Jessup to Elizabethtown

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.

Vigo to Jessup

It is a funny thing how often people find me and ask if I’m on the ADT when I’m not. I rerouted around the dirt trails because of the rain and found myself talking to a man named Troy in the middle of the road. He was incredibly excited to find another hiker and reminisced about the last hiker he’d met. He told me he lived up the road and that he’d love to hear more of my stories if I had time to spare. He gave me brief directions on what house was his and drove off. His excitement was contagious and I was determined to find his house but experience told me that it never is as simple as it should be. I walked up the hill and looked around. He said he’d be waiting on the porch but all the porches were unoccupied. There was a fork in the road ahead of me and I vaguely remembered Troy’s directions. All I could remember was driveway on the left, green something.., and don’t go down the hill you’d normally go down. The road name changed if I went straight, which didn’t seem right, so I wandered down the hill on the right side of the fork. I didn’t see a familiar looking car so I went back up the hill and asked a man if he knew Troy. Nope. I couldn’t give up, I was too darn excited. I turned around and then walked straight at the left fork. The houses were further a part and I told myself if after I checked the first house on both sides of me and still had no luck then I’d turn around and keep walking my route. Still no luck. I turned around and started walking back, defeated, but then I saw Troy driving towards me. He came to rescue me from my misdirection! Through his windshield I could see him shaking his head and laughing. All I could say was that I was determined to find his house and needed to explore all my options. He wanted me to meet his family so he drove me back to his house, one house further down the hill than I’d walked, where I was greeted by a dog the size of a horse, a great dane/mastiff mix. I presented his kids with a riddle: if there are two fathers and two sons fishing and they each catch a fish, how are there only three fish?? Don’t worry, I won’t ruin the fun by telling you the answer. As the evening grew nearer, a thunderstorm rolled across the sky and it soon began to rain. Troy generously offered me a place to stay for the night and I was fortunate to evade the rain.

I was warned of the heroine epidemic of nearby towns and how the bigger city just 10 miles away had a large missing female population. Luckily, I wasn’t headed in that direction. I walked through the rain and avoided dirt trails. I saw no need to slip and slide in the mud trying to traverse a hill. I walked until dusk and decided to approach an older woman that had just arrived home. As I walked up the long driveway I called to her, “Excuse me, ma’am.” She couldn’t hear me. I called to her several more times before she finally turned around. I asked to camp in her yard but she looked distraught. She proceeded to tell me that the house was her son’s and she was only there to grab a few things before she went back to the hospital. Her son had just been in a car accident. My heart sank. I didn’t want to trouble her with anything extra but she said she thought it’d be alright. She’d try to let her son and his wife know I was there. Her only request was that I moved further away from the house and closer to the cemetery. Easily done. Before I walked toward the tree line, I told her I’d pray for her son. I saw her spirit raise slightly as she told me thank you and “that’s all we can do.” I pitched my tent next to a small wooded area, blocking the view of my tent from the road but leaving it exposed on the otherside. I prepared dinner and noticed a black SUV parked in the cemetery parking lot. I had an inkling that I’d get a visit from the police sooner rather than later. Next thing I knew, two police SUV’s were driving down the field toward my tent. I calmly got up from my things to greet them but also gave them distance. One of them asked for my identification and why I was walking. As I began to answer he smoothly turned on his body camera. My train of thought was lost and I became distracted with my thoughts of wondering what I sounded like on the video. After they deemed me harmless, the one told me that this situation was definitely not what he expected. His body language had became more friendly and open and he briefly told me a little bit about his journey purposefully being homeless in Arkansas for 2 months. I had so many questions to ask him but he had no time for conversations. The rest of the night I wasn’t bothered by anyone but I could see car headlights driving through the cemetery and knew they were investigating me. I felt bad because I knew the police were continuously being called about me and I didn’t want to waste their time or energy.

My tent was soaking wet. All the rain had froze during the night and the beautiful, sunny morning was melting it. I decided to check my route once more before I left and I had a new idea. Instead of walking to the next town the ADT would take me through, I looked at a direct route to Sinking Springs. I had grown frustrated with the Buckeye Trail shenanigans and random loops so when Google maps showed it was 26 miles, I didn’t think twice. The first thing that popped into my head was, “I can do that.” So, I started walking and for roughly eight and a half hours I dodged cars, fought the wind, and kept moving. I’d plop on the ground to rest and note my dehydration. I knew that once I got to my destination I could take care of my needs. With a limp on my right side, from the continuous uneven walking on pavement, I walked into town to the dollar store to resupply. I could pee, hydrate, resupply, and ask for a location to set up my tent. The women at the counter were lively and welcoming. When I paid, I inquired about a place to camp and the man behind me in line said I could set up in his yard. Problem solved. The man was rough looking but I wasn’t concerned. I’d observed his interactions with the women that worked there and they seemed to know him. The women were around my age and they were joking with him and seemed perfectly at ease with the idea of me setting up on his lawn. With that, I waited until he paid to introduce myself to him. His name was Donny. He drove us about a mile out of town where he introduced me to his cats and dogs and told me I could set up anywhere on the property. I wanted to watch the sunset so I chose the top of a small mound and got lost looking into the horizon. Donny had work to do so I only briefly got to talk to him but he gave me the low down on everything. There was an eighteen foot black snake that lived on the property that had been there before he moved there. It was harmless and probably wouldn’t adventure to where my tent was set up. He informed me that there was a neighboring woman in her 70’s that checked up on him and watched over his property. If I saw her in the morning, I should tell her that he knew I was there. Then, he told me he was proud of what I was doing. It felt good to hear that. I wanted to learn more about his story but as I said before, he had work to do. I went back to my mound and listened to the birds and felt the sun’s warmth on my skin. I went to sleep excited for a relaxing, peaceful morning.

“Who’s in there?!” were the confrontational words I woke up to at 7am. I was confused and disoriented. That wasn’t Donny’s voice, he had already gone to work. I then remembered the older woman he’d mentioned, his “guardian angel.” I told her Donny knew I was there and she went off on a thousand accusatory questions. “How do you know Donny?” “And he was just okay letting a random person on his lawn?” She immediately let me know I wasn’t welcome, the complete opposite thing Donny had told me the night before. She yelled at me that she was going to inform the sheriff and that I needed to be gone. The only thing I could muster up, in a pleading tone, to say was “Please talk to Donny first.” I heard a truck engine start and drive off. I sat there in my tent, crying, while beginning to pack up my things. The whole interaction had occurred while I was in my tent. I never unzipped the rain fly and the woman knew nothing about me, only my voice. I was grateful however that she knew not to cross the boundary of touching my property, my livelihood, my home. I was upset and angry. I had permission to be there, I was welcomed, and Donny was proud of my journey. Yet, my existence infuriated her. I sat outside my tent and made breakfast. Obstinance grew within me. I would take as long as I needed to to get ready. A truck drove back on to the property and parked. Another truck pulled into the driveway and a man got out to talk to the woman. They talked for a few minutes and then the man left and she walked back over to me. I tried to hide that I’d been crying. I had to be strong because I knew more verbal abuse was coming. As she walked onto my mound I told her, “Good morning.” She ignored me and immediately said, “You think this is cute? You want everyone to notice what you’re doing? Because they are and it isn’t cute.” I tried to defend myself in the beginning but I knew she was set in her opinions so I simply responded with, “Okay.” A part of me wanted to push her buttons and make her more livid but I opted to not be reactive and to try to be kind to her. She tried to take blows at me from every direction and it seemed she couldn’t decide what she wanted to insult: the nomadic lifestyle or the fact that a woman was doing it. “I know people like you.” “Some of us work for a living.” Before she left for the second time, she made sure to tell me that she’d notified the sheriff and warned me “to not go back that way,” as she pointed to the acreage that Donny said he didn’t care if I went on. With one final statement, “I’ll be watching you,” she jumped back in her truck and drove away. As I continued to pack my things she reappeared in her truck and sat and waited. Watching me. As I left the property, I waved goodbye to her as she stared at me through the rearview mirror. I was upset and felt drained. The people in town were kind and I wouldn’t let the livid, old woman ruin my perception of that. I knew her heart was in the right place; it just wasn’t on my side. Despite the evening, I was eager to get to the Serpent Mound (one of the major, historical mounds). I had been walking for over a week with this one destination in mind yet when I got there I was disappointed. I walked the lap around the mound and climbed the watch tower but the visitor center was closed along with all the information about the mound. I did what I knew how to do and I kept walking. I decided to skip a hundred mile loop of the Buckeye Trail and head straight for Batavia. I was low spirited and hurting but I kept walking. As I walked down a back road, a family said they saw me walking earlier and asked if I’d like to join them for lunch. Heck yea! Bean and ham soup with corn bread. Pat and Bill lived at the house and they had family visiting them. I got to see the joyous interactions surrounding the baby and I realized that the love around me was helping to rejuvenate me. Bill brought out his county maps and began brainstorming what route he thought was best to take. Even though I had my route planned, I embraced the joy that he received from looking at the maps. He reminded me of Papa Smurf and when we all went to bed he yelled to the entire household goodnight. He said it individually to each family member: his wife, the dog, the cat, and then there was my name. “Goodnight, Amanda.”