Belpre to Old Man’s Cave

My first day in Ohio was filled with massive clouds in the sky accompanied by a chilly wind. My feet were experiencing strange sensations from my new shoes. After walking only three miles I’d have to stop and rest. My toes on my right foot were experiencing a burning, tingling numbness and occasionally would send pain up the side of my leg. The only thing I could think of that would be causing that would be my feet adjusting to the new shoes. I took frequent rests and allowed myself to take my time. My first interaction with anyone was with two guys in a truck. As they drove by they slowed and asked if I was “hiking that trail?” and proceeded to offer me pizza. Pizza sounded pretty darn good so I said “Yea!” They pulled over on the side of the street and as I approached the truck I see pizza crust flinging out the window. “Uh, is this some kind of sick joke?” I thought. Thankfully it wasn’t and when I neared the window I saw a pizza box filled with four greasy pepperoni slices. I took one and started eating it. Between telling them my story and my hands being numbed by the cold wind, the pizza disappeared slowly. They told me I could have the rest of it and although I didn’t want to take all their pizza they told me they were just going to throw it away. I couldn’t have that. We came up with the innovative pizza sandwich to make my eating more efficient and they kindly waited on the side of the road with me. They didn’t want me to look strange eating and walking with a box of pizza. The funny part was while they sat, parked, on the side of the road people kept stopping to ask if they were okay or if they needed any help, including a police officer. On the other hand, these very same people disregarded me as I walked along the road.

The man that let me camp in his yard came out to check that I survived the below freezing night. He brought me hot tea and sat with me in the frigid weather while I finished my breakfast, my concoction of oatmeal. He saw me putting away my uncleaned pot and offered to wash it WITH soap. Then, he asked if I wanted to come inside to warm up next to his wood burning stove. Heck yea! So, instead of taking off and walking immediately, I talked with him and learned about his life. He did warn me about the coming area. “I’m not racist but it has a high mulatto population.” I’d never heard anyone use the term “mulatto” before but I could guess. I appreciated his warning and concern but I now held a preconceived idea of the area and was a bit nervous. Once the weather slightly warmed, I was off walking again. I had the same problem with my feet as I did the day before but this time I thought outside the box. I removed the insoles in both shoes and felt instant relief. To my understanding, the insoles may have been troubling my already high arches or taking up too much room in the shoe. Either way, I was grateful for the relief. As the day went by, I started up a hill a few miles outside the town I was warned about, Chesterhill, and saw a truck sitting at the top of the hill with a man in it. As I’m about halfway up the hill, the truck started down the hill and the man waves rather excitedly to me as he passes. I did my normal friendly wave back and about a minute later the truck reversed to talk to me. “You’re cute, what are you doing?” Between his strange driving, my warning about mulattoes, and the first words that came out of his mouth, I was annoyed and defensive. “I know you have a man, where he at?” he asked with a wink. I agreed with him and told him, “He’s around,” as I waited for the first break in questions. As soon as it came, I told him to “Have a good day,” and started walking before he could respond. I needed to find a place to sleep for the night but I was hesitant to knock on anyone’s door. Instead, I found a wooded area hidden from the road. As I sat in the woods, watching the woods and surveying the environment around me, I saw a herd of deer. I watched them graze peacefully until I heard a hunter’s deer call across the woods. Suddenly, I was filled with more unsettling thoughts. “Am I in the crossfire?” “Am I going to see a deer shot in front of me?” “What if the hunters discover I’m here alone?” The fear of getting shot outweighed the fear of being discovered so I set up my tent with the bright yellow rain tarp. The deer disappeared and I made dinner while the deer call continued into the night.

I got an early start to the day because I had to make it to the post office in town to pick up a gear package and then have enough time to mail a package out. It was dreary and rainy so I skipped breakfast and snacked on a granola bar. When I neared town, I met a woman, Krystal, on her morning walk. We talked a bit before she offered to walk back into town with me and show me where the post office and her house were. She wanted me to join her family for breakfast. I informed her that I would love to but I needed to pick up my package first. I thought about the mystery of chance as I picked up my package. On the one day I skipped breakfast, I met a woman who wanted to make breakfast for me in a town I was warned about (once I got into town the “mulatto” population was nonexistent). After I got my package, I met Krystal’s husband and her two little boys at their home. When breakfast was finished they were kind enough to offer me a place to stay for the night. The rain continued and appeared to make no effort to stop so I accepted their offer. I got the opportunity to learn about the Mennonite faith and to talk about my own faith in God. This was the first time I confidently told someone that I believed in God. In the evening, I went with Krystal and her family to an Amish farm to get eggs. I was excited to see an Amish farm and then to actually talk with them. They too were eager to learn about my walk across the country and before I left they gave me cookies for the road. I wondered though, how would they view one of their own daughters doing the same journey and would they be supportive?

Why do we do the things we do? I left Krystal and her family to walk in the rain. They had offered me to stay another night but I felt compelled to make progress despite the stormy weather. All was well until I noticed my phone stopped working. The screen had gotten damp in one of my saturated pockets and the screen consistently went blank. I sat down on the side of the road and looked at my trail directions, I’d missed a turn. Should I keep going straight or backtrack? I was now operating blind. In an effort to find shelter and resuscitate my phone, I backtracked to the nearest house which happened to have a cabin to rent out. I rented the cabin for a night and became panicked when I realized the severe consequences of my phone being out of commission. Should I get a ride into town? Where was the nearest cell phone repair store? Do I backtrack or go forward? If my phone didn’t revive itself, it was a game changer. The cabin I rented was cozy and heated yet lacked electricity. As night fell and the thunderstorm began, I sat in the darkness wondering “Why?” I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why I left a loving family and ventured into the rain. I didn’t understand why my phone got damaged. I was afraid of losing communication with the outside world and I feared being alone. So, I sat in the darkness and asked, sobbing, “What am I suppose to do?” Suddenly, I had no direction.

After sheltering for a day and having my phone dry out, I started walking again. I had to walk the trails through the Burr Oak’s State Park and I worried about flooding. I approached one of the dirt trails and stared at the river of water. Was that the trail or a stream? I scoured the trees looking for the blue blazes that marked my path. Yep, they led me directly into the water. My determined spirit maneuvered carefully in the mud around the stream. I hoped the trail would gain elevation and escape from the water. I aimed for tiny patches of grass, trying to find solid ground beneath me, but only found quicksand-like mud. Twenty feet in on the “trail” and I saw the overflown river on my left and a newly formed marsh in front of me. My feet were soaked from unsuccessful attempts to continue. I knew my approach wasn’t going to work so I turned back. I had to reroute. Ironically, by rerouting, I decreased my mileage to my given destination, Murray City. The gravel roads resembled giant mud pits and I fought my way to dry ground. As I fought my way uphill a strange sunny, above freezing snow flurry started. I didn’t know what to think of the weather but continued to fight my way to Murray City. Once there, the general store I’d been hoping to resupply in was nonexistent so I meandered into the post office to find warmth. As I stood there, a man came in to mail a letter and I asked him if there was anywhere I could set my tent up. He didn’t hesitate to offer his lawn but I wanted to try to find warm shelter. The temperature was going to drop into the teens and I had no business sleeping outside with a twenty degree sleeping bag. I walked across the street to an American Legion. It was getting dark so when I gained permission to set up my tent on their property I did so quickly and then sheltered inside the building for warmth. I ate three sloppy joes and a chicken salad sandwich with french fries. While there, I talked with the locals and shared my story while listening to theirs. Everyone wanted to help me but most everyone disapproved of the journey. Eventually, a woman, Cheryl, offered me her couch. I was incredibly grateful and rushed outside to pack my tent up, now covered in snow.

Before I left Cheryl’s, I weighed my new pack for the first time: 35lbs! I decided to walk directly to Logan instead of taking three days to get there, thus going further rogue on the ADT in Ohio. Half way through the day, I found out that two people, Jamie and Jenny, I met in Texas at an REI Garage Sale (outdoor store having an awesome sale on used products) lived near Logan and would be able to pick me up that night! Talk about a small world! When I finally had wifi, I saw a facebook post from a woman saying that she was going to greet me with hot chocolate and blue berry muffins that morning but saw my tent was gone. It broke my heart reading that. I love meeting people and learning about their life and I felt she was robbed of that due to a miscommunication. I wasn’t gone, I had just been moved to the warmth of a couch. When I got into Logan, I plopped onto a picnic table, feet swollen, and waited for Jamie to pick me up. I was welcomed with such warmth and excitement! When we got back to her place I decided to take a full fledged bath. It must’ve been years since I prepared bath water for myself, my go-to is a shower, and I went all out and dumped epsom salt in there too. My body hurt. I breathed deeply as the warm water encompassed my body and I just laid there. I stared at the tiles on the bathroom wall and allowed my body to relax. The warm water was welcomed after a day of being exposed to the cold yet breathing in the warm air was creating a sense of anxiety. It felt heavy to breath so after a short while I exited and exposed my body once again to the cool air. I put on sweats that Jamie let me borrow and for the first time in a while, I felt like a normal person.

The forecasted weather was a beautiful, sunny day amidst a week of rain. I decided to take advantage of the day by having Jamie drop me off and hike with me through Hocking Hills State Park. She would hike with me to see “Old Man’s Cave” but before that we both had to pee. I was excited to have a state park public bathroom to use but when I walked into the door it was locked. I was disappointed but I still had to pee. I decided that I’d go next to the trail but had to try my luck at finding a time window where other people wouldn’t discover me. Finally my window came and when I returned to where Jamie was we both watched a man walk out of the women’s bathroom. We stared at each other and she started cracking up, “I bet it is unlocked now, they must’ve just finished cleaning it.” She giggled and ran to try the now unlocked door and laughed at me as she went to relieve herself . My pee luck is terrible. Now, with bladders empty, followed the trail to Old Man’s Cave. Icicles hung from the ledges above and rock cliffs surrounded us. This was what my soul needed. I couldn’t help but see potential climbing routes along the cliffs as we followed the trail. Some how we went from one trail head to another without seeing Old Man’s Cave. That was until we realized we were already there. Jamie’s quote of the day was “Sometimes the destination is within the journey.” It was time for Jamie to leave me in the middle of the woods. It was amazing spending time with her and Jenny because their enthusiasm for life was contagious and I now was able to take some of that enthusiasm with me. I went on to visit Ash Cave where I met a woman from Switzerland hiking barefoot! I had to start talking to her! I love the idea of hiking barefoot and was even more amazed that she was doing it in cold, slushy weather. Her feet were red from blood flow and they maintained a temperature homeostasis. I was baffled because I didn’t think my feet would ever be able to sustain themselves in the cold weather. She had finished the St. James Pilgrimage in France and does ultralight backpacking trips regularly. In fact, she had heard about the American Discovery Trail for the first time the day before and proceeded to tell me that meeting me was the highlight of her hike for the day! The encounter was heart-warming and motivating. Soon, very soon, maybe I’ll be a barefoot hiker.

Sun Valley to Parkersburg

Seventy miles on the North Bend Rail Trail were ahead of me. It was the last stretch before I would cross into Ohio on the Parkersburg-Belpre bridge. I hoped the rail trail would be more stimulating than the monotony I experienced on the tow path in Maryland. I had been in contact with the West Virginia coordinator, Sharon, and she told me she could host me for the night. I just had to get there. The trail passed through old tunnels that eerily made the hair rise on the back of my neck. As I appoached the tunnel, I could see the light from the other end shine into the darkness. My curiosity got the best of me and I wandered into the darkness without a light. I knew my visibility would decrease as I got further into the tunnel but I wanted to experience the sensation for myself. I attempted to avoid the puddles but inherently, I found them. As it got darker, my senses began to disassociate. I could hear my feet crushing the dirt below me with each step but my eyes told me that I wasn’t making any progress. The darkness gave me a strange floating sensation. Eventually I emerged into the warmer temperatures and began walking into one of the small towns along the trail. I checked my mileage. Six more miles until I’d reach the spot where Sharon could pick me up. I updated her on my progress while I had cell service and kept pushing forward. I was walking with purpose and eager to be on time to meet her. Along the way a trail angel, Greg, stopped and talked to me as I walked past his house. I enjoyed hearing a little bit about his story and meeting his fluffy, orange cat but I soon realized that I’d be late meeting Sharon. In an effort make up time, I was power walking down the trail. The trekking poles moved swiftly next to me, my feet pushed off from the dirt below, and sweat dripped down my face. I was moving with such intensity driven focus that I didn’t notice when Sharon bypassed some of the trail to get me. She yelled my name from the road but between the wind and my focused mind it was hopeless. I kept trucking along and moved past her. I finally made it to the meet point and apologized for being late but she was still laughing about trying to get my attention further back. My feet were achy and my body sore so I was overjoyed to have a place to rest and to add icing to the cake, Sharon offered me the opportunity to slack pack the following day.

Cereal was on the menu for breakfast and Sharon was apologetic about it. However, each bite of the crunchy granola clusters and fresh cut strawberries intrigued my taste buds. I hadn’t had cereal in months and the simple familiarity and the delicious crunchy texture were everything I needed but didn’t know I was missing. I had a twenty mile day ahead of me and energy was surging through me. It was a chilly morning and I felt like running. No pack and Julie’s light weight shoes on my feet, I wouldn’t have another opportunity to comfortably run for a while. I took off at a slow jog that progressively got faster as I warmed up. My pace had gone from 3mph to 5mph and I could feel the blood pumping through my body. Soon, it would be too warm to run and my energy reserves wouldn’t be sufficient but for now everything was glorious! Near the old train depot in Pennsboro a man asked how far I was going. I didn’t have my pack with me so I knew it would sound odd to say I was walking across the country. Instead, I opened with “Well, it’s complicated.” I explained slack packing and why I didn’t have my pack and then the guy asks me if he can take a picture with me. I was surprised but honored. It was the first time a random person asked to take a picture with me. After completing the twenty miles for the day, Sharon picked me up. I always offer to help with cooking and cleaning to show my gratitude to the host but sometimes I need a little direction. Sharon told me I could mix the beans. I thought “mix the beans, easy enough.” She brought out brown sugar, maple syrup, onion, and peppers. The first task was to open the can of beans. She handed me a fancy can opener that creates cut-free edges and I starts going at it. “Then just squeeze it.” she directed me. I looked at the can of beans and saw how squeezing the can would allow the lid to pop off. Before Sharon could see what I was doing, I squeezed the can and the lid went flying into the air while flinging beans all over my arm. Sharon and I just started laughing. She did however take a mental note that I needed specific instructions moving forward.

Before my time with Sharon had ended I shared my notes with her on recommended trail improvements and she helped me find the closest shoe store ahead of me. Although the temporary shoes Julie had given me were great, I traded Sharon for a pair that had shoe laces. After I got off the rail trail I would have to road walk again and that meant slipping into ditches to avoid traffic. Julie’s shoes just wouldn’t stay on my feet on that terrain. So, the legacy of the sisterhood of the traveling shoes continued and Sharon would be taking them with her to Lake Tahoe! I said my goodbyes and then started down the trail only, I felt lethargic. Three and a half miles into walking, I decided to set up my tent. I felt like I was disappointing myself and others but then I decided to throw those expectations to the wind. This was going to be the day that I learned how to accept myself despite not meeting my expectations for myself. I didn’t know what was worse though, not living up to my own expectations or failing the expectations I perceived others to have.

The next town I went into was Cairo, pronounced “Care-o.” The original state coordinators for West Virginia had a shop there so I stopped inside, said hello, and signed their guest book. As I kept walking down the street, a man named Paul, store owner, started talking to me and introducing me to the other townfolk. His energy was contagious. Next door, the post office gave me a post marked envelope to mail them once I got to California. I realized then that not only was I going to have a family across the country but also penpals! I am definitely a believer in the magic of snail mail! One of the postmen was kind enough to buy me breakfast at the town diner and I endulged in an omelet and chocolate milk. As I ate, I thought about the mysteries of perfect timing. If I had kept walking the evening before, I would be having a very different experience. That, and then the magic of literally walking in other people’s shoes.

I finally would be walking into Parkersburg, the last town before I would walk into Ohio. I had a list of errands I needed to do but I didn’t know how to accomplish them all walking. Everything seemed so far apart and I was becoming overwhelmed thinking about it. It was a beautiful, sunny day but that actually created a few problems for me. The odd, 75°F weather was causing me to overheat in the clothes that I had, and I ran out of water four miles before I would be able to get into town. I eventually found a cafe/family restaurant and walked in there to cool down and refill my water. The stares started immediately as I walked in but I ignored them as I sat down at a table away from everyone else. I felt obligated to buy something if I was going to sit down so I ordered a scoop of moose tracks ice cream. I sat there searching on my Google maps, growing in frustration, and feeling more and more paralyzed. What to do? Where to go? A man, maybe the owner, walked into the room spraying air freshener and asked me, “Sweety, how long were you planning on staying because you’re stinking up the place.” I was caught off guard. I couldn’t smell myself. He proceeded to tell me that “it wasn’t my fault” and that I should “find someone to let me shower.” I clearly wasn’t wanted there so I left but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had made it through the entire state of West Virginia without crying and on my last day in the state, I broke down. Tears began to pour from my eyes as I walked along the highway. I didn’t really know where I was going but at least I was finally moving. The tears blurred my vision as I avoided the cars. I wondered if the passing cars could tell I was upset and if so, did they care? For the first time walking, I felt shame. I finally made the decision to get groceries at the Dollar General. As I walked into the store I had to numb myself from the stares and lack of acceptance. I had the trifecta of things people want to avoid: smelling, crying, and strange. Then again, maybe people weren’t treating me any different in the store and I just noticed it more because I was in a fragile state of mind. The next on my errand list were shoes. I had to walk 40 minutes to get to the nearest shoe store, “On the Run and Walk,” and on my way I passed a high school that was letting out for the day. It seemed like these teenagers were completely dumbfounded on how to react to me. I could feel their discomfort as they walked past me unwilling to acknowledge me. On the other spectrum, some of them held an unwavering stare even as I matched their eye contact. I was an anomaly. When I made it to the shoe store, I found the corner furthest from everyone to set my pack down and wait for assistance. A man named Dorsey gave me three pairs of shoes to try on that he thought would work best with my wide feet and high arch. I sat there and tried each of them on multiple times. My feet were swollen and sore from the walking that day and I was struggling to pick which I thought would make my feet feel best once they were rested. Dorsey helped me find the best shoe for me at the best price! Unfortunately, the pair was a bit hard on the eyes: neon yellow accented with purple. You could see them from outer space. They are literally out of this world. Fortunately, I wasn’t looking for style. I shared my journey with Dorsey while I figured out the shoes and he gave me some energy Gu’s for the walk. I was grateful for his help and his support towards my walk. My feet had been hurting incredibly and to finally feel like I had a decent pair of shoes was a relief. Next, I wanted to try to find some summer trail pants. Sharon had notified me that she had a contact point for me to help me run some of my errands and that is how I met Shane. Shane picked me up and drove me to Chickfila before we went to search for trail pants. I freaking love Chickfila and between the familiarity and the good food, I was feeling great. My spirits were slowly lifting and it worked out perfect that Shane had a stuffy nose. Even if I did smell bad, he couldn’t tell. From Chickfila we went to a farm store called Royal King to see if they had what I was looking for. They didn’t but I wasn’t too disappointed because I got to see baby chicks and ducklings. We tried one other place but weren’t successful. I had been planning to stay at one of the shelters at the Salvation Army but Shane was kind enough to offer me his couch to sleep on. The day started off rough but it did get better and by the evening, I was feeling human. Thank you Dorsey, Sharon, Shane, and the other people who were kind to me. No one knew I was having a hard day but you all made it better.

Philippi to Sun Valley

It was a lathargic day and I was moving slow. It was a funky morning and the weather couldn’t make up its mind. There was a snow, sleet mixture that down-poured as soon as I walked out of town but then it switched to sunny and blue skies before returning to gloominess. As I approached the next town, Arden, I got word to send a message to a family in town. A hiker that started about four months ahead of me, Devon, asked me to tell the family, who let him stay with them, “Hello.” You can learn more about Devon here. I now had a mission to complete and although it was a bit of a joke starting out I did manage to deliver the message! I was looking for a house with a star on it and as I walked through town two dogs, a black lab and golden retriever, began racing around me playing with each other. A woman walked out of the house to retrieve her retriever and that’s when I asked if she’d hosted a hiker a few months back. She had! I delivered the message and felt accomplished as I continued through town, now being escorted by the black lab. The route ahead of me started out flat and began to remind me of the tow path in Maryland. The Tygart River ran on my left and the water was almost a turquoise blue. The gray sky made the color of the river pop and grab your attention. It had rapids that sparked my curiosity. I’ve only been white water rafting once but I could see the thrill and adrenaline rush someone navigating the river would have felt. As the flat stretch ended and the mountainous hills began, the liner in my boots began tearing at my heels, rubbing them raw. I stopped to put bandaids on and snowflakes began to drop from the sky. I kept walking because that is all I really had to do until dark and then began the search for a lawn for my little nylon home. No one answered at the first home but the second was successful. After answering the man’s questions to his satisfactory, he agreed to let me stay on the lawn. “Are you a criminal?” “Where are you from?” “What’s this trail like you’re on?” His lawn was rocky and a bit muddy but a grassy patch caught my eye and that would be home for the night.

Some time around 10pm the man, Ralph, came out and knocked on my tent. He invited me to come stay on the couch inside where it was warm. It had started to snow and was in the twenties but inside my tent and sleeping bag I was toasty warm and content so I thanked him but declined. In the morning, I battled the cold while putting up my tent. My fingers weren’t functioning so I took intervals of packing things up and then retreating my hands back into my armpits. I knocked on Ralph’s door to ask if I could fill up my water and he invited me inside. I ended up talking with him and his wife for over an hour. They’d offered to make me breakfast but I declined, I felt like I needed to get my day started. With anything Ralph offered to me, he’d always tag on “We don’t have much but you’re welcome to it, ” and that sparked more questions for me to ponder. Why do the people who have less tend to share more than those who are better off? The route once again took me on a scenic tour of a state park verse the straight shot to town. It was disheartening to know I would walk extra miles but I choose the journey verse the destination mentality as I always do. The day was gloomy and never varied far from freezing. The infrequent cars that drove by ignored me and refused to wave back at me. I wanted to yell at them, “I am human, acknowledge me!” The dreary weather was dampening my spirits and I wanted human interaction but I felt like I was being treated like a social outcast. When it came time to find a lawn to camp on I felt desperate. I was fatigued by hunger and cold but I couldn’t fulfill those needs until I found shelter. The first door was answered by a woman in a fire department shirt. It is amazing the emotions you can feel over the course of just a few seconds. I went from feeling desperation, to hopefulness and then to discouraged. The woman had turned me away. The church nearby had its phone disconnected. My third attempt brought me to a yard with folk art in it. The woman opened the door and listened to my plea. “In a tent?!” she inquired with disbelief. The words, “It is all I have,” surprised me as they exited my mouth. She told me that her yard was soggy but I couldn’t tell if she was telling me because she wanted an excuse to say no or if she was concerned for the conditions of my tent/sleep. Either way, I got the okay and rushed to set up my tent. I hope to be able to find a happy medium where I don’t create an expectation of someone based off my observations. I’ve realized that the people that I figured would help me, don’t, and the people that I thought won’t, do. This, of course, isn’t a rule but an observation.

The sun welcomed me as I left my tent and began packing up my things. The family whose lawn I was in had already left to school and work and it felt weird not being able to learn about the people who were so gracious to me. It was an absolutely beautiful day and the temperature was perfect. People were stopping to talk to me and one of them was a friend of the guy who’s lawn I slept in. The guy had called him and told him a hiker was camping in his yard and coincidentally he was now driving right past me. It was a nice connecting point to the family. In order to get into the town of Bridgeport I had to walk on about two miles of heavily trafficked road that had no shoulder. Urban walking doesn’t bother me a whole bunch but I’ve discovered that a coping mechanism of mine is to sing my observations or narrate my actions. So, as I walked on this road I would slip down into the ditch to give cars room to drive and then sing “Oooh my, Oooh my… I just stepped in something dead didn’t I??” as I smelled a rotten carcass before I could find it. This specific event didn’t happen frequently but once or twice is definitely more than enough. Luckily, the dead deer was ahead of me and I hadn’t stepped in it. As I got into town I wanted to treat myself to some food. After the last couple of days, I wanted to try to lift my spirits and good, wholesome food never fails to do the trick. At first I saw Domino’s Pizza but I decided maybe I’d have something different (pizza is always my go-to), next I walked by a hot dog and grill place but it looked too complicated to get inside so I kept going, and finally I came across Della’s Deli. There was a giant “OPEN” flag outside the door and the idea of a nice sandwich while sitting in the sun sounded lovely. I awkwardly squeezed through the doors and was met by Julie and Jeff. They were immediately excited to see me and to learn about what I was doing and I was equally excited to find good food and good people. They asked me what I wanted and between me telling them about my journey and being indecisive, I never answered that question. I just wanted food! I set my pack down and sat on the single stool while other customers were helped. There was an incredible amount of positive energy flowing around and I became content just sitting on the stool and talking to Jeff, Julie, and the other customers that walked in. I tried to think about what type of sandwich I wanted but it was turning into a stimulus overload situation (in a good way). Jeff eventually just hands me warm soup and begins making me a sandwich with simple either/or questions for what I wanted on it. Let me tell you, as soon as I took a bite of that sandwich I was literally savoring each bite. I tried to distinguish each individual flavor and figure out what part of the sandwich it came from. There was sweetness from the honey mustard but within the wheat bread there was another delicious flavor. I couldn’t put a name on it though! I took another bite and tried to hone in on the flavors. Next thing, it was gone. After I hung out for awhile at the deli and talked to the regular customers, Jeff and Julie offered me a place to stay. I couldn’t believe it. The night before I’d been thinking about getting a hotel room in one of the next towns but instead I stumbled upon a wonderful family who were wanting to house me. That night they took me to their weekly dinner spot, Twin Oaks, where I also got to meet one of their daughters and witness the small town camaraderie that came after a victorious swim meet at the local high school. Julie let me borrow a pair of her slip on, comfort  fit shoes so I wouldn’t have to lug around my winter boots. Let me tell you, I felt light as a feather. After putting them on, I was moving my legs every which way, kicking and jumping. It was great. So, after I got that out of my system we headed to the restaurant where I ordered a twelve inch pizza to eat (like I said, it is my go-to). I was willing to share but everyone mainly wanted to see if I could eat the whole thing. I managed five of the eight pieces and decided that if I wanted to be able to get out of the booth and walk out of the restaurant, I’d better stop. My two main thoughts for the day were “how the weather affects the way people treat one another” and “how walking is the very thing that attracts people to me but if I quit then I’m taking away the one thing that allowed me to become part of their life.” The first thought arose because of the variance in gloomy, cold days and sunny, warm days. I’m sure there are other factors as well but this day compared to the previous one were completely opposite just as the weather was. The second thought occurred because I’m sometimes offered the invitation of staying as long as I want/need at a home. These are the families where, from the beginning, I feel like I belong there. It dawned on me that if I ever felt compelled to stop walking (no worries, it hasn’t) then I’d be stopping the reason I was allowed in their life and everything would seemingly become negligible. I know in reality that isn’t how it would work but conceptually it makes sense?

Any person that is walking across the country is obviously searching for something; maybe it is a feeling, a sensation, adventure, or they’re not sure yet. Somewhere along the way, I found a concrete answer to what I’m searching for: a better version of myself. I became further emersed in Jeff and Julie’s life by attending their family breakfast at Jeff’s parent’s house. Bacon, eggs, homemade apple butter and toast, grapes, and pancakes! There was so much wonderful food but even better, the wonderful people. Jeff’s dad immediately grabbed me to start asking questions about my journey and to show me family photos. Everyone made sure I had everything I needed to eat and more. Everything was delicious, even the slightly darkened pancakes. I only bring up the pancakes because, like I said, it was all delicious and Jeff’s sister was apologetic about them. On my second round of pancakes, you read correctly – second, I snagged one of the perfectly imperfect pancakes and was told I should eat the nice, golden ones. Well, the darkened ones just had a little bit more love than the other ones but they were still just as good! As the morning continued, I needed to decide if I’d stay the day or start walking. The decision wasn’t hard but making the decision was giving me anxiety. I normally don’t drink coffee but I figured it’d help awaken me. Nope, all it did was make me even more anxious and indecisive. After about half an hour, unnecessary anxiety, and a patient Jeff, I made the decision I already knew I as going to make. I decided to stay. Some people use their rest days to watch TV or take naps but somehow I ended up filing my taxes. Yes, the wild and adventurous traveler is not excluded from adulting. That night was the rivalry basketball game between neighboring towns, Bridgeport and Clarksburg, and Julie and Jeff’s entire family (four generations) were going to be there to support one of their own, Julie and Jeff’s son. I loved witnessing the way each small community came together to support their youth. The fact that I was watching a basketball game thrilled me too! In middle school and high school basketball was my favorite sport to play and I knew the rules and regulations. It brought back great memories of the passion and dedication I felt while playing the game but being in a high school again also brought strange emotions. The person I was in high school was insecure, lost, and felt out of place. I kept busy with band, athletics, and after school clubs but inwardly I always felt like an outsider. Despite those strange emotions, I was in the bleachers admiring each beautiful shot taken, captivated by the close game, and on the edge of my seat when a turnover would happen. Bridgeport won!

My goodbye to Julie, Jeff, and their family was another one of those goodbyes that definitely wasn’t a goodbye. I walked out of their house, out of their neighborhood, but not out of their life. As I started out of town, people asked what I was training for so I shared my journey. However, it was odd. Not thirty minutes ago, I was pampered and surrounded by loving people. I had been immersed in the Bridgeport community and now I was telling someone I was walking across the country. At that point, it didn’t feel like it. Julie had given me her slide on, comfort fit shoes to wear until I was able to get to a bigger town with adequate footwear. She had worn them on her trip to Europe and now they were going on another adventure with me. We were starting the sisterhood of the traveling shoes! I was also sent off with pepperoni rolls (bread with pepperoni baked into them) which are very common in the area. I’ve had similar things but never a pepperoni roll. Later, I discovered that they were originally made for miners, by their wives, because they’d always stay good. My projected mileage for the day was 20 miles. I needed to get to Wolf Summit because that is where Julie and Jeff were going to try to find me a place to stay for the night. I was running out of sunlight when Julie contacted me and told me that a news station wanted to do an interview with me. The idea sounded great but at that moment I was hustling to get to my destination. Thirty minutes before dark, I get a message from Julie telling me she found a place I could stay. Ironically enough, it was behind me but only by a half mile. I began my trek back in the direction I’d come and waved to the same people I’d just passed. I slowed my pace and let my body relax and breathe. The people I’d be staying with were people Jeff and Julie knew from church. They had a couch waiting for me and potato soup with corn bread. I was grateful for them and the continued love and support from Jeff and Julie. Check out Julie’s article here and the interview here.