to attack a problem or thought head on, when we do not have the tools yet. Were we to try to develop these tools on the way our path would stray too often and branch out wildly and eventually become too much to keep in mind at once. By taking on smaller problems that seemed trivial or fruitless, we can understand them so well that later when we need them we may simply plug them in to the spot they fit without much effort at all.

It's the same way that conversations come back to you from months or years back and suddenly explain a situation at present which you could not have figured out just then. It's the reason we chase down things that seem to mean nothing in the practical world and discuss and think on them, because maybe at some point in the future, it will be of need. We may not know this at the time, but in retrospect I see that there are somethings I have been chasing after all my life and assembling pieces to so that I can come to the answer naturally in time. There are something you just can't do in a straight line, there is no path to these places.

I've been getting the feeling that time is similar, we may perceive time as a linear unknown stream simply because it is the only way we have to perceive it. Certainly the world is filled with all types of light even in darkness that we simply have too meager eyes to comprehend, isn't it possible that the same is true with time? This is perhaps one of those topics I mentioned earlier which I explore with no reason to do so, but often the reason comes later and there is no telling which stream of thought will be important so I try to chase them all down with whatever tenacity they are worthy of.

There have been times when I felt like I was on the verge of something great, I wonder now if these thoughts were not in vain then were they just not a sense of local time. Perhaps those moments were the moments which contribute to some great moment of realization in the future and there seeming fruitlessness at present is not so.

On the road ahead not too far is Las Cruces and family, I feel calm and it is moments like this that I feel much closer to finding my place in this world, not the world of taxes and work and gym memberships that we usually talk about, but the real vast world we live in. For now, my Beef Thai Delight 'hot' is long gone and it is time to head back out on the road again.

White Sands Missile Range, NM: Deserted

Miles since last blog: 29.0
Miles Total: 2973.5


Tired. Sleep now.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

White Sands Monument, NM: Thoughts on the Day

Miles since last blog: 20.0
Miles Total: 2944.5


It's easy to see how things could be missed in a car. Coming out of the mountains and seeing another range ahead, you might be tempted to disregard the area between Alamogordo and Las Cruces which wasn't the brilliant white sand. In a car, trapped inside a box that turns the outside world into just another television show, the basin would seem dead, vapid, a wasteland of dirt and dried grass. For me though, after a day of rest in body and mind, it was a fertile valley of thought and philosophy.

While an SUV ran down the highway hitting a tumbleweed, I could almost see the driver inside shirking and cursing the godforsaken desert. As I watched the tumbleweed burst over the bumper it was like a desert firework exploding into the wind and I felt lucky to see it. In the distance the white sand blew up and in places blotted out the purple mountains behind them and connected the earth and sky and clouds into one living organism. Even when the wind died down the mountains seemed to float in the air on a small cloud of white, behind me the clouds and light of a dropping sun painted the Sacramento mountain range in a way I could never have appreciated through pains of glass.

On the road, aside from night and day, time ceases to exist somewhat. The boundaries that work in the standard world blur. While people in their cars are eminently aware of what day it is, to me it is a place and people and a thought process and experience. While I forget the names of the days of the week slowly, the weeks give unnatural breaks in time to the lives of others, showing them sheared and fractured portions of their lives, small portions from which you can't make out the entire picture clearly. Without these, time is like a stream or the road I travel, easier to view as a whole and take and mix any part with any other for something new. Your life is easier to see and thus it is clearer to understand and make decisions about.

Walking the highways alone, at times you become an engine of kinetic thought. There are times were an idea so pure or great or fleeting is so powerful that I actually make a noise, a shriek or a grunt, when it comes into my head and I understand it. The noise whether from the power of the idea or the knowledge that it will be lost in part, I do not know. The thoughts are like runny eggs, partially formed and unable to be grasped and held onto completely until they have been talked over, whether to discuss or simply put into memorable words. At the end of the day my arm looks as if I have some sort of compulsive writing disorder which left words scrawled all over it and most of the round thought behind them blows away in the wind like an exploded tumbleweed.

My thoughts turn back to exploring and the inherent excitement that comes with the idea. It seems partly ridiculous. Yes, you can go somewhere that no one has ever been and be the first human eyes to see a sight, but practically this doesn't really matter much. Practicality can be overrated though. It seems it isn't the land itself that is so inspiring, sure a mountain range is beautiful, but it is beautiful whether you see it or not or whether you are the first or the 5000th to see it. It is the new experience and possibilities that lie within them.

To explore the land physically is to understand it. I could tell you that that Mt. Everest is 29.035 ft tall and give you a scale model, I could get topographical maps and find the slope and composite at each step, but without going there and experiencing it, walking its trails and feeling its cold, you or I can never really understand it. It reminded me of a conversation I had once with Free.

"I can't explain some of the ideas I have to you Free," I said to my buddy as we drove ceaselessly through the city of Montgomery, Alabama in search of a McDonald's. "I could tell you them but you wouldn't understand them, not because of any lack of intelligence but simply because there is a process you have to go through to really get them. I need to explain what I mean by understanding first I guess."
"Okay," Free said with a reserve of doubt at the sense that despite my disclaimer he might be being insulted. It was a tricky subject altogether and I had to tread slow and carefully.
"I think there is a big difference between understanding something is true, understanding why something is true and understanding how something is true."
"Okay, what do you mean?" I had his attention now and the defense was starting to release.
"I'll go back to math because I was a mathematician and it's the easiest explanation I know. To start with, there's different kinds of infinity, that's not so hard so i'll step it up a bit. As far as Real Numbers go, there are rationals and irrationals. Rationals are any numbers that can be expressed as a ratio like x over y (x/y) and irrationals are like Pi, they go on as a decimal forever with no pattern or repetition, if they repeat, they are rational too."
"Uh huh," he said.
"Well, it's proven that between any two rationals you can find an irrrational, and between any two irrationals you can find a rational number. So you get this picture in your head of something like a picket fence, rational irrational, rational, irrational, but that isn't the way it is at all."
"It's not?"
"No, in fact, the infinite amount of irrationals is far bigger than the infinite amount of rationals. You wouldn't think it was possible with what I said about finding one of the other in between any two of the same, but it's true."
"Okay," he said trusting in my mathematical background more than anything else.
"See right now, you understand that it is true. You don't know why, but you know it's true. I could show you the proof and you would understand why it was true. This is pretty easy so far, right?"
"Yeah, okay."
"The trouble is, even as a mathematician, who knew the proof well, who knew it was undoubtably true, I could never quite grasp it. It didn't sit right with my picket fence view even though I knew it was right. Finally, now, after a long time, I understand how it is true. It's something that you can't explain because it is beyond our words, it's experience and time and thought but once you know how something is true you can feel it. That knowledge is a part of you and you can strum it like the fibers of the universe."
"Okay, I get it," he said understandingly and we drove on in silence for a while and thought. We had been talking about religion, spirituality and mysticism but it is a conversation for another time.

As I said, I thought a lot today. My mind ranged like the mountains behind and ahead of me, but these are the last snippets I remember from the runny eggs that ran through my fingers. As I walked on I realized that with every stage of my journey the previous step seemed tame and silly by the standards of the next. I realize that I have just been wading into the adventures that are ahead of me. My route has taken on the semblance of training wheels that I can sometimes coast for sometime without using as long as it goes where I want it to.

Now like a petulant child I have come not to need my training wheels most of the time and at times resent that they still remain even though there are times I still need them. While I started this walk to set me free from many things, I now find it the last shackle that binds me to something. The Santa Monica Pier awaits to set me free like the click of a cell door on the last day of a prison sentence. The click is anticlimactic, unimportant, simply a symbol of larger mechanisms and decisions whose function has long since past, all that is left is predesignated time and event that one must just wait for and endure. Still the wait, and the process, is what it is all about. I enjoyed today, and all the web of thought that ran through it, the sights I saw, I would love it unconditionally if only I were free to do it by choice and not because it is on my route.

My mind is set precariously between the present and the future balancing being in the here and now and wishing for the new and as yet unexplored. 834

Alamogordo II: Relaxamogordo

I needed a day off. It's that simple.

My right Achilles heel was so tight that I felt it might snap, I'm not somebody for whom pain is all that much of a deturrent but in this case I decided that it was in my best interest to take a day of rest. As much as I would appreciate the irony of having weathered mountains, deserts, forests and everything else showing that I'm practically indestructible only to be brought down by my Achilles, I would like to finish even more.

As days off go, it was something to remember. Sleeping in turned into cupcakes and pancakes followed shortly by a sit in a sauna, a massage, a whirlpool, a steak dinner and an Eddie Izzard stand-up DVD. It's hard to make a better or more relaxing day than that. Even so, my tendon is still tight, but not so tight that I am worried and I will be heading out towards Las Cruces tomorrow.

I got a bit of a mental rest too which in part led to the new decision to jump right past Tucson and right into Phoenix after LC. As much as I would like to see Tucson I have gotten pushed the other way by the following reasons:

1) The walk on this route is both populated and beautiful along a well kept and easily followable highway.

2) It possibly avoids most of the most mountainous terrain.

3) It cuts 64 miles off of my journey and the next leg is only lengthened by 55 miles which means there are only two big blocks of walking after LC.

4) I can get supplies easier along the route and have just one more "long city break" plus I can visit Tucson later, it's time to finish the walking but not the traveling.

5) More that I can never remember.

So there you have it, things have changed. In my youth when I needed to take control over my life a bit and felt obligated to keep most of it the same, I'd change my hair. I was kind of a girl that way. I'd get a mohawk or dye it black or purple or blue or something, and I would feel better for a few days, long enough for a stress bout to subside. These days, I actually change my life which is probably the more reasonable option given that it is the problem. I like that, and when the walk is done it'll open up a whole new world of off un-routed options for me to chose from.

The only problem with a day off, my body, particularly this last week, has gotten used to extreme amounts of physical activity. While my legs didn't want to do anything, I had tons of excess energy and my upper body felt like it was ready to walk the rest of the way on my hands. Hmmm, visions of a post walk adjustment period coming on. No worries body, you'll get your walk tomorrow and in a few days my mind will get to see some familiar faces when my Aunt and Cousin visit me. My first family visit since I started walking and I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to it.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Alamogordo, NM: It's all downhill from here

Miles since last blog: 14.0
Miles Total: 2924.5


All walk and no play makes Skip a dull boy.

It wasn't a long walk but it was hard and my body is tired and my shoes are old. I won't bore you with the logistics of why today was hard but if you think of the week previous and a 100 pound cart on a 14 mile downhill and 1000 mile pair of shoes you can probably figure most of it out for yourself, you're a sharp cookie aren't you?

But metaphors aren't the only things I'm mixing these days, my plans they are a moving and a grooving. I don't know if I'll walk tomorrow or how far, I'm just so freaking tired and my legs, they are acting 'funny.'

We'll just see. For now the only thing I can see in front of me is white sand in the wind, looking like clouds and whisps trailing through the desert devoid of hue or purpose save keeping the desert free of anything with its gritty blasts. This is what Mr. Clean would look like if he were a force of nature. Still, I'm a pretty determined spot.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cloudcroft, NM: Day 4 or Thank You Summit Inn & Cottages!

If you are wondering what happened to me the last few days, I'd suggest looking at my last blog.

Those of you that pay strict attention might notice that I am a trifle off route from what I was supposed to be. The details of this are laid out in my previous blog but as a spoiler, I woke up in Weed.

Weed is a small town near the middle of nowhere (which I have been informed is slightly South of the town of Pinon in flats that are on the way to El Paso) and last night I slept behind their country store. I'm not sure what the elevation is, but it's high and it was a windy night. While I picked a good spot shielded from the wind by a small passage dug into a hill behind the store, the noise alone from the wind shooting through the pines overhead was enough to keep me awake for quite a while. Keep in mind, I normally sleep beside roads, noise is nothing worrisome to me typically but this was huge.

My phone dead and my alarm too quiet to rouse me, I woke up 20 minutes before the store opened and rushed to get my camp taken down before I was discovered. It's one thing to come clean about where you've been and another completely to be found out, people always assume the worst, better to open with the best then work backwards.

I walked out from the side of the building to find him unloading his truck. "Well where did you come from?"

"I'm walking across the country," I said in standard response. It didn't matter that this wasn't exactly the answer to his question or that the only place I could have come from was behind his store, it just mattered that I distracted him for a moment to make things okay. Nothing up my sleeve while my other hand is stashing a dove in my coat pocket.

I came inside and was happy to use the bathroom, brush my teeth and wash my hands first thing in the morning and all with running water. The man working the general store started a fire in the wood burning stove in the center of the store which clearly had once been a house. I sat by the fire and ate and drank and read, The Little Prince, which was given to me by a friend on this journey who said I was the title character. The man at the store laughed at the book and than confessed to reading another book meant for children several times as an adult, I told him I had never read it before.

He let me send an email to my family since I hadn't had reception in several days except to pick up a message that said they were worried about me and afterwards I sat until almost 9 am. I had a long day awaiting me on the way to Cloudcroft.

"Well, I reckon it's about a mile uphill, then a few miles steep downhill, and then you got 17 miles up to Cloudcroft. All uphill." He took my picture for a scrapbook of visitors to the store he had and I found out the long way just how accurate his assessment of the trip was. Twenty-two miles in total, and it was just over twenty before I crested the mountain. At 9000 feet at the crest of a hill, the natural world brimming over with natural life suddenly was spilling over with civilizations signs. My phone went suddenly from no signal to full signal, cars were abundant as well as power lines running up and down the mountain, a PA sounded a man's voice in the distance from some sort of event and a Brand new Ranger Station was just around the corner. Suddenly, I was starving.

It wasn't even 5 in the afternoon yet and I still had plenty of energy to try and make it part of the way down the mountain towards Alamogordo, just a quick bite to eat and a blog sent off to let people know I was alive . . . Pizza. I had dreamt of pizza for days with just a quick taste the day before. Daydreamed really, often, I don't remember my dreams but I had thought of pizza. At the first intersection in town lie a pizzeria ripe for the plundering. I strode in, ordered and sat and started to turn on my computer. My brain completely shut off. Everything moved on at normal speed except me and suddenly I felt like it took a minute to blink and my jaw sat slack, something I am normally much to prideful to do. I took a few moments to get functioning again.

Four days, 120 miles and up two mountain ranges with not enough food, flat tires, rocky roads. It all had been piling up, taking it's IOU's patiently for my body to let them loose and there they came. I have this theory about your body and mind, they won't get sick as long as they know they can't. They will just sort of hold on indefinitely until you have a down moment to deal with the sickness that has been so officiously brushed aside behind a velvet rope, just waiting for its time to strike. It's why you always get sick on vacation but never at work. My body was patient, it pushed through far more than it should have. It could have slowed down and still got me where I needed, later but there nonetheless. I pushed it, I always do. It's why I ran a marathon without training, it's why I chose math in college, learned Czech, and it's my natural place-in the red. As hard as the last few days were, many times I felt amazing, alive and like I was beating something I shouldn't be able to, pushing the limits of what is possible in my life and expanding my envelope. That's what this is.

I'll let you in on a secret now. At the end of my life, I want my story to be so unbelievable that no one would put any stock in it if it weren't well documented. I'm afraid this route will leave me alone with no family and a sad ending, but if not, it could be the greatest story I could come up with and the best gift I could give to people that are afraid of trying for something more. Even in such a life you need rest though, and tonight like few others I needed a shower and a place to rest my head. Instead of heading down the hill from the pizzeria, I crossed the street to the Summit Inn and was granted a night of peace and rest.

Tomorrow the story starts anew and before too long it changes completely. 939.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Guadalupe and Sacramento Mountains, NM: A Matter of a Pinon

Miles since last blog: 117
Days since last blog: 4
Miles Total: 2910.5


About a week or so back I said something like, "I want to be broken and feel the rain wash over me in the desert and let the world pick me back up."

This definitely falls under the category of be careful what you wish for and secondarily that when vague prophecies come true, it's not exactly in the way you expect. But let me start from where I left you last.

Day 1

I woke up on the side of the highway after a short day previous due to charging of gizmos and doing various internet things I hadn't been able to while in Carlsbad with my ranger pals. Call me Yogi.

It was 7 am when I woke up but I just couldn't manage to pry myself from what I now considered a comfortable bed in my home, but what is, in actuality, a smelly unwashed sleeping bag in a one man tent. I laid there, unsleeping but relaxed until 9:30 deciding that if my body wanted to rest, I should. After all, I was ahead of schedule and had a few grueling days ahead of me.

Other than that, it's pretty hard to remember that first day. Thoughts that seemed important at the time flittered through my head as I walked deeper into the desert and saw less and less of populated world. I admired the torturous twist of dead trees. How they had clearly held on to a painful and arduous life to the last, winding their ways into poses that harkened to burnt bodies, wretched and ceased, but still somehow beautiful if only to see how hard life had tried.

I passed what I believed to be the marker for my last 1000 miles as well. I was wrong. I tired early and barely made what I guessed to be 30 miles before I had my second flat (one was flat before leaving). I cursed, set up camp, tried to fix the flat and went to sleep.

Day 2

It was cold. Again I woke up at 7 and again I stayed in until the sun hit my tent and warmed it passed comfort. It had gotten so cold the previous night that despite the heat which roused me from my glorious military cocoon sleeping bag, when I took a drink of water from the gallon jug I had kept in the warmth of the tent, it still had ice chunks in it. I was cold, very cold. I had about 7 miles of road before I hit dirt and on dirt I would stay.

This dirt was rocky and hard to push my carrier (which I have named Ando, yes, this one is a boy) and I saw nearly no one except a employee from the US Dept. of Ag. whose job it was to hunt Mountain Lions and Bobcats that threatened local farm business.

"What are you doing?" He asked.

"I'm walking across America," I answered. I had taken my spare sign off my back since no one was out there almost.

"Well what are you doing out here?" He continued.

"I'm heading towards Pinon on my way to Las Cruces." I said. We talked a bit about the walk and his job, the country and the road I was about to travel through.

"Is there a restaurant in Pinon?" I queried.


"Is there a gas station?" I asked hopefully.

He shook his head 'no.' I had a lot riding on Pinon, it was the only town I would hit via my route for the next 150 miles and though 4.5 gallons of water seems like a lot, it isn't that much water to take with you on this distance. I had counted on Pinon.

"There's a small store, but sometimes it's open, and sometimes it ain't." He left me and said he'd probably pass me on the way out.

The day continued, tireless toiling of pushing Ando up hills and holding back Ando from rolling down hills was almost all of it for the hottest part of the day. Dust coated everything I had and I noted how fast I was going through my bread and peanutbutter, plenty of jelly left. Other than that was only energy bars and very old snickers, the chips I had bought were already gone.

True to his word the USDA man stopped by and gave me a gatorade.

"Just stay on the main road," he warned. "There's a lot of places to turn off, but don't do that."

I went on and before too long I came to a T intersection of dirt roads. Both directions went directly up mountains and it was not at all clear which way was correct. I consulted my compass and chose. Right, North West.

It deserves to be said that this was not on my directions. In fact, from this point on many things weren't on my directions, further, many thing were that did not actually exist. Had I been at this less time or was of a more worrisome personality, this probably would have really scared me being in an unpopulated desert and all. With the cold at night, the lack of people and the heat of day, this would be an excellent place to die on accident.

I headed straight up the mountain. I had been moving up in elevation since the 3110 feet of Carlsbad's main town, but this was the pass over the Guadalupe Mountains and once more, it was a rim trail that continually had sharp rises and falls until I came to the end of the trail and a cattle guard where the sign read "Private Property," another sign read, "Danger: Cyanide Gas" and a bit more about keeping your dog away from the containers on property.

Using selective logic and an unbreakable desire not to go back the way I had came I began the decent. A crazy grade that sometimes left me gravel skiing behind an overzealous Ando. I tread carefully as the sun was slowly sinking. I did not want to sleep in a private canyon, I was resolved to come out the other side or get a ride out back to where I had turned wrong and go the other way if it came to that. urning back to where the pavement had ended was not an option, it was already 20 dusty miles behind me.

As the sun set I found that I was indeed on course. It's happened before that my route unknowingly took me on private roads, I turned down a road I could not have been more thankful to see and heard a car rumbling toward me. I thought of hiding, I thought of getting shot, I though it was best to stay on the road and see what happened.

The beat down old truck pulled up next to me.

"How you doing?" A man with gray hair and a ball cap so sweat stained it was impossible to say what it originally looked like.

"I'm a little tired, but okay."

"Yup, I figured. Bill (USDA hunter) told me you'd be headed my way." We talked a few minutes but mostly it was awkward silences. By this time I had another flat, my last spare, these roads are harsh and unforgiving to tubes and he may have offered to fix it but I couldn't understand him.

"I was a little worried I was lost for a bit." I confessed.

He took a long look at me and spit a spray of chew out the window of his truck which had a big plastic sewage container on the back. He looked at me with squinted eyes. "It's kinda hard to get lost out here, ain't no real roads to turn down."

He thought I was an idiot. I explained about the turn behind me but it seemed to make no difference. He headed off and I pumped my tire again before trucking down the rocky road. My direction told me to turn right in 3 miles, only a few things you could barely call a road popped up and I traced the main road for a while before doubt nagged me. I headed back a ways without Ando, mildly worried I would return to Ando and a furry woodland creature friend trying to get at his tasty energy bar innards.

I walked for a ways and thought back to USDA and the Spitter, the main road cropped up in my brain again. It was all dark but I was pretty sure I hadn't missed it. I went back to Ando and headed up the road again for a bit before I found myself looking at the stars and my compass and judged myself to be heading straight South which was no direction I had wanted to go. I walked ahead a bit, then I took Ando miles back to a minor turn off and left him there while I went to explore. On my way to climb a peak and see what I could I passed the carcass of a Buck which had beat eaten through the rib cages and began a mild worry that I would return to Ando to find a woodland creature that wanted my tasty innards. Among the wildlife here is lions and wolves and bears, oh my, and coyotes but who cares.

I climbed the peak and saw the far off glow of a town on the skyline in an entirely different direction. Dejected, I wandered down the mountain back to Ando and set up camp hoping it would be clearer in the morning with the sun showing me direction. The sky was cloudy so I was unsure of the North Star and an ore deposit could effect my compass, better to wait. Besides, I was exhausted, still on private property as far as I could tell and having walked about 30 miles on dirt roads and over the Guadalupe Mountains in addition to the paved beginning of the day. My body hurt and the tendons in my right ankle seemed to be stretched over the bone the wrong way so that they clicked when I stepped, my old knee ached and I wasn't getting antwhere. It was definitely time to rest.

The highlight of the evening came slightly before this when a meteor skidded through the atmosphere. It was the brightest shooting star I've ever seen, big and brilliant green shooting off orange sparks. For a moment I was sure the world was about to end, from nuclear winter, zombie apocalypse or otherwise, take your pick. It was amazing like a natural firework out in the nothing desert.

Day 3

I was up and getting ready shortly after 7 am and heard a truck rolling down the road, hoping to get directions to town I made sure I was as presentable as I get. It was a USDA hunter from the other side of the range but he didn't stop. My whole body felt like rubber even after a good night's sleep, I was exhausted but I had to keep moving.

I tried to pump my tire but it was beyond help and my pump was a poor example of its kind. I swore and my eyes teared with rage. Pushing a 100 pound cart on a rocky road was hard enough, with a flat it was beginning to feel impossible. I had enough bread left for two sandwiches, less than two gallons of water which would last a day at best, I was lost and it sounded as if there might be nothing in town even if I made it there. I started walking the same stretch of road, in some parts now for the seventh time.

Follow the road.

I did. I gave up on my directions and aside from a small hope and the logic that this 'main road' should lead to town, I gave up on Pinon. I followed the road, South or wherever and gave in to it. Wherever the road went, that's where I was going. It was only a few miles and I found a road from my directions, I was more or less on track after all except for the in between roads which seemed not to exist. I gave up on it all, all except the walk and finishing. I was less than 1000 miles from the end finally and it didn't matter what the world threw at me. I would take it and keep going, I had to, there was no other option.

Continually I find the trip getting harder rather than easier, at each step I think, "if I didn't give up now, I won't." I do the same with rides, thinking, "if I didn't take a ride now, I won't." And although each time it is true, it always surprises me the lengths and efforts I will go to to finish this. Sometimes I think, "maybe I would take a ride now, I'm in pain, I'm tired." And someone will drive up and offer and a surprised "no thanks," falls from my lips.

I walked up the road for what seemed like an eternity. Every so often a local rancher would stop and talk to me for a moment.

"I wondered what made those tracks" or "No, the store isn't open," would pick me up or drag me down in turn.

One of the final men, was Rick, who offered to fix my tire. I followed him a thankfully short way to a paved road at last we worked together getting it all taken care of and filled with goo to protect it against future flats which would be less frequent on the paved road anyway.

"No, there's no store in town anymore. There used to be but the owner got sick and ever since he hasn't gotten it back open." He answered my questions with patience. "Yes, the nearest town with a store is Weed, it's North 19 miles from Pinon which is still 6 miles from here."

He invited me for lunch and I couldn't resist eating something other than PB&J sandwiches for a change. We had ham sandwiches and potato chips and it was devine, I washed my hands and was indoors for the first time in 4 days and it felt like luxury. When Rick figured out I could eat more he made me a quarter of a homemade pepperoni pizza and some cinnamon bread desert, I had been dreaming of pizza in the previous days and am hungry now as I write about it.

I set out again, to Weed, my old course abandoned for two reasons: 1) I needed supplies desperately, and 2) my original route took me through 19 miles of check pointed military base which my directions didn't disclose, along with a few mountain ranges. I was in a small gap in between the Guadalupes which I had just descended from and the Sacramentos which were ahead of me. Pinon was at over 6000 feet by Rick's guess.

I was making good time to the store in Weed until I heard news on the road that it closed early and I slowed down. My path now would take me through Cloudcroft, 9000 feet up. I ate my last sandwich and entered into the Lincoln Nat'l Forest where, already at over 7500 feet at times, it rained on my broken body in the sunlight and indeed I had been lifted by the earth, if only by it standing in mountain form in my way. After each rain the smell of pine became so strong and so reminiscent of my home in Northern California that I felt like I could have curled into a ball and fallen asleep in the road.

I was amazed to find that I ended what I guessed to be an almost 40 mile day through the mountains with an excess of energy after feeling so thoroughly broken before. I had been lost in every sense of the word and had only held that I would finish and now I was feeling triumphant almost as I set up camp behind the store I would visit in the morning.

That store is where I wrote this. finishing all but a few of my mummified fun sized Snickers bars and carefully evaluating how much i could stand to eat any more energy bars. I drank the last of my water and charged my phone which has not had reception in days, even had I wanted to quit, it wasn't an option really. The best I could do for my worried family was to get my Mom's phone to ring showing I was alive and had tried to call.

Tomorrow I will find reception in Cloudcroft, post this and make calls including to my hosts in Las Cruces to let them know I am running late. I've earned a pizza and a Superman tattoo I figure, and I'll gladly take either at the first opportunity.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Seven Rivers, NM: String Theory

Miles since last blog: 17.4
Miles Total: 2793.5


I know that one of the things that fascinated me so deeply with the caverns, aside from their natural beauty, was that this was an area left for exploration. There are thousands of caves and caverns out in the world yet to discover and even those we know of are often left with question marks at the sides of the map.

It's exciting, to know there are still places you can go on this planet and be the first eyes ever to see them, the first feet ever to tread that ground. Even if it is subterranean.

By no means a I an accomplished caver now, I've just followed the path around the main cavern of CCNP like thousands of other people, but someone is out there finding new things still. Just a few decades ago they found a new cave, over a thousand feet deep with over 100 miles of passages and tons still unknown. I think this kind of excitement is part of what fueled the moon landings, there is something about the word 'explorer' that grabs your heart in your chest and says, "beat." Likewise, I think there is a part of many of us that is sad that this is no longer a viable profession, even if we are not the ones exploring, it feels good to know someone out there is.

When you explore a cave, there is danger and darkness and not much else. One of the methods used to make sure you don't get lost in the caves is simple, like a child's idea, you trail a string. The string shows you the way home and connects you to the outside world. Without that string, you may find your way out, you may even remember, but the string makes it easier and though you may have never needed it, the loss would bother you.

When I think back on my path across the country, I see it as a string. Along the string are the people I've met, people who I keep in contact in someway still and all the people who follow my blog or think about the crazy walker they met somewhere in their everyday life months ago. It's something I wouldn't have in a car, it's something that connects us all to each other, that string is our connection to the rest of the world when we get focused in on our immediate surroundings and forget, or have lost, that big world we are a part of.

It's easy to see for me, I travel the string. I met a man in Maryland who joined me on my walk, he knew a girl in South Carolina, she saw another man crossing the nation on the news. The man from Maryland and the girl from SC both knew the man walking from California home to Boston. Because they knew both him and I, we were able to meet in North Carolina. When we met he gave me a contact for a place to stay in Anderson, SC. I stayed there and was convinced by the man who hosted me to change my course to include Carlsbad Caverns Nat'l Park where a friend of his would be a ranger. And none of it would have happened if I hadn't stayed with the man in Maryland, which I almost didn't. The twists and turns and degrees of separation over states and strangers slipped away and the string connected us all.

It seems random and wonderful and strange, but it also feels somehow like the only way it ever could have been.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Carlsbad, NM: Come Sail Away

MIles since last blog: 19.1
Miles Total: 2776.1


The days walk took three acts followed by an epilogue today.

Act I:

Skip finds himself back on the road without his carrier (which has been christened as Ando now) since his cavern dwelling friends were willing to take it ahead on his course for him. The walk goes well and quickly and he is relaxed on the road.

Act II:

Skip decides to go 'off route' hiking through fields towards the city only to find one of the only rivers in New Mexico, the Pecos, and have to head out through several ranches and over several fences. In the process he loses his sign and later his phone. It is some time before he realizes either of these are missing and he is forced to track himself through the desert 1.5 miles to find his phone, no sign of the sign which was likely carried away by gale force winds.

Act III:

Having made his way back to the road Skip encounters winds which lead to him doing his best impression of a mime for two hours, his impression of the most boring and irritated mime ever. The act ends when a ranger friend picks him up for the day and takes him to a local franchise restaurant for his first meal of the day and a Margarita.


After a brief shower and rest a commotion outside draws Skip out again. Clay, his host, is heading out with some other rangers to the salt flats of Texas on the other side of the Guadeloupe Mountains to test out his home made 'land yacht.'* The yacht moves well with no one in it but only sits with the weight of a man in it. They stand in the desert salt flats until after dark laughing and pushing each other in the land yacht across the flats.

*A land yacht is a special vehicle built for land but driven by a sail like a ship. This yacht was constructed of fence piping, a few sawed up bicycles and a bed sheet sail, it was a thing of beauty.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Carlsbad Caverns II: The Land of Enchantment

Okay, it sounds ridiculous, but . . . sigh . . . I'm enchanted New Mexico. There. Are you happy?

Great, now I feel like I need a princess dress and a poster of a unicorn on the wall. Stupid, super awesome state. Enchanted. Ridiculous.

Nevertheless, it's true, I'm 'the E word.' I spent the day hiking around in giant caves that go down deep into the earth. How deep might you ask? Well, to get out you take a 75 story elevator (and that's not even the very bottom of the cave) to get back to the top. My host graciously set up for me to go into the caves and on a tour of the 'King's Palace' (enchanting) which included the 'Queen's Chamber' (also enchanting) and all for free. Apparently my normal 'getting stuff for free powers' were in full effect even before I picked up the tickets though as I walked through the caves before the tour for 2 hours without even knowing I needed admission for the area. My powers are not limited to this walk, I don't know why but I've always gotten a lot of things for free, I like to think it's because I'm adorable and oh so dreamy, but it's up for debate. I might only be adorable and highly dreamy but not quite "oh so" dreamy.

But enough about where I fit on the manly hotness scale, though I'm sure we could go on for hours. I got lots of film again and at this point I may need to take time off just to get some film edited and uploaded for you all to catch up with. I am constantly astounded by how busy I am, considering I am an unemployed homeless person who knows no one when he strolls into town (See above adorableness). Tomorrow, a day more than I was intending to stay, I am already slated to accompany my host on his way to work, go to breakfast with a few Park officials that have the day off and go on a day hike (because apparently hiking is what I do now when I take days off from walking) with yet another ranger with a day off. My hosts are seasonal park employees that live directly over the caverns, as in directly over them on the hollow hill that houses them.

I enjoy it here so much that I toyed with the idea of just settling for a few weeks in the spare room and when they leave being inherited by whomever moves in next.

"Okay guys," I can here my host saying to the new parkees. "You get my land yacht (a makeshift tricycle/bike device with a sail for the road) and Skip Potts with the place. The Yacht is self explanatory and Skip you just need to feed. Oh yeah and he likes beer. Take him for walks or hikes and he'll give you hours of good conversation and fun, here's the keys, watch for the skunks, see you next year."

Wouldn't that be fun? I wonder how the newbies would react.

No, I have people up the road to meet, things to see and places to get to and the road has brought me to life again. I'm enjoying myself while still looking forward to being done and seeing what's in store for me next. Do I see a giant flying squirrel suit? No, that's the distant future. Hmmmmm, in the near future I see . . . enchantment. So. Dorky. So. Enchanted.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Carlsbad Caverns, NM: 48 Hours in New Mexico

Miles since last blog: 55.5
Miles Total: 2757.0


Day 1. It was peaceful, serene. The desert is looking as I remembered it from Survival School and it isn't the barren desolation you feel it is when you are in a car, it is a beautiful world that probably inspired the camera setting 'sepia' and a place where it is unneeded. I felt at home. I felt alive. I was singing and dancing as I walked, filming and snapping photos which could in no way encapsulate the beauty I saw.

It's always part of a whole, a photo, like riding in a car, cuts so much out of the desert experience. The scent, sounds and feel. The air is dry and and cool and the sun feels like sheets just out of the dryer, it always feels good, even when it's hot out, at least for a while. A photo or windshield can't master the vastness of the sky or capture the blue of the far off land the way we can with nothing between us. I was at home again on the walk, even though I wanted to move fast and to finish, shaking off the mental drudgery of the giant state of Texas is proving a better boon than I truly thought it would be.

Day 2. To mix things up a bit, I've decided to let you in a bit on the process of how I work, write, exist. I'm not an orderly fellow in thought or planning for the most part. I keep a relatively tidy house when not homeless, but that's about it. The best way I can describe this is to describe my body and its various non-permanent to semi-permantent ink markings at the end of these two days.

Writing on myself is my version of a PDA or whatever electronic device is in vogue right now. On my left forearm is written the following:

T2 Donuts
Long Run
GJ (The Gentleman of Jal)
Extinction Cost
Mummified Snickers & Billy Holliday
1106 (In Semi-permanent)

On my Left hand:

Peaceful desert
Land of Enchantment

On my upper right leg above the shorts line:

The address and email of my Carlsbad Host (In Semi-permanent)

None of these is in this form. It's not a list. it's a dartboard of randomness that is the expression of how my brain works and the few things I deemed worthy of writing down to remember later and today is no different than most of my life. Hardly a day goes by that I don't write on myself.

Some of these things, they're just fleeting thoughts like when I opened a package of powdered donuts for dinner. The wind was blowing at up to 70 mph by some estimates and the donut simply crumbled and blew away right out of my hand as I pulled it out of the wrapper. It reminded me of the way those ash kids in Terminator 2 crumbled into the wind of the nuclear pulse after they were already toast, except this was much more sad because the donuts were real and were to have been a part of me.

Some of them, are ideas I wanted to track down, like is it possible to track the economic cost of an animal going extinct? Did it help commerce in any way and what potential benefits have we lost in the future?

The slogan of the state: Land of Enchantment. Embodied by my early morning walk through the quiet empty land listening to Billy Holliday and finally eating the mummified snickers that had been at the bottom of my pack since Georgia.

My host's info which i didn't want to lose or have washed off. In the event of my death I'm sure the poor guy would have been questioned thoroughly even before ever having met me.

1106. The mileage I estimated myself to have left when I left Jal, NM. I've taken to writing this on my arm when I know it, a little ticker that counts down although the similarity to the holocaust tattoos bothers me I don't know what to do about it.

Some are just memories I wanted to continue remembering. During the heat of the day all I could think about for a time was during my second failed attempt at marathon training (failed for the same knee problem I have been tactically ignoring lately) my running partner and I would do a long run in the morning, then get Jamba Juice and lay on the couch doing nothing but watching movies the rest of the day. I couldn't imagine anything that sounded more amazing or delicious than sitting on a couch with a friend and a cool smoothie and didn't call only because I knew the rest of the world was working.

And finally, sometimes, it's actually something I wanted to write about. The Gentleman of Jal is one of the kindest people I have met. I met him briefly while I was charging my computer in a gas station in Jal and barely remembered him the next morning when he drove up to me 30 miles down the road.

The Gentleman of Jal had brought me breakfast, a XXL breakfast burrito. It was nice but I didn't think anything extraordinary about it until I saw him turn his car around and drive back toward Jal. I thought he had been on his way to Carlsbad. He had driven 60 miles just to see how far I had gone, how I was and bring me food.

Imagine my shock when at a little after 5 pm, 50 miles from Jal, he drove up again. He brought Chicken fingers, Texas toast, French Fries, Cookies and an Energy drink. The Gentleman of Jal took my picture for the county paper and drove back to Jal. 160 miles to bring me food during the day. If one tenth of the people in this world were as good as the Gentleman of Jal then the world would be a truly amazing place.

This is just a glimpse into the random action firing of a brain that causes someone to up and walk across the country. The rest of the day was defined mostly by kind construction workers in the first 75% of the day who gave me reflective vests, the aforementioned donuts and also a host of beverages. The other 25% was defined by wind. Unbelievable stop you in your tracks wind that I have never seen the likes of in my life, thankfully very little sand . . . more on this in the future (See new arm note: Tom's All Natural Sand Blasting).