Thursday, October 30, 2008


I left my grandparents' house Saturday morning. Their pastor from the First Assembly of God, Jim Davis, drove me in their car across the interstate bridge and into Tennessee, and let me off where I could get on a smaller road.
I walked through Finley and into Dyersburg, where I stayed the night next to an animal hospital.
Sunday I made good time, and made it through the swamp bottoms to the town of Trenton, and rolled in the First Baptist Church courtyard.
I woke up Monday with a sore throat, but didn't feel bad otherwise. I walked through Milan around one, stopped in for a while at the library, and then made it up the road to a school beyond Atwood to put up my tent for the night.
In the morning somebody outside my tent woke me up.
"Guy? You in there? You're on school property, guy. You know that, don't you?" Of course I know that, I think to myself. Pretty obvious.
"Oh, really?" I say. "I wasn't sure, exactly. I just saw a place to put up my tent."
"'s about to start."
"Oh. Sorry. I'll try and get out of here as quick as I can."
He walks off, and I get up, and I'm feeling pretty sick. My sore throat has turned into a swollen throat, and my head hurts, and I'm a bit woozy. It doesn't help that the sun isn't up yet and there's frost all over my stuff, and it's freezing cold as I pack up.
I make a few miles to the town of McLemoresville and stumble inside a gas station and sit for a few hours watching the morning news and 'The View,' then start to feel a little better and start walking again. I move slow, for the next eight miles or so. Don't do more than a mile or two before having to sit down and take a rest, but I get to Huntingdon, eventually.
Curled up, trying to get warm in the sun next to the Wal-Mart, a cop shows up and says lots of people think I'm drunk or 'having a spell' and he makes me get up and leave.
I walk to the police station to see if there's a park or something where I can set up my tent for the night. The two ladies there aren't sure what to do with me, and finally decide to drive me out to a park that's three or four miles out of town, where they seem to think I'll be out of the way. It's only five oclock, and I'd much rather sit in a warm McDonalds for a few hours than go straight to the park, but I don't have much choice.
One of the ladies puts me in a cop car and takes me out beyond town. The park sits right across from the Civic Center, but I don't know why either one is so far away from the rest of town.
She lets me out and I sit down, feeling sorry for myself, under a picnic shelter. Before long I come under assault from a squirrel, high in the pecan tree that leans over the pavillion. He takes a bite out of a pecan, then drops it and it falls for thirty feet before crashing on the metal roof above my head, and it drives me crazy.
I go out and look up and curse at the squirrel but he doesn't seem to be afraid of the vile death I plan for him, because he keeps going at it, high in the tree.
About this time I see that across the street people are parking outside the Civic Center and a lot of them are going inside. I figure that maybe there's a play going on, or something, and I decide to investigate because it sounds warm.
Turns out they're just training election officials, and I sit on a balcony overlooking the meeting, and try to sleep, but my head is really hurting.
After a couple of hours, as they're all getting ready to go, I've decided that I'm not going back out into the cold, tonight, if I can help it. I form a little plan in my aching head.
When the meeting officially comes to a close, I pick up my things and head for the bathroom, then sit in a stall, with my pack on, and hold my feet up. After maybe twenty minutes, everybody seems to have left but the janitor, who whistles, as janitors like to, as he sweeps the floors. Eventually he makes his way to the bathroom.
I hold my breath for a good minute while he runs water in the sink and walks back and forth in front of my stall. I'm sure that he's going to try and open the door, at some point, and find me. But he doesn't. Eventually he just turns out the lights and fairly quickly I can't hear his whistling anymore.
I sit in pitch black for another half an hour, to make sure, and then slowly stand up, stiff, and stumble in the dark out of the stall. I carefully take off my pack, still in the bathroom, search with my fingers for my headlamp, then turn it on so that I can see. Feeling like a bank robber, I open the door to the bathroom cautiously, then creep out and look around the building. There's a light on at the far end of the main room, and I freeze and put a hand on my headlamp, but nothing moves. After a while I decide it's permanently on, so I walk over to a spot near the kitchen, and unstrap my pad, and unroll my sleeping bag on the floor.
I sleep well.
In the morning, around seven forty five, somebody opens the back door, while I'm still sleeping twenty feet away, in plain sight.
An older man starts scooping out ice from the freezer, and only turns on one light, that doesn't quite reach me, and I cross my fingers. He gets a bag of ice, then walks back out the door and I practically sing.
But he comes back. And this time he quickly turns on a bunch of lights. He starts to walk toward the other end of the main room and looks right at me. And keeps walking. He doesn't say anything.
I'm really confused. He had to have seen me and yet he didn't so much as blink. Maybe he's blind, I tell myself, holding my breath, but it's a long shot.
After five minutes of walking around, the man comes back and starts messing with the ice again. By this point I'm up, stuffing my sleeping bag and packing my things. He finally acknowledges me by nodding my way, as if we're friends and I sleep here all the time. Then, a few moments later, almost as an afterthought, he says "Hey. What are you doing here, anyway?" He says it without the slightest touch of concern. I gulp. "Long story."
I quickly get to my feet, walk slowly toward him and give my explanation. A long tirade about not being homeless, no, and not being destitute, no, and being sick, yes, and not wanting to sleep in the cold, and such.
He shrugs it all off. "Mike know you're here?" I shake my head. "How'd you get in?"
"There were people here when I came in."
"The flea market?"
"Not sure what it was."
"Huh." He strokes his chin, thinking. "You need a ride somewhere?"
I say that McDonalds would be nice.
He puts me in his truck, with another couple bags of ice, and takes me back into town.

Turns out the guy is a friend of the manager, but has no role with the Civic Center, himself, except that when he's going fishing he stops by to get ice. He tells me that he probably won't even mention me sleeping in the Center to Mike - his friend the manager - and explains.
"Doesn't seem like a big deal. You were cold. Came inside. No harm done. The world would be a lot better if people were just nice to each other. So just remember that I helped you out a little, and the next time somebody's down, why you just give them a hand, yourself.'
I sit in McDonalds, with a cup of coffee, and ponder the ways of the world.

I'm feeling a lot better now. I spent the rest of yesterday primarily at the Huntingdon library, and then walked a few miles before putting up my tent in a field.
Today I woke up feeling almost normal, so I'm hoping that I just caught a touch of something, and that I'm already on the back end of it. Today I've walked from Rosser to Camden, and might make a few more miles by evening, but I'm not sure.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kennett Again

I've been here a full week, now, though not quite all the way straight through. My grandparents have been doing everything short of stuffing food down my throat, and I've heard enough stories, sitting on the couch, to last me for a long time. Saturday my grandpa took me to a cotton gin, and both Sunday and Wednesday I accompanied them to church. Though I'm staying fairly occupied, I'm ready to head out fully.
Also have read several books since I've been here, including 'The Long Walk' and 'Endurance.' They're both incredible stories of people surviving against horrific odds, and continue to remind me that nothing I'm facing on the road is much to bear, in the long run.
Yesterday I got up early and ate a little breakfast, before packing up a small bag and heading out toward Hayti. It wasn't raining hard when I left - a little before eight - but picked up fairly quickly, and I spent the next five hours without much of a break in the rain, nor in my stride. In the roughly eighteen miles from the house to a gas station in Hayti I didn't so much stop to take a drink, and jogged quite a bit. This can be attributed in part to the fact that I left the main pack in Kennett.
I'm getting close to the Mississippi, now, and the only places to cross around here are interstate bridges, which are illegal to walk on, so my grandpa planned to take me across, today. My grandparents didn't want me staying in either Hayti or Caruthersville, as they're in a rough state after a big tornado not too long ago, and so I had planned to walk into Caruthersville yesterday, and then my grandpa would pick me up and take me back to Kennett for the night, and then take me across the river, today. But after my eighteen mile stretch jogging in the cold rain, when I got up to go after sitting in a gas station for an hour, my hip flexer was paining me badly, and I didn't limp more than two blocks before having to pull over and call grandpa, early.
When I got home I took the best shower of my life, having been soaked and frozen.
I'm feeling pretty good, today, but definitely don't want to push it, and my grandpa has come down sick, now, as well, so I'm staying at least an extra day in Kennett. I'm planning to leave tomorrow, but I don't know, for sure.

These native serfs all stuck down
in the Kansas clay.
Their rusted heads turned to the
sky to hear my quandry, there.

And behind, coming of the fog,
the iron soldiers marching in their
somber rows.

And the wind - the misting wind -
the unjust
tax collector of the air.

Who can think to claim it -
this battle under birthing fog?
Who seeks to call, from servitude, my prose?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I didn't leave Mountain Grove until 6 in the evening. I treated myself to a Chinese buffet and sat for several hours making the most of it. And reading another Grisham book, too, which is now covered in Chinese doughnut sticky fingerprints. After my initial qualms about leaving books behind after finishing them, lately I've actually taken some pride in finding interesting spots to sneak them out of my backpack. If someone were following me they could find an interesting trail of used paperbacks, smugly tucked in with laundromat romance novels and hidden away with old bibles in Baptist churches. Ah, the spread of literature.
I made it most of the way to Cabool before it started getting too dark and cold, and then staked up my tent under some limestone shelves and crawled in for the night.
In the morning I made it into Cabool and did a little load of laundry before getting back on the highway. The weather stayed cool and dry through the day, and I made time through Willow Springs and put in some long hours to get to Mountain View for the night.
Sunday I woke up behind a Baptist church and spent half an hour cleaning up and shaving before early service at 8:30. Afterwards I met Larry Price, a young adult bible study teacher, and he led me upstairs to his classroom.
When the session ended, I found an old piano to play during late service, and then met up with Larry again afterward. The youth group put on a potato bar after the service let out, and I got a good meal in before Larry waved me off.
Not leaving until around 1, I didn't get a long way on the day, and stopped for the night at the little town of Birch Tree. It rained through the night but I stayed dry under an awning in front of the life insurance office.
Monday I started out early and made it through Winona before it started to rain, again. Through most of the afternoon the showers persisted, and I ate a cold supper under my poncho. I got close to Van Buren before turning in for the night at a little roadside park just west of town. I stayed dry, if not entirely warm, through the night.
Tuesday the rain came early. I stocked up in Van Buren, and wanted to sit around for a while but didn't let myself. The oak forests were cold and dark through the morning, the hills wet and dreary, but by early afternoon the clouds blew away.
Missouri, as far as I've seen, doesn't have milemarkers like the rest of the states I've come through, so it's harder to judge the distances I'm making. My official highway maps haven't been very accurate in the past, so I'm reluctant to go by them, and though I have a pedometer, my stride length doesn't want to stay the same for very long, so it, too, isn't perfect. But I've definitely been putting in some long days.
I ended up in Elsinore, for the night, and saw plenty of stars with the clouds blown away.
Wednesday I worked my way through good weather, and made it into Poplar Bluff by 5. I ate spaghetti at the smoker's retreat outside the Kroger store, and then tried to find a movie theater. Before I did, though, a man in a pickup truck pulled over to see if I wanted a ride, and said he knew where the theater was, and that it was a long ways out of town. I hopped in the back of his truck and he drove me a couple of miles down the road before letting me out at the theater.
"Young man," he called as I got out, "I don't know what your standing with the Master is, but you're going to be in my prayers. Have you had supper?" I say that I have. "Want some cookies, at least?" He fills me up with some, before I head inside and catch the last showing.
Even when I was back home I used to go to the movies by myself. Not always, sometimes with a date or a couple of friends, but more often than not. It's peaceful. And it's a good way to clear my thoughts. I get bogged down by the idea of the walk, at times. I get down when I think about all the miles I still have to make before Florida, before the ocean, and two hours with a different plot can make all the difference.
After the movie I walked back up the highway for a ways, before stumbling on another Baptist church, and I rolled out my sleeping bag in a picnic shelter, out back. I played some wispy harmonica before my eyes got too heavy.
The rain came back during the night. Came back hard and thick, and pounded the thin, metal roof of the shelter. The wind picked up, after a while, and started blowing sheets of rain into the shelter and rivulets started creeping toward me, so I picked up and ended up sleeping on top of a picnic table, with my things, while the water filled up the concrete blocks below.
In the morning the clouds hung around for a while but the wind and rain were all but gone. I got a cup of coffee in a McDonald's, then started on my way, on highway 53, out of town.
What the map said was 26 miles later, I found the town of Campbell, and made my way to the City park for the night. No wind or rain, but it was getting pretty cold by the time I turned in.
Yesterday I walked from Campbell down through Holcomb, and then into Kennett around 5. My grandpa found me at a stoplight, and gave me a ride the rest of the way into town, to my grandparents' house.
I got a shower in, just after arriving, and then ate supper before making a few calls to let people know that I'd made it this far.
Today, after dinner (southern dinner, noon) grandpa took me out to a field on the edge of town and showed me how to pick cotton. The sides of the road are lined with white, blowing fields, here.
I'm looking forward to the next few days. I've made another little notch in my belt, and I'm happy to be with family, again. From the looks of things, I'm definitely not going to go hungry this week.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mountain Grove

I made it the rest of the way down to Bolivar for the night, after posting in Humansville. I heated soup, finished another John Grisham novel, and slept in a sheltered area behind the Southern Hills Baptist Church. In the morning, after packing up, I tried to sneak out as the parking lot filled up, but was spotted and motioned over to the church.
"You want some coffee?" they asked, and I didn't refuse. They brought me inside and halfway through my cup of coffee asked me to stay for service, and I agreed again. After taking a quick shave in the bathroom, I was walked upstairs to a bible study group and sat for an hour with them before heading back down for the actual service.
Pastor Gary Urich met me in the hall.
"Are you the traveler?" I nodded.
"Glad to have you here, this morning. Tell me about the group you're walking with." I do, and he offers that I can stand up and say something if I want to, and I accept.
I sit in the second row and he calls me up to the pulpit at the start of the service to say a little bit about Soles 4 Souls and about the walk.
When the service is over Pastor Urich finds me again.
"I think I'd like to take you out to dinner," he says. After seeing everybody off, he and his wife, Connie, take me out to eat at a Mexican restaurant down the street. As we eat, they invite me to stay the day in town, and tell me they'd be glad to put me up for the night at their house. I agree to take the day off, and after lunch Connie drives me to the library at the local university, and after a couple of hours I walk back to the church, and play the piano for a few hours before the evening service.
We watch a movie for most of the evening, 'Rediscovering God in America.' Once everyone shuffles out and they lock up, Gary and Connie drive over to the Dairy Queen and treat me to ice cream before taking me back to their house.
In the morning, a shower and a night in a bed in me, I'm fed again, and Gary drives me back down to the edge of town, on the highway, where I start walking.
I decided to head around Springfield, and so veered off on highway 32 for the day, and walked to the town of Buffalo. The weather turned rainy, again, and I rolled out the sleeping bag in a baseball dugout, and stayed dry.
In the morning I headed south on highway 65. The clouds came and went, and it drizzled most of the day, but didn't pour until the evening, just after I reached the town of Strafford. I sat for several hours in a gas station and listened to a fuzzy presidential debate on my mp3 player's timid radio.
I set up camp for the night under an old gas station's roof, and listened to it rain as I drifted off.
Wednesday I continued south on highway 125, met highway 60 running east and followed it all the way into the town of Seymour. I slept in the porch way of a thrift store that isn't open on Thursdays.
Yesterday I walked through the towns of Mansfield, Macomb, and Norwood, and didn't stop until just short of Mountain Grove, where I put up my tent in a little field. The weather has been nicer for the last two days, and it's sunny now.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


I left Lee's Summit Tuesday morning, with cool, clear skies, lots of rest, and a backpack weighed down with Barbara's cookies.
By late evening I made it to Harrisonville, following Highway 291, and spent an hour losing at solitaire in the local Wendy's before finding a church to sleep behind. In the morning I started early, having been politely woken up by one of the church's pastors who had some ladies coming in to pray, and I headed back to the Wendy's to get a little breakfast, then started south out of town and shortly met up with Highway 7, heading east.
Through the day I made a lot of stops, but still managed to make decent time. I ate lunch in Garden City, dinner in Creighton, and stopped for the night just before ten oclock in the little town of Urich. The nights are definitely cooling off, now, and for the first time in months I put on under armor before crawling into my tent, set up in a little park.
Thursday I woke up early, again, and shook dew off of the tent before packing up. I walked twelve miles without taking a break, and made it into Clinton around two in the afternoon. After sitting around at the library for a few hours and heating up soup outside, I started out of town around five in the evening.
The eight miles to Deepwater had me sad. I crossed the two upper arms of Truman Lake with the tired sun glinting off the water and herons sitting quietly on the shores. There are hundreds of dead trees, standing cold and naked in the water, and I watched them almost pityingly. How must it feel to watch the water rise up and circle around you, and not be able to flee, but be tied to the earth? To lose your leaves and your limbs and die slowly, in the water? Sad and probably useless thoughts.
I reached the town called Deepwater just as the last light was sucked away. Spotted a picnic shelter from the road and rolled out on the concrete. Listened to some African drummers on NPR and slowly drifted off to sleep.
Friday I woke up late. The sun had already burned off the early chill and I walked quickly through the low hills and the chickering woods. In Lowry City I ate donuts and drank apple juice, and then walked to Osceola before four oclock. After another pot of soup I started out again and made it all the way to Collins by nine. Called my parents before finding a place to sleep.
It rained, off and on through the night and morning. I woke up wet and cold and was glad when the sun burned through the clouds and a low fog came up in the woods. I'm in Humansville, now, and it's sunny, and I'm hoping to be in Bolivar by evening.
My feet are doing well, for the most part. My arches pretty much constantly ache and I feel stone bruised off and on, but I'm managing to stay barefoot somewhere around seventy percent of the time.