Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I'm sorry that this will be a partial list. There are a lot of names that I didn't think to write down, or that I'll miss when I'm looking through my journals.

To everyone who poured something in my cup.

The Gardiners - Tacoma, Washington
Debbie DeRose and Dan Reed Miller - Portland, Oregon
The Pedro Family - Maupin, Oregon
Rodeo Family - Spray, Oregon
The Dayville Presbyterian Church - Dayville, Oregon
Joyce and Family - Wilder, Oregon
Dee and Bill Pilcher - Caldwell, Idaho
Daryl Crandall - Murhpy, Idaho
Jerry Michael and Company - Paris, Idaho
Jim and Cyndee Slater - Rangely, Colorado
The Jouflas Family - Fruita/Grand Junction, Colorado
Tom McMurry - Crestone, Colorado
Tim and Jill - Colorado
The Kirtleys - Salida, Colorado
Great Aunt Gladys and Aunt Sandy - Salida, Colorado
The Parkers - Coaldale, Colorado
Eugene and Barbara - Coaldale, Colorado
Janet Pegg - Cotopaxi, Colorado
Uncle Randy and Grandma - Canon City, Colorado
The Flemings - Penrose, Colorado
Carlos and Friends - Lakin, Kansas
Danna and Bill Jones - Garden City, Kansas
Steve and Leah Hanson - Council Grove, Kansas
Uncle Lynn and Aunt Barbara - Lee's Summit, Missouri
Southern Hills Baptist/Gary and Connie Urich - Bolivar, Missouri
Grandpa and Grandma - Kennett, Missouri
Pastor Jim Davis - Kennett, Missouri
The Dickson Presbyterian Church - Dickson, Tennessee
David, Kevin, Julie, Chris, Kirk, Pattie, Aubree, Morgan, Kim, and the entire Soles4Souls team - Nashville, Tennessee
Tiffany Johnson - Nashville, Tennessee
Lynn Taylor - Manchester, Tennessee
Rodney Thompson and the Greenleaf Inn - Manchester, Tennessee
Bill and Beata Mueller - Chattanooga, Tennessee
Paige Sosebee - Dalton, Georgia
The Life Way Baptist Church - Rocky Face, Georgia
Gunnar and Family - Adairsville, Georgia
Mike King - Forsyth, Georgia
Randy and Terisa Jones - Eastman, Geogia
Kathy and Fran - Jacksonville, Florida


Wayne Elsey - CEO by day, Poor card player by night, Great man 24/7
The Hamelins - My new set of relatives and the best support crew ever
My entire family - on and off of the route, before, during, and after. Aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins, you were the backbone.

But most importantly:
My parents. The bread and butter of my being. Thank you for raising me to be who I am, for showing me the things in life that really matter. Thank you for helping me to dream my dreams.
You were, and are, my inspiration every step of the way. I love you very much.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Other Ocean

Yesterday morning, going downstairs for breakfast, I got a wonderful surprise. Don and Carol handed me a t-shirt that I'd left in Chattanooga and I had no idea how they ended up with it, and then my mom stepped out from around the corner.
My parents had discussed, quite a while ago, that they might come out for the end of the walk, and then we hadn't said anything else about it in a long time. But behind the scenes and away from my knowledge some phone calls were being made.
So when I walked the final mile, yesterday, I wasn't alone. My mom and I walked down through the oceanfront cottages, up the planked beach walk and onto the little stretch of dunes.

The ocean greeted me, welcomed me in and I walked in a daze out in the surf. Stood for a long time and stared out into the infinite. How strange that it felt so familiar. Like a pen pal, perhaps, who I'd written letters to for years and finally got to meet. And the other ocean was in my mind, also. The two of them seemed to exist, briefly, as one, and all of the miles in between seemed to disappear, and it was like I was standing in Washington, again, staring the other way.
I didn't have to camp in the dunes, at this ocean. Or didn't get to - I'm not sure which. And I wasn't alone, this time. But for a few seconds, with the water around my ankles and the sand shifting under my feet, the camera flashes and the small procession behind me evaporated, and I was, again, just an ordinary kid, trying to picture infinity and feeling small in the failure, a single pebble at the edge of eternity.

Holy cow. I'm done. Hallelujah. Ring the bells and sing a sing-song. Sing a sing-song all day long and show me them pearly whites. Optimism won, folks. Put up some points for hope.

Is it bittersweet? I don't know, yet. I don't think so, just sweet. But the transition probably won't be easy, getting back home. My dad called this morning and reported that there are nine inches of snow on the ground, at home. And it sounded wonderful, if a little odd.
Will I miss walking? Probably. Will I miss sleeping under bushes in the rain? Not a chance. Miss the people and their stories? Yep. The open sky, the white line, the pop-tart feasts, the hours of fuzzy radio, the backwoods churches? Hard to say.

Today we drove all over town for different events. We walked a little over a mile into downtown, where Soles 4 Souls was handing out shoes and we had a little awards ceremony, a final gathering. Said the goodbyes to some great people - to some great friends.
Tomorrow my mom and I are hanging around town, and Thursday we part ways again. She's flying home, and I'm getting, once again, on a train.

There is no great wisdom to be found at the end of the road. No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. How I change when I go back isn't known. What I take away isn't marked down in a book, isn't labeled and defined.
But I know that there is no country that I would rather have traveled. No nation I'd rather have felt beneath my feet. America is my home, and the people, from Washington to Colorado to Florida, are my brothers and my sisters, and this story isn't just about me. It's a story about us. About who we are and what we stand for. About the country we love. And if you shared your home with me, shared your stories with me, and poured some of your cup into mine, then this story is yours, too.
But we have to take care of each other. Have to remember, sometimes, that the boat is bigger than the street we live on. And if there's anything that comes from what I've done, I hope that it's a willingness to reach out, for someone to open themselves up and take a stranger's hand, to look at the world with a little more faith in fellow man. People are good. Believe in that.

You'll hear from me once more, I think, when I'm home. I'll try to tie up some loose ends.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


When I left the ocean, in Washington, I had forty miles planned out on the map. The other 3380 were figured out along the way. And I didn't even decide that Jacksonville was the final destination until I got into Tennessee, if I remember correctly.
But Florida was always the end goal, the distant lollipop on the big stick. The ocean was, and still is, the true end, but Florida was the name that I kept polishing in my head. And it's amazing to me how something that was for so long only ethereal, has become real. Has suddenly become a solid thing, under my feet.

I didn't ever really question that I would get to Florida. Out of pride, I knew that I'd force myself, because I'm the kind of person who wouldn't let myself go home to friends and family unless I'd made it. I don't mean to say that I have to finish everything I start - because that would draw some major jeers from the peanut gallery - but mean, instead, that I needed to do this thing, in particular. That this trip, this one great notion of mine, needed to be finished.
But there was a nagging feeling, nonetheless, that Florida might not be there, when I needed it. As if it could have been some elaborate joke I'd let myself believe in, some childhood fantasy that wouldn't - that couldn't - come true.

Three days ago I crossed a river, and stood on holy ground. The moment came quickly. Though the line between states is always drawn brightly, this boundary, from Georgia, seemed clearer. There was no period of transition.

There are moments, for all of us, when life changes quickly, changes almost instantly and without warning. The 'Where were you when JFK was shot' syndrome. A particular time in our lives when we realize that in a single moment, everything changes.
But in the long run, these moments are few. Both truth and the change it instigates are dealt to us in small doses, on the norm. And though, in my story, Florida seemed to come quickly, it was obviously something planned, something expected. Something that wasn't based on one life changing event but seven months worth of trial.

I arrived in Jacksonville yesterday. Checked into my hotel and settled in for the night. Wayne is here, and so are Don and Carol and their daughter Kathy and her husband Fran, and others arrive bit by bit. The stories are building, still, but now there's only one thing that I can concentrate on.

Tomorrow I finish the walk. Find out if the ocean is really where it's supposed to be and stick my feet in the water. Mileage wise I'm essentially done already; catharsis wise I'm a thousand miles away.

A while ago I got a comment on one of my blogs that I didn't know what to think of, or how to respond to. The comment, if you want to look it up and read it entirely, came in October's 'Kennett Again' post, and I take a small quote from it here:
"I do not support any particular group but I would say that if when your done your trek, you might turn around and support, say, UNICEF or even the Salvation Army. These people are taking down the tree at the roots and not just one branch at a time."

If there's one thing that I've learned from the walk, it's that pessimism ain't good for nothing. It's true, yes, that for every child we give shoes to, there's another who needs a coat. And another who needs a meal. But that's no way to look at the world. Look at the world through that perspective and you'll drown.
We do what we can. Take up our plastic shovels and help move the mountain. We can't change the world all at once. Can't take on the whole tree. We do, indeed, have to change the world one branch at a time. One step at a time. And as they say at Soles4Souls, one pair at a time.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Tuesday was the last night I spent in the Hamelin's motor home. I walked, on the day, from just above Barnesville to Smarr, five or six miles below Forsyth, and then Don and Carol picked me up for the night and drove me back to the Forsyth KOA. We said goodbyes Wednesday morning, and they dropped me off where I'd stopped the previous night. I walked into and through Macon, on the day, and put up my tent in a little field on the east side of town.
Thanksgiving I treated myself to a good breakfast after packing my things, and then called my parents. I didn't start walking until after noon, and had a long way to go.
Throughout the day as I walked I passed families playing football in the yard, young kids bouncing on trampolines with cousins. They waved at me as I passed and I waved back, lonely. I walked twenty eight miles on the day, and rolled out my sleeping bag in front of a Baptist church. Ate some pop-tarts and thought about things.
Fifteen hundred miles from home. Fifteen hundred miles from my friends and family. No turkey. No cranberry sauce. No pecan pie.
I opened my journal - the first of several, where I keep track of all the places I've slept - and looked back over the trip.
A month ago I came down sick and hid in a Civic Center in Huntingdon, TN. Two months ago I was in Lee's Summit, at my uncle's. Three months ago I spent my last night in Colorado, and four months ago I was at home, taking my reprieve. Five months ago I slept in a ditch in Wyoming. Six months ago I stayed in a Presbyterian church in Dayville, Oregon. And seven months ago, on the twenty-seventh of April, I climbed on a train.
They say that no man is an island. That nobody exists as a single being, that we're all connected. And I don't think that there's a truer thought.
I think back to something we did once in a Biology class of mine, several years ago, when I was still in Cotopaxi. We all had a cup of water and one of the cups started out with some sort of solution and the others were all just water, and several times we'd pour water into someone else's cup, and they into ours, and at the end another chemical was added to every body's cup, and all the cups who had a little bit of the original solution glowed green. The project was about the spread of AIDs, so it's probably a terrible example, but it stuck with me, and I think of it now.
I think that every time we open ourselves up to a stranger, that we take a chance beyond stereotypes, beyond pessimisms and paranoias, we pour a little bit of our cup into that stranger's. And that if that stranger opens back up, and we listen, then we get a little bit of their cup, in ours.
What I'm trying to say is that I've met a lot of people. Every day I meet people and I tell my story. Every day I hear the stories of others. And every day I feel like my cup gets a little extra color.
I climbed on the train, seven months ago, with three hundred dollars in the bank. With the first forty miles mapped out and the rest up in the air. I had no idea what I was doing. And yet now I'm only a hundred and thirty miles from the other ocean.
I think back to something Wayne told me, in Nashville. He said - and I wish I could remember the exact words - something about how people are too apt to sit beyond their walls and point fingers, and judge others from their places of sanctitude, without taking time to find out the true story. And I know that in large part, it's true. We find niches in our lives. Find a job that pays the bills and a circle of friends to drink beer with. Maybe a church that shares our views. And it's easy, sometimes far too easy, to sit in our corners and watch the world swirl without us. To watch the news every evening for stories of war and murder and sex scandals. To build up our paranoias like Lincoln Log justifications.
But if there weren't exceptions, I wouldn't be where I am. If nobody had ever turned the car around to hand a five dollar bill out the window and if no one had ever let me sleep on their couch and if no one had ever honked and waved and given a thumbs up I wouldn't have made it this far. I wouldn't have made it to Oregon.
I don't know if a single pebble can change the course of a river. Haven't figured that one out, yet. But I'm not a single pebble. Nobody is. Because we are the people we meet. We are the sunsets that we see. We are the stories that we hear.
And sitting in the cold, 1500 miles from home on Thanksgiving, that was the thought that kept me warm.
Here's a toast to sharing cups. A toast to pouring some of ourselves into the world.