Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The morning after the thirty five mile day I woke up, in the post office, to more rain. Coming seemingly just as strong, though considerably less bleak, now that I was in town. I crossed the street and walked into the nearby cafe, and ordered eggs and pancakes and coffee, and spent the next five hours watching it rain, my brain still swirling thickly with the cathartic images of the day before.
I was told that the little library, just down the street, was open from two to five, and so at one forty five I packed up, paid my bill, and left. The rain had almost given way, but the clouds were still rolling leisurely above. After waiting around outside the library for half an hour, I decided that maybe they weren't going to open, and was disappointed. Looking at the map I figured that I wouldn't get anywhere else with a public computer for another four or five days, at least. But on the way out of town, looking in a shop window, two ladies motioned me inside. As if they knew what I was looking for.
I tell them my story - where I'm from, where I'm going. We talk for a minute or two.
"You don't have a computer, do you?" I ask, and they say that they do. "But not one that I could use?"
"Oh sure," they say, and they take me to the back of the store and let me type up my entry to the blog.
I didn't make my way out of Fossil until close to five, and knew that I wouldn't make it far, but was told that there were some campgrounds up the road, not too far, and so I didn't worry. The first one, after six miles, was full. A big biker rally.
"I can get you in," the man said, "but it'll cost you thirty five dollars." Thanks, but no thanks.
The next campground was four more miles, but not a difficult four. I only had to put in ten on the day, and so my aches, though they complained, weren't severe. I set up my tent for free, and slept well.
The next day I made it to Spray, following the river down through the rocky hillsides, and found the little place bustling. I guess they have an annual rodeo and I hit it just right. The county park down by the river was full, but I walked up toward the showgrounds and saw a fire burning in someones backyard. As I got closer, they spotted me, and motioned me over, and I sat down and we talked.
"There's a place over there for you to roll out your bag," one of them tells me, motioning to the lawn behind the woodshed. "Nobody'd mind." So after watching the flames for a while, and hearing some stories, I camped in the grass.
In the morning, rising around nine, the dew starting to steam in the sun, one of them came out to say good morning.
"We've got a big breakfast inside," he says, "and you're more than welcome to come in and eat." Pancakes and eggs and coffee and fruit and donuts and sausage are laid out on the kitchen table. All of the kids sit here, while the adults have spread themselves out around the rest of the room.
"So the rodeo is a pretty big thing?" I ask.
"About as big of a shin-dig as a little town like this can have," they respond. I eat, and we talk, and I feel great just to know that there are people out here who are so willing to give me a place to sleep and a warm meal. It makes everything easier.
Leaving Spray, my aches seem to have diminished. My shins are strong. My feet are light. I follow the river thirteen miles to Kimberly, eat some lunch and then continue on, turning south. The clouds churn and swirl and froth above me, but they aren't ominous, and the rain doesn't come. Alongside the river cattle graze in pastures, and gardens grow greenly in the shadows of the sagebrush bluffs.
I spend the night in the ditch, just a little ways off the road, with my poncho spread over me, and I watch the stars, shining behind the wasps of clouds that float in front of them.
I get up early in the morning, and make my way down to the main part of the John Day Fossil Beds. At the visitor center I watch the twenty minute movie, and then walk through the museum. It starts to rain, outside, right about the time I'm ready to leave, and so I extend my visit a little. But I want to walk, so although it continues to rain I head out.
From the visitor center it's only eight or nine miles back onto highway 26 and into Dayville. My aches, though, have returned, and in the rain, it feels like a long way. I get to the little town and stumble into the convenience store and pick up some food around five in the afternoon. As I'm leaving, the lady behind the counter mentions that the church, just up the road, offers free lodging for travelers.
"They've got a shower and laundry and a kitchen for the bikers," she says. "Make sure you check it out." She doesn't need to tell me more than once.
When I arrive at the church nobody is around, and I quickly take a shower and spread out my things to let them dry. I make some tea in the microwave, and pull up a bench at the practice piano near the kitchen. I'm in heaven.
I don't see anybody the whole evening, and I roll out my sleeping bag on the floor and crash.
In the morning I feel stiff, and tired, and decide to give myself a day off, to rest up.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Line Becomes Blurred

I made thirty miles the first day from Maupin, all the way down to Antelope. It was the longest walking day of the trip, though when I woke up in the morning I was neither stiff nor in any pain.
I left Antelope at nine forty five in the morning. With water and food in plenty, if not in excess, and with a light step. Heading east, the small hills built upon themselves in the morning sun, and the road began to climb up out of the creek valley. The first three miles were only slightly such - the next four, more so - until, two hours into the day, I reached the first summit, above the fertile hills. It no longer feels like the Oregon that I've been walking in. The dense forests, held over from Washington, have given way to sagebrush plains and farming towns among the hills.
The muscles in my legs were strong in the ascent, but there was a pinging in my shins - the comings of a splint, and yet the pace was good, and the sun warm, and the shoulders strong.
The height that was attained in seven miles was lost in the next eight. On the other side of the summit the road fell away, curling down and down until reaching the John Day River, at the seemingly deserted town of Clarno. Four thirty in the afternoon. The pace had been steady, if not quick. Fifteen miles, and another twenty to the next town - Fossil. There was no intention, of course, after a thirty mile day previously, of making it all the way to Fossil. Somewhere among the hills, I knew that I would unroll the sleeping bag and drive in the tent stakes.
After crossing the river the road began to ascend again, but for no more than half a mile, before settling back down to follow Pine Creek.
I passed the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument without stopping long. I read a few signs and drank some water, but the light was still good, and the weather held, under high, drifting clouds, and there were miles to be made.
Along the creek the sagebrush and sparse growth gave way to a canyon full of pine, and the hills on either side became steeper and rockier.
By eight o'clock I had gone twenty three miles on the day - a decent amount. The light was fading. The clouds were growing darker. I spied a place, not far from the road, that was level, was grassy and was protected. And yet the pack was not weighing me down. The pings in my shins had persisted through the day but had grown no worse. My feet were sore, but not painfully chaffed or blistered. Why not another few miles, now, and another few less to be made in the morning? I pushed on.
For the next hour the sun continued to fade, and by nine was all but gone. Another four miles lay behind me. The pace was as strong as it had been when first leaving Antelope, twelve hours previously. Still on, up the road.
A car stopped as it met me, coming the other way, and a window was lowered.
"Are you all right?" a woman called, and I said yes. "Do you have any protection?" she asked. "There are cougars out here."
"I think I'll be fine," I answered, though the thought of mountain lions in the rocky hills above me did give reason for concern.
"You're sure you're all right?" the lady called from her window, and I waved her on, into the night.
By nine thirty moisture began to swirl down in the headlamp glow. The clouds above had thickened and had blocked out the moon and the stars, but it was nothing terrible. Simply a light mist.
The road was climbing, again. Up through the pinion bluffs, up from the creek, and through the pace was still strong my legs were sore and my feet, as they came down on the pavement, had lost their spring. There was no good place to pitch a tent, now, though. No place at all, in fact, good or bad, and the wind blew harder, and my headlight pivoted constantly, searching the hills for glowing eyes.
"You're a fully grown human male,'' I reminded myself, "and you're carrying a full pack. They have no want to pick a fight with you. They are afraid of you."
The moisture thickened, now taking the form of a driving, fine, wet snow. Snow, two thirds of the way through May and an elevation of roughly 2800 feet. But it did not stick, and my clothes were warm, and to keep walking was the best answer. There was no desire to pitch a tent in the storm, and in these hills, even if I had seen a good location. But it was still seven miles into Fossil, and I had already walked twenty eight on the day, and now the pain was emerging, for the road had stopped climbing and began to descend, and the shins became inflamed, and I couldn't do better than to shuffle along at what I estimated to be only two miles an hour. Two miles an hour for another seven miles was unthinkable. I had ceased watching the clock, but I knew that it was late, and knew that I didn't have another three and a half hours in me. Unless, perhaps, there was no alternative.
"The mountain lions," I told myself, "are surely not hunting in this storm. They are surely sleeping, without any regard as to you." But logic is a lesser force than fear - for me, at least, and still I watched over my shoulder, and still my ears strained in the dark.
As the road continued to descend, the headlamp picked up pairs of eyes, in the hills, but they were sets of blue, and far apart on the brow - deer, or cattle, even, in the pasture.
Six miles. Five. Ever so slowly. The snow had become wetter - more like sleet - and I could feel the cold through my jacket and in my arms. I slipped on my sandals because the road was slick and freezing and wet. The idea that I could make it into town - that I would probably have to - took full realization. The pain could be ignored. The cold could be ignored. The fear could be ignored.
Four miles. Three. Another hour passed. The road leveled, and the step quickened, but only slightly, and was still weak. Through the storm, coming still stronger and still wetter, I could now make out a glow in the hills ahead. And farmhouses, though far between, began to appear alongside the road.
Two miles from town, knowing that I could make it, that I would, knowing that I would be able to sleep under city lights, I was taken by emotion. Without any knowledge that they were coming, tears spewed forth, and I cried, as I walked, harder than I remember crying in a very long time. And the tears seemed to bring warmth to my limbs, and the wet swirling air seemed not to touch me.
With a mile and a half to go my headlight pulled to the side and illuminated a pair of eyes - not blue and far between, as before, but a burning orange, some fifty yards above me on a slope. Staring down.
"What are you!" I demanded, from the road. "Are you a cat? Stay away, animal! Stay away!" The eyes watched, unmoving. "Two plus two is four!" I shouted, and repeated it: "Two plus two is four!" As I shouted, I continued to walk, my light fixed on the hill, and the eyes soon disappeared. Either the creature had moved on or the line of sight had become obstructed by the shoulder of the rocks. The fear did not hold sway. In that last mile, so close to my haven, nothing would bother me. After thirty four miles, soaked, pained, exhausted, nothing would bother me.
The lights of town grew close, and I walked slowly, steadily, into the outskirts. There was still the need to find shelter - a place dry and secure - but that would be simple. It was only a few minutes before midnight, and there were no cars, no peering eyes, no one to disturb me, wherever I should choose to lie. And even if they did - even if a cop car found me in its lights, say, I wouldn't have cared. The world had nothing to touch me with, in that hour. Neither nature nor man could hope to douse the fire in my chest. I was invincible. I was the conqueror of the night, the conqueror of the storm, the conqueror of my own pain and my own fear, and of the road. What thing - god or man or beast or tempest - could think to conquer me in that hour?
On main street I passed the post office - its door always open, its lights always glowing - and I entered into warmth, and set down my pack against the wall, and pulled off my wet clothes, and on the linoleum of the floor I collapsed, weak, and the line between joy and pain was blurred with tears, and the two seemed to become one. And I slept.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Sorry it's been a while, the towns are thinning out, now.
Portland was great. I healed up, played some songs, explored a little bit of the city on a borrowed bike and played some Scrabble. The actual owner of the property is Debbie DeRose, who I met in the morning following my last post. I'm so glad she opened up the place to me, because it was a good spot to take a few days off.
I left Portland on Saturday morning, and decided not to go up to 14, in Washington, as was planned. I decided that I could cut off some miles by following 26 through Oregon, instead, and I was told by a few people that I really should see Mount Hood.
By noon I saw a digital bank sign that said it was ninety two degrees, and the pavement burned my feet up pretty well. I tried to take cover during the worst of the day, but I still had to put on the sandals for a while.
I stayed the night just before the town of Sandy, and in the morning I looked for a computer, but realized that it was Sunday, and so I had to push on. After Sandy the forests take over again, and by midday I was starting to climb up into the mountains of the Mt. Hood National Forest. I made twenty seven miles, on the day, and camped in the woods between the towns of Rhodendron and Government Camp.
The next day I started climbing, and kept climbing heavily, for the next six miles. Government camp, in the shadow of Mount Hood, was just getting it's thawing in. I guess the residents up here hadn't seen the north facing sides of their houses in a long time, and the roadside was running heavy with the melting snow.
Coming down the east side of the pass I met a man who is riding a bike from Vancouver (OR) to Chicago. "My kid was too busy to make a visit this year," he told me from the roadside, as I sat in the shade. "She said I'd just have to get on my bike and ride out there, so here I am."

This morning I woke up to rain, and on and off throughout the day that's what it's been. Drizzle. Downpour. Mist. Drizzle. Downpour. Etc. I walked another long day, taking 216 east to the town of Maupin. Later on I'm planning to head south and catch 26 again, but this is where I'm at, for now.
Unfortunately the feet aren't doing so well with the changing weather. Three days of radiating concrete, followed by a day of solid rain, haven't exactly been therapeudic. So I'm in the sandals, again, after getting a good ways barefoot. We'll see.
Last Saturday was graduation back in Canon City. The second time a class of mine has moved on without me. But I don't regret my decision. Not before and not now. I've never been headed down a straight road, or a well traveled one. I don't know where I'm going, exactly, but I know that the road I'm on is the right one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


From Centralia I had to wind my way south through various smaller roads - no main highways going exactly where I wanted. I ended up staying the night in some playground equipment around the little town of Winl0ck.
The next day I made it down to Castle Rock, camping in the courtyard of their high school. In the morning I called my parents and wished my mom a good Mother's Day. The day before I'd run into quite a bit of rain, and my feet were pretty chapped. I'm not sure why, but for some reason getting soaked and then drying in my sleeping bag was harsh on them. I rubbed in some vaseline and walked for a while, but they weren't feeling good, at all. I only made it twelve miles on the day, down into Longview, and stayed the night behind the baseball field at the local college.
In the morning I walked across the Lewis and Clark bridge over the Columbia, and into Oregon. I wasn't sure, for a while, whether I was going to stay in Washington or head into Oregon, and I'm really not sure why I chose the latter. Mainly, I guess, because that way I could follow a main highway instead of sorting my way through back roads.
In St. Helens I slept behind a thrift store, and woke up to more rain. My feet were starting to flake pretty hard already, and I didn't want to walk in too much more moisture for a few days, so I ended up spending several hours in the St. Helens library, reading and waiting out the rain, and then made it down, in the evening, fifteen miles toward Portland.
I had gotten an offer, the last time I checked in, to stay with some people here in the city, and I didn't want to pass it up, so this morning I picked out a route in a gas station phone book, and made it here around four.
Dan Miller, a guy I met on Amtrak, built a cob house in some lady's backyard, and he's going to be gone for a while, so they arranged that I could stay there. It's pretty cool. Just a little place, but it's got a kitchen and a bathroom (a composting toilet) and a sleeping loft.
I've only met one of the people who live in the actual house - the owner was gone when I got there, but everything seems really neat. They're totally into organics, and planting their own things, and natural building. And there's a piano, which is a big bonus. I've been missing my piano, out on the road.
All in all, things are going well. I'm at around 220 miles so far and I'm definitely still getting broken in, but things are happening smoothly. No hassles from the police, no injuries. I'm sore, but I'm happy.

Friday, May 9, 2008


After staying the night near Olympia on the fifth, I headed north, to Tacoma. Before leaving home I had opened a checking account so that I could use a debit card on the trip, instead of carrying a bunch of cash, but the card didn't arrive until after I had left on Amtrak. So my parents mailed it to my cousin, and I had to go back up to Tacoma to get it in the mail. A little out of the way, but a nice way, in part, to end the first week. A hundred miles to whip my feet into shape and then fill my pack back up with cookies and granola bars.
I got into Tacoma late on the sixth, and then spent the next day there, as well. Yesterday I rode back down to Olympia and started walking south.
My original route would have taken me east from there, but apparently the mountains that way are still really snowy and cold for May, and so I was advised to head farther south before going east. Now the plan is to head south to Vancouver, and then follow the Columbia from there. Hopefully that will get me into some better weather - the last few days have been pretty bleak, after the nice stretch I had going for a while.
Beyond Tumwater (south Olympia) I stopped in for a visit at a wolf rescue, four miles north of Tenino. Most of the wolves in the facility aren't in the species survival plan and won't be assimilated into the wild or bred. I guess they come from more domestic situations - zoos and households, where they've been overly exposed to humans. But it's a great place, from what I saw.
And then on to Tenino, and down highway 507 to Bucoda and finally into Centralia. I did twenty seven miles on the day and was pretty sore, though my blisters have all healed well and I was able to put in a lot of time barefoot, again. The initial rough stretch seems to have taken a break.
I slept, last night, behind the train station, in Centralia. It's a pretty nice area, or seems to be, and nobody bothered me, but the freight trains weren't wonderful, clamoring through all night. In between, though, I slept well. And this morning the aches that had settled into my joints quickly faded away.

Monday, May 5, 2008


The blisters have cought up with me. Just a few miles out of Aberdeen they started to poke through, started to surface like dis-colored dimes and started to sting. By the time I'd made it back to Brady, where the bus picked me up on the first day out of Tacoma, they'd become pretty much intolerable. I waddled around gingerly as I strung up my poncho for the night. So the next day, the fourth of the month, I pulled out the medical supplies. Dabbed some ointment on the feet and wrapped them up tight with bandage. And pulled on my thick socks and my sandals.
I did pretty well, afterwards. Still made eighteen miles on the day, though I had to take a lot of breaks and go slow. By the time I was ready to pull over for the night the blisters were actually feeling pretty good. They'd all drained out and started to firm up, slightly.
I set up my little tent twenty yards from the highway in some thick grass and I slept soundly.
This morning the feet felt good, but not great. Not good enough to try barefoot again, at least. I made it the last fifteen miles into Olympia without a whole lot of trouble, and I think I'll hole up here for the night, or maybe just out of town, and then take off the socks for a little while tomorrow. I probably can't do a whole lot, but we'll see. Hopefully the blisters will start to harden up more within a few days.
The weather's been wonderful. Aside from the first morning, at the ocean, I haven't hit any rain, and the sun's been out enough that I've had to put on sunscreen. It's the spring weather I was hoping to get, but wasn't planning on, up here in the evergreen state. When we checked in, from Colorado, the forecast predicted ten straight days of rain leading up to my departure. So it's been a welcome change now that I'm here.
I can't really place how I'm feeling about the whole thing. Not sure if I'm worried, or content, or convinced that this is crazy, looking down the road. I guess, in part, the feeling changes with the day. Each morning I feel good, feel ready to walk and ready to sing and ready to declare Florida already mine. But as the day wears on, as the sun droops low and the shoulders ache and the shadows fall from the trees, my spirits start to fade. I'm still totally in the dark on how the trip is going to go. I don't know what kind of pace I can set, or what the weather's going to do tomorrow...there are so many variables.
But sleep recharges the spirit tank. The sun bids me luck. And the miles go by.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Ocean

My relatives drove me out past Olympia the morning of the first. They dropped me off at a turn-around and I walked for a little while to find a good place to hitch, then stuck up my thumb. An older, ex-hippie kind of guy picked me up and took me west toward Brady, and I sat down in front of a convenience store to hitch again, but was unexpectedly picked up by a transit bus. I guess they run routes all along here. So I tossed the fifty cents in the slot and rode down to Aberdeen, then transferred over to the number eight bus, headed toward Ocean Shores.
It was six thirty by the time I made it to the coast. As I came over the edge of the dunes the sun was thinly hidden, glowing through the clouds and shining on the water. A man was flying his kite a hundred yards down the beach. Some of the local teens threw up wet sand as they drove off along the water to the north. I camped, illegally, in the dunes, and woke up to rain.
Yesterday I started walking. Took off the flip flops and headed north for three miles, then got on the main highway and headed east. The clouds circled all day but the rain didn't come back after the early morning.
My feet did well. I had to put on the sandals briefly, through a really rough stretch a few miles west of Hoquiam, but otherwise there were no breakdowns. I still have to strengthen them up quite a bit, I think, but so far I'm alright. It might be a little bit slower going at first, but I was counting on that.
I made it into Hoquiam around eight oclock. Found a little park and boiled up some Ramon noodles. Drank some apple juice and chewed on some trail mix. As the street lights came on and the wind blew colder, up from the bay, I spotted some playground equipment down at the far end of the park. Unrolled my sleeping bag under a wooden bridge and listened to some music on my MP3 player before falling to sleep.
This morning I found the Hoquiam public library, and that's where I'm writing. But I'm ready to take off again, toward Aberdeen, and then up to Olympia. Hopefully the feet will continue to cooperate.