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.