Monday, November 24, 2008

Barnesville (Forsyth)

After posting from the library in Calhoun I started walking again, and made it into Adairsville by early evening. The forecast was for cold, for lots of cold, and I was weighing my options for the night over dinner in McDonald's when I met Gunnar. He sat at a table, with Annika, his daughter, and noticed my pack.
"You're traveling?"
"Yep." We talk about the trip for a few minutes.
"You seem like an honest guy, am I right? Well, I've got a house here in town that nobody's staying in for the time being. If you'd like you can stay there tonight. Supposed to be getting cold, you know."
He and his daughter leave for a few minutes to switch cars, and when they come back I meet Ruby, the wife and mom. When I finish eating I climb in their car and they take me along to visit the group home where another daughter lives, and then on to their house a few miles outside of town. I shower and clean up, and then go with Gunnar, Annika, and Cassia, a third daughter, to the local Kingdom Hall for their Tuesday evening service.
Afterwards Gunnar drops me off at the house in town. He's recently been fixing it up and now it's on the market, so I have the place to myself for the night. The world provides, as they say.
In the morning I pack up and get some breakfast in town before starting to walk. The sun comes out early and the day warms quickly out of the teens that set in overnight.
Around noon, as I'm sitting down by the side of the road, a post office vehicle pulls over and a lady offers a sandwich and some candy. I've got plenty of food but I take the chocolate and she wishes me well.
By late afternoon I make it into Cartersville, and don't go more than a mile or two beyond town before setting up for the night. It gets dark incredibly early, anymore, and the cold sets in quickly once the sun is gone, so I lie in my tent and read by headlamp until I fall asleep.
Thursday I walked from the edge of Cartersville down through the towns of Emerson and Acworth and Kennesaw into Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, where Soles 4 Souls had made a reservation for me at a hotel for the next two nights.
In the morning David Graben, from S4S, picked me up at the hotel. His daughter Megan had the day off and had come down with him, and the three of us drove to OKAb shoes. OKAb just made a donation of over 40,000 shoes, and then another 10,000 in my name, and so we stopped in for a thank you. We were given a tour of the company, and a Fox News van came to get the story.
After OKAb, David, Megan and I drove to a foster children warehouse, where we unloaded a truckful of shoes. It continues to amaze me to discover all of the people and places who help put shoes on peoples' feet. The need is enormous, though I had no real idea when I first found S4S online.

The idea for the walk began to take serious form last fall. Sometime, probably October or November, I was messing around in my Desktop Publishing class and ran across the S4S logo. It quickly became obvious that their mission and mine could intertwine, and so I sent an email to the info line on the S4S website.
David was the one who the email was referred to, and he and Chris Carmichael had a little bit of dialogue with me through further emails. It's interesting to hear the story from David's perspective, now.
"We weren't sure what to make of you," he tells me. "One day I got an email from a kid who said he was planning a walk across the country, barefoot. We kind of probed the idea, and didn't think much of it, and then suddenly you were walking."
David and Megan and Sparky (nickname) - the man who drove the truck of shoes down from Nashville - and I went out to lunch, and afterwards they dropped me off back at my hotel.
At which point Carol and Don called.
I met the Hamelines back in Nashville. The have S4S ties, and went along for the walk through town and the shoe distribution at the mission, and then lunch afterwards, and then went with Wayne and I to hear Tiffany sing that Saturday.
They've been in contact since, and came up to meet me in Atlanta. Saturday they picked me up as I checked out of the hotel and took me to the Georgia Aquarium. Afterwards we headed east, and they put me up for the night in the motor home, which they had parked at Stone Mountain, a campground/huge tourist attraction thing outside Atlanta.
Yesterday Don drove me down and got me back on highway 41, and I walked all day, then they picked me up again when it got dark and I stayed the night in the motor home again. Today was the same schedule, and it's safe to say that I've acquired a temporary support crew.
I've essentially been taken hostage by a couple of New Englanders with funny accents. They let me walk, but don't let me cook, sleep in the cold, lose at cards, or in any other way fend for myself. It's terrible. But you have to understand, it's hard to flee when I'm on foot and they have wheels. Anyway, if somebody asks for ransom money, you know who to blame.
Tonight it's raining heavily, and I'm warm and dry, and am more than thankful.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I didn't leave Manchester until afternoon, and walked through the evening to make it up MontEagle mountain into the town of MontEagle. Several people had warned me that it was a big climb, and that I was in for a rough time, but really it just seemed like a big hill.
As soon as I got into town it started raining, and I sat in the Waffle House for a while before grudgingly looking for a place to sleep. I camped behind the Regency Inn, and stayed fairly dry.
In the morning I woke up to thick fog, and all through the day it hung on the hills. Somewhere around noon a stray dog ran across the street just in front of a passing car to greet me. Some kind of Heeler mix. No collar. No tags. And anxious to follow me. We walked for close to a mile together, me scared to death because he kept running out in the road. 'Go home!' I'd yell, knowing that home probably didn't exist.
As we came over a little hill, from the corner of my eye I saw him run all the way to the other side of the road to investigate something. A few seconds later I met a car, coming over the hill, and heard a sickening crunch as it passed, behind me. I forced myself not to look, but to keep walking. I felt sick, and tried to tell myself that it was inevitable. That it wasn't my fault, and that the poor dog was never going to make it long.
By the time I finally couldn't help it anymore and looked back, the hill, and the sad scene, had been claimed by the fog, and I couldn't see anything.
That's how it works, out on the road. There is an overpowering sense that I have to keep moving, that I can't let myself get attached - not to a place, or a person, or anything else. Florida is the pendulum that swings back and forth in my eyes, and keeps me in an almost zombielike march.
As the sun went down the fog came in thicker. The headlights of passing cars crept slowly out of the dark, and mailboxes materialized like ghosts. I made it to Jasper, for the night, and slept in front of a Baptist church.
The fog had lifted in the morning, and I walked in good spirits out of town. I backed up traffic crossing the Tennessee River on a narrow bridge, and ate lunch at a little store in Guild. I walked until nine, and rolled out my bag at an old medical lab, just before Chattanooga.
Saturday I woke up to rain, and I made it into town wet and cold. I walked toward downtown, and spent a couple of hours at the library, then traversed the downtown shops for a while. When it started getting dark and cold I called Beata and Bill Mueller.
The Muellers are friends of Susan and Mark Lassman - Coaldalians, like myself - and put me up for the night in Chattanooga. I got a warm shower in, and a good meal, then slept out of the weather for a night.
In the morning Beata and Bill got me back on highway 41, into Georgia, and I made it to Dalton by late afternoon. A little car stopped alongside me as I approached town, and two ladies and a young man from a local church talked to me for a few minutes. They were out giving goody bags to 'Anybody that looks like they could use some sandwiches' and gave me two bags full of snacks.
I spent the night near downtown, behind a hotel.
Yesterday I didn't make it very far. I started early enough, but took a wrong turn, somehow, and wound up putting in eight or nine extra miles. I wound up where I wanted to be, but definitely took the scenic route, and I'm still not sure what I did wrong. I made it to Rescala, for the night, and slept on the porch of a local church.
This morning a man woke me at daybreak and invited me inside the church for coffee, and I was on my way in good time.
I'm in Calhoun, now. Still on Highway 41, and should be into Atlanta within a few days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Leaving Nashville everything felt a little different. As if all of my ideas about the trip, all of my motivations, all my joys and my worries, had been put in a different pot and shaken around, so that while they all still exist, they're now seen in a different line, and a different light.
I look back now onto certain places that I've been and certain focal points along the trip's timeline, and it seems like a different trip. Like something that happened years ago. I'm in a completely different place mentally than I was a couple of months ago.
In Nashville I was treated like a king. But I feel, more than ever, alone. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a kind of warm, solid way. As if my solitude, my time away from everyone that I know, has become a friend in itself. I don't know. It's odd, trying to describe how I'm feeling.

The first day out of Nashville I walked through the towns of La Verne and Smyrna, and everyone seemed to recognize me. One man pulled over and got a picture of his four or five year old with me, and told me how exited they were to see me. 'You don't know how cool he thinks you are,' the man said, pointing at the kid.
Walking through Murfreesboro, the next day, I ran into a couple of homeless people, who quickly tried to adopt me. They wanted me to follow them around to some shelters in the area where they said I could get a bed. 'Lady at the Room 'n Inn will put you up for a night,' a lady with no teeth was quick to offer. 'And if you promise to try and get a job they'll let you stay for a couple of weeks. But-' and here she gives me a wide grin '-she doesn't like it if you're keeping a bottle under the bed.' In truth, it felt good to know that I can still be mistaken for a hobo.
A few miles past Murfreesboro, a car pulled over a hundred yards up the road from me, and an old lady stepped out and set a McDonald's bag in the gravel. She glanced up nervously, then reached back inside the car and pulled out a fountain drink and set it down, too, before hopping back in the car. As the car passed, the driver, another old lady, waved. 'A little something to eat,' she called, and the car drove off. I sat down to have an unexpected lunch break, and a man on a bike rode up. 'You the guy who's walking across the country?' he asks. 'Saw you in the newspaper. Brought you some snacks, if you're interested.' He unstraps a backpack and pulls out some granola bars and fruit, along with a book. 'Thought you might want something to read, too.' He's actually from Colorado, he says, and we talk for a while. He offers me a place to stay for the night, but it's only noon, and I opt to keep walking.
The next morning, in the little town of Beech Grove, I wake up behind a Church of Christ and get some breakfast in a general store next door. Several locals sit at a table next to mine, and somebody recognizes me as I'm getting ready to go. A couple of the others remember seeing me on TV once they think about it.
A mile or two down the road a car pulls over with two of the people from the store inside. 'Can you take donations?' they ask, and a lady holds out a handful of bills.
Later in the day, as I'm nearing Manchester, another car pulls over, driven by Lynn Taylor, who works for the local newspaper. 'Somebody up at the Beech Grove store said you were headed this way,' she says.
In town, she takes pictures of me at the Veterans' Day gathering, and then treats me to lunch at the Greenleafe Inn. 'I know the owner, here,' Lynn says. 'Let me see if I can get you a room for the night.' She takes Rodney, her friend, in the kitchen and comes back smiling. 'You're staying out of the weather tonight.' She's gotten me dinner and breakfast, too.
As we're eating, a man from the local TV station is shooting film for an advertisement, and when he hears about me he wants to get the story. So I agree to another interview.
Yesterday afternoon the rain came in, and I sat in my hotel room, warm and dry. Today it's still raining, but I'll be heading out, shortly.

It's odd how things have worked out lately. Everything is so much easier in the east than it was in the west. It's hard to believe, now, that there was a time when I had to ration peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and when water seemed precious. Everyone tells me that I'm doing something special, but anymore I just feel like I'm on some kind of weird vacation.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Quick Note

I'm spending the morning at the Soles4Souls office, here in Nashville. Yesterday Wayne Elsey (S4S founder) and I walked with a group of local students to a mission and handed out shoes, and the story got picked up by a bunch of news organations. Anyway - long story short - mom and dad, get a copy of U.S.A. Today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I woke up Friday morning, Halloween, behind the Camden library. Found some breakfast and started walking in great weather. I walked slowly for a while, not making more than ten miles or so before stopping for a late lunch in New Johnsonville, just across the Tennessee River. By the time I reached the next little town of Denver, the oaks were already soaking up evening and, at a little church near the road, some small witches and zombies and iron men took a tractor ride while their mothers chatted and sorted out candy.
I made it into Waverly, as the night came down, and put up my tent in a little field next to the local Wal-Mart.
In the morning, as the thick dew dried in the sunlight, the store manager waved me over from the lawn and garden section.
"There's no way you slept in my field," he says, brightly. I don't say anything - just smile. "You can't have been very comfortable. They send trains by here all the time."
"Didn't hear a thing," I say.
"Well, I can't let you sleep there every night," he says. "You're not putting up residence, are you?"

I hike out of Waverly, and through the town of McEwan around noon, and walk well through the hills, the changing leaves, the pastures, into Dickson by evening. I see a Presbyterian church off the highway and decide to pull over. Normally I don't try doors, but I decide to give this one a shot and sure enough it's open, but just the outside one, letting me into a small entryway. I sleep in warmth, anyway.
Sunday I wake up to coffee, and Sunday School. I'm invited to stick around for the day, and a man from the church drives me to the library and his kids and I throw a football around until the doors open. Later on he takes me to his mother in law's house (she's out of town) so that I can shower and clean up for evening service.
I spend Sunday night on the youth group's couches, alone in the church, and Monday morning I'm fed breakfast before taking off.
I walk straight to White Bluff, and then buy a few groceries before taking a nap near the road. When I wake up it's already getting dark, which seems weird. But I've lost an hour, now, and the loss of Saving's Time cuts into my walking hours. I turn on the headlamp after a while and make it to Pegram, for the night, sleeping in front of the First Baptist Church.
Election day I sat in a gas station for an hour, watching all the candidates vote, and made it into the outer fringes of Nashville before finding myself a cheap hotel. It's the first time I've done so on the trip, and it feels odd - feels guilty - but it's wonderful to be able to watch my first election in a warm place, without worrying about where I'm going to sleep.
I stay up to see Mr. Obama's speech, then drift off, but leave the t.v. running all night, catching a few blurry details on and off.
Today I made it across the city to the hotel where I'm being put up by Soles4Souls while I'm here. Julie, from the organization, brought me a gift basket they've put together, and tonight I'm living it up.
In the morning I'll be going back into the main of town to walk with the founder of the organization, Wayne Elsey, to a mission in downtown, where I'm told we're going to be handing out shoes.