Monday, June 30, 2008


I made another ten miles from Montpelier before pulling over for the night in Paris, in the grasslands north-west of Bear Lake. I celebrated the thousand mile mark with dinner in a little cafe, and then called my parents from inside the local gas station. As I was talking, a lady came up and wrote a note on a napkin, then held it out to me. 'We heard you were a traveler. Come by for a beer at the first trailer south of here. We'd love to hear your story.' So after hanging up the phone I walked down the street and knocked on the door.
The lady who'd written the note - mid thirties with long black hair - welcomed me in and introduced me to two men sitting on the couch. Jerry - close to fifty, a brown ponytail, high cheekbones and dark eyes - and Steve - younger, maybe thirty, with a thick beard, his flip flops perched on the coffee table.
They call Jerry 'Trapper' and it's easy to see why. It's his trailer and spread out through the room are hundreds of pictures of hunts he's been on, of coyote and bobcat and raccoon that he's caught and of the mountains and forests nearby. There are all kinds of odd rocks around the place, too. One that looks exactly like Idaho - "Took a blue ribbon at the fair for that," - one that looks like a mushroom - "Saw it from a mile away," - and so forth. He shows me a handful of rings that he's carved from antlers, elaborately decorated, and hands me arrowhead after arrowhead. He holds up a little one - no more than an inch long, knapped out of a glassy green stone - and says "I could get a hundred thousand for this one. Made out of jasper. Worth more than diamond. You just have to find the right buyer."
Steve sits quietly on the couch. I think he's already put back some beers. Every once in a while he'll take a look at a picture or an arrowhead that Jerry shows him and say "Oh....oh yeah. That's really... something. Huh."
As the night winds down Jerry offers to let me crash on his floor. He spreads out a thick pad in front of the t.v. and I lay down and watch Family Guy. Steve keeps saying something about a guy named Bill, and having to go get something from him, but Jerry is intent on keeping him in the trailer. "You take my bed, man. Wait to go see Bill until morning."
"No, man. I don't need your bed."
"Come on. I don't care. Honest. You need a good sleep." Steve spreads out on the couch and starts snoring, and Jerry leaves for a little while. When he comes back he rouses Steve and tries to get him into the bedroom. Steve seems confused.
"Shouldn't I go see Bill?" he says.
"No, you just need to sleep."
"Oh...ok. I'll just take this couch if nobody's using it." He plops back down, happily, but Jerry stands him back up and manages to walk him into the bedroom. I fall asleep.
In the morning Steve is up before me.
"How's it going, drifter?" he says, as I stir.
"Pretty good."
"How far you headed?"
"Shit. You going down along the lake, huh? That's a long walk. It's a long lake. I work down in Laketown. Long drive. Really long drive, just to get to work. It kills me. Thank God I'm a substance abuser. I'd never make it, otherwise."
Jerry comes in from outside. "You sleep well, man?" he asks Steve.
"Oh man. That bed of yours did the trick. I feel so good right now. Walked all the way out to my car and back without a twinge." He turns to me and explains. "I cracked a vertebra a week ago, jumping on the trampoline. I'm moving all kinds of slow, now. It kills me. I have a new rule: No jumping on the trampoline drunk."
"You have any plans for the day?" Jerry says, and I shake my head. "You really should go up and see Minnetonka. It's a good ways off the road, though."
"I could drive him up," Steve says, from the couch.
"That'd be cool. Really, man, you should see it," Jerry encourages.
So Steve and I shuffle out to his car. He throws a bunch of stuff in the back to clear off my seat and we head south, then turn up toward the mountains. When we get to the parking lot for Minnetonka caves Steve waves me on. "A lot of stairs, in there," he says. "Don't think my back could take it. Besides, I've already seen it all."
There's a tour group just heading out, and I catch up with them. Minnetonka's a really cool place. 444 steps, up and down, through the cave, and it's forty degrees inside, so my t-shirt and shorts weren't a great idea, but other than that it was pretty cool.
Steve meets me after the tour is done and we head back down the road. We talk about things.
"My life's all jacked up right now," he says. "My wife left me and took the kids. After ten years of marriage she decided she was gay. I mean, what am I supposed to do? I mean, if a guy has a handlebar mustache, or something, and she likes that, I can grow a handlebar mustache. I can do that. But I can't be a woman."
We eat lunch when we get back to the highway, at a drive-in by the road.
"I was studying Anthropology. Minoring in Philosophy. Till I figured out I could do it all for free. Just sit in on any class I wanted to. I paid for fifteen. Took another sixty for free. It was all over. I mean, I'm not an anarchist, or anything. It's just that - well - learn what you can, I say. You never know where life's going to take you. You never know what you're going to be doing to make money. I mean, I'm a carpenter, now."

I made it down to Garden City, Utah, that night. Rolled out under a tree in a little park, off the road. The next day I walked thirty five miles, out into Wyoming, and slept in the ditch, then did another thirty the next day, through Kemmerer. Another thirty miles got me down into Lyman, below the interstate. I took Sunday off. Went to church and met some people. Did a load of laundry. Rested up. The next stretch, down to Vernal, is going to be rough.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Well, I've made a thousand miles. Plus an extra thirteen, now.

Friday morning I crawled out from behind the juniper hedge where I spent the night and brushed off the dead thorns. I walked down the street to do some laundry, and ate breakfast - chocolate milk and maple bars - while the dryer spun. By the time I left town it was ten thirty, and the sun was already cooking the sidewalks.
I headed south, down highway 91, toward Pocatello. Ten miles got me to Fort Hall, where I pulled over at a cafe and got a strawberry milkshake. Dozed off for an hour in the cool of the air conditioning. In Pocatello it was still 94 degrees at seven o'clock. The heat isn't bothering me as much as it was at first. I drink lots of water and rub lots of Vaseline on the feet. As long as I keep moving the asphalt doesn't burn, and when I can I walk straight down the white line, which is a lot cooler and smoother, though when the traffic is bad I have to stay farther off on the shoulder.
I ate dinner - macaroni - in front of the movie theater, and then spent two bucks to see Stop Loss. I'm not sure why this particular theater is so cheap, but it might have to do with the fact that nachos are $6.15. (I didn't have any.) After the movie I rolled out my sleeping bag under a restaurant awning and slept.

I've developed a lot of tricks for keeping my mind occupied while I'm walking. And when I'm a little down I can normally trick myself out of feeling bad. Force the face into a big grin and curse loudly. Amazing how much that does. And yelling at cattle is fun, too. 'Are you crazy, or just plain stupid, cow!' They look up from their grazing, munching nonchalantly, pondering the question. 'Stupid is as stupid does, sir,' they answer. And then go back to munching.
I come up with a lot of songs, too:

I met-a-phor in the road
smiling carelessly
He said 'No no, you've got me wrong
I'm just a simile!'

And I ponder other people's words: 'Go west, young man!' West? No thanks. (Another song)

East I say! Its' the only way
for me
Feast on today! It's the only day
you'll ever see
And I don't know why the world turns
And I don't know why the fire burns
And I don't know how the universe came to be
But that's all right with me
All that matters is the next step toward the sea

Out of Pocatello I walked slowly. Above ninety, again, and I didn't get far before pulling over for a couple of hours. Decided to wait it out, instead of keep going. Ate some peanut butter sandwiches in the shade of a fire station. Plodded a little more, into Inkom, where I waited some more, then left at nine-thirty in the evening. Following old highway 91, now, which isn't on my map. I was planning to have to follow the river for a stretch, to stay off the interstate, but I'm glad that I didn't have to. It took me four hours to get to McCammon, and I stopped just short of town and rolled out in the ditch.
Sunday I started early. Up by six to try and stay ahead of the heat. Now on highway 30, heading east into the hills. In Lava Springs I stopped and filled up the water bottles, and watched the clouds build, in the west. By five it was drizzling, which was pleasant. By six it was raining steadily. By seven I reached Soda Springs, and a man outside of the Subway offered to let me pitch my tent in his yard. I sat on his couch watching Extreme Makeover until the rain let up, and then rolled out my tent in his yard. The rain came back, in the evening, and poured and blew and thundered, but I stayed dry, in the tent, and in the morning the sun was back.
I decided to take the day mostly off, yesterday. The feet were feeling pretty sore. So I found the library, and spent six hours reading (The Pearl, Steinbeck). In the evening, feeling rested, I headed out, and made fifteen miles last night, before sleeping in the ditch, a thousand miles from Ocean Shores.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


North-east of Mountain Home the landscape stays pretty dry for fifteen or twenty miles, climbing up into the forest, where the sagebrush thins away and the green starts to come back. The first night I camped in the woods, not too far off the road.
The towns, in this stretch, are spread thin. Fifty eight miles to a gas station out of Mountain Home, to Fairfield. Then another forty five into Carey, forty four into Arco, and a final fifty six all the way down to Blackfoot. And the weather, after such a cool and rainy spell, is finally getting warm. So I'm carrying a lot more water, now, and packing a lot more food, and I've been walking close to thirty miles a day, to get beyond this stretch and into a more populated region.
In Fairfield I slept at the city park, sleeping bag rolled out on the grass. A group of cyclists from Fort Collins joined me, on their way to Portland. The next night I put up my tent in the ditch, fifteen miles out of Carey, and then made it another thirty miles the next day into the outskirts of Craters of the Moon. The pastures that spring up in the shadow of the Sawtooths fade away. The iron red rock creeps up over the valley like rusting scars over old wounds. I stopped at the park visitor center, but didn't do a lot more than fill up my water bottle. The more interesting features of Craters of the Moon are a good ways off the road, and I wanted to keep moving.
Arco is an interesting little town. The first in the world to be lit by atomic power, and the government testing facilities down the road are still open. Here they celebrate an annual 'Atomic Days.' I made it a little ways out of town in the cool of the evening, sleeping in a little park in Butte City, which doesn't have so much as a post office.
The first day of the two down to Blackfoot from Arco and Butte City was nearly unbearable. Twenty nine miles of sagebrush, of hot pavement and of sun. The roadside buzzed with a constant warning from rattlesnakes - three or four at a time, leap-frogging for hours. No shade to eat my peanut butter sandwiches in. Not a farm. Not a house.
Atomic City has a race track and a liquor store; I slept and moved on.
As I neared Blackfoot, the hills became dotted with life, again. Wheat fields and Zimmatic sprinklers. Trees.
A bank sign read eighty-seven degrees as I made my way into town. I stopped at the nearest grocery store and sat in the air conditioning for a while, then made my way downtown, to the library.
Eating lunch outside, my little cook stove boiling soup, I played a little harmonica in the shade. The locals gave me wary eyes as they passed, and after a little while a police car pulled up.
"How's it going?" the deputy says.
"You don't have a pony tail, do you?" he inquires, and I pull it out from behind my back to show him. "Uh-oh. A couple people mentioned there was a homeless guy down here. If you ask me," he says, smiling, "you don't fit the profile. But there's a lot of traffic coming through here. Little kids and such. I guess you unnerved somebody."
"I was going to use the library," I explain. "Just wanted to have a little lunch, first."
"It's not a problem with me," he says. "You're in the right. But there is an actual park just down the way," - he motions down the road - "and you certainly wouldn't bother anybody there, just to let you know." He goes on his way, and I pack up my things and head inside to get on the computer.
It doesn't bother me, that people mistake me for being homeless, or a hippie, or destitute, or whatever it is. I honestly don't care. But it's kind of curious that anybody would feel so inclined as to report me. So what if I'm homeless? So what if I'm destitute? 'Just eating lunch, folks. Not doing drugs. Not drunk. Not spray painting your library. Move along, now.'
Do we really have to shelter our children from such things? A guy eating lunch outside a library. Is that so harsh for young eyes? Do we really feel the need to pretend to them that homeless people don't exist? I don't know. I'm not a parent. But somehow I think that if I was, I'd find no reason to report myself to the police.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mountain Home

From Caldwell I headed down through Nampa, and then south on highway 45. Walking that evening I hit more rain, but nothing severe, and camped in the ditch for the night, my poncho strung from the fence underneath an old crab-apple tree.
In the morning I left the farm country, and dropped down to the Snake river from the bluffs above, then followed it for a ways before winding off toward Murphy. Owyhee is the second largest county in Idaho - bigger than Connecticut and Vermont combined - and yet the county seat, Murphy, has only a hundred and fifty people. The courthouse was five minutes past closing when I walked up from the highway, but the door was still open and I found the janitor inside. He let me fill my water bottles and offered to let me stay out in back of the building, for the night.
I rolled out the sleeping bag in the alcove near the back door, ate some spaghetti soup, and read for a while. I've gone through five books since leaving home, so far. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, I brought from home, and read on the train. At the library in St. Helens I bought The Piano Shop on the West Bank, and finished it in Portland, before reading The Devil and Ms. Prym. And then in Maupin I bought an old copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
It's interesting to me how hard it is to leave a book behind. The first two I left at my cousin's, in Tacoma, and the third in Portland. The fourth was a library book and I simply put it back on the shelf, and the fifth I handed over to the librarian in John Day. Each time (excluding the fourth) it's felt rather awkward, as if I was doing something that I was going to regret. I think that my notions of possession are off kilter, and blown out of proportion, and it's something I need to work on.
Shortly after turning in for the night, behind the courthouse, one of the Sheriff's deputies found me. He took the information from my driver's license, and it started raining.
"You can sleep inside, in the lobby, if you want," he told me. "There's a couch." But I was already set up, and out of the rain for the most part, so I declined.
In the morning, the courthouse employees passed me one by one on their way inside, and as I packed up my things, one of them came back outside.
"If you follow this street," she said, motioning, "and then take a left at the bottom, you'll see Delamar. Go right on Delamar, and you'll see a yellow house with a Sheriff's truck parked outside. My husband - his name is Daryl - will make you breakfast. I'll tell him you're coming." She went back inside and left me to finish packing up my things. It's amazing how quickly a meal can fall into my lap.
As I approached the yellow house, the door swung open, and Daryl greeted me. He showed me inside, and I washed up in the bathroom before sitting down to eat a huge plateful of biscuits and gravy. Daryl is a big, muscular, guy, with a bushy mustache and a blonde buzz cut. He sits down across from me at the kitchen table.
"How many miles do you make in a day?" he says.
"A little over twenty, normally."
"Well," he says, "you've got a pretty long stretch between here and the next town. Nothing but sagebrush and ranches for thirty miles." He strokes a corner of his mustache, thoughtfully. "A little under twenty miles from here you'll see a sign for Wees road." He spells it for me, and then makes a map with his hands. "There's a guy who lives over here," (pointing a spot on the table) "who'll put you up for the night, if you need a place. Just tell him I sent you. If you get all the way to Grand View, tonight, you'll see a little hotel just off the road. Lady that owns it, Kelly, can hook you up with a room, if you want. Tell her I sent you."
I try to remember the names and the locations, and continue eating my biscuits.
"Now, all the way down in Bruneau," he looks up, "are you going through Bruneau?" I shake my head. "Well, if you decide to, there's a guy down there I know who'll let you sleep at his place for the night.....Just tell him I sent you." I'm fairly sure that Daryl knows everyone in Owyhee County.
When I finished eating, several more possible contacts spread out down the road, I filled my water bottles and headed off.
The thirty miles between Murphy and Grand View are pretty bleak. Lots of sagebrush. A few wheat fields. Not a lot else. But the weather held. No rain and no blistering sun; just a breeze at my back. I made it before the sun was down, and put up my tent just off the road, in some scattered grass near the convenience store.
Today I left early. Turned north and crossed back over the river, then crawled back up onto the bluffs, heading for Mountain Home. Twenty five miles through more sagebrush and sand, past the airforce base and down into town. It's a nice little place, around ten thousand people. I haven't found a place to stay, yet, but I'm not worried. It's getting easier and easier, it seems, as the days go by.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


After the hundred and fifteen miles between John Day and Vale, it was a welcome relief to be back in a more populated area. From Vale I headed east, still following highway 26, towards Idaho through onion and hay farms. The rain is following me, still, it seems, and by noon on Tuesday I had taken refuge in a hay barn to sit out the weather. I talked with a couple of the local farmers, who waited, too, for the rain to cease, and ate through some bagels while the storm came down.
Back on the road I made another ten miles under lightened sky, and turned south, toward Nyssa. The clouds built again in the late afternoon, gathering from the west, and I wrapped my pack with my poncho, and continued to walk. For seven miles, all the way into Nyssa, it rained. Never a maelstrom, but plenty hard to soak through my clothes. Three times, in the stretch, I was offered rides into town, and each denial on my part strengthened me. Overcoming the urge to accept, overcoming the want of warmth and want for ease, made me smile, and made me shout, and made me sing. Made me bellow at the height of my voice into the rain as it fell.
The thunder-egg capital of the world offered warmth. Nyssa, the town is called, gave me an A&W to sit inside, and change my soaked clothes, and dry off.
"Tell me," I said to the girl behind the register, "what's a thunder-egg?" and she explained. Apparently it's some sort of hollow volcanic rock (maybe that's common knowledge) and this is the place to find them. The town's yearly festival is even called 'Thunder-egg Days,' and supposedly vendors line the streets and sell the things.
I spent the night at the local high school, in a gazebo between buildings. I stayed dry and warm, but in the morning was awakened, for the first time on the trip, by a policeman.
"Tell me you couldn't have found a better spot to sleep," he says, smiling. There is no damage done, but I guess they have summer school classes, and simply wanted me gone before the students showed up. The policeman went on his way, and one of the ladies from the school office even brought out a bag of breakfast bars for me.
"They'll just sit around here," she said, "so you might as well take them."
I spent a few hours at the post office, waiting for the library to open, and then checked my email and read for a while. My parents had told me, the night before, that they had a contact for me in the town of Caldwell, but that the people, there, were out of town for a couple days, so if I wanted to stay with them I'd have to hang out for a while. Caldwell is only another twenty miles from Nyssa, so I was in no hurry to get back on the road. By five in the afternoon I had crossed into Idaho, but had only made three or four miles, when a girl in a little car pulled over.
"I'm going to church," she said, from her window, "want to come?" I accepted the offer and she drove me back into Nyssa, where her youth group meets at a local church. We listened to some music and watched a movie and sang some songs, and by the time we were ready to leave I had all of their blessings, for the trip.
The girl who picked me up - Joyce, is her name - offered to give me a place to sleep, for the night, at her parents' house in Wilder, and I accepted.
I spent the night in their basement, where they laid out a mattress for me, and in the morning they fed me French toast before I headed out.
At the Caldwell library I got an email saying that my parents' contact had gotten back a day early, so I called them and they came down and picked me up.
Dee and Bill are old classmates of my parents, from veterinary school, and they opened their house to me. After making some serious miles in the previous week, I was more than glad for the chance at a day or two in ease. They've been more than kind, and I feel rested and ready to head back out on the road tomorrow.

Monday, June 2, 2008

500 Miles, and beyond

I made five hundred miles by the little cafe at Austin Junction. It was raining, as it has been almost every day for the past ten, and I had a bowl of split pea soup and, from a table in the corner, watched the drops as they fell.
I've been making good time, now. My shins are healed. My feet are strong. The prairie and the rolling bluffs lifted into national forest above Prairie City, and then the forest fell back away by Unity, into sagebrush plains. I've spent two more nights in post offices, without trouble, and I've been making an average of 28 miles a day, and I've made it past a hundred and fifteen mile stretch of near nothingness, and everything is going well.

The most common question that people throw at me is this one: "What made you decide to do this?" And my answer has varied quite a bit. I've never pinned down to a science why it is, exactly, that I'm doing what I'm doing. But I've started to understand a bit better, I think, now that I've had some time to consider, fully.
The driving force out here on the road seems to be divided into two voices. The first is the voice that seeks beauty. The voice that wants to see sunsets and rivers, that wants to see the people and hear their stories. It wants to see the glory of the land, to feel it, to touch it, to breathe it in. It is the voice that makes me sing to feel the breeze on my face. The voice that makes me step gayly in the sun.
The second voice tells me that there is need for a certain repentance. The load that I carry and the pain that I endure, this voice tells me, are making up for the lost chances of my youth. Making up, as best as is possible, for the hours wasted gazing into the television, the computer, and all of the other pits we surround ourself with; the black holes sucking up creativity like light. The video games and the reality television shows. MTV.
And, this voice says, there is need to make up, as well, for all the chances lost. For all the dances that I didn't dance. For all the girls that passed slowly by, within reach, within grasp, while I did nothing, and let them go.
"This step is for Kendra Squires," the voice tells me. "And this step is for every Saturday night you spent alone. Remember this step. Remember this burden, on your back. And learn from it."
Both voices speak of a numbness. Of a quietly creeping numbness that had begun to take its hold. A numbness towards life, towards beauty, brought by the schedule. Brought by the alarm clock, the deadline, the routine, the bells pounding to tell me how to think, and when, and where, and never being responsible for why. The outer edges of my life - both pain and joy - had become smooth, had begun to grow victim to the inbetween. Victim to the mundane.
It was as if I were the frog, sitting quietly in water being brought to a boil, without my knowledge, until suddenly my instinct understood, and reacted, and sent me into the air before my mind could make sense of why.
It is not up to me, nor is it of any importance, to try and distinguish which voice, if either, is the larger or the more important, in my walk. Both have a claim. All that is of importance is the road. The next step, the next mile, and finally, the sea. And when I drink from that distant shore, I can only hope that whatever thirsts have accumulated, that they might be quenched, and that I might be satisfied to return to the world of the schedule and the bell and the television glaring, but with a keener eye to its trickery, and a greater knowledge of its workings, and a larger defense to the numbness.