After making a decision to walk backroads instead of the busy highway, I ended up 21 miles down the road knocking on the door of a trailer house. I saw a picnic table out front and figured it’d be a nice place to eat if I could set my tent up in the yard. The temperature was going to drop below twenty degrees and I knew I was going to have to deal with it. A woman with a radiant glow about her opened the door. She wanted to help me but it was her step-father’s home. She disappeared for a second and then came back with a man, her step-father. In the midst of telling me I could stay on the lawn, he offered the opportunity to stay in the guest room, inside where it was warm. Relief flooded over me. I walked in the door and the woman, Brandi, explained the plan for the evening. It was her and her step-father’s Friday night hangout and I was welcome to be there. They both shared their personal stories with me and I wondered why they opened up to a stranger. I wondered what my purpose was in meeting them and finally I came to a conclusion. I was there to listen. The step-father, Barry, told me to make myself at home and I knew he meant it. I offered to share homemade bologna and cheese that an amish family gave me but they didn’t want to take anything from my limited food supply. Instead, they told me to eat whatever was in the fridge and that later there would be pizza. I’m not sure if this is more of a reflection on me or the genuine welcome Brandi and Barry gave me but I went ahead and rummaged through the fridge and made myself a sandwich. I had just met these people but they didn’t feel like strangers. As always, the subject of safety popped into the conversation. Barry told me that he was glad I didn’t end up at any of the houses in town because some of the guys wouldn’t have hesitated to jump on me in the middle of the night. Although I appreciated his honesty and warning, it planted an unsettling seed in my mind. The seed of doubt. The seed of worry. The seed of fear. I knew I’d have a restless night.
A seventeen mile day with six miles of highway walking was mindless. The highway was well shouldered but the area around me was exposed and surrounded by chain link fences, I was pinned in. After the first mile, I developed the sensation that I had to pee. However, my options were limited. I could A) pee on the side of the highway and hope no one called the cops or B) keep trying to hold it and possibly pee myself. The distance to the next bathroom was about 5 miles, meaning roughly two hours via walking. I held my bladder and continuesly scanned the horizon for the sweet, golden arches of a McDonald’s. I was battling with the needs of my body. I needed to keep walking because I had to pee but my knees felt as if they’d give out (hours of walking with asphalt below my feet was taking its toll). My stomach tore at my insides, trying to find a source of energy. I had eaten my last granola bar. However, I kept going and I made it to the McDonald’s. I ignored the stares people gave me and went to relieve myself. What a glorious feeling. Next, I stood in front of the overstimulating menu screen. I needed food but just when I thought I knew what I wanted the screen changed and I became distracted by other menu items. After all was said and done, I ended up with 2 McChickens, 2 cheeseburgers, 2 McMuffins, 2 cookies, and an M&M mcflurry. I ate everything except a cheeseburger and McMuffin. I told myself that would be dinner as I walked to a nearby hotel. It was time to rest.
The hotel’s complimentary breakfast talk surrounded me and my walk. The daughter of the guy at the front desk was fascinated by what I was doing. She was middle school aged and asked me a wider variety of questions than the normal ones. It was refreshing. I was able to think critically instead of tapping into my rehearsed answers. She then began asking me about other subjects like college. This was one of the moments where I remembered the grand opportunity of inspiration my walk had allowed me. I realized that I was acting as a role-model and I wanted to be a good one, if only for a few minutes. A man and a woman sat at the table next to me and they had their own questions. The man was baffled at what I was doing. His facial expressions told me he was struggling to wrap his mind around what I was doing. The world he knew was not suitable for walking. He briefly shared with me a story of his: a coworker took him home to West Virginia to meet the family. The whole family was in an excited ruckus to have a black man in the house and the coworker told him that he wasn’t taught to hate black people but that none of them were worth getting to know. That was why it was such a big deal. The coworker decided that the man in front of me was worth getting to know. Now, the story occurred quite a few years back but I found that thought process intriguing and it allowed me to grasp another viewpoint on the world. My time came to leave the hotel and I neared Cincinnati. Approaching the big city was filling me with anxiety especially because people told me that I’d have to walk through the middle of the rough patches except they didn’t word it so gracefully. I walked through one of the suburbs and a guy pulled over next to me. He was around the same age as me and he told me that he just had to know what I was doing! He had just finished hiking The Camino in Spain and was intrigued to see a backpacker in the middle of the city. His excitement was contagious and I felt my energy level grow. Before he left he prayed for me and that was a happy reminder that I wasn’t alone. I kept walking until it started to snow. I sheltered in a nearby Inn where I roamed around in the medieval style waiting rooms. Thankfully, I had a host lined up for the night. Nikki, a friend of Devon’s, was on her way to get me. She took me home with her and introduced me to her son and husband. I loved witnessing the playful and loving family dynamics of their household.
Before Nikki dropped me off in Kentucky, she drove me through the sketchy parts of Cincinnati but along the way we stopped at an REI (outdoor equipment store) and Whole Foods. These both were familiar stores to me, ones that I visited frequently before I started my walk. It set me off into a spiral of confusion. These places were from another lifetime. Questions regarding my identity started to flow through my mind. Who am I? Who was I? Who am I going to be? My anxiety level sky-rocketed. I was dropped off in a park where the ADT travels through and there I met Janice. She had wanted to meet and interview me. I was obliged to answer her questions and to also hear her story. After the interview, she drove me down to Anderson Ferry so that I could cross back into Ohio. When we got to the ferry neither one of us knew exactly how it worked so we kept asking the only other pedestrian going across. Now having a clue but not really knowing what I was doing, I said goodbye to Janice and observed and copied the man’s actions. I followed him onto the ferry, waited next to him, and exited the same way he did. I was his shadow. I’m sure he was wondering what my deal was but he never said a word. As soon as I was off the ferry, I took off on my route. The area I was now in was still a bit concerning but not nearly as rough as some of the other areas. I walked and tried to find a spot to settle down for the night. I found an old foundation to a house and wrestled my way through the vines to get to the clearing. I thought it was perfect until I looked up and saw a man and his son walking in the woods. Not as peaceful as I’d thought so I kept going. I decided to call Nikki to see if she could come pick me up. We had already said our goodbyes and I felt like the effort to come get me would be a hassle. I didn’t feel comfortable in the area though and it was going to be another cold night. So, her and her family came to get me and along the way Nikki’s husband made sure we stopped to get Skyline chili, the food dish Cincinnati is known for. It was delicious. The only odd thing was the chili consisted of spaghetti noodles. Apparently, spaghetti noodles were cheaper and fed more family members back in the day rather than the traditional chili beans.
The next morning Nikki’s husband dropped me off in Elizabethtown. It was time to decide between the Northern and Southern route of the ADT and I already knew I was going south.